Thank you very much, Mr. Chair, Mr. Bourdon, and members.
Thank you for the opportunity to be here to discuss these proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act. This committee already has a high level of familiarity and engagement with these amendments and your continued support to improve the safety of our railway system is appreciated.
As you know, these proposed amendments were previously reviewed by this committee when they were presented to the House as Bill last spring. At that time, after several weeks of comprehensive discussion and analysis, all parties agreed unanimously to support the amendments, with one minor change related to safety reporting. Although that approved version of the bill died on the Order Paper when the election was called, the same amendments, with this committee's approved changes, were tabled in the Senate as Bill , where they were again approved virtually unchanged and resubmitted to the House.
During second reading on March 13, we again heard many supportive comments from honourable members on the other side of the House. In brief, all parties once again expressed their strong support for the bill.
I believe the New Democratic Party member from Vancouver—Kingsway summed up the general feeling of the House when he referred to Bill S-4 as “...an excellent piece of legislation...that has gained the buy-in of industry, labour and government. ... It is a solid piece of legislation.”
The list of members who expressed their strong support for Bill S-4 goes on. Every member who spoke in the chamber agreed that this bill enhances rail safety, has the support of many stakeholders, has been widely debated and analyzed, and must be passed in a timely manner.
I must say, as the Minister of Transport, I deeply appreciate this enthusiastic support from all corners of the political spectrum. Everybody agrees on the importance of a safer rail industry for our economy and our communities. We all recognize that the industry is rapidly changing and that the Railway Safety Act needs to be updated accordingly. We all agree that the amendments, which have already been consulted on, debated, and unanimously approved by committee—not once, but twice—are the appropriate means to help ensure Canadians can reap the full benefits of a safe railway system. Better safety is clearly the objective that we all support.
The bill, as noted in the House, is a strong one. It is timely, it is thorough, and it is firmly focused on important and achievable improvements to our rail safety regime. I think much of the strength of this bill comes from the high level of stakeholder consultation that both preceded and followed its introduction to the House.
The initial Railway Safety Act review, which was launched in 2007, included input from the entire spectrum of railway interests, including the railways themselves, their shippers, their suppliers and their unions, as well as federal, provincial and municipal governments, national associations, independent researchers and the public. Essentially, all of the groups in our country were consulted.
Everybody had something to say, and we listened closely to their concerns. This bill is our comprehensive response. We identified the issues, we consulted on alternatives with the key players, and we subsequently took action with Bill , and now with Bill S-4, to ensure that the safety concerns of Canadians are being properly addressed. We all seem to agree that they are. The member from Chambly—Borduas said during second reading that the NDP unabashedly supports the bill. Similarly, the member from Markham—Unionville said that “...the Liberal Party will certainly be supporting the bill”.
Speaking personally, I must say that I'm proud of this legislation. I am proud of it because it contains an effective blueprint for better safety in the rail industry. I am also proud of it because it shows how effective our parliamentary system can be when we decide to work together for the national interest. The net result is solid, seamless, and practical legislation like Bill S-4. I would like to remind you of some of the most important amendments in this bill.
First and foremost, Bill S-4 will improve railway safety in Canada by increasing the regulator's authority for stronger oversight and enforcement.
For one thing, these new authorities will allow the introduction of safety-based railway operating certificates for all railways. This means that every federally regulated railway in the country will have to demonstrate how they meet the safety standards set by the operating certificate before they begin operations.
This bill also provides the regulator with the authority to issue administrative monetary penalties when non-compliance with railway regulations is found. These monetary penalties have a very positive impact on safety and have already proven themselves effective in other modes of transport such as marine and aviation.
In addition, your approval of Bill will allow us to raise existing judicial penalty levels which were established 20 years ago and are now badly out of date. Raising these levels will make them equivalent to other modes and provide an important additional tool for our safety compliance and enforcement toolbox.
One other key component of these amendments is the significantly stronger focus they place on railway accountability and the need for effective railway safety management systems. With these amendments in place, railways will be required to appoint a senior executive to be responsible for safety issues. They will also be required to establish non-punitive reporting systems so that employees can raise safety concerns without fear of reprisal. In addition, railway companies will need to demonstrate how they continuously monitor and assess the level of safety of their operations.
These are critical steps for the development of an effective safety culture, and both the railway companies and the unions have expressed their strong support for these measures.
In addition to these key improvements, S-4 will also clarify the minister's authority related to national railway matters and expand regulation-making authorities, which will enable us to implement requirements for environmental management plans and emission data collection.
In sum, the proposed amendments before you today will significantly reinforce and modernize the Railway Safety Act to reflect the needs of this generation and those to follow. Railways are the backbone of our economy. As such, they are an important part of our history and our future. It is our shared responsibility to ensure they remain safe.
As we all know from the recent tragedy in Burlington, even one accident is one too many. We cannot afford to hesitate. The time to move forward is now.
In conclusion, I would like to once again thank all parties for their ongoing support. I would also like to thank this committee again for the opportunity to be here. I deeply appreciate your high level of engagement on this bill and all transport and infrastructure issues.
