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Railway Association of Canada Successfully Whittles Down Safety Rules

by on January 12, 2014

In the aftermath of the Lac-Megantic rail disaster last July, the federal government moved swiftly to address some of the glaring safety deficiencies within Canada’s railway industry.

Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, issued an emergency directive in response to the rail tragedy that claimed 47 lives, obliterated part of the Quebec town’s core, and shook the confidence of the majority of Canadians as to the condition of the country’s rail industry.

One key measure put into place last July dictated that trains carrying dangerous goods must now have at least two crew members. Canadians from coast to coast were floored to find out that the unattended Montreal, Maine, & Atlantic Railway train that rolled into Lac-Megantic had been left for the evening by a crew consisting of just one lone employee.

A second provision ordered that no locomotive attached to one or more loaded tank cars transporting dangerous materials could be left unattended on a main track.

New Rules are Self-Serving:

The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) sprung into action as well, it seems, after the directive was put into place. With the federal directive set to expire, the RAC came up with its own set of rules instead, and on Boxing Day, (2013) Transport Canada let the wolves into the henhouse once again, and quietly approved the RAC’s version of the new safety rules, without public consultation.

Eliminated in the railway industry’s self-drafted (and self-serving) set of rules was the provision that required trains with dangerous cargo be continuously attended.

The Top Priority – The Bottom Line:

Instead, the Railway Association of Canada assisted its members (which includes CN Rail) in helping to keep costs down, profits up, and shareholders happy, by replacing that key requirement with new instructions to follow to safely apply brakes and secure the locomotive cab to prevent unauthorized entry.

Apply the brakes properly, and lock the cab when you leave…that’s a shocking rebuke to the legitimate public safety concerns with rail operations, often through heavily populated urban areas that routinely transport not only oil products, but carry chemicals such as ammonia and chlorine, to name but a very few.

The idea that trains carrying dangerous goods can once again be left without any direct supervision for any length of time will only further erode public opinion towards the rail industry. The Railway Association of Canada has stepped in to protect its member company’s bottom line when public confidence in rail safety is clearly in jeopardy.

Majority of Canadians Agree That There’s a Problem:

With a recent CTV News/Ipsos Reid poll finding that nearly 8 in 10 Canadians agree that the federal government has allowed Canada’s railways too much leeway on determining safety procedures, the latest back door visit by the RAC to federal regulators only reaffirms what the majority of Canadians are already thinking.

Rail Resistance to New Rules Began Hours After Lac-Megantic:

In lockstep with the RAC has apparently been CN Rail, who, in an email to Transport Canada literally hours after the Lac-Megantic disaster, strenuously objected to having its trains monitored around-the-clock, saying that it would be “nearly impossible” to ensure that this requirement be met.

While having over 400 trains a day containing one or more cars filled with dangerous materials, CN made the following case with Transport Canada officials for leaving trains with dangerous cargo unattended:

“As such, the requirement to ensure these are attended at all times would, in practice, be nearly impossible to ensure full compliance with. Our initial review of the implications of such a proposed requirement (remember, this was written no more than after 72 hours after Lac-Megantic! – TJ) show that this could require operating employees to remain on duty for extended periods while waiting for relief crews.”

“In many instances, the time on duty may exceed that permitted under union rules. The ability to find another employee to monitor the train will in many cases be extremely difficult. Situations such as operations during winter storms will add additional difficulties.”

Not Enough Crew, Too Much Oil?

Is this the same company that gutted its own workforce some years back, now citing staffing shortages and scheduling problems, but now wanting to continue to expand and carry more crude oil at the same time?

Commerce Ahead of Safety:

The CN position, adopted in a final version of the new rules – puts commerce ahead of safety, according to Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada.

“There’s a balance to be struck between safety and keeping costs low, and the railway industry has succeeded in making sure that keeping costs low has won out in terms of how the rules were finalized. There’s a unique risk posed by these trains filled with oil, and leaving them unattended is a recipe for disaster,” said Stewart.

Around-the-Clock Monitoring of Trains Possible, Says Union:

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union representing many rail employees, had sought an even stricter braking standard for securing trains than the one ultimately adopted, but did not press for continuous, on-the-scene monitoring of trains, because it knew that the industry would not invest in the necessary crew.

“They could very easily have someone babysit that train. It’s a matter of dollars and cents, really,” said Rob Smith, national legislative director for the Teamsