Thank you, and good morning, everyone.
Welcome to the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, meeting number 7. The orders of the day are rail safety in Canada. As we all know, we've been reviewing the rail safety situation in Canada.
Joining us today from the Department of Transport are Mr. Marc Grégoire, assistant deputy minister of safety and security, and Luc Bourdon, director general of rail safety.
What I thought we would do is ask for an opening presentation; I know it won't be that long. Then members have several questions they'd like to ask. As we get closer to the end of the meeting, once our witnesses have presented and we've asked all our questions, we'll have a brief discussion on the draft. Then we'll end the meeting by finalizing Thursday morning's meeting.
With that, I'll welcome our guests. If you have a presentation, please feel free.
I'm pleased to be here today to respond to any questions or concerns the committee may have regarding railway safety in Canada. I'm joined by Luc Bourdon, director general of rail safety.
You may recall that we provided the committee with a description of the general foundation for railway safety in Canada when we were last here in May of 2007. It was the end of May, I believe. I would, of course, be happy to go over any of the ground we previously covered.
My intention today, however, is to focus on what has taken place since my last appearance. That's why it's going to be short. I will also provide you with our proposed next steps.
As you no doubt know, in December 2006, the government announced the Railway Safety Act Review. The purpose of the review is to improve railway safety in Canada, and to further promote a safety culture within the railway industry, while preserving and strengthening the vital role this industry plays in the Canadian economy.
This review was undertaken by an independent four-member panel. The panel consulted a wide range of stakeholders. These included the public, railway companies and their industry associations, railway company employees and their unions, railway customers, provinces and territories, municipalities, aboriginal and environmental groups, and Transport Canada and other federal government departments and agencies.
Efforts were also made to ensure an extensive range of access for input, including a website to accommodate input from the public.
I expect the panel report will be available publicly early in 2008, probably in February 2008, to be more prrecise.
In the meantime, we continue our ongoing work with the railway companies to actively identify and rectify immediate threats to safety through our active inspection and auditing programs.
I should mention that we've had some successes in 2007, with main track derailments down 9.1%—that's for the period from January to October—and accidents, overall, down 4.3%. Again, that's for the same period.
These are, indeed, encouraging trends, but there's no time or place for complacency when it comes to the safety and security of Canadians and their transportation system.
I should mention, speaking of security, that the minister signed an MOU with the Railway Association of Canada on security in order for all railway company members to make security plans on a voluntary basis.
So while we anticipate that 2008 will see a continuation of these encouraging trends, it will certainly not happen without a commitment to safety from the industry.
As I have mentioned on other occasions, railway companies are responsible for making the appropriate decisions to ensure that operations are safe and that they are in compliance with all federal regulations, standards, and rules. I believe that with hard work and a commitment to safety, Transport Canada and the railway industry can help cement these positive safety trends.
We're ready for your questions now.
Thank you, and thank you, gentlemen, for appearing today and for coming back.
I have a series of questions. First of all, I did appear before the panel last year. I think it was last year; it may have been early this year. From your brief that you've given us this morning and from your comments, and I just confirmed with you, I see that you appeared as well. You say, “as well as Transport Canada and other federal government departments and agencies”. This committee would like to have a copy of the material that you presented to them so that we could have that for our consideration.
This committee, of course, started the question on the investigation into rail safety in October 2006. The minister then appointed his panel in December. I would be hopeful that before the minister takes final action on the panel's recommendations, he would come before this committee so that we can complete our report and make any comments that we wish to make. But I have some specific questions that I would like to ask.
Some of the things we heard during the discussion with the witnesses was that there was a lack of teeth in the Railway Safety Act compared to the Aeronautics Act. On the issue of fines, of penalties, the railways said they didn't really think it was necessary to do that. We heard about the issue of conflicting standards--the American standards, the FRA standards--on determining what constitutes an accident, what constitutes...I guess not a derailment, but an accident by virtue of the value of the money involved, the cost of the incident.
