It's a pleasure to call this meeting to order.
Welcome to all of you to meeting number 24 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.
Today’s meeting is taking place in a hybrid format, pursuant to the House order of January 25, 2021.
The proceedings will be made available via the House of Commons website. So you are all aware, the webcast will always show the person speaking, rather than the entirety of the committee.
To ensure an orderly meeting, I would like to outline a few points to follow. Members and witnesses, you may speak in the official language of your choice. Interpretation services are available for this meeting. You have the choice, at the bottom of your screen, of floor, English or French.
For members participating in person, proceed as you usually would when the committee is meeting as a whole in the committee room in person. Keep in mind the directives from the Board of Internal Economy regarding masking and health protocols.
Before speaking, please wait until I recognize you by name. If you are on the video conference, please click on the microphone icon to unmute your mike. For those in the room, your microphone will be controlled as normal by the proceedings and verification officer.
I remind you that all comments by members and witnesses should be addressed through the chair. When you are not speaking, your mike should be on mute. With regard to a speaking list, as always, the committee clerk and I will do the best we can to maintain the order of speaking for all members, whether they are participating virtually or in person.
Members, pursuant to Standing Order 108(2) and the motion adopted by the committee on March 9, 2021, the committee will now commence its study of the follow-up audit on rail safety.
I would now like to welcome as well as introduce our witnesses for this evening.
For the first hour we're going to have, from the Office of the Auditor General, Karen Hogan, the Auditor General of Canada; Dawn Campbell, principal; and Isabelle Marsolais, director.
In the second hour we're going to have, from the Canadian National Railway Company, Tom Brown, assistant vice-president of safety; from the Canadian Pacific Railway, Kyle Mulligan, chief engineer; and from the Railway Association of Canada, Marc Brazeau, president and chief executive officer.
I'm going to start off the first hour with the Office of the Auditor General.
You have five minutes each, and/or if one is speaking on behalf of all, you have five minutes. Then we can proceed to the questions.
Ms. Hogan, you have the floor for the first five minutes.
Mr. Chair, thank you for this opportunity to discuss the results of our recent follow-up audit of Transport Canada’s oversight of rail safety. Joining me today are Dawn Campbell, the principal responsible for the audit, and Isabelle Marsolais, who was part of the audit team.
In this audit we examined whether Transport Canada implemented selected recommendations from our 2013 audit on the oversight of rail safety. Overall, we found that eight years later, the department had yet to fully address our recommendations and that, in fact, there was still much to do to improve the oversight of rail safety in Canada.
Rail accidents can have serious consequences, including devastating loss of life and environmental damage. To mitigate safety threats, Transport Canada undertakes oversight activities that include inspections, audits of safety management systems and data analysis.
We want to focus today on two fundamental gaps in the department’s oversight activities that require immediate attention.
Our first concern is that Transport Canada was not assessing the effectiveness of railway companies’ safety management systems. These systems are formal frameworks to proactively integrate safety into day-to-day railway operations. In-depth systematic assessments of these systems are called audits. They are meant to verify whether the systems meet the regulatory requirements and integrate safety into daily railway operations.
Over the past 14 years, several reports have recommended that Transport Canada undertake such assessments. I am referring here to three reports from this very committee, a number of other reports from experts in the field and my office’s 2013 audit.
We found that, although the scope of Transport Canada’s audits of safety management systems had included assessing regulatory compliance, the department had not considered whether the systems were effective in improving safety in daily operations. Unless the department makes these assessments and follows up in a timely way, it cannot know whether these systems are having an impact on rail safety.
Our second concern is that Transport Canada was unable to show whether its oversight activities have improved rail safety overall. The department has made important improvements to the way it plans and prioritizes its activities and follows up on railway companies' plans and actions to address deficiencies. However, it did not measure the overall effectiveness of its rail safety oversight activities. When people and time are dedicated to overseeing rail safety, I believe it is reasonable to expect that the department measure if the time and effort invested are making a difference and to adjust its oversight approach as needed.