We will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
There are so many things in your questions.
We didn't cut money for security and safety in the operations of VIA Rail. We cut...it was the end of the economic action plan investments we made. We invested $923 million to help VIA Rail have safer services, and you voted against all of that. That's the end of the economic action plan. That's it. Those aren't different things.
About voice recorders, as you know, in 2009 the Railway Safety Act working group wanted to discuss that. The possibility of legal charter issues was raised, depending on voluntary and regulatory programs. Unions expressed concern and opposition to locomotive voice recorders if used for compliance monitoring by the railways.
Immediately after the incident in Burlington I asked the committee, to be sure we have a quick answer on that.... The advisory council on rail safety is re-examining the possibility of mandatory voice recorders in locomotive cabs. Consultations are under way. They will report back to me as soon as possible. I'm looking forward to receiving their recommendations. They already have had some meetings about that.
In the U.S.A., they don't have the obligation to have voice recorders, but due to the fact that in the U.S.A. they have a positive train system, they are discussing having them. But in the U.S.A. at the moment, they have a lot of problems in implementing that. It's supposed to be in effect in 2015. That's the information I have.
I think they will delay that until 2020, Mr. Bourdon?
Just to answer your question, at the moment what we're waiting for is legal advice on who is allowed to listen to these recordings. What they've tried to achieve in the past few years was probably voluntary agreement, whereas the union and the company would agree on a protocol that probably the recording could be used for purposes other than disciplinary action, such as proficiency testing. Even the TSB at this time is not sure whether these recordings are privileged to the TSB only.
They should be in a position within about two weeks to give us final legal advice. Without that legal advice, it's very hard to get the working group together to work on that issue, because they don't have clear parameters. After we have that, and let's say only the TSB is allowed to listen to these tapes, we'll know better where we're going with this.
It can lead to safety improvement based on what you find on these tapes, but for the most part, it's an investigation tool. There are only a few accidents. For all the derailments that occur past the locomotive, usually you will not get any voice indication that something has gone wrong, because the train goes into emergency. The crew just stops and walks back in the train.
We're seriously looking into it. Honestly, if the legal advice comes back that only TSB can have access to these tapes, we may have no option at the end other than regulating.
As you know, we have done significant work on railway crossing security, and we will continue that. Bill shows our determination to go forward to make companies even more accountable. Before, we made sure companies were insurable and that they worked in the railway industry. Now, to get their certificate, they will have to conform to our new safety standards. We will analyze every step of their security measures before issuing the certificate.
Obviously, sir, it is very difficult to control access in an urban setting. Unfortunately—and my condolences to the families—we have lost young lives even recently. These were young people walking on the tracks with headphones on their ears in the evening or at night. This is particularly dangerous. We have seen young people in Montreal cross two highways and jump over fences to go to a place where, unfortunately, a tragedy happened during the night. There were safety barriers, but, since then, an event happened in Montreal around the Turcot interchange. The company added safety fences.
With Bill , our intention is to make sure that things will be even safer. However, we cannot hold everyone's hand. We already do a lot of education in the schools. We do more than 2,000 presentations per year in the schools and municipalities across the country to raise awareness about the danger of railway transportation for people on railways. Unfortunately, even now, lives are lost. It is always deplorable, but some people still jump over barbed wire fences that are 12-feet high.
Thank you for being here.
Ms. Chow has cited the Transportation Safety Board, correctly, as a reliable source for questions related to rail safety. She has also advocated the positive train control system.
Doing these two things does create a certain contradiction, because the Transportation Safety Board has not recommended that Transport Canada implement the positive train control system.
Minister, you correctly point out that the United States is facing serious implementation problems with this system. The costs appear to be between $10 billion and $13 billion. The railways are asking for a delay of five years in implementation. Originally it was scheduled for December of 2015. They now seek to have it delayed an additional five years, to 2020.
All of this demonstrates the enormous complexity and cost associated with this system.
Can you comment, Minister, on our approach with respect to this system here in Canada?
As you know, that was mandated by the U.S. Congress with the Rail Safety Improvement Act passed on October 16, 2008. All the class 1 railways that transport more than five million gross tonnes, as well as transporting what they call poison-by-inhalation and toxic-by-inhalation material, as well as commuter rail and inter-passenger rail, had to implement PTC by December 30, 2015.
However, PTC is a very good system if you have a captive service with one company on your own network. It becomes an issue when you have to be interoperable with other railways. PTC in the States will cover about 41 railways and 60,000 miles of track. As we speak right now, there are several systems that have been developed and they're not talking to each other; therefore, the U.S. railways feel they're not going to be ready by that date and they're asking for an extension of five years.
Since many railways are trying to get PTC in the States right now, there's a lack of resources in terms of people available to work on the technology. The cost is extremely high. The cost-benefit ratio is 21:1, so $1 saved for $21 invested in PTC.
We're following it very closely. We have people on the committees out there. I'm on committees as well. We also met the technology provider, Wabtec, which provides ETCS to the five class 1 railways out there. Their recommendation to us is to wait until it's fully implemented in the States and they've worked out all the bugs. Then we may have something like a turnkey operation if we ever want to implement that technology in Canada.
It's the same thing in Europe. They have a system called ETCS that has been in place for about 30 years. Twenty years ago they launched—
Thank you, Mr. Chair, and thank you to our minister and the Transport Canada officials for being here today.
Obviously, rail safety in Canada is a very important issue. Bill has had previous iterations before previous Parliaments, itself arising from two reviews that themselves were the result, if we're going back far enough, of a series of major high-profile train derailments in Canada that incurred both loss of life and significant environmental costs. Transport Canada, for its part, appointed an expert panel, which led a comprehensive review and produced a major report—I believe it's about 240 pages and 56 recommendations.
At the same time, I was part of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, which was part of a concurrent study here into rail safety as well. We produced a report with 14 additional recommendations, 70 in total. If I remember some of the substance of the expert report, the ratings on safety performance of rail companies on a scale of one to five, five meaning the highest integration of safety within the company's culture...VIA Rail ranked four out of five, CP about three out of five, and CN two out of five.
Looking at ways of improving rail safety, or the culture of rail safety, in our companies—those 70 recommendations in total—can we have an indication now, four years later, of the progress in implementing both the expert review panel recommendations and the standing committee on transport's recommendations? Where are we on that?
The safety management system presents several interesting features. For example, I believe it a very good thing that people be legally held responsible for negligence or misconduct.
On the other hand, how can we make sure that inspectors will be kept in their positions? We have seen how, for example, in the aviation field, there are inspectors on paper, but they are not necessarily in the field and there certainly are not enough of them.
How can we make sure that, under this bill, enough inspectors will keep their jobs? You spoke of 120 inspectors, but if the number of trains throughout Canada is increasing, how do we know that this is a sufficient number of inspectors? How can we make sure?
I appreciate your being here today.
This isn't the first time we've seen this bill, or a bill similar to this one, come before this committee. Obviously both here at this committee and elsewhere there's been a lot of consultation and discussion about this bill. There seems to be fairly widespread support for the bill as well.
I'd like to get a sense of this from you. With this minister being the engaging guy he is, I'm sure there's been a lot of consultation. Whether it be with industry, the public, or other stakeholders, I know there's been a lot of consultation taking place.
I'd like to get a bit of a summary from you on some of the consultation that has taken place, what form that has taken, and what exactly has been done in terms of discussion of this bill with industry, the public, and other stakeholders as well.
We actually met with all of the provinces on this bill in its current form and under Bill C-33. We gave them a clause-by-clause...and we saw no issue or concern.
We met with all the railway unions. We met with most of the companies. We participated in many conferences across Canada where we knew that stakeholders would be in attendance.
We did pretty much a massive...I wouldn't call it consultation because we told people what's in the bill. I think we've been able to do a good job to diffuse many concerns people had, especially with respect to the railway operating certificate. People were concerned about what it would entail and when they were going to need one.
Everybody found out that we would do a consolidated group with industry members and the unions to determine the criteria and that there would be a two-year grace period once the regulation is in place. This is an example where people were concerned, and after we explained the process they felt it would be solid.
It was the same thing with administrative monetary penalties. A lot of the railways at the beginning said we were going to have guys out there with a booklet of tickets; we were going to give them a fine. It's a maximum of $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a company. We explained the process we would have in place: a regulation, with one enforcement officer per region and one in Ottawa who will make recommendations on the level of the AMPs.
There's a provision in the bill as well to appeal to the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. This is the only tribunal that is going to be allowed to overturn our decision or reduce the fine.
By talking to all the stakeholders, I think we've been in a very good position to get acceptance for this bill. That's why there were so few amendments brought to the committee the last time.
In terms of crossings, I think they're pretty much in good shape, I would say. When we test them, when we inspect them, usually they're pretty good. The crossing regulation will enhance that.
However, I would agree with you that from a trespassing standpoint it's been an issue. Fencing is an issue. They're constantly being cut and destroyed. In some high-risk areas, as I explained earlier, we will impose some slow orders. We will put the whistle back, which a lot of times will force the railway and the municipalities to sit together and decide to do something jointly.
The area where.... It's almost like there's a correlation between fences and trespassing. In some areas there are no fences because no one trespasses. In areas that are being fenced, there's constantly trespassing, as I said, because fences are constantly cut. It's a major problem.
Some areas in Canada, such as Canmore, are very well protected, with pedestrian crossings, with fences on both sides of the track, and yet they still have a high trespassing problem, even when all the protection is there.
We're doing our very best to control that. Eventually we hope to have an access control regulation that will help us to deal with that issue. But it remains a problem; I'll admit to that.
Mr. Coderre has proposed that we do this as swiftly as possible.
Clause 1 is obviously postponed until the end, so I am going to ask if clauses 2 through 45 carry.
(Clauses 2 to 45 inclusive agreed to)
The Chair: Shall clause 1 carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the title carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall the bill carry?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: Shall I report the bill to the House?
Some hon. members: Agreed.
The Chair: With that, we have the completion of Bill . Congratulations.