Good afternoon, members.
Objectives of the Railway Safety Act are:
to promote and provide for the safety of the public and personnel, and the protection of property and the environment, in the operation of railways
to encourage the collaboration and participation of interested parties in improving railway safety
to recognize the responsibility of railway companies in ensuring the safety of their operations
to facilitate a modern, flexible and efficient regulatory scheme that will ensure the continuing enhancement of railway safety.
One of the statements from the Foisy report of past:
The government has the responsibility for public safety. They cannot leave such important issues in the hands of the working parties.
Negotiations between the working parties are therefore, for the most part, set on economic goals. Even if safety aspects are addressed in negotiation, the fact remains it could be dealt away with at any time for economic reasons. The UTU Canada's position is that the government can ill afford to allow the issue of employee and public safety to be wrested from government control. To do so is to abrogate the responsibility of public safety. Rail labour representatives participate in a safety regulatory process, but at a diminished level and without much weight being given to them by management. The Railway Safety Act provides for consultation only.
Frequency of inspections, both visual and technological, should have been amalgamated to enhance a fail-safe mechanism. Visual inspections have been reduced due to reductions in regulations, hours of service, workforce, car inspection locations, and certified car inspectors, as well as increases in train length. The average train length currently would be 8,000 feet, although a fair statement might be that an equal number of trains are reaching train lengths of 10,000 to 14,000 feet.
Voluminous reports from previous inquiries and commissions have been submitted to date. Deregulation has let down the employees, the public, and our environment, since we have not learned from our mistakes and adhered to recommendations.
The extent to which track conditions cause significant safety problems appears to be related to the financial health of the carrier, track life cycle, expenditures for track ratio versus rolling stock, differences in accounting mechanisms, government tax structures, depreciation of company equipment, available capital, and six-axel diesel locomotives.
Canada's statutory approach is one that appears to be based both on inspection and on intercompany safety awareness through the use of health and safety committees, but it is not. A Canadian approach should be based on resolution at the company level through joint equal participation of labour and management, with a strong residual enforcement power granted to the government. The current structure is more adversarial right now, pitting the employer against the government and the employee.
There are factors to be considered in why there are so many derailments and why there are so many accidents: possibly geographic conditions in Canada, deferred maintenance and its implications, changes in technology, uses of technology, changes in maintenance procedures and practices, reductions in workforces, and management philosophy. Labour Canada and Occupation Safety and Health are responsible for rail employees who are not involved with train operation. This includes maintenance of way employees, repair shops, tunnels, viaducts, and others.
The employer is to take steps to ensure that there's no reoccurrence. Labour Canada acts in investigating, reporting regulations, placing responsibilities on employers for investigation, and reporting accidents. The railroads seem to have their own accident reporting and investigation systems.
Other factors that need to be considered: employee negligence, equipment failure, train journal failure, track failure, broken rails, switches, lines, rock slides, specific human failure, getting on and off equipment, which would be related to accidents, backhand and foot injuries, slips, falls, and overall compensation costs.
We need a re-examination of the Canadian railroad operating rules. There certainly seems to be a desire to move in that direction.
I'd also like to say that Transport Canada does not rely on fine collection for enforcement. We'd like to see some fair penalties applied for non-compliance.
The adverse effect of deregulation inspection processes is more a case of monitoring than enforcing. On the credibility of the inspection processes, I believe improvements should result from Transport Canada having more field inspectors to do inspections of the condition of the tracks, to evaluate, monitor, and regulate the quality of the track. The railroads right now seem to create their own standards for track integrity and policing. We'd like to see comprehensive track inspections and photography of the main line with increased frequency.
Car inspection processes should include monitoring, evaluation, and regulation of efficiencies, deficiencies, and risk factors. Inspections should be done in receiving yards, in approved certified car inspection locations.
There currently exists a railway safety consultative committee. It's a tripartite committee, with representatives from stakeholders—the railways in Canada—the unions of transportation, and the Railway Association of Canada. Initially the committee was organized into working groups for addressing such matters as public disclosure of accident information, track inspection requirements, maintenance of signal devices, detection of rock slides, and development of standards for rights-of-way. As I stated before, the union's position is only sought on a consultative basis, and not much weight has been given to it.