We encourage Transport Canada to consider what other programs and jurisdictions are doing on this front, both in Canada and in other countries. The Canada Energy Regulator, for example, has established indicators that measure components of effectiveness. In the United Kingdom, the Office of Rail and Road has developed tools to assess railway companies' ability to manage health and safety risks. The resulting information is used to make year-over-year progress comparisons. Furthermore, in the United States, the Office of Transit Safety and Oversight has committed to monitoring the effectiveness of state safety agencies.
The department agreed with all six of the recommendations we made. I can't underscore enough the importance of taking action on these long-standing issues.
Mr. Chair, this concludes my opening remarks. We would be pleased to answer the committee's questions.
Thank you, Ms. Hogan, for your presentation.
While we understand that the focus of the audit at this point was very much on looking at the activities that were going on and whether they were, in fact, in accordance with the recommendations made in the 2013 audit, I think what most Canadians are interested in and certainly what I'm interested in is the issue of rail safety in Canada. Is rail safety, in fact, improving? I believe you stated in your report that there has been, and this is a direct quote, “some improvement in the rate of accidents relative to rail traffic volume.”
Also, we know that in 2018, the Railway Safety Act review concluded that the “safety of the rail system has improved in the last 5 to 10 years”. It also stated:
Due to a sustained focus on inspections, compliance and enforcement, as well as technological improvements and investments in rail infrastructure, main train track derailments caused by equipment or track failures have been on the decrease.
It also noted that over the last five years, the number of fatalities resulting from railway operations decreased by 27% and the number of accidents—although I'm not quite sure what the definition of “accident” is—decreased by 12%.
You've made a statement to Ms. Kusie in terms of your impression of safety, but surely some of these statistics are valid and seem to show a decrease in fatalities and accidents.
As the Auditor General indicated, assessing the effectiveness of safety management systems is an important measure. In addition, I would like to refer to paragraph 5.37 of our report, where we recommended that Transport Canada “should determine the extent to which its inspections and audits have improved the railway companies' compliance with regulations that mitigate key safety risks.”
Taking those two measures together and comparing how they correlate against accident rates, fatality rates, and seeing if there is a good correlation would be important. Those would be key measures.
For example, if the compliance rates are improving but the accident rates are not, then that would be an indicator that the department needs to go back and take a look at whether it is focusing on the right areas or what exactly the nature of the concern is there.
In respect to other jurisdictions, there are certainly examples of good practices, both within Canada and internationally. For example, the Canada Energy Regulator, which we included in our transport of dangerous goods report last fall, has established indicators that measure components of effectiveness. The Canada Energy Regulator has 60 indicators with specific targets, some of which are being used as performance measures for safety and environment oversight.
Members of the committee, good evening.
My name is Marc Brazeau, and I am the President and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada (RAC). It's a pleasure to meet with you all to discuss the issue of rail safety.
Here with me this evening are Tom Brown, assistant vice-president, CN; and Dr. Kyle Mulligan, chief engineer for CP. As both are subject matter experts on class 1 freight rail safety, these two gentlemen are well suited to join me in answering any questions you may have after my opening remarks.
Allow me to begin by giving you a brief overview of the Railway Association of Canada. The association represents close to 60 freight and passenger railway companies—railways that transport more than 100 million passengers and more than $300 billion worth of goods across our country each year. As part of the fifth largest rail network in the world, the association members truly are the backbone of Canada's transportation system.
Canada's rail sector isn't just safely transporting goods and people from coast to coast; it's powering our economy.
RAC members employ more than 36,000 Canadians in railway operations, technology, safety, security and leadership positions. This highly productive workforce moves close to 70% of all surface goods and half of the nation's exports every year, delivering Canada's products to the country and to the world.
To put this into perspective, Canada's freight railways move more than 900,000 tonnes of goods every day, transporting everything from the cars we drive to the food we eat. To deliver these goods, more than 3,800 locomotives pull more than 5.7 million carloads across the country each and every year.
