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Hughes (NDP) calls for effective railway safety standards

April 22, 2015

House of Commons Debates, 41st Parl, 2nd Sess, No 198 (22 April 2015) at 12900.

  • Mr. Speaker, we only have to go back to 2013 to remember what a worst case scenario for derailment looks like, but even in the aftermath of the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic, we are still wondering whether the government has a real understanding of the importance of rail safety, especially in rural areas.

    Events this winter in northern Ontario suggest there is still work to be done on that front. Proof of that came in February when trains went off the rails on three separate occasions in a matter of weeks. In the worst of these instances, an incident near Gogama, 29 cars derailed, some of which caught fire, and it took six days to extinguish.

    In addition to that, a million litres of crude oil was released into a pristine watershed that the Mattagami First Nation had just stocked with walleye in order to entice tourists to the region. I have to advise that there is a ripple effect because it also affected the VIA passenger train by preventing it from going on to its regular schedule, which means that there is an economic impact on communities such as Hornepayne, where the stops are usually made.

    One of the key takeaway items from the event that occurred was proof that the new standards put in place in 2014 for tank cars are still inadequate. In fact, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is urging Transport Canada to quickly introduce enhanced protection standards for more robust cars.

    The frequency of derailments has come after years of deregulation and a huge increase in the use of rail to transport crude oil. To put this into perspective, in 2009, 500 carloads of crude oil were moved by rail in Canada. By 2013, that number had ballooned to 160,000 carloads and is expected to jump to 510,000 carloads by 2016.

    No matter how one views it, that is a staggering rate of growth for the transport of one commodity and the corresponding increase in demand for tanker cars capable of safely moving this volatile product. Add to those factors questions about the suitability of tracks being used to transport these extremely heavy loads. That was among the items highlighted in an interim report on the more severe Gogama area train derailment from the Transportation Safety Board. It suggests that the sheer weight of trains carrying oil has a higher than normal impact on tracks, which may have been a factor in that derailment.

    We would not be covering our bases in this debate if we do not address the way that deregulation has left us with fewer tools to ensure that public safety is a priority. Before the floodgates of deregulation opened in 1999, federal inspectors had direct oversight of safety management and enforcement.

    Now the job is done by in-house safety inspectors and the federal role has been limited to enforcing the Railway Act, reviewing corporate documents on safety, and data analysis. In the past, Transport Canada inspectors would make regular and unannounced inspections. Today, those same inspectors are merely verifying reports.

    Now, it takes a complaint about unsafe conditions or violations before an inspector gets involved. The practice has gone from ensuring that rail is safe to letting the companies tell us it is safe. However, the time has come to stem the tide and inject some sense into the rail safety process.

    Without action, we are ensuring there will be more Mattagami River type events. Without a more responsive plan, we are risking another event as horrible and avoidable as the Lac-Mégantic tragedy.

    My question is simple. Will the government put effective standards in place and when will that happen?

    Ms. Carol Hughes

    Algoma–Manitoulin–Kapuskasing, NDP

  • Mr. Speaker, this government is and will continue to take actions to protect public safety while dangerous goods are being transported. This government has demonstrated it in the actions we take every day to enhance public safety. We remain committed to finding the appropriate solutions to enhance the rail system and regain the confidence of Canadians in the safe transport of dangerous goods, particularly in the wake of recent derailments, such as that which took place at Gogama, Ontario on March 7.

    Transport Canada has been deeply involved in work to improve the safe transportation of dangerous goods by tank car. Actions to date include: first, issuing a protective direction requiring the removal of the least crash resistant DOT-111 tank cars from dangerous goods service in Canada; second, issuing a protective direction to require emergency response assistance plans for certain flammable liquids and this requirement has since been regulated under the transportation of dangerous goods regulations; third, requiring railway companies to reduce the speed of trains carrying dangerous goods and implement other key operating practices to help improve safety; and fourth, creating an emergency response task force to bring stakeholders such as municipalities, first responders, railways and shippers together to review and strengthen emergency response capacity across the country, for instance, involving flammable liquid transported by rail.

    The Transportation Safety Board has noted that not enough was known about the properties of the cargo carried on the train that exploded in Lac-Mégantic. As a result, Transport Canada is conducting research into the properties, behaviour and hazards of crude oil. The results are expected in the spring of this year.

    Transport Canada continues to take actions based on a holistic risk-based approach, one that includes new train operation requirements, new compensation and liability requirements, increased inspections, among many others. As for an enhanced flammable liquid tank car standard, this government is in the final stages of developing, in collaboration with our American counterparts, the next generation of tank car for the transportation of flammable liquids, which, as part of a holistic approach, will reduce the risk of leaks in the event of a derailment.

    Transport Canada has developed this new proposed tank car design, TC-117, to replace the current DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars for the transport of flammable liquids by rail such as those involved in the recent Gogama derailment.

    This new class of tank car would be the most robust tank car design for flammable liquid transport. In addition, the department has drafted retrofit requirements to meet the minister’s direction on the phase-out refit schedule for the legacy DOT-111 tank cars announced on April 23, 2014. Transport Canada intends to publish the tank car standard this spring.

    Mr. Jeff Watson

    Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, CPC

  • Mr. Speaker, the facts are easy enough to understand.

    The Transportation Safety Board of Canada says that the new standards adopted in 2014 for DOT-111 tank cars are inadequate for the transportation of crude oil. It says that these tank cars are simply not safe enough and has asked Transport Canada to adopt stricter standards to prevent another tragedy.

    In addition, there are still a number of other important questions about whether railways are appropriate for the transportation of volatile substances, such as crude oil, and about whether deregulation and self-monitoring really work.

    All of this is taking place as the movement of crude oil by rail is increasing at a dramatic rate. Lac-Mégantic was a worst case scenario, but the damage done in derailments like we saw in the Mattagami River cannot be viewed as anything less than a failure either. The system that is meant to protect Canadians is doing more to protect the rail system that is increasingly marked by incidents.

    When will the government turn the tide on this problem and put effective standards in place?

    Ms. Carol Hughes

    Algoma–Manitoulin–Kapuskasing, NDP

  • The member is not listening, Mr. Speaker. The government is putting in place a number of tough standards. She should update her statistics, by the way. I know she stopped at 2013, but oil by rail is actually significantly down, though it is still the government’s responsibility. Should the economy pick up, we want oil by rail to continue to be safe. That is why we take actions.

    There is no deregulation in our country. There are tough regulations. There are also operating rules that have the force of regulations because they are approved by Transport Canada. Therefore, we expect that rail companies should operate safety, that is the first thing. That is why they have to conduct inspections themselves, look at their equipment, but we check their homework. The number of inspectors are up as are the number of Transport Canada TDG inspectors. The number of inspections are at record levels over the last three years, some 30,000-plus inspections each and every year.

    We are taking strong action. The member opposite should support that.

    Mr. Jeff Watson

    Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport, CPC

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