On railroad safety, employees are our other concern. Safety committees need to be familiar with rehabilitation programs and training programs. Also, training levels for our operating crews have been diminished, and we'd like those expedited. It's probably because of a reduced workforce, and it's important to get them back to work.
I'll pass it over to John.
Certainly. Understood. Thank you, sir.
Another problem with the railroad is post-traumatic stress syndrome. I can give you some examples, but maybe we can get into those later.
I have to tell you that I'm from the former BC Rail. Since CN has taken over the operations of the former BC Rail, we've experienced a greatly reduced standard of safety, from operating standards to maintenance standards on the track, as well as in the maintenance of equipment. On the railway, we're entitled to have—and required to have, by law—proper supervision. We're not getting that at CN. You can phone a supervisor, leave a message, and hope to get a call back, but nine times out of ten you will not get a return call.
In my opinion, there's no proper training for new hires. Traditionally, railways have killed a lot of people, often to fatten up the bottom line. This is neither libellous nor scandalous. It is a fact dating back to the days of construction. You can read in textbooks how the CPR murdered groups of Chinese labourers in the Fraser Canyon. They say that for every mile of track on the CPR, there's a body buried. Fatalities are budgeted into any large construction project. I can tell you that when BCR built the Tumbler Ridge branch line, they budgeted for three deaths. Fortunately there were no fatalities.
Recently, on May 14, 2003, two men died when a bridge collapsed at McBride. It went to court, CN pleaded guilty, and they paid the fine. It's the cost of doing business.
Two more men died on June 29, 2006, near Lillooet, on a runaway train disaster. A third was badly injured. All three of the men were friends of mine. The engine involved should have been at a junkyard, not on a main line, let alone on a main line with a steep mountain grade.
My focus is on railway workers. However, since the deregulation of the railway, airline, and trucking industries, some common denominators have been developing. For example, Air Canada is preparing to maintain and repair aircraft in Guatemala. I'm not sure that the maintenance standard in South America is the same as it is in Canada.
I have no axe to grind with CN. I do not begrudge them to make a profit. However, I would like to reiterate that BCR had a higher safety operating standard. It had a higher equipment and track maintenance standard. BCR was proactive rather than reactive. We had a full-time union safety adviser. We had a derailment task force. We had a locomotive cab committee addressing issues of fatigue in the workplace. There have been some very good studies done by NASA and Boeing, and there was a lot of research done in these cab committees.
We had windshield wipers that worked. We joke in CN that the only reason they bring the locomotives to Vancouver is to get the windows washed. And I'm not kidding. The windows are filthy. When the sun shines on you, you can't see out the windows. It's important to see out the windows of a locomotive, and it's important for the windshield wipers to work. I could elaborate on that, but I'm not going to.
At the former BC Rail, we had things called headsets with boom mikes, so that you could talk to your conductor or engineer over the radio.
There were lots of things, and I have some submissions. I apologize that they're not in French, but I didn't understand. Hopefully we can get them translated.
Another thing we had was corner lights on locomotives. Those came as a result of a coroner's inquest in 1981, when we had a train that hit a rock slide just south of Lillooet and the engine plunged into Seton Lake. The body of the brakeman was never found, never recovered.
Since CN took over, we've found more problems with equipment, like unsecured and unstable ladders on the side of railcars. We call them grab irons, and the bottom step is called a stirrup. We find shaky stirrups and shaky grab irons. They're important for safety. When you climb on a moving boxcar, you don't want those stirrups or grab irons to break. You don't want to fall under the railcar.
At the former BC Rail, we feel that proper legislation and regulations are required for railways, airplanes, and trucks, in order to protect workers and the general public, and also the environment.
Good afternoon Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen.
I am here as a witness to events, catastrophes, accidents or incidents. I will leave it up to you to decide what vocabulary should be used in each case.