I would like to know whether or not Transport Canada feels there is a reasonable opportunity for some type of, I'll use the term “international”, but certainly American, U.S. standard, whereby we have some method of comparing statistics, because it appears in the testimony that the railways can use, when it suits them, either the FRA standard or the Canadian standard to create the most favourable picture.
In your comments earlier and just now, you talked about the number of incidents being down. I would appreciate getting the actuals, maybe in a graphic or a spreadsheet form. We know that 2005 was supposed to be a spike year, a really bad year. When the railways were here, they proudly said, and I think you in your testimony said, well, they're down, but they're down for the worst year they had for a long time. Being down from your worst time isn't necessarily anything to be proud about.
It's good to say yes, we've moved in the right direction, but if you say they're down 4%, or whatever the figure you just gave us--down 9% on accidents and 4% on derailments, or perhaps I reversed those from down 9% on derailments and 4% on accidents--that is down from what? In this case, it's 2007 to 2006. How much was 2006 down from 2005? We heard figures previously on five-year averages, but a five-year average would include 2005, which was an abnormally high year. If you start taking averages and you include one figure that is higher than the others, that will distort those figures.
I'd like to know what your comments or recommendations would be relative to trying to draw some parallels in the Railway Safety Act to the Aeronautics Act and putting teeth into it in the form of fines, penalties, making corporate responsibility...whether it's individuals, the chief executive officer, or the president.
In the Aeronautics Act, my understanding is that there is responsibility that assigns to certain individuals within those companies. We don't have that in the Railway Safety Act. What would your thoughts be about having that there?
Could we get in future some actual statistics for us to see? I know that going back 10 years ago, approximately 1995, 1997, somewhere in there, when the railway safety management systems were put in, the statistics dropped. But they dropped, as I understand, because there was a difference in the way they were reported, not necessarily a real drop in terms of safety, as a result of SMS systems going in.
The other question I'd like to know is, in terms of the number of inspectors, do we have 35 railways...?
Am I out of time already?
You're just hassling me.
Voices: Oh, oh!
Mr. Don Bell: This is something I feel very passionate about, as you can tell.
I gather we have about 30 to 35 major railroads in Canada. We have about 25 to 30 provincial railroads. I'm thinking of BCR, as an example.
How many inspectors do we have? I'm not talking about people who are in Ottawa. I'm talking about people out in the field who are there, able to go out and investigate these incidents, which seem to be occurring with increasing frequency. There was another derailment just the other day. We've had some really serious ones in British Columbia, and we obviously had some in Lake Wabamun, Alberta. In some cases there's been death involved, in some cases environmental disaster, and in other cases there has been risk to neighbouring communities. In every instance there is the delay in the movement of the freight goods that are important to the economy of Canada.
Increasingly, rail is a method of transporting hazardous goods. It is considered to be one of the safest ways of transporting hazardous goods. But if we have a risk of derailment and accident--I realize that's likely not as risky as maybe trucking or other methods of transporting hazardous goods--we need to be able to assure Canadians that it's as safe as possible. In my community we've got a chlorine plant, and railways go through that everyday.
I would appreciate your comments.
We'll make sure that if and when we give it to you it is translated.
You would like the recommendations of the panel looked at by SCOTIC before the minister makes a decision on it. I'll relay that to Minister Cannon. As you know, the panel will make recommendations. That's an external, independent panel, so we have to look at those ourselves and make a recommendation to the minister. I'll tell him that you want to make your own on that.
With respect to the lack of teeth on fines and penalties, it is true that the Railway Safety Act doesn't have a monetary penalties scheme. For that purpose it is quite different from the Aeronautics Act, which you mentioned, and even more so the amended Aeronautics Act, which is now awaiting third reading in the House.