Safety is our number one priority. The Canadian railway industry has developed a strong safety record, thanks to substantial investments. Since 1999, Canada's railways have invested more than $33 billion to ensure the safety and efficiency of their networks, and they remain fully committed to fostering a robust safety culture.
This total includes investments in railway-roadway crossings to ensure they meet stringent federal regulations that require crossings to have adequate sightings, proper signals and reflectors, and physical barriers in hundreds of locations from coast to coast to coast.
The RAC's mission is to work with all levels of government and communities across the country to ensure that Canada's rail sector remains globally competitive, sustainable, and most importantly, safe.
At the federal level, our association provides an essential link between federal regulators and RAC members, and works collaboratively with departments and agencies such as Transport Canada, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, among others, to help develop new regulations, rules and standards.
The RAC's reputation as a trusted advocate for railways can be attributed to the fact that we collect industry data, undertake research and analysis, and use this information to help develop evidence-based policy positions.
Since today's meeting is focused on rail safety in Canada, please allow me to share a few key statistics.
Over the past decade, from 2010 to 2019, the freight rail accident rate in Canada has decreased by 20%, and the passenger rail accident rate has decreased by 59%. Since 2010, the dangerous goods accident rate has improved by 31%. Over 99.99% of dangerous goods carloads moved by train reach their destination without a release.
In 2019, railways invested a record $3.1 billion into Canadian assets, breaking the previous record of $2.4 billion set in 2018. Over the past decade, Canada's railways have invested $19.5 billion into their networks to improve safety, resiliency and network fluidity.
In short, we are proud that Canada's rail network is among the safest in the world, and we remain committed to building on this stellar safety record.
I would like to highlight the importance of Operation Lifesaver Canada, an initiative dedicated to preventing collisions at railway crossings and railway trespassing incidents in Canada.
Every year, roughly 100 Canadians die or suffer serious injuries as a result of collisions at railway crossings or trespassing on railway property. Operation Lifesaver is a partnership initiative of the RAC and Transport Canada that works to educate Canadians about the hazards associated with tracks and trains through public awareness campaigns, driver training programs, and outreach to schools and community groups.
This year marks Operation Lifesaver's 40th anniversary of saving lives. To this end, they organize and participate in various events, produce and distribute educational material, run driver education programs, hold safety presentations and spread the rail safety message through traditional media and social media networks.
Even with increased train traffic and more vehicles on the road, the number of deaths and the injuries along Canada’s railways is dropping. However, we believe our job will not be done until there are no numbers to report.
Another joint program that we are proud of is the proximity initiative, which is a partnership between RAC and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. As Canada's population grows, new residential and commercial developments are being built in communities across the country.
The FCM and the RAC recognize that it is in Canada’s economic interest to develop appropriate relationships between railways and communities, to promote proper planning and communication practices and to offer dispute resolution mechanisms for resolving unanticipated problems.
Our shared goal is to provide the public with helpful resources and reference information on rail infrastructure and operations, municipal land planning guidelines, dispute resolution models and government regulations.
We believe that sourcing information easily can improve the dialogue between railways and municipalities and help ensure that both parties continue to attain common goals that benefit each other and the country as a whole.
The RAC safety culture improvement initiative assists Canadian railways by measuring employee perceptions of organizational safety culture through a comprehensive survey and focus group discussion. Once the data is collected and analyzed, a final report is submitted to the railway companies, which enables them to identify opportunities to enhance their safety culture by implementing initiatives that will have a positive impact relative to strengthening their safety culture.
In conclusion, I want to assure committee members that the Canadian railway industry's dedication to safety is rooted in our culture. It is unrelenting. We will continue to strive to improve our safety record.
RAC members, including CN and CP who are with us this evening, are committed to operating the safest railways throughout Canada and North America.
My colleagues and I look forward to your questions.
Thank you, first of all, to my team for allowing me this time, because it's a very important and very heartfelt issue I'd like to bring up today.
