Mr. Speaker, it is my pleasure to again speak to Bill S-4, the Railway Safety Act, at third reading and report stage today.
This bill, as others have mentioned, originates from a previous Parliament, and the good member for Trinity—Spadina had a lot to do with putting forward the bill in the first place. I want to congratulate her and others who have worked on this bill, and congratulate those in the industry, in the unions and in the safety agencies who have contributed to what will be a great improvement to the bill.
Unfortunately, it has taken us six years from the commencement of the study on whether or not the bill needed to be improved until today, when we hope the bill will pass the House. That was way too long. When we are talking about safety, six years is way too long for something as critical to Canadians as the safety of the railroads, as has been mentioned by several members here.
These railroads travel through dense urban areas. In order to ensure the safety of not just the railway workers and not just the patrons of the railway but also of the people who live around these railroads, there needs to be a regimen in Canada that provides for the safe operation of these railroads, which the bill goes a long way to providing. It does not go all the way, and I will get into that in a few minutes.
Every school child knows that railways built this country and that railways play an important role in transporting goods and people from coast to coast. We believe that railways should actually provide a much greater role in transporting people in this country, and perhaps in transporting goods.
Railways are a more efficient way of transporting people than cars. Railways are a more efficient way of transporting goods than trucks. It would take some of the pressure off our highways and cities if we were to move more goods safely by using rail. However, I emphasize the word “safely”, and that is what the bill would, in part, do.
There are 73,000 kilometres of track, and as the member for Trinity—Spadina noted, track has been removed. We have lost 10,000 kilometres of track as the railroads have moved out of transporting. The most recent loss of a railroad was the CP secondary line between Ottawa, the nation's capital, and North Bay. One of the reasons for removing that track was that CP wanted the steel; it was not because it was an uneconomical piece of railroad but because it needed the steel for replacing rails in other places.
It is a shame that the railbed could not be used for public transit or could not continue to be used for the transportation of goods, because generally speaking, the rail line from here to North Bay goes through no cities. It does not go past any homes or businesses that would be endangered by a railway spill.
Last year, railways moved some 72 million passengers and carried 66% of all the surface freight in Canada, so railways are a very important part of the infrastructure of this country.
However, there are some places where we are actually still building railroads. We are building railroads in my riding in large numbers. We are expanding the capacity of a rail corridor that runs through my riding from 40 trains a day to 464 trains a day. That is one of the reasons I am anxious for the bill to pass, because I want to ensure that the government has some power to make sure that railroad is operated in a safe manner.
Some of that railroad may in fact be exempt from this legislation, becausegovernment will decide, for whatever reason, that some of that railroad is not a federally regulated railway. I want to ensure that all of the railroad systems in Canada, whether they are passenger rail or heavy freight rail—and we are talking heavy rail, not the little light rail streetcar systems in some cities—are all run in a safe and efficient manner.
According to the Transportation Safety Board, in 2009 there were 1,081 rail accidents, including 68 main track derailments. If rail traffic continues to grow as anticipated—and the rail companies tell us that it will grow at roughly the same rate as inflation, meaning 3% a year—in 10 years there will be 40% more rail traffic than there is today, and the potential for accidents will increase.
The rail industry believes that the way to prevent accidents at rail crossings in particular is to remove the rail crossings. The idea is to just close the road. That is the easiest way to prevent rail crossings. There will not be any cars crossing the tracks, and the tracks will reign supreme.
That does not work in many urban centres in this country. There is some money, a very small amount of money—about $12 million a year, according to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister—that is set aside by the government to remove rail crossings in this country. I assume that means putting in grade-separated rail crossings so that either the roads go under or above the rail corridor or the rail corridor is dipped below or above the road.
The trouble is that $12 million might pay for half of one of those, and there are hundreds and hundreds, probably thousands—I do not have the number in front of me—of railroad crossings in this country, each of which has the potential for a fatal accident. In fact, there was a fatal accident on the railroads in Toronto just two weeks ago. A pedestrian was killed on a railbed in Toronto. We do not need any more of those.
Keeping people and trains apart should be an important part of what the transport minister strives to do in the implementation of this act.
One of the new key points in the legislation is the requirement for railways to obtain a certificate for operation. The certificate must include a safety management system acceptable to Transport Canada. It is a key element of this legislation that the safety management system be acceptable to Transport Canada so that Transport Canada actually understands and accepts that the railroad applying for a certificate for operation has in place measures that will prevent accidents, that will prevent overwork of their employees—which is why the unions are in support—and that will prevent trains from colliding with one another.
