Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville.
I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-52, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act. Many members of the House have already expressed their sound support for the safe and accountable railway act. Members opposite who have just spoken have said they are in support of the bill, so I will not repeat many of the areas that they have addressed.
Principally, the bill deals with base insurance amounts and a pooled fund to deal with disasters and ensures a structure to deal with that.
I will turn my attention today to another point of significant importance to all Canadians. That is safe grade crossings.
The safety of grade crossings is a cause championed by the member for Winnipeg South Centre, who herself proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act through her bill, Bill C-627. She appeared before the committee to emphasize the importance of protecting people and property from unsafe railway operations. Bill C-627 and Bill C-52 have become a coordinated effort to ensure that the Minister of Transport and her officials have the mandate and powers to stop the threat to the safety of persons or property from all rail operations. It is a fairly significant addition and piece of legislative work that both the member and this particular bill address. As recognized in both these pieces of legislation, the minister must have the legislative authority to develop, administer, and enforce safety regulations of federally regulated railways.
However, our government's work goes beyond just the legislation before the House. The week of April 27 was Rail Safety Week, and we saw two important announcements that bracketed the range of rail safety challenges from local to international.
At the beginning of the week, the minister announced $9.7 million in new funding to improve safety at more than 600 grade crossings. At the end of the week, the minister and her United States counterpart announced new tank car standards in a joint United States-Canada plan to phase out rail cars that do not meet the new standards. Of course, they will be phased in, because it takes time to replace these cars. These two announcements target both local concerns—the specific places where people and trains intersect daily—and the overall safety of rail operations in Canada and the United States.
It is easy to see why Canadians are concerned about grade crossings. Canadian cities and towns grew up alongside rail lines and continued to spread around them. As subdivision plans are made and the cities continue to grow, obviously those subdivisions and those buildings will be near rail lines. As a result, we have some 37,000 public, private, and pedestrian railway crossings. Although the number of crossing accidents has fallen dramatically since 1980, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says the risk of trains and vehicles colliding at crossings is still too high. Crossing accidents account for nearly 20% of all rail accidents in Canada, with 30% of these accidents resulting in death or serious injury.
In response to the Transportation Safety Board's call for government action on grade crossings, new grade crossing regulations came into force on November 27, 2014. These regulations and the accompanying standards are intended to help prevent accidents and improve the safety of federally regulated grade crossings.
Sometimes some small things can be done to ensure that safety is first and foremost. These include approximately 14,000 public and 9,000 private grade crossings along with more than 42,000 kilometres of federally regulated railway tracks in Canada.
The regulations that came into force on November 27, 2014, will improve safety by establishing comprehensive and enforceable safety standards for grade crossings. They clarify the roles and responsibilities of railway companies and road authorities and ensure the sharing of key safety information between rail companies and road authorities.
This last element is important. Railway companies share responsibility for grade crossing safety with road authorities, which include provinces, municipalities, band councils, and private crossing owners. All of these parties are responsible for managing railway crossing safety in Canada, so effective collaboration is crucial.
The new regulations have a phased-in approach, and railway companies and road authorities must meet all requirements over the next seven years. This phased-in approach requires immediate safety improvements at grade crossings across Canada, while allowing sufficient time to comply with all the requirements and the regulations.
The new funding for grade crossings announced on April 27, 2015, will be available through Transport Canada's grade crossing improvement program. Under this program, eligible railway crossings will be upgraded based on factors such as traffic volume and accident history. The improvements may include flashing lights and bells, gate barriers, linking crossing signals to traffic signals, upgrading to brighter LED lights, or adding new circuits or timing devices.
Transport Canada also encourages the closing of certain grade crossings under federal jurisdiction. The grade crossing closure program provides grants to crossing owners in exchange for closing a crossing. In 2014-15 Transport Canada approved $165,000 in funding to close nine crossings in the interests of public safety.
Other initiatives to improve safety at railway crossings include Operation Lifesaver. This national public education program aims to reduce loss of life, injuries, and damages caused by grade crossing collisions and pedestrian incidents. Transport Canada provides Operation Lifesaver with $300,000 per year for its outreach and education programs.
Improving safety at grade crossings is an important contribution to rail safety. Another is making all rail operations safer, especially in densely populated areas, as was already mentioned. That is why the minister issued an emergency directive this spring that set the speed limit for trains in densely populated urban areas at 64 kilometres per hour. Slower train speeds were among the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's recommendations. The directive also increases inspections and risk assessments along key routes used for the transportation of dangerous goods, include crude oil and ethanol.
The joint United States-Canada announcement on tank car standards in April was the latest step in our government's coordinated effort to improve rail safety following the Lac-Mégantic disaster. These efforts began soon after the accident and the first advisories from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
In July 2013, Transport Canada ordered rail companies to have crews of at least two persons on trains carrying dangerous goods and imposed stricter requirements for securing unattended trains. This was followed in 2014 by a series of measures, including banning the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from carrying dangerous goods and requiring companies to phase out cars not meeting new safety standards by May 1, 2017; the coming into force of a series of new regulations, such as the Railway Safety Management System Regulations, 2015; Railway Safety Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations, Railway Operating Certificate Regulations, and amendments to the Transportation Information Regulations to improve data collection; requiring railways to secure unattended trains with a minimum number of handbrakes and other physical defences to prevent runaways; and tightening railway labelling of hazardous materials.
With the focus on rail safety and the dangers associated with railway operations, we must not lose sight of the important role rail transportation plays and has played in Canada's economy, supporting our exports and bringing goods to Canadians. However, the shadow of Lac-Mégantic looms over anyone living near rail lines, and the daily risk of collisions at grade crossings requires that we do more to ensure rail safety.
Our government takes these potential threats very seriously and is moving to ensure that does not happen again.
I hope that all of my colleagues will join me in recognizing Bill C-52 as a key contribution to improving rail safety and will vote in favour of the bill.