We would like the ability to impose fines, because prosecutions are rare compared to fines. For instance, monetary penalties were introduced in the Aeronautics Act in 1985, and we publish all the penalties that are imposed on aviation stakeholders. It's not ideal. We would like to think that companies should comply first. But it has been a very effective tool, especially with fines that can increase in such a manner that they pay attention.
I don't know what the panel will recommend, but this is certainly something the department will want to look at seriously, given that we've put significant increases in the Aeronautics Act amendments and that we've also allowed for monetary penalties in the Canada Shipping Act, 2001. We're also going that way in the marine environment. We recently enacted regulations under the Marine Transportation Security Act. This is something that we believe is an effective tool and that we would certainly like to consider here.
With respect to what constitutes an accident and why it is different from the States with the FRA, it's not our legislation that calls for the report of accidents; it's the Transportation Safety Board. It's the railway company that has to comply with the transportation safety board act, which forces them to report accidents.
International methods to compare safety are quite interesting. I've had the same questions you have had as to why is it so difficult to compare. Certainly we will try to find ways...but, again, the collection of the data is done by the Transportation Safety Board. They would be the first architect of a change in that regard.
You want safety data that goes further back than 2005. It is true that the numbers we gave you start from the worst year, but we have graphs and stats that go way beyond that. We can provide that to the committee. Whenever we make a presentation, we use a graph--for instance, when we compare safety data between all the modes for the last 10 years. I believe I may have given that to the committee before, but we'll dig out that railway safety data. You will see it has come down, and then gone up in 2005, and then down again since. But we will provide you with the exact figures.
With respect to “accountable executive”, I have no views; I serve my minister. My minister has views, so I will relay your questions to my minister. But it is true that there is a difference between the Railway Safety Act and the Aeronautics Act.
The Aeronautics Act introduces the concept of “accountable executive”, which is, generally speaking, the person who can make the decision on budgets in a company. Generally speaking, we have found that it is the CEO.
On the drop in statistics, we covered all that.
You asked about how many inspectors we have. We now have 101 inspectors, in total, including those in Ottawa. In the regions, specifically in our various Transport Canada centres, which are spread from Vancouver to Moncton, we have 86 inspectors at this time.
I believe I have covered most of your questions.
That is currently not an obligation under the safety management system.
However, we will meet with CP in the third week of January. The company will present its plan for 2008. Every year, we see the amount of capital investment the company makes. We also see the figures for whole divisions, which are virtually broken down by subdivision, so we can see how many tracks and ties will be changed and where new welded tracks will be laid. CN also shows us its figures.
Eventually, under the framework of the safety management system, we could ask the railway companies to provide us this information at the beginning of each year. Today, we get the information from the large railway companies. So we have it at the beginning of each year. For example, last year, CN invested $1.5 billion in its infrastructure.
If you have that for 10 years and could provide that, it would be very helpful.
I had an opportunity to speak to somebody who was on the track last night for a period of time. He seemed to indicate to me that accidents or incidents are primarily divided into three categories: crossings, problems with track, and suicides.
Now, as far as suicides go, I don't think we can do much about that, except for information, but crossings and track....
I'd like to talk about track a little bit, because he seemed to indicate that most of the problems are from that. There are two types of cars, I understand, that inspect tracks. There is an x-ray car or a ferry car, and there is a tech car. Now, although we have tech cars, I understand that x-ray cars.... Is the technology patented and owned by an independent company that rents these x-ray cars, or how does that work?
Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning, gentlemen.
I noted that you made your presentation with a certain degree of assurance and optimism. But your attitude does not reflect the urgency and especially the importance of the situation. You said that an advisory committee, which will produce a report in February of 2008, has been struck. You also said that you appeared before the committee in the past. I did not receive any information on the type of presentation you would have made to the committee. I don't know if that is public information or not. Before you respond, I just want to say that I get the impression that you are actually waiting for a decision. Another committee is studying the situation. As for us, we are studying it to the best of our ability.
