MPs Want to Keep Rail Safety Reforms in Public Eye


28 July 2008

Canadian Sailings Transportation and Trade Logistics

The Commons transport committee wants to ensure that efforts to improve rail safety in Canada don't get derailed. So it has passed a motion requiring Transport Canada and the railways to report to the committee regularly on their progress in implementing the recommendations of the Lewis report on rail safety.

The committee filed a report in early June that underscored the 56 recommendations from former transport minister Doug Lewis for better rail safety and added a few of its own to strengthen his measures. Basically, they require Transport and the railways to be more proactive in implementing safety management systems and listening to worker complaints.

The MPs said that in hearings with the department, the railways and the unions, they were struck by poor communications within the industry and a lack of employee involvement in rulemaking. As well, railway unions haven't been included in the membership of a government-industry advisory group that is overseeing the implementation of the Lewis recommendations.

After seven years, the implementation of safety management should be much better developed than it is in the railways, the MPs noted, adding that there should be a mechanism for employees to report safety problems without fear of punishment by the employer.

Like the Lewis report, the MPs want action from Transport and the railways on improved work and rest rules and fatigue management plans. The railways must also ensure new employees are fully trained before they are allowed to work unsupervised.

In setting up the advisory committee, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon promised "concrete ideas to improve railway safety. We will be working with the industry to reduce safety risks, increase accountability, improve the reporting of and response to incidents and reduce environmental impacts," he said.

It's expected that Transport officials will prepare a memo to the cabinet by the fall on how to proceed with legislative changes to begin implementing the report's recommendations.

Mike Lowenger, vice-president of operations and regulatory affairs for the Railway Association of Canada, said the industry has questions about the implementation of some of the Lewis recommendations but overall it is behind the thrust of the report. "There are five to 10 of the recommendations that can be dealt with in the next 18 months," he said. "The others will take longer.

"We want to deal first with the recommendations that will add the most value and then move to the others. We can't do everything right away. One of our main goals is to make future rulemaking in the industry more transparent."

In the report, Mr. Lewis said there's a need for "a bigger emphasis on implementation of safety management systems in both Transport Canada and the companies." More attention needs to be devoted to managing fatigue among train crews and a better system for developing and implementing railway operating rules.

"Lastly, and maybe we should start with this one, (government and industry) have to make a better effort to communicate and be transparent and work together," Mr. Lewis said.

While the report was especially critical of CN, Paul Miller, the railway's chief safety officer, complimented the review panel for "a rigorous and very fair assessment of the (Railway Safety) Act itself and issues surrounding it. 'A¶ we don't disagree with any of the 56 recommendations."

The Lewis report rapped CN for the way it was disciplining its employees. Mr. Miller told the transport committee the company was trying to get its employees to respect the rules.

He welcomed the report's support for safety management systems and noted they are the cornerstone of CN's 2008 safety plan. CN "hosted an SMS workshop for our union-management health and safety committee last December," Mr. Miller said. "SMS will always be a work in progress, and we look forward to working with Transport Canada and our union leaders and industry partners to continue the journey."

Brock Winter, CP's senior vice-president of operations, commended the panel for its work and for spending time in the railway environment to learn about the conditions employees work in.

"The operation of a railway is a very complex undertaking," he said. "But looked at on the whole, we think the panel did a good job in fulfilling its mandate."

He praised the report's attention to the issues that arise because of urban development up the edge of rail lines. "We cannot emphasize strongly enough the risks presented by the continuing lack of attention to development adjacent to railway services," he said. Governments can do a lot more "to govern responsible new development in close proximity to rail operations."

Mr. Winter also supported the safety panel's call for Canada "to take a leadership role in any and all technological and scientific advances that would improve public safety." At the same time, government and industry must realize the need to make even more use of technology to make railways safer, he said.