Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I am able to add a few words today on Bill S-4, which has come from the Senate. I have always wondered why some bills come from the Senate versus the House of Commons, but I will leave that particular discussion for another time. I believe that the bill has the support of both opposition parties to go to committee.
The railway industry has had a profound impact on our nation, even prior to Confederation. From an historical perspective, in good part, the railway has made Canada the nation it is today. I would suggest that it is only relatively recently, in the 1980s, that we started to look at issues of safety and security and our environment, and the impact of the railways on our communities.
The last real change to the act would have been in 1999, under the Chrétien administration. Even then, we within the Liberal Party acknowledged the degree in advancement of technology and the impact of technology on our railways. We need to be constantly looking at ways to improve the circumstances and the environment for railways across Canada. It is good to see the government has seen the wisdom to reassess the issue and bring forward other aspects that would help us modernize the legislation. One could argue that we have been waiting for that for a while. We welcome that.
I want to share some personal opinions about the city of Winnipeg. In Winnipeg, in the area that I represent, there is a great divide and in that divide we have CP Rail. It has been a distinguishing characteristic of the city: those who live on the north side of the track versus those on the south side of the track. However, Winnipeg is not unique in that. We would find jurisdictions all over Canada that have developed around our railway tracks.
If we take a look at how Winnipeg North is able to connect to the city, there are three underpasses, King Edward Street, Keewatin Street and McPhillips Street, and two bridges, the Salter Bridge and the truly unique Arlington Bridge. Many people will walk over the Arlington Bridge just to see the heart of the CP tracks. They get a better appreciation of just how much traffic goes through Winnipeg, in terms of CP's perspective.
Years ago, the CP expanded into the CP trucking terminal. There are many ways in which the railway industry has led and fed other industries; in particular, in Winnipeg, the trucking industry. At one time Winnipeg was the hub of eight of the ten major trucking industries. CP or CN fed into the development of that industry.
Anyone standing on the Arlington Bridge would get an appreciation of the type of train traffic occurring there. We need to be aware of that and why bills such as this are so important.
If we stopped at a track and watched what kind of cargo is on our trains, we would find that it varies from lumber from British Columbia to chemicals from Alberta, to wheat from the Prairies, whether Saskatchewan or Manitoba. There are many commercial goods from provinces like Ontario and Quebec and commodities from our Atlantic provinces. Many of those commodities are absolutely safe. If there were an accident, other commodities are not safe. One of the reasons we have a system in place is to ensure that we know what is on the trains.
I will go back to the example of the Arlington Bridge. It is important to go over legislation of this nature and look at ways to improve upon it. Suggestions have been made for amendments. Stakeholders have made presentations to the government dealing with issues of safety, security and the environment. When we go to committee, it is nice to have experts share what we could be doing to enhance the legislation. By enhancing the legislation, we would ultimately make our railway system that much more healthy.
There are other issues that I think the House needs to give more attention to when we talk about our rail lines. One is in regard to rail line abandonment. A former speaker was talking about the importance of looking at other opportunities for rail lines or expanding rail lines. If the government had an interest in looking at those two issues, I think the industry would be doing that much better as a whole.
From Manitoba's perspective, many people are concerned about the community of Churchill. Now that the Canadian Wheat Board has been brought to its knees by the government, there is a real threat. We will have to agree to disagree on that particular point. Many individuals in Manitoba and well beyond are concerned about the port of Churchill, which is very much dependent on rail line services. With the threat of wheat no longer going through that particular port, because we need certain quantities in order to make it economical, that is now in question. As a result, there is a great deal of concern about the rail line and what the future may hold for it, and the profound impact that would have on the community. If we do not have an active rail line, it could ultimately lead to the closing of that port. Therefore, we look to the government. It is great that we have this particular bill before us today, but we need to think in terms of the potential that is there, the economics of our rail lines and how they have such a profound impact on our communities.
