New set of rail safety rules announced in wake of Lac-Megantic report

OTTAWA – The latest set of rail safety measures announced in the wake of the deadly Lac Megantic derailment of 2013 do not come with any additional financial resources for the federal regulator, Transport Canada.

Transport Minister Lisa Raitt says her department has the resources to ensure rail safety — notwithstanding an auditor general’s report that points to critical training deficiencies and staff shortages.

The specific measures released Wednesday follow the final report from the Transportation Safety Board’s investigation into the fiery crash that claimed 47 lives in July 2013, the result of an unattended train loaded with crude oil careening downhill into the centre of Lac-Megantic, Que.

New safety protocols include tougher hand brake requirements for parked trains, more research on volatile crude oil properties and a requirement that short-line rail companies, such as the one involved in the Lac-Megantic crash, submit training plans for review.

The department is also seeking 10 new safety auditors across Canada — “an incredible increase” according to Raitt.

Raitt, speaking in the Commons foyer, told reporters the government wants “to better protect Canadians and their communities, but we have to maintain that transportation network that we actually need in order to move goods around our country and support our economy.”

The measures come as oil-by-rail shipments are increasing exponentially. The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers estimates the rail industry will move 700,000 barrels of Western Canadian oil a day by 2016, up from just 500 carloads — less than 300,000 barrels — in all of 2009.

In 2009, Transport Canada estimated it needed 20 systems auditors to properly audit rail safety under a program of industry self-regulation introduced in the 1990s by the Liberals. Last November, the auditor general found the department had just 10 — and reported that there was no methodology or workload assessments to show that even 20 auditors would be enough.

Auditor general Michael Ferguson’s report found that only 14 safety audits of Canada’s 31 federally regulated railways had been completed in the previous three years — just a quarter of the audits Transport Canada had expected to carry out.

Raitt said the 10 new safety auditors will be enough to fulfil the department’s mandate.

“Realistically, there’s only 23 or 22 short-line rail companies in Canada that we have to be keeping track of,” she said.

“Remember, this is the audit of the Safety Management System. This isn’t about going out and walking along the track, or inspecting the facilities.”

The Safety Management System, or SMS, is a system of industry self-regulation in which the government audits reports submitted by rail companies.

Earlier this week, the Transportation Safety Board reported that Canada’s two biggest railways and the company involved in Lac-Megantic had failed to file mandatory accident information in recent years.

There are about 110 railway safety inspectors employed by Transport Canada across the country, the department says and Raitt said no new inspectors are part of the plan.

Not good enough, said NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who questioned the whole self-regulation system.

“If you don’t have a government inspector doing it on site and instead you have auditors reading the reports sent in by the company,” said Mulcair, “you haven’t fundamentally changed the system that itself is flawed and no longer ensures public protection.”

David McGuinty, the Liberal transport critic, was much less critical of a system put in place by a former Liberal government.

The latest safety measures, he said, show “the minister and the department are finally coming to their senses. These are positive announcements.”

However McGuinty questioned why it took so long, given reports from both the auditor general and Transportation Safety Board, that predated Lac-Megantic.

“Where is the analysis that substantiates that we need only 20 (safety) auditors? Why isn’t it 30 or 40?” he asked.

Raitt said it’s up to the department to figure out how many auditors and inspectors are needed and where.

As for massive oil shipments moving along rail lines through Canadian communities, that’s just a new reality.

“Crude oil is something that needs to be moved in the country and currently the popular way to move it is by rail. I’m sure the companies will continue to do it in that way,” said Raitt.

“Our job is to make sure it’s done in the safest way possible and that’s what we’re talking about today.”

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