For the second time in three years, on January 7, 2007, 24 freight cars of which 4 contained sulphuric acid, derailed near the Montmagny station. Even though there was no spill of dangerous substances, a few of the cars ended up very close to residences.
You will see on the cover photo that one of the cars, which derailed during the night, was on the porch of the white house close to the old station, where many Montmagny community sports, leisure and cultural activities take place.
Despite the fact that the worst case scenario was avoided once again and that there were no injuries, neighbourhood residents are seriously concerned. Even if the causes of the derailment still remain unknown, the speed of the trains is being blamed and with good reason because there have been many catastrophes in the history of the railway in Montmagny over the years.
I will give you the history. Given the multiple incidents that have taken place, it is not surprising that the citizens of Montmagny are concerned, and that they expect that their petition tabled with the city asking for a permanent reduction in train speed to 64 km/h will be accepted by CN or imposed on them. It will be more difficult to have them accept it.
On July 6, 1943, two trains collided on the bridge over the Bras Saint-Nicolas. It must be pointed out that the railway crosses over two rivers that go through the city of Montmagny. A freight train engineer lost his life in this accident and three CN employees were seriously injured. Some 10 other employees suffered minor injuries that did not, however, require them to be taken to hospital.
On April 6, 1954, a passenger train hit a faulty switch at full speed, derailed and demolished a warehouse. The accident took place very close to the station and caused four fatalities, including two conductors and two hoboes. Twenty cases of dynamite were onboard, but none of them exploded. We were lucky. The accident, which was described by employees as one of the most serious accidents to take place in the United States and Canada, was caused by a siding shift which had been left open.
In the fall of 1961, a train collided with a car, causing the death of Lionel Paquet. This incident took place at the level crossing on Saint-Pierre Street.
On January 3, 1963, Gaston Cloutier lost his life following a car accident at the level crossing at Saint-David Avenue.
On November 1, 1966, a car accident at the level crossing near the Gérard Collin factory caused the deaths of four people, including three young girls under the age of 13. The reason given for this accident was the fact that there were no signal lights, along with the fact that several trains were parked on the sidings which led to confusion in the mind of the conductor.
On January 9, 1969, a train left the main rails to move on to a siding and smashed into the Edouard Gendreau hardware store, wounding six people.
On March 30, 1972, a CN employee was fatally wounded while working on a train car a few steps from the station.
On March 13, 1983, the axles and wheels of a car broke close to the station. As the train was moving at low speed, this did not cause a derailment.
In February 1986, a defective wheel on the seventh car forced rail traffic to stop, but did not result in a derailment.
In February 1995, at Saint-François very close to Montmagny, a sleeper car at the end of the train derailed.
On December 5, 1996, because of wheel problems, a car derailed across from the Montmagny station.
In 1997, Gino Anctil died at the Saint-Pierre Street level crossing in Montmagny.
On February 7, 2004, a freight train which had left Halifax for Charny, derailed on the iron bridge over the Rivière du Sud. That is the second river one would cross when travelling from the east. The accident was caused by a bogie failure, and 28 of the 94 cars derailed and fell on the frozen river. The train included two pressurized tank cars containing chlorine. Fortunately, there was no leak of poisonous substances nor was there any loss of life or injury. On top of the interruption of rail traffic, the pedestrian walkway alongside the bridge, built in 1938 by the city of Montmagny, was completely destroyed. It was a rather noteworthy catastrophe.
This was the second derailment in Montmagny in less than three years. The people no longer feel safe in the presence of trains moving at over 64 km/h. Apart from the many previous accidents, the two last major derailments to occur in Montmagny in three years, which happened on the same 800-meter stretch, on the same terrain, have seriously worried the residents of the city. Furthermore, they have organized a committee and have taken the initiative of getting a petition signed—which you will find appended to the brief—aimed at having the train speed permanently reduced. Even though CN does not believe that speed is a factor, the people of the city of Montmagny wish, in order to make this residential area safer, to see the train speed permanently reduced to 64 km/h, because it seems obvious that a train moving at low speed will cause less damage in the event of a derailment.
