Mr. Chair, I too would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the minister's birthday today and wish her the best. Hopefully she will have a much better celebration in one of the nights to come, because this is not a great way to celebrate one's birthday.
That being said, Canada's rail system has been central to the development of this country. There are some 48,000 kilometres of track, enough to go around the world. We have one of the largest rail networks on the globe.
Rail has connected Canadians to each other and, by transporting Canadian goods to markets, is crucial to our economic prosperity. Some 70% of our surface freight moves by rail, including bulk commodities such as agricultural and forestry products, minerals, and energy products, including oil.
In recent years, more than 40% of our gross domestic product has been generated by bulk commodities. We use rail to move what are called dangerous goods. Dangerous goods play a vital role in the North American economy, but they are substances that could pose a threat to people or the environment. These shipments include oil and gas.
Every day such shipments move routinely and safely across Canada by rail without incident. Canadians depend on many of these goods to go about their daily lives. In fact, more than 30 million shipments of dangerous goods are transported annually in this country. Let me note again that almost all their destinations are reached without incident.
However, this past summer a tragic incident did occur. On July 6, an unmanned Montreal, Maine and Atlantic train containing crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. The explosion and fire that followed killed 47 people, caused significant damage to the town, and released more than five million litres of crude oil. The events in Lac-Mégantic underline the ongoing need for rail safety.
An on-site investigation was immediately launched by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. The TSB provides an extremely valuable service to the government and Canadians. It operates independently of the government and makes recommendations following investigations into transportation incidents.
Earlier this year, the TSB made interim recommendations based on its ongoing investigation into the tragic Lac-Mégantic incident. Our government took decisive action to address the TSB recommendations.
Just recently, the Minister of Transport directed her department to further strengthen rail safety in Canada by removing the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from service; requiring DOT-111 tank cars that do not meet the standard published in January 2014 in Canada Gazette part 1 or any other future standard to be phased out within three years; requiring emergency response assistance plans for even a single tank car containing crude oil, gasoline, diesel, aviation fuel, or ethanol; creating a task force that brings municipalities, first responders, railways, and shippers together to strengthen emergency response capacity across the country; and requiring railway companies to reduce the speed of trains carrying dangerous goods and to implement other key operating practices.
However, I should note, given the integration of Canada and U.S. rail networks, that rail cars cross the border both ways every day, so we also require a North American solution. When it comes to developing a new standard for rail cars, we do not exist in isolation and must consider our training partners in the United States.
As such, the Minister of Transport continues to work with her American counterpart to accelerate the development of even more stringent standards in keeping with the TSB recommendations.
In addition, here in Parliament the minister has asked the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities to review safety management systems for railways and the transport of dangerous goods. I mention this because I want to point out that Canada has in fact paid attention to safety in rail transportation. Those who say otherwise need to examine the facts.
In addition to the actions I have mentioned, our government is also taking other steps to address this important issue. On sharing TDG information with municipalities, the minister has stated that our government remains committed to a two-way dialogue and information exchange with key transportation stakeholders in communities across Canada. A protective direction was issued to make sure this happened.
On classification of dangerous goods, the minister announced a directive to ensure that all crude oil being transported is properly tested and classified and that results are sent to Transport Canada.
This provides Transport Canada with an additional means to monitor industry compliance and focus our efforts for the greatest safety benefit of Canadians.
When we look at all these actions together, we can see that our government is taking an approach that is similar to the world-class tanker safety initiative that we developed for marine transportation. It focuses on prevention, response, and liability.
Our government is committed to rail safety and, prior to this tragedy, took numerous other actions to strengthen it. It is worth noting some of them.
In 2009, we increased funding to ensure a permanent rail inspectorate of over 100 positions nationally. By last spring, Transport Canada had 101 railway safety inspectors and 35 dangerous goods inspectors. It has implemented a new, aggressive staffing plan to increase oversight capacity. For example, between April 1, 2012 and March 31, 2013, rail safety inspectors conducted more than 30,000 inspections. Our government has also invested more than $100 million in the rail safety system.
We have also taken legislative steps. Last year, final amendments to the Railway Safety Act went into effect, providing the authority to introduce new regulations to strengthen safety and oversight programs. These new regulations include increased fines for companies that break rules, a requirement that rail carriers submit environmental management plans, the creation of whistle-blower protection for employees with safety concerns, and a call for rail companies to have an executive legally responsible for safety.
I want to also note other measures we took immediately following the events in Lac Mégantic. The Minister of Transport directed her department to issue an emergency directive to rail companies, with five requirements: two operators are required at all times for trains carrying dangerous goods; all cabins must be locked; all reverses must be removed from locomotives; all brakes must be properly applied on all locomotives; and no trains can be left unattended without new strict conditions. Our government made these rules permanent.
These actions would build on steps that Transport Canada is also taking to bolster the safety of our rails and the transportation of dangerous goods. To this end, we have said we will work to enhance the collection of safety data and the tools to analyze safety risks and improve and expand the fleet of vehicles used to assess rail tracks. We will improve how information about dangerous goods shipments is shared with municipalities, conduct research to support safety technologies, promote a culture of safety in the rail industry, and continue to work with communities across Canada and groups such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to further support the work of municipal emergency preparedness officials and first responders.
We also continue to strengthen rail safety through other actions. That is why, even before the investigations into this tragedy were completed, the minister directed officials in her department to speed up development and implementation of regulations that reflect recent amendments to the Railway Safety Act. In doing so, there are several questions we need to consider. For example, do our current regimes and options adequately reflect risks of transporting crude oil and other dangerous goods? As we did in developing the world-class tanker safety regime, should we reassess the liability and compensation regime for rail transport to better protect victims, the environment, and taxpayers?
Given the integration of the Canada-U.S. rail network, and in order to improve rail efficiency together, we should work to develop a new continental co-operation on rail safety.
As I noted earlier, we are already doing some of these.
As a first step, the Canadian Transportation Agency is reviewing its insurance assessment criteria and will take actions permitted under existing legislation. As well, Transport Canada will review how much insurance may be required in order to adequately compensate people and pay for cleanups after accidents. From that, we expect to bring forward options to improve this regime and ensure it adequately reflects the risks of transporting crude and other dangerous goods.
Beyond what government can do with its own powers, we must also encourage transportation businesses to encourage a culture of safety in their everyday operations, and the sense among employees that they can all contribute to safe operations. By accomplishing this, these businesses can maintain government's trust and have confidence that we will support their enterprise.
In conclusion, let me make a couple of key points. First, railway safety regulations exist to ensure the safety and protection of the public. If these regulations are not followed, we will not hesitate to act, and if companies do not properly classify the goods they transport, they may be prosecuted under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act.
Second, Canada has a robust and safe transportation system, one in which we can have confidence. The facts demonstrate that Canada is pursuing rail safety and that our record has improved in recent years. However, events in Lac-Mégantic remind us that we must remain committed to strengthening rail safety. To do so, we will learn from recent events and work with all stakeholders in rail transportation to ensure the safety of our rail system for Canadians.
We recognize that there is still some work to do, and we remain committed to working with the rail industry, governments, and partners such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to improve the safety of our rail and transportation of dangerous goods systems.
With that, I have a question for the minister. I was wondering if the minister could comment on whether, in light of what I have said in my speech, she is confident in the direction we are taking and whether it will maintain the safety of our transportation and trade system.