It goes back to a young student in my riding named Kevin Morgan. He was a grade eight student at Portage View elementary school in Barrie. Shortly before 9:30 a.m. on Sunday, February 21, he was out walking his family dog, Eva, along the Canadian Pacific Railway near Highway 90 on Baldwick Lane in Springwater Township. This is near my home in an area I'm very familiar with and where I walk my dog as well. Unfortunately, that morning the dog got loose. Kevin reached out and put his own life on the line to save his dog. His dog, Eva, was successful in missing the train, but Kevin was not and passed away that morning. Obviously, it was a tragic incident. Kyle Mulligan is probably familiar with this incident because it's very recent.
I'd like to ask our three witnesses here today: What can we do? This goes on a lot of the time around our area. There are a lot of rail tracks that go through Barrie—Springwater—Oro-Medonte. Kids and adults, but a kid in this particular instance, walk on them all the time.
Is there anything we can do or anything you can do to help? Maybe there could be an advertising program. In Ontario there are many ads on TV about safety regarding hydro dams and flooding, but I don't recall seeing a lot of ads promoting safety for this. It's obviously a shame Kevin passed away. He was due to graduate grade eight in June. Some people are looking for a way to honour this young boy. Perhaps we could do it here on this committee.
What can be done to try to prevent this in the future?
I think I can start with that, Tom.
It's an excellent question, and thank you for it.
In terms of safety improvements and the direction from the government, here at CP specifically and at CN we are moving towards more machine-based, data-driven inspection technologies, more performance-based technologies. We really, truly work hand in hand with Transport Canada.
More recently we have developed cold wheel technology to better assess the operation of air brakes and have integrated machine vision inspection systems, which are high-speed cameras, with the remote safety inspector desks, who have all eyes on our trains.
What this has done is it has moved us away from a traditional visual, static inspection in which the train is not moving. We're moving our inspections to a dynamic, in motion, performance-based inspection. This is resulting in far more equipment being picked out and sent to maintenance shops, and as I mentioned before, it's resulting in many more eyes on the equipment, using the technology.
Basically, what Kyle was saying is that we are investing the majority of our money in technology. Some of the technologies we have are mature technologies. They're ones that you may not know are out there, but they're wayside inspection systems that have been around for a long time. They measure wheel heat to prevent any derailed cars.
We have slide detectors, for example, most common in the mountain territories, that will notify a crew if we have an avalanche of snow or if stone is starting to slide down a cliff. We have what's known as a dragging equipment detector. This tells you if there's something dragging from the undercarriage.
Where we're moving further in technology though is at CN we have built an autonomous track inspection program. You'll see them on trains. They're a small boxcar on the back of a train that highlights safety on them. What's in them is computer equipment that takes multiple measurements of the rail and uses a lot of track geometry and algorithms and feeds back a report directly to our wayside personnel.
The benefit of this is we can develop algorithms that can use predictive analytics when we're trying to schedule our maintenance. If you have these railcars moving across our system 24-7, 365 days a year, just think of the increased frequency of track inspections.
The second one which we're dealing with right now and have invested in is automated inspection portals. There are actually seven at CN, five within Canada—four right here where I am in Winnipeg. These are ultra-high definition panoramic cameras with high-density LED lights that capture a full 360° view of a train as it's going through the portal at track speed, regardless of weather. Even in the blizzard conditions we've been dealing with in the last couple of days in Winnipeg, they provide crystal-clear images. It checks the entire train, including the undercarriage.
Based on a set of algorithms that we have designed, it communicates to our mechanical team if there's an issue with any of our railcars. We'll be using this technology to reduce the likelihood of a railcar derailment.
Think about where we strategically place these types of portals. We have trains arriving that are coming up from the U.S. out of North Dakota or Minnesota and trains that are passing from coast to coast across Canada, moving up towards Toronto and the Atlantic provinces via our northern Ontario district. They're all checked. Every single railcar that moves through here is verified.
Yes, I can start that off.
I actually worked heavily with Transport Canada, hand in hand, when their ministerial orders were issued slowing down the speed of key trains. What I can tell you is that dramatic improvements in terms of the updated rule have come out, moving us in a direction to enhance the safety of those trains, and it is taking effect.