A little earlier, in answer to a question from my colleague, you said that the number of inspectors had remained unchanged. The only improvement I noted was that you now have an inspection car in British Columbia. However, you know that Canada is a very big country. Quebec alone is bigger then France.
I get the impression that you don't feel it is urgent to improve the situation. You quote nice statistics which indicate that the number of accidents has gone down. It is easy to point to statistics, but the situation could change dramatically if, for instance, a major derailment happened next week. That would certainly turn these statistics upside down and we would react strongly.
I don't see anything reassuring in this situation we are discussing this morning. In light of the information you have provided, I can only cross my fingers and wait for the recommendation of this committee and of the other government advisory committee. It's as if you felt you are on easy street. I would like you to respond.
I certainly did not want to give the impression that we are missing the boat, if I can put it that way. In fact, that is not at all the case. We have about a hundred inspectors and they work everywhere in each region. They conduct inspections, they issue notices and orders to the railway companies. I don't quite understand how you expect us to react here this morning.
Given the fact that the number of accidents increased in 2005, the department decided last year to undertake a complete review of the Act. We cannot make any recommendations before seeing the panel's report, but that won't be long. We will get it in a few months. I really don't understand what attitude you expect us to take.
Statistics show that since 2005, following the measures we implemented, and the spot inspections and quick operations we conducted, the number of accidents decreased. It shows that the railway companies took concrete measures and that they took this matter very seriously. We have not reduced the number of inspections nor the level of investment, and we do not intend to do so.
Do you have any special recommendations?
I think we need to know that.
I would like to follow up on what Monsieur Laframboise and Mr. Carrier raised, which is the whole issue of safety management systems. I, too, am disappointed by the lack of rigour with which safety management systems have been implemented within the railway system.
We've had a lot of evidence on, I believe, Bill , when it dealt with aviation safety. I think there was a general consensus, in fact an overwhelming consensus, that safety management systems, first of all, were good, that they were very helpful in improving safety within aviation, and secondly, they were actually working; they were achieving the results they were intended to achieve.
For example, the evidence before this committee was that the number of reported incidents went up by 400% to 500%. That's good news; it's not bad news, because we have more front-line workers reporting problems right where they're starting, rather than waiting until we have a huge incident like a derailment.
I didn't hear that from the testimony we heard on rail safety. I want to know why that is. I'm a little concerned about the fact that the only whistle-blower protection right now is under the auspices of the TSB. With the aviation safety management system, it was very clear there was immunity for the front-line workers when they reported matters that could lead to safety issues. I'm not hearing that in this review.
Perhaps you could respond.
First of all, this kind of protection is not in the present Aeronautics Act but rather in the amendment to the Aeronautics Act. Hopefully, if this act is promulgated, we will have this protection in aeronautics.
But it's fundamental to the philosophy of safety management systems. As you said, we want to see a significant increase in the number of problems reported by employees. Generally speaking, where this has been implemented successfully it has resulted in better morale within the employee workforce. It has also resulted in monetary savings at the end of the line. If problems are reported before incidents or accidents occur, then there can be significant savings. Many airlines have demonstrated that.
There is no whistle-blower protection in the Aeronautics Act as proposed. There is protection, but it's not what we call whistle-blower protection per se.
Why don't we see that in rail? We don't have the same legislative framework. Definitely this is what we would like to see. When and if the legislation is open for debate, this is certainly something we will look into, but it's not there now.
You mentioned you were disappointed that some employees have told you they don't feel protected. That's true. In the first intervention with Mr. Zed we talked about accountable executives in the aeronautics environment. What we have put forth is the commitment and the accountability of what we call the accountable executive.
We don't have that in rail right now. But when you talk about safety management systems, you're talking about a massive culture change in an organization that can take many years. We can see that now. In rail we started to implement SMS in October 2001, if I remember correctly. It has been six years and it is still not implemented as we would like to see.
