Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to issues surrounding Bill C-322, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act in relation to road crossings.
While the government recognizes the complexity of railways and municipalities having to coexist, I would like to explain why the government cannot support the bill.
Essentially, the bill would introduce inconsistencies into the Railway Safety Act, which is the subject of a comprehensive statutory review that has been moved up to start in 2017 rather than 2018. This was announced on November 3, 2016, by the Minister of Transport. It will provide an opportunity for our government and parliamentarians to consider rail safety in a more comprehensive way than through private members' bills designed to address one-off situations.
This is very significant. I have the experience in my riding of Nickel Belt. It is very important that these issues related to rail safety be addressed in partnership with communities and all levels of government. Together we have the responsibility to improve rail safety across Canada, and this private member's bill seeks to address only one specific situation.
As members of Parliament, we all need to provide leadership in our communities to gather all levels of government to improve rail safety. Round table discussions with various communities—federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous communities, the private sector, and Transport Canada—are crucial.
The statutory review of the Railway Safety Act that has been moved up by a year to 2017 is a move in the right direction.
First, in addition to a rigorous and robust rail safety regulatory framework, there are well-established, existing measures and processes in place, which ultimately makes the proposed bill redundant.
I will illustrate this redundancy by detailing the existing process for the central issue of the private member’s bill: opening or constructing new grade crossings.
To begin, the Grade Crossings Regulations clearly define the responsibilities of the railway company and the road authority with respect to grade crossings.
Understandably, with approximately 14,000 public grade crossings along more than 48,000 kilometres of federally regulated railway tracks across Canada, the regulations recognize and entrench the shared responsibility for rail crossings. Railway companies, road authorities, municipalities and band councils in provinces, and private crossing owners are each responsible for managing safety at grade crossings. This is why Transport Canada encourages rail companies and communities to consult with each other to seek solutions through collaborative approaches.
Likewise, the existing process under the Canada Transportation Act encourages road authorities and railway companies to work together to agree whether or not to open a road crossing, where to open a crossing, and how to apportion the costs.
When the railway company and the municipality agree, the agreement may be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal that makes decisions on a wide range of matters involving federally-regulated modes of transportation, including rail.
These agreements usually include rates to be charged for work performed and specify which parties are responsible for paying for the work, as well as maintenance and liability. The filed agreement becomes an order of the agency authorizing the parties to construct or maintain the crossings, or to apportion the costs, as provided for in the agreement.
If a rail company and a road authority agree on a grade crossing but disagree on who should pay for the work, either party can ask the Canadian Transportation Agency to apportion the costs of that project. When an agreement cannot be reached, the parties have access to mediation services through the Canadian Transportation Agency.
In most cases, the agency first tries to resolve first complaints through facilitation or mediation. Mediators assist the parties in negotiating a mutually satisfactory settlement among themselves.
When mediation is unsuccessful, the next step is for one of the parties to approach the agency in question. Adjudication can take up to 120 days, depending upon the complexity of the case. The agency's ruling under adjudication is legally binding and can include where crossings should be located, how many are required, conditions that the crossing must meet, and apportionment of the costs.
Whether through mediation or adjudication, when crossings are required, Transport Canada provides safety-related advice to agencies before making its decision. All new crossings authorized by the agency must comply with the safety requirements of the Railway Safety Act and associated regulations, such as the Grade Crossings Regulations.
Under the act, the proponent for a new grade crossing must give 60 days' notice to other parties involved. When all other avenues have been exhausted and where there are exceptional threats to safety, the Minister of Transport already has the authority under section 32.01 of the Railway Safety Act to order a company, road authority, or municipality to, among other things, take corrective measures to address a threat to safe railway operations, including construction of a road crossing.
As members can understand, the process in place is a rigorous one even before construction of a grade crossing begins. It goes without saying that the next steps in this process are just as rigorous.
The grade crossings standards referenced in the Grade Crossings Regulations set out the safety criteria for the construction, alteration, maintenance, inspection, and testing of grade crossings. These standards uphold safety at federally regulated crossings by promoting consistency and bring all federally regulated crossings in Canada under one common standard.
Transport Canada's role includes monitoring railway companies through audits and inspections to verify that they meet safety standards under the Grade Crossings Regulations. To do so, the department conducts regular monitoring of rail works and operations, informs railways and road authorities of any safety deficiencies, and, if required, takes appropriate action.
In addition, as previously noted, the Railway Safety Act was amended in June 2015 to provide broader ministerial authorities to address safety risks, threats, or concerns. If the minister considers them necessary in the interests of safe railway operations, specific measures may be ordered, such as constructing, altering, operating, or maintaining a railway work, and a crossing would be included.
While the impetus for Bill C-322 to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to cross railway tracks is certainly worthwhile, road crossing issues are complex and multi-jurisdictional, requiring the involvement and co-operation of multiple players: the federal government, rail companies, road authorities, municipalities, and members of the general public. The relationship between Transport Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency strikes the required fine balance between road safety and the needs of the communities. Ultimately, the government is confident that the regulations and processes in place have the necessary rigour and flexibility to address the interests of this proposed bill.