I will give you the facts. In railway inquiry report No. R04Q0006, drafted by the Transportation Safety Board, the TSB, following the 2004 derailment, it is put forward that the NUCARS simulations showed that the train cars were affected by the bogie's bouncing movement at speeds between 80 and 93 km/h. In 2004, the train was going 93 km/h, almost the allowable limit. It should have been going under 80 km/h. It was, furthermore, disclosed that all of the elements that were likely to cause this bouncing movement of the bogie at high speeds were present. It was furthermore a bogie failure that caused the derailment.
At the time of the 2007 derailment, the freight train was moving at 82 km/h, whereas the maximum speed allowed in Montmagny, according to Transport Canada's rail safety regulations, is 96 km/h. It was travelling at a slightly lower speed, but for freight service, that is very fast for an urban area.
Furthermore, the CN train is already moving at a low speed in certain cities for safety reasons, in light of the proximity of homes. For example, the train travels at 56 km/h between Charny and Saint-Apollinaire; it moves at 48 km/h in the city of Drummondville and at 56 km/h between Beloeil and Montreal. Finally, there are at least three level crossings where many people are part of the traffic either in vehicles, on motorcycles, on bicycles, or on foot in the danger area.
I will tell you about the measures that have been taken. On December 30, 2001, the residents of the Saint-Mathieu neighbourhood, who live alongside the railway, sent a letter to municipal authorities following fruitless representations to CN. In their letter, they deplore the greater and greater speeds of trains, their ever-increasing length, as the gentleman was saying earlier, the heavier and heavier loads on the cars and, often, the more and more toxic contents. All of this makes them fearful for their safety.
In 2004 and 2005, following the derailment of February 7, 2004, dozens of letters were sent to CN asking them to reduce the speed of trains travelling through the municipality. No answers were received on the issue.
In 2007, many organizations gave their support to the city of Montmagny in the form of resolutions to ensure that the speed would be permanently reduced. These include the Conférence régionale des élus de Chaudière-Appalaches, the Montmagny MRC, the Conférence des préfets des MRC de la Chaudière-Appalaches, the city of Pohenegamook, the municipality of Rivière-Bleue, the Union of Quebec Municipalities as well as the federal member for Montmagny—L'Islet—Kamouraska—Rivière-du-Loup.
In summary, citizens within an 800-meter radius of where the last two incidents occurred are concerned. The City of Montmagny speaks for these people who, this time, do not intend to throw in the towel. Too many accidents or major incidents have occurred there over the years for the people to forget the toll of recent years: 13 deaths, 10 people seriously injured, a dozen people with contusions, and 5 derailments. Fortunately, the five derailments did not involve spills, disasters, injuries or deaths. We were lucky, but we would not want there to be a sixth or a seventh incident: that could be the end of it.
For example, in 2007, a railcard stopped about three feet from the window of a house. If it had contained chlorine or another toxic chemical, there could have been a disaster. We have been lucky to have never had a spill. In fact, we would have needed to evacuate everyone within the area because it is in the middle of town. Last time, the incident occurred in the middle of the night, at a time when it is very difficult to evacuate people. No one knows what situation or state residents are in. Some take pills to sleep, and it is difficult to wake them up, others do not want to leave home. We prefer not thinking about the possibility of having to manage a disaster like that.
That is why the City of Montmagny is repeating its request to reduce the speed of trains within the city to 64km/h. The agreement dealing with the amendment to the act recommends imposing harsh penalties such as speed reduction on CN in cases where accidents frequently occur in the same municipality. This is the second time in three years that such incidents have occurred. That is quite disastrous. There were 5 in just under 50 years, without counting the other incidents. If a committee were to issue a decision on the events and impose penalties on CN, that would force CN to be a little bit more careful and vigilant in terms of maintenance.
