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Railway Safety Act - Bill to Amend—Second Reading

Oh the song of the future has been sung
All the battles have been won
O'er the mountain tops we stand
All the world at our command
We have opened up the soil
With our teardrops and our toil
For there was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run.

Honourable senators, I cannot sing Gordon Lightfoot's song, but that was an excerpt from his Canadian Railroad Trilogy dedicated to the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The song celebrates the optimism of Canada's great railroad age and chronicles the pain and sacrifice of those who built an iron ribbon across this great land of ours — a ribbon that many historians believe helped to bring about Canadian Confederation.

Close to 150 years later, I rise in support of Bill S-4, the safer railways act, that amends and strengthens the Railway Safety Act of 2001. The bill furthers the government's agenda of ensuring a safe, reliable and economically viable freight and passenger railway system.

Let me review the fundamental principles on which the regulation of railway safety in Canada is based: to promote and provide for the safety of the public and railway 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, i.e., industry in the surrounding area; to recognize the responsibility of railway companies in ensuring the safety of their operations; and to facilitate a modern, flexible and efficient regulatory scheme that will ensure the continuing enhancement of railway safety.

The 1999 amendments to the Railway Safety Act achieved these objectives. They provided for the safety of both public and railway personnel. They addressed protection of property and the environment in the operation of railways, and they granted the regulator with the authority to require railway companies to implement safety management systems. Honourable senators, the Railway Safety Act gave direct jurisdiction over safety matters to the Minister of Transport. It is to be administered by Transport Canada, where responsibility for other federally regulated modes of transportation, such as marine and aviation, resides.

In Budget 2009, the government affirmed its commitment to a safe, reliable transportation system by earmarking $71 million over five years to implement important rail safety measures and legislative initiatives. Bill S-4, the safer railways act that I speak to today, is the fruit of that commitment. The amendments proposed in Bill S-4 will increase the public safety of Canadians, enhance the safety of our communities, and contribute to a stronger economy, a modern infrastructure, and a cleaner environment.

A safer rail system will have immediate and long-term economic benefits for the industry, since the likelihood of costly delays and accidents will be reduced. It will also benefit external stakeholders, such as provinces, municipalities, shippers and travellers.

Before going into greater detail on this bill, I would like to highlight how important rail transportation is in our country. Canada's railways are extremely important to our national economy and they are the most energy efficient means of transporting goods in an interdependent transportation system.

Our rail system includes approximately 73,000 kilometres of track, stretching from coast to coast, and 3,000 locomotives. It handles more than 4 million carloads of cargo every year. In 2009, Canadian railways ran more than 700 trains per day, moving approximately 72 million passengers and 66 per cent of all surface freight in the country. As Canadians, we should feel proud of our railway system.

Canada has a regulatory regime for rail safety that is envied by many other countries. Australia, South Africa, France and the U.S.A. consult with Transport Canada on its regulatory framework. That is why Bill S-4 is so important. It will further enhance Canada's regulatory regime that already serves as an example and model for others.

However, while Canada's rail system is one of the safest in the world, railways are not without risk, and increased rail traffic means increased chances for rail accidents, which disrupt freight, commuter and passenger services and result in lost revenues, increased public costs and reduced productivity for customers. According to the Transportation Safety Board, there were 1,038 rail accidents in 2009, including 68 main track derailments, which have the greatest potential for severe consequences.

When I say "accidents," this can mean anything from a tiny spill in a side yard to a multi-car passenger train derailment with injuries. In fact, it was the severity of the accidents in 2005 and 2006 at Lake Wabamun, Alberta, Lillooet and Cheakamus, British Columbia, and Montmagny, Quebec, that provided the impetus, in part, for the Minister of Transport to launch a full review of the Railway Safety Act in 2007.

