Rail safety top of mind

For many people I’ve spoken with, the Lac-Megantic crisis is still a top-of-mind issue.
The main concern, of course, is that this tragedy could repeat itself—and in a more local way. As such, it may be good to more generally review railway safety in Canada.
It is worth noting at the start that I think rail is a rather safe way to transport people and goods in Canada. The current Railway Safety Act (RSA) was brought into force in 1989, at a time when the government was deregulating and the rail industry was being privatized.
Our national railway companies—CN and CP—were restructured to enhance their profitability, and they closed lines and transferred thousands of kilometres of tracks to smaller operators.
The RSA brought with it a move towards self-regulation through an approach called Safety Management Systems (SMS).
SMS relies on a co-operative framework between industry and government, moving away from a fully-prescriptive approach to one that embraces the responsibility of companies for the safety of their operations.
SMS have changed the relationship between the companies and the regulator. Industry is required to develop and implement SMS, under which they conduct their own safety inspections.
The government, in turn, audits the inspections by reviewing documentation produced by the company. In this way, the federal government has reduced its direct inspections of installations.
Unfortunately, Transport Canada does not publish any data on the number of inspections, frequency, type of inspections, and affected railway companies so we actually don’t know much about the cargo we see on our tracks every day.
What we do know is that the amount of oil shipped by rail, such as that in the Lac-Megantic tragedy, has skyrocketed in the last few years.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of carloads of crude oil to travel on Canadian rails will have gone up by 75 percent in four years—from 64,400 carloads in 2008 to 112,900 carloads in 2012.
While pipelines are said to be a solution to the problem, even if all current projects go ahead, oil production in Canada is estimated to exceed pipeline capacity by one million barrels a day by 2025.
Therefore, it is very unlikely that the amount of oil transported by rail will go down in the years to come.
So that is where things are at when it comes to rail safety in Canada. The safety regime has been overhauled in the last several decades and the direct role of the federal government in ensuring safety on our railways has been reduced substantially.
It’s also important that rail traffic, including hazardous materials and crude oil, has risen—and will continue to rise—along with the risks associated with such behaviour.
Next week, I will offer some ideas that Canada’s New Democrats have put forward recently on rail safety and what others are saying.
I’ll also be sending a survey sometime this summer asking for you to identify any potential rail problems in and around our riding (i.e., idling, line congestion, etc.) so that I can catalogue them and raise them with the government in Ottawa.
Until then, take care and have a good week.