We recently had such a collision involving a passenger train in Burlington, Ontario. No one is really certain yet of all the causes, but speed was definitely a factor. This train went way too fast through a switch. The switch was rated for 15 kilometres an hour, and the train went through at about 60 kilometres an hour and derailed. There was loss of life and there were injuries.
What will prevent, in large measure, many of these kinds of accidents is something called positive train control. In this system the speed of the train is not controlled just by a person watching lights, which is how it works today and which is the same way it worked 160 years ago. A person runs a train by watching lights in order to know when they should go slower and when they can go faster.
Positive train control is widespread in all of the world except North America. It is already in place in some parts of the United States, but it is not present in Canada. It is a system whereby the train's speed is controlled externally. If a switch is closed and the train should slow down, the train's speed is controlled automatically if the train operator does not do it himself or herself.
It makes all kinds of sense, but it is not a system that the government is prepared to impose on the railroads yet. Why?
We would immediately start preventing accidents. It is true that it would be an expense to the railroads, but it is part of the cost of doing business. Railroads that operate in the United States will already have to comply with the positive train control system in the U.S. They already have to build their infrastructure to deal with positive train control. CN and CP and VIA Rail trains that travel across our border will have to do this, yet for some reason the government is not prepared to impose it in Canada.
I wonder why we always wait for the accident or the problem to occur before we act. Most people can see that this would be a good addition to the rail safety system in this country.
A number of problems were identified with rail safety that did not have to do directly with this bill but instead had to do with the oversight that Transport Canada applies to rail safety in this country. In a 2011 report, the federal Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development identified serious deficiencies in the transport of dangerous products.
It is up to the minister to ensure that his officials at Transport Canada are actually enforcing the laws that it already has regarding safety. If it is not, something is wrong with the system.
The commissioner stated that 53% of the files he examined had instances of non-compliance and, of those files, an astonishing 73%, nearly three-quarters, little or no corrective action was taken. We have a law that tells us how to transport dangerous goods. We have a system in which Transport Canada is to actually monitor and enforce that law. We have a commissioner who looked at it and said that Transport Canada was not enforcing it and we have silence from the government. We do not seem to know how to enforce the laws we already have.
Bill S-4 contains a lot of very generous provisions toward the minister who will make decisions about how this law will be implemented. The minister needs to take the most protective and precautionary stance possible with his officials in Transport Canada and with the safety of Canadians because to do otherwise he would be derelict in his duties.
What we are saying about the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, which is already in force, is that if it is not being enforced by the officials who need to enforce it, the minister and his staff, then could S-4 face the same thing? We cannot sit here and pass laws that nobody enforces. The Conservatives believe that laws are to be enforced and enforced to the letter of the law. We heard yesterday from the Minister of Foreign Affairs that, no matter where Canadian companies operate, they are to abide by the laws. The same should be true in Canada but it is up to the government to enforce those laws.
Bill S-4 has quite serious penalties for failing to comply with the legislation. Those penalties are now administrative penalties where the minister would not need to take a company to court. The minister could impose a penalty without actually having to file suit against an individual or company for failing to comply.
We would hope that Transport Canada would actually impose those sanctions when it finds violations. It is no good to have a bunch of sanctions in a law if we do not apply them when there are violations. We hope that corrective action is only necessary very rarely, but we want that corrective action to be taken when it is necessary. We do not want a situation in which the government, as it apparently has done with the transportation of dangerous goods, ignores the law or the enforcement of the law.
The other portion of this law deals with the emissions of pollutants into the air. This is of great interest to the residents in Toronto who would be faced with a rail corridor that will have 464 trains per day or a train every 90 seconds going past. These are diesel engines of 4,000 to 5,000 horsepower emitting huge clouds of black smoke. People want to know that something will be done to limit that pollution.
The bill provides mechanisms whereby the minister can demand that these emissions be reduced, curtailed, regulated or monitored. It will be up to the minister to actually impose those regulations and enforce them.
The people of the city of Toronto are watching this with some great interest because one of the issues that has raised a huge storm is the issue of the amount of pollution that comes from train engines. When people looked at it, because they did not look at it until someone said that we would have 460 of them, they discovered that there were carcinogens, nitrous oxide and particulate matter in that exhaust that can cause grave harm to individuals. To increase it by tenfold, without also putting in some kind of limits, has people in my riding and in other ridings in the city of Toronto demanding that trains be made electric.
In 1908, in the city of New York, the use of fossil fuel burning trains was banned. As my time as run out, I will continue that thought when I come back.