A panel was appointed with the objective of identifying possible gaps in the act and making recommendations to further strengthen the regulatory regime. Consultations were extensive. Stakeholders such as unions, organizations, associations and individuals presented their views. The panel's final report, Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety, was tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Transport in March 2008. In their report, the panellists noted that although the Railway Safety Act and its principles are fundamentally sound, more work is needed and a number of legislative improvements are required. The report contained 56 recommendations to improve rail safety in Canada.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities also conducted extensive stakeholder consultations. It accepted the panel's 56 recommendations and tabled its own report in May 2008 with an additional 14 recommendations, many of which are now incorporated into those of the Railway Safety Act review.

Transport Canada agrees with the recommendations of both reviews and has taken steps to address them through a variety of government-industry-union initiatives.

Legislative amendments to the Railway Safety Act address the key recommendations and enable many new safety initiatives. One of these safety measures is Operation Lifesaver. Sponsored by Transport Canada and the Railway Association of Canada, Operation Lifesaver is a national program designed to raise public awareness of the potential hazards of railway crossings and the dangers associated with trespassing on railway property. Operation Lifesaver works in close cooperation with a wide range of stakeholders including government, provincial safety councils, police, unions, railways, the trucking industry, community groups and schools.

In keeping with the recommendations of the Railway Safety Act review and the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities study, the amendments will strengthen Transport Canada's oversight capacity. They will give the Governor-in-Council the authority to require railway companies to apply for and receive a safety-based railway operating certificate. The certificate will demonstrate that they comply with baseline safety requirements before they begin operations.

The requirement for a railway operating certificate will apply to all railways under federal jurisdiction. Existing companies will have a period of two years from the coming into force of the amendments to meet the requirements for their certificates. The amendments will strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement capacity through the introduction of administrative monetary penalties as an additional enforcement tool to improve rail safety. Maximum levels for administrative monetary penalties would be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation.

The amendments will also strengthen Transport Canada's enforcement powers by increasing judicial fines to levels consistent with other modes of transportation, such as aviation and marine. Maximum fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would be $1 million for corporations and $50,000 for an individual. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would be $500,000 for corporations and $25,000 for an individual for each day of non-compliance.

The Railway Safety Management System Regulations were designed in 2001 to be a more detailed way to manage safety. They complement the existing regulatory framework and ensure that railways are responsible for the safety of their operations, and, in particular, that they identify dangers, evaluate and mitigate risks, and integrate safety into their daily operations.

The legislative amendments we are introducing today will further improve rail safety by reflecting the central importance of safety management systems. A safety management system is a formal framework for integrating safety into day-to-day railway operations and includes safety goals and performance targets, risk assessments, responsibilities and authorities, rules and procedures, monitoring and evaluation processes.

Also included in this bill are amendments to clarify the authority and responsibilities of the minister in respect of railway matters. For example, the amendments will clarify that the act applies in respect of all railway matters within the legislative authority of Parliament. This will ensure that all companies operating on federal tracks are subject to the same high level of safety requirements. The amendments will also clarify that railway safety inspectors exercise their powers under the authority of the minister and that the minister may enter into agreements with the provinces on matters relating to railway safety, railway security and the protection of the environment across provincial and federal boundaries.

Regulation-making authorities under the act will be expanded to allow a requirement for railway companies to submit environmental management plans for federal review, information collection and railway equipment labelling related to emissions. This amendment, plus an additional one that provides regulatory authority to control and prevent fires on railway rights-of-way, support government priorities for environmental conservation and provides additional safeguards to protect our natural heritage from potential harm.

In conclusion, I remind honourable senators that with this legislation we are going to strengthen the national rail system that is so vital to our economy. By reducing the risk of accidents, we will enhance the competitiveness of our railways, increase the public safety of Canadians and add an additional layer of protection for our natural environment.

We believe these proposed amendments are essential and timely. They respond directly to the recommendations of two important studies on rail safety that involved a high level of participation from all key stakeholders in the rail sector.

I encourage all honourable senators to vote for Bill S-4, which will modernize the Railway Safety Act to reflect the requirements of a growing and increasingly complex rail industry. These are changes all Canadians can agree upon.

With your vote we can continue to build on the dream of those who first had such a great vision of our country.

For they looked in the future and what did they see
They saw an iron road runnin' from sea to the sea
Bringin' the goods to a young growin' land
All up through the seaports and into their hands