I am convinced that the people at CN would prefer not to see these accidents occur, but these accidents are often directly linked to work that was not necessarily done adequately on the lines. In the past, CN could use herbicides, pesticides and other toxic chemicals along the rail beds, but it can no longer do so. As a result, vegetation is accumulating there, water levels are increasing, and the water is reaching into the ballast under the tracks. When the temperature goes up and down for example in January and February, the rail bed expands and contracts. I am not a specialist, but I am trying to analyze the situation. It ends up causing accidents like the one that occurred recently.
The people at CN have told us that the last accident was due to switching. A part was apparently not detected by the ultrasound system, went up, and was ripped off by the train. They have also told us that they are obliged to conduct ultrasound verifications each year, but that they are currently doing 8 and they plan to do 10. But even if they did one in December, there was a derailment in February. In no way does that reassure us.
I will now move on to my second recommendation. Since freight is now transported from one large centre to another, because local distribution no longer exists, we recommend that consideration be given to the possibility of building bypasses for this type of train. That would be consistent with what was done for road transportation with the arrival of highways. Highway 132 or 138—and here I am talking about Quebec—are no longer used because freight volumes increased. Highways are now used.
I have one page left to read, but it deals primarily with the history of the arrival of the train and the railway in Montmagny, as well as the Grand Trunk. You will be able to read it when you have the document. The annexes include a map of the houses located along the railway. You will be able to see how many there are. You will also find letters of support and the citizens' petition. That completes my submission. If you have any questions for me, I'm prepared to answer them.
One of my objectives in appearing here today was to find out the committee's position.
I think that if we want to get things moving, the rail company needs to feel as though it is under some pressure, that it may lose certain things or certain advantages. In CN's case if we can say there are two or three accidents around Montmagny, it would be good for the committee members to endorse the city's recommendation to reduce the speed to 40 miles/h for the moment to reassure people.
I'm using the example of Montmagny, but not all cities in Canada have experienced 5 derailments, 7 or 8 accidents and 10 fatalities. In fact, Montmagny probably experienced most of these problems despite its small size, with a population of 12,000. So, to reassure people, it would be good to get the committee's support.
In the future, there should some type of legislation to sanction CN rail accidents. This could lead them to have a sharper focus, to ensure more effective equipment maintenance and to be more careful. I think it could help them make improvements. I agree with having audits done, but there should also be some sanctions. We know that CN has consistently challenged the Transportation Safety Board's reports, and continues to do so. We feel there is no solid basis for our discussions with them. So, perhaps this could be included in the legislation.
We could also use the carbon exchange. When there is a spill due to a derailment, CN should get negative points on the exchange. Rail transport should normally protect the environment, but it is disrupting it and disrupting people's peace of mind. CN should be sanctioned under the carbon exchange once it is set up. For the time being, since it has not yet been set up, the committee should make a statement regarding the fact that the municipality of Montmagny has been penalized more so than other cities in Canada.
At the moment, the committee recommends that the speed limit be set at 40 miles/h to reassure people. This is an east-west stretch. If you dismantle the Montmagny bridge, you can't get to Halifax. There is no other route. To go to Halifax, you have to go through Montmagny. There are two rivers, two bridges, and citizens living alongside the rail line. I have been asked why people were allowed to settle there. My reply was that you can't simply rewrite Canadian history. People built houses alongside rivers and rail lines, because those were the means of transportation at the time. You cannot rewrite history. That is how things are and will remain.
I sincerely believe that if companies do not offer the services they had undertaken to offer, it makes sense for them to be sanctioned. This is how things go in the field of communications and in other types of companies. I cannot see why this should not be the case for CN. It is as though the company were shielded from these things, because there is no legislation on this.
We heard a number of witnesses on the remailing issue. Ms. Greene was here. Unfortunately, she wasn't as forthcoming as perhaps she would have been had there not been an ongoing negotiation with their union. It was very clear to me, and certainly to members of the committee on this side of the table, that we need to provide some support to the international remailers who work within Canada.
I just want to list a number of facts that I think are salient and need to be considered.
