Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join with my friend and colleague, the deputy critic for transport, to discuss Bill C-322, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act with regard to road crossings. If passed, this legislation would give the Minister of Transport the power to order the owner of a rail line to build a grade-level crossing across the track and to authorize the payment of a grant for that purpose.
My understanding is that this legislation is principally designed to address a challenging circumstance in the sponsor's riding, where, according to the sponsor, there are not enough rail crossings, and therefore pedestrians are crossing the rail track at multiple uncontrolled locations.
As the issue at hand is a lack of pedestrian crossings along the Canadian Pacific Railway Outremont spur, and as it is common practice by the current Liberal government, one wonders why the Minister of Transport has not called his former caucus colleague, who happens to be the mayor of Montreal, to come up with a suitable plan to build grade-separated overpasses and underpasses for pedestrians to cross the track. However, as per another common practice by the government, it is easier to declare that rail safety for the middle class is a priority for the current minister than to do something about it.
It need not be said that rail safety is a priority for all Canadians, regardless of their personal financial circumstances.
While the intent of Bill C-322 is to address a local issue, it will be national in its scope and should be judged on that basis. Federal legislation already provides municipalities and local authorities with the ability to get a railroad to the table to get a crossing built. Section 101 of the Canada Transportation Act states that if a municipality or the relevant local authority and a railway are unsuccessful in negotiating an agreement to build a crossing, the Canada Transport Agency may, first, authorize the construction of that crossing; second, determine what percentage of the construction costs each party will be responsible for; and finally, determine who will maintain the crossing. This current process puts the onus on each individual local authority to determine whether a new railway crossing is required; where the crossing can and should be built, taking into consideration its development plans; and how much they are willing to contribute financially to see that crossing built.
Municipalities have the primary responsibility for their infrastructure, so it makes sense for them to be the ones determining if and where a railway crossing should be built. It should not be up to the Minister of Transport to determine whether a crossing must be built; it is up to the local government to determine whether it would like to see the rail crossing built.
While Transport Canada does have the ability to close a crossing if it is considered unsafe, this power exists in the interests of safety.
When people cross the track at an uncontrolled location, they are in effect trespassing on private property. The sponsor of this bill in effect is saying that because people are trespassing and putting themselves at risk, the minister needs to build more level-grade crossings.
To be clear, if pedestrians would use existing crossings instead of trespassing on busy railway spurs, the safety of the tracks would not be compromised in this respect. As cities grow around historic railway-owned rights-of-way, the kind of situation we are seeing in Montreal, where there may not be enough grade-separated crossings, will only become more common. Unfortunately, and on too many occasions, pedestrians are cutting holes in fences and taking shortcuts to wherever they need to go rather than walking to existing crossings.
In 2015, accidents between pedestrians and trains resulted in 31 fatalities. The dangers for pedestrians cutting across the track without knowledge of whether a train is coming are obvious, but they are not heeded enough.
I consider it a heavy burden to place on rail operators to have to contend with trespassers as part of their job, when they are already operating heavy equipment under challenging circumstances. I believe that the mental welfare of train operators should be considered in this debate on how to handle the densification of areas around rail lines in cities.
My issue with the bill is that increasing the number of pedestrian crossings that are not grade separated will only increase the opportunities for trespassing on private lands. This will in turn increase the opportunities for pedestrians to find themselves in fatal accidents or to stumble and fall.
I will be opposing the bill, because it proposes the wrong solution to the problem in Montreal and other densely populated cities that have rail lines crossing through them. There will never be a crossing at every single location that is most convenient for all pedestrians. The issue here is that pedestrians are trespassing on private property, thus exposing themselves to major danger.
Governments and railroads share a combined responsibility to ensure that pedestrians stay off the tracks to the greatest extent possible and to make that an ongoing priority in infrastructure initiatives.
I see that my time is coming to an end, so I will leave it there and resume the debate when the bill is next taken up.