Over the last number of years, rail lines have been abandoned. In some situations a rail line will disappear and a walking or ATV track will be put in to replace it. It causes a great deal of concern for many individuals who have relied on the tracks in the past. There is a great deal of merit for having some sort of overall rail line strategy. It would be great to have a debate in the House as to what direction the government would like to take Canada into the next number of years with regard to rail lines. The future could be wonderful within that industry. The potential demand for railway services is increasing. If we fed on that increasing demand, it would increase job opportunities and would be better for our environment. There are many positives to ensure growth within the rail line industry.
I made reference to the CP tracks, the north-south divide in Winnipeg. CN also has a huge history in the city of Winnipeg: Symington Yard and Transcona shops. In fact, my grandfather and other family members used to work in the Transcona shops. The Transcona shops, in part, are what built the Transcona community. In some of the older homes, a good portion of the lumber that was used to build those homes came from the CN railway. People will see the odd stamp on the lumber. There was a great dependency on CN as that community developed. When we look at the expansion of Symington Yard, we again see the real potential.
There is also VIA Rail, which has had a lot of changes over the years. In some areas, people get pretty good service. There is a nostalgic value that is tangible for many individuals out west who, on a per capita percentage basis, do not take the train as often as perhaps people in the Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa corridor. Yet the desire for train travel still exists. I know that individuals would welcome the opportunity to travel from Winnipeg to Regina, for example, by train. My understanding today is that people have to go through Saskatoon. At one time, they could go straight to Regina. Hopefully something will happen in the future that will allow train traffic to ultimately go through Regina.
People recognize how important the railway industry is in Manitoba, whether it is the city of Winnipeg, rural communities, Churchill or Carman. Many of the communities are very dependent on our railways. Having said all of that, we need to be aware of the fact that there are a great deal of safety-related issues.
A number of years ago, we had an organized, planned train crash in which we had a train run into a vehicle crossing a street. I was able to be at that demonstration and it was quite interesting to watch the locomotive coming down the track in Inkster industrial park. They had a vehicle parked on the road and they had a locomotive coming at about 15 to 20 kilometres an hour. The impact did not seem to affect the train whatsoever, but what it did to the vehicle was truly amazing, even at that speed. The train does not stop right away. It took a while before the train came to a stop and we could go down and see the type of damage that was caused.
One very important aspect of our railways is the issue of safety and the interaction with our highways and streets with regard to train traffic. That is one of the reasons we see this push for bridges or underpasses in our larger centres. It is to try to prevent those types of things from occurring in the real world.
Unfortunately, every year we see collisions between trains and vehicles, and it saddens all of us. That is one of the reasons it is important that we look at ways to improve upon the system. We have many different forms of crossings and we need to look at how we might improve them, whether it be the flashing lights in some of our rural communities, the control arms that go down, or where they are warranted, underpasses and bridges, which are so very important. This needs to be considered when we talk about safety.
I alluded to another issue when I referred to the Arlington Bridge and the amount of traffic and the type of cargo that is on these trains. If today we have a derailment of any sort, whether it be in the city of Winnipeg, in small communities or anywhere in Canada, one of the first questions we have to ask is: What is on that train and are there chemicals that could endanger the immediate neighbourhood or communities in which the derailment occurred?
That is why we need to have regulations in place to ensure we have a fairly quick assessment of what cargo is on a train as it is travelling through our communities, because we have seen a buildup of communities. Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed train derailments where communities in and around the area have been asked to disperse while an assessment was done.
There are issues that cause these train derailments. This legislation attempts to deal with part of that; for example, when we talk about human fatigue and the role it plays. Expanding and providing definitions of what human fatigue means and what it can result in, I think, is a positive thing. That is the reason we have the legislation before us now. We recognize it is important.
However, that is not all. We see more and more trains and the potential of traffic increasing in the years ahead. If we had a progressive government that saw the value of providing commodities across the country for world trade, it would see that the train is the way to go. I see it as one of those cornerstones, and our trucking industry supports it in many different ways. I suspect as time goes by, we will need to periodically modernize the safety regulations and our laws to make sure we are keeping our communities healthy and our citizens safe from what is travelling on our tracks.