For well over 20 years, remailers have been allowed to do business in Canada. Suddenly, about three years ago we had a challenge by Canada Post to an industry that has developed in reliance upon their understanding that this was a legal activity. Canada Post assumed this was a legal activity, and then somebody pointed out to Canada Post, probably a smart lawyer, that there was a difference in the wording of section 14 of the Canada Post Corporation Act in the French and English versions. The English version refers to “collecting, transmitting and delivering letters to the addressee thereof within Canada”. The French version doesn't use the term “within Canada”.
Even with my primitive understanding of the French language, it's pretty clear from that particular section that there is a difference in the two languages. Based on that distinction, the matter was litigated all the way to the Supreme Court, and of course the remailers lost. Ultimately, it is for Parliament to address this issue.
Just to outline additional facts, it's estimated that the contribution to the Canadian economy by the remailing industry is somewhere around the $300 million mark in terms of total profits annually. There are hundreds of businesses that employ thousands of people across Canada. They are engaged in different aspects of the business, including preparing, designing, translating, sorting, printing, and delivering letter mail, and that is mail weighing 500 grams or less, to destinations outside of Canada. There are seven or eight major companies in Canada that simply deliver international mail.
After more than 20 years, suddenly the rules are changed for these companies that have relied on an understanding that was even concurred in by Canada Post. This is a huge industry in Canada. We're talking about thousands of jobs. We, as Parliament and as a committee, have to do something about that.
My motion is very simple. It simply asks that the government amend the Canada Post Corporation Act to clarify the English and French versions of the section so as to remove Canada Post's exclusive privilege to deliver letter mail to destinations outside Canada.
I hope not to be too long, but I thank you very much for this.
As I recall the debate, when we had the interview, the issue revolved around the fact that Canada Post had sought a court decision on the definition of “exclusive privilege” in either or both of the two official languages. What we wanted to do was make sure that we had that clarity.
The courts decided on a particular definition, but the courts aren't the ones that execute the law. The Parliament of Canada, the Government of Canada, can determine what it is that it wants to do.
Mr. Jean, I share the view that if something's been going on for 20 years, it probably hasn't caused anybody any harm. So what I'd like to do, rather than create a problem, is try to solve one that's emerged. Now whether it's emerged because of activity or because Canada Post sought and got a definition it wanted post factum is another story.
In the final analysis, what's going to happen is that the government will have to make that definition. It has to bring in an amendment to the legislation that says this is what that definition should be. So whether we do it here or whether it's done in the House, it's going to end up in the House.
I can appreciate, from a political, tactical point of view, that perhaps the government might want to see whether a committee here, reflective of the dynamics in the House, would be in favour. Quite frankly, my colleague, Mr. Bélanger, is quite right. If you don't see what the definition is going to be, it's going to be kind of hard to say that as a holus-bolus principle, this is what it is.
On the second item, and that is what the impact might be on rural postal delivery, I'm one of those who still thinks Canada Post has a legal obligation to deliver first class mail. That means that as long as it is part of a government entity, the Government of Canada underwrites that cost. We shouldn't be looking to private sector arguments about how that's going to be conducted.
I was around here when Canada Post and the private sector were diametrically opposed. Now we're obviously in a different world. If it's a question of seeking to have a commercial advantage, that's fine. But I don't want to be part of something that gets commercial advantage as a result of some obfuscation of language. So let's clarify the language.
I appreciate what Mr. Fast is trying to do. Earlier on, in consultation with my colleagues, we had the kind of conversation in which the impression was that a motion would come forward and we would ask for clarification. The government still has the initiative one way or the other, and that still has to be done.
Mr. Fast, I find myself in a position in which I'd like to support exactly what you've written down, but it's going to be very difficult, because there is no implementation ability, even if I support this. The government, taking a report from the chairman of this committee, will have to go to the House and say that we heard what the committee would say, and here's the language. Then I might find myself at odds with the language the government is going to put forward, and nobody is any further ahead.
What I would propose, Mr. Fast, is that perhaps you go back to the minister and say that around the table there is great concern about the confusion that will have been caused and that has been caused by the interpretation the courts have given to this language, and ask for clarification, because there are people who are anxious to do the right thing, and the right thing does not include putting people out of business.