The reason we're embarking on the safety management system—it goes back about 10 years now, a little more than 10 years—is we did a lot of analysis in Transport Canada. We compared the safety records in all the modes of transportation. We looked at the accident ratio in aviation, marine, and rail, for instance, and these ratios were very low compared to what we found around the world.
We have asked some very renowned safety experts around the world what we should do, and I remember one who was very interesting, Dr. James Reason, a safety management risk expert who came to us. We had a conference with him and asked him if it would be safer in Canada if we put one inspector on board every plane, ship, and train. His answer was no, absolutely not, it wouldn't be. The only way to make it safer is to get in the heads of the CEOs and the operators. You have to make safety part of the thinking of the decision-makers in the industry, and if you're not there, you could be on board and you could have five times or ten times more inspectors and it wouldn't be safer. That's how we decided to embark on the safety management journey, because it's a cultural change, and we need the CEOs of this world, in all modes, to commit to safety and to make safety an integral part of all of their operations.
Dwelling again on the issue of the inspectors, the audit report from CN in particular indicates that these numbers or problems with non-compliance and the percentages we talked about have grown, the numbers of the rolling stock, the engines, and then the issues of track inspection, for example.
I'm wondering if you could provide us with the powers the inspectors currently have. Regarding the issue we've talked about of providing additional strength, one of the things we'll be looking at as a committee is the recommendations to provide some teeth to the act. It seems to me that we need to empower the inspectors to be more like traffic cops and to be able to hand out fines—or parking tickets, if you want to call them that—right on the spot and to ensure we get quick action so that it's efficient.
My understanding from some of the information we heard—and I spoke with rail workers on this as well when I visited the Prince George site after the derailment there—is there seems to be an issue with bad orders and notices that are ignored or go missing or that are not acted on. I'm just wondering whether we have provided, in whatever legislative framework we have, adequate strength for those inspectors to act quickly and not to have to.... I don't know if they have to check with your office before they do things or if they have the power to act on the spot, because it seems that's very important.
We want to keep the rails rolling, but we also want them to roll safe. I'm very concerned about maintaining the economic strength of the railways, and by economic strength I'm talking about the economic backbone of Canada moving goods. But we also need to be able to deal with those deficiencies as quickly as we can.
The other aspect is the difference between Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board. I know we go back and forth. One, I gather, investigates accidents and the other deals with potential accidents.
Could you comment on that?
I will comment. First of all, the present act does provide for inspectors' powers. They are described in section 28 of the act. Each of the inspectors, when we consider them ready to exercise their authority after they've been hired and trained, receives a delegation of authority. It's a formal paper that is actually given to them by Luc, who has the authority to give that to them.
But when we talked earlier about lack of teeth and lack of tools, we certainly were not looking to give our inspectors the power to give tickets. This is not the case in aviation; this is not the case in marine safety either. We would rather have monetary penalties. There's a big difference, especially in the recourse mechanism. The recourse mechanism that's being used now to allow the deviation for the recipients of penalties is the TATC, the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. Anybody who receives an enforcement action from Transport Canada or from a Transport Canada inspector can appeal this action to the tribunal. The tribunal can either change the decision made by the inspector or it can ask the minister to reconsider its decision.
This is where we would like to continue. It is relatively new for railway safety. It was only started five years ago, when the Civil Aviation Tribunal was transformed into the TATC, which now hears railway issues, and will start to hear marine safety issues next year.
The plan, or what we would like to have in the new act, is to have similar powers to what we have in the Aeronautics Act, and that is the authority to give monetary penalties. These are not normally decided on the spot. The inspector would make an inspection report and he would make a recommendation as to the amount, and then, as established in the Aeronautics Act, the company would be advised that they will receive a fine. There would be an informal hearing, if you want, with the company, and the fine could change after that hearing, depending on what additional information was provided. Then the fine would be given, and the company would have the opportunity to challenge that through the tribunal.
This is where we would prefer to go. If you want, we can provide you now with the delegation of authority paper and an example of what an inspector receives, if that would be useful to you.