As a specific example of what was done, we've committed to increasing rail grinding in these high-risk key train routes. This actually conditions the surface of the rail in a way that the autonomous or rail flaw detection vehicles that Tom described can pick up to 200% more defects in the rail. The learning that came out of that is we saw that if that surface isn't polished, let's say, for argument's sake, it does inhibit our ability to detect and remove rail, so as part of the conditions with Transport Canada, we've improved that.
In addition to the grinding, we've also doubled the amount of inspections we do with our rail flaw detection vehicles in those routes during specific winter months. What that's going to do is help find those defects and replace that rail so that it doesn't have an issue.
Finally, we've provisioned for enhancing broken rail technology in these areas. There are two types of areas you can use to classify routes that trains take. One is a signal territory, which is almost like there are traffic lights on the rail. The other one is a non-signal territory or a dark territory. Those areas don't benefit from broken rail detection technology like the signalled areas do. The new rule provisions for the class 1s to be able to add that technology to those areas to help enhance speed for productivity also enhance safety by deploying more technology in those areas.
In her report, the Auditor General talks about a 45% increase between 2017 and 2018, which is still major.
I grew up next to a railroad track. I lived there for about 25 years. When I was a little kid, I would go to the window and count the cars in the middle of the night. I was always excited about the train going by. I couldn't wait to say that the train was going to go by. It was like an event in the day for me as a little boy.
Of course, when we saw the Lac-Mégantic accident in 2014, I was a little older. Instead, that excitement turned to fear, and I think it was the same for a lot of people, because of the transportation of oil. We no longer saw trains as a means of transporting goods, but as a threat, especially when we saw so much oil on the tracks.
Perhaps this is not a general feeling, but where I live, many people feel that trains carrying oil pass more often at night than during the day to avoid being seen.
Is it true or a coincidence? Or is it a comment not based on reality?
Before I move on, we are at our time limit here. I will take the advice of members of the committee to have a business planning session. My concern is not different from what has already been mentioned. We've participated in a lot of studies since the beginning of this session and we haven't brought a report to Parliament yet. Those studies shouldn't be looked at as a waste of time. They should be made to be productive, and the only way they can be productive and we can actually validate them is by bringing them to the floor of the House and presenting them to the members of Parliament.
Having said that, I think we have one more study, which we're embarking on right now, which is the infrastructure study. Of course the expectation beyond that was to bring some reports to the committee, to ratify them and, again, to proceed to the House of Commons.
I'm going to go quickly, before we adjourn, in fairness to Taylor and to Xavier with regard to their comments, and then I'm going to have to adjourn the meeting, but I will assure you that we'll call at least half a meeting or half a time slot for a business planning meeting so we can settle this.
Taylor, you have the floor.
Thank you, Mr. Barsalou-Duval.
All points are well taken. Ms. Kusie, Mr. Rogers, as well as Mr. Bachrach and Ms. Jaczek, those are very good points.
Also, before I adjourn, I want to welcome Ms. Martinez Ferrada to our committee. I apologize for not doing this at the beginning of the meeting, but we wanted to get into the meeting so quickly that I forgot. Soraya is going to be doing some great work, I'm sure. Although it's her first round here at Parliament, it's like it's her sixth because she just dove into the whole file and is very well versed.
Soraya, welcome. It's great to have you on board, and we look forward to your participation.
Last, I also want to thank the witnesses, all of you, for coming out today and for spending your time with us.
I especially want to thank you, Mr. Brazeau. You made some great points, especially related to working with communities. I am working over a situation right now with CN that, frankly, I'm getting fed up with in terms of the implications and the impacts it's having on a small community here in southwestern Ontario. Therefore, I will be calling upon you in the very near future hopefully to help facilitate some resolution to that and, of course, some involvement by CN to actually take care of some of the implications and problems that we're having in that specific community.
With that, members, thank you very much for your interventions and participation this evening. We look forward to Thursday's meeting.
The meeting is adjourned.