Mr. Speaker, I rise to speak to the bill before us, the safe and accountable rail act. The bill would fulfill this title by strengthening safety in our efforts to further improve safety management systems in the rail transportation industry. This is especially vital for addressing safety risks before they become bigger problems and before accidents occur.
Railways are a vital part of Canada's transportation system and keeping them safe is everyone's concern. The railway industry and the government need to work together to protect the health and safety of Canadians and to secure the conditions for a prosperous economy.
In the past, railways and many other safety-critical industries pursued safety through compliance with prescriptive rules and regulations. As safety research progressed during the 1990s, however, it became clear that compliance with rules and regulations alone was insufficient to ensure the highest possible levels of safety. What companies needed for a truly effective safety regime was a proactive system approach to safety that allowed them to identify hazards and to mitigate risks in order to prevent accidents. This approach also allowed lessons learned from minor incidents and day-to-day operations to be included in the system, thereby creating a sea of continuous safety improvement with more likelihood of avoiding accidents.
When the railway safety management system regulations first came into force in March 2001, they were the first of their kind in the federal transportation sector. They were created with significant industry input and emphasized the railways' responsibilities for safe operations. The regulations were established to encourage the development of a safety culture throughout all levels of an organization and to ensure that safety is considered as a factor in all decisions.
The safety management system helps organizations better comply with regulatory requirements and demonstrate their commitment to the safety of their employees. Key elements of safety management systems include, for instance, the development of safety goals and performance targets, risk assessments, responsibilities and authorities, processes and procedures, and monitoring and evaluating. Achieving an effective safety culture is the ultimate goal of safety management systems. An effective safety culture in a company can contribute to reducing public and employee fatalities and injuries, property damage resulting from railway accidents, and the impact of accidents on the environment.
Since the introduction of the railway safety management system regulations in 2001, a lot has been done and much has changed. Our railway network is characterized and challenged by a growing user base, vast distances, new and aging infrastructure, and a significant rise in oil on rail. Regulated safety management systems have come a long way since their beginnings. They have now been implemented in rail, marine and aviation transportation modes in Canada, and have become an international standard for managing safety.
The importance of safety management systems and their implementation in Canadian railway systems was one of the most significant issues researched during the last Railway Safety Act review and a simultaneous study of rail safety in Canada undertaken by the Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. While safety management systems were generally supported, both reviews concluded that implementation among the companies was uneven and that more needed to be done by the companies and the regulator to ensure full implementation throughout the industry. As a result, Transport Canada made several amendments to the Railway Safety Act in May 2013, to increase rail safety by strengthening its oversight and enforcement capacity, and expanding safety management systems for railways. Following these amendments, Transport Canada accelerated the development of the new railway safety management system regulations, 2015, which came into force on April 1.
The new regulations improve the implementation of safety management systems by incorporating more detailed requirements to clarify expectations from both industry and the department. The new regulations also improve the overall consistency and quality of railway safety management systems by adding consistent terminology, provisions requiring evidence of implementation, requirements for the identification of an accountable executive and the creation of a policy protecting employees from reprisal for reporting contraventions, and by expanding application to local railway companies.
However, our government is not stopping there. This bill introduces an amendment that would not only make sure that railway safety measurement systems exist, but that they are also working and are effective. Under the current Railway Safety Act, the Minister of Transport can take enforcement actions, including prosecution, for any non-compliance with the railway safety management system regulations.
The minister can even order a railway company to take corrective measures, should the minister be of the opinion that the company's safety management system presents deficiencies that risk compromising safe railway operations. However, the current Railway Safety Act lacks the authority to address issues with the way the rail companies implement their safety management systems. This bill would fill that gap by introducing a new power for the minister to order a company to take corrective measures should a company's implementation of its safety management system risk compromising safety.
This new power would also allow the minister to order corrective action if a company is not following its safety management system procedures and policies to the extent of risking safe railway operations.
Fairness is also paramount to this proposed amendment, to further strengthen railway safety management systems. Similar to the current safety management systems power related to deficiencies in a company's system, an order made under this new power would be subject to review by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada; this at the request of the company.
Together, the rail industry and government have accomplished tremendous work toward enhancing the safety of our railway network in the last decade and continuously improving company safety culture, but we still have more to do to make our railway system safer. Transportation safety is crucial, not only for the welfare of families and communities in Canada but to support Canada's long-term economic growth. We need to continue to work together to achieve our goal of giving all Canadians a safer and more responsible railway system and to assure global markets that our transportation systems are not only efficient but also safe and secure.