Rail disaster raises many questions

This week, I would like to start my column by offering condolences to the families and friends of those who were killed, injured, or otherwise affected by the massive train runaway, derailment, and fire in Lac Megantic, Que.
People around the world were shocked by this accident, and I offer our thoughts and prayers as the people in and around that community struggle to cope with the tragedy.
At the time of writing this column, at least 20 people have been confirmed dead, another 30 are missing and presumed dead, and more than 2,000 people have been displace temporarily from their homes in this small town of about 6,000 people in eastern Quebec.
As a result of the event, a formal “state of emergency” has been declared and a massive humanitarian aid operation in the community is underway.
The process by which authorities are proceeding with their investigation is moving forward, but there is no word yet on what caused the train to release from its parked position, run away into the town, and ultimately derail and catch fire.
Once the victims have been identified and the investigation into the disaster is complete, however, some tough questions will need to be answered.
We know what the questions are already. What caused the runaway and derailment? Could it have been prevented? Are our rail lines properly maintained?
Are railways and the companies that produce and ship dangerous goods adequately regulated? Could this happen again? What steps can the federal government take to ensure it doesn’t?
The questions write themselves and these are not insignificant ones for our riding. Think of how many train crossings intersect with roadways, waterways, and residential neighbourhoods throughout Thunder Bay-Rainy River riding.
Finding the answers to these and many other questions surely will be a focus of much of my work in Ottawa this fall.
For years, MPs of all political stripes have expressed concerns that such a tragedy could happen in their communities. Unfortunately, it finally did.
While it still is early in the investigation, it is not too early for some immediate action to be taken by the federal government. I believe that the recent 10 percent cutback in federal rail safety funding should be immediately reconsidered in the wake of this tragedy.
I also believe the Harper government should implement all of the policy recommendations that were contained in a 2011 report by the Auditor General and the Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development concerning the transportation of hazardous materials.
Those specific recommendations, and the report they can be found in, can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/CESD-DangerousProducts
As of today, these recommendations have not been implemented at Transport Canada. From automatic braking systems to risk mitigation in the transportation of dangerous goods, we can—and should—be taking practical steps right now to make our railways and communities safer.
Today, we mourn for those who have lost their loved ones, friends, homes, and more in Lac Megantic.
Moving forward, I believe the best way to honour the victims of this and other tragedies is to understand how it happened and to do our best to make sure it never happens again.
I am committed to this end, and I know my fellow MPs from across Canada will be ready and willing partners in making our railways and communities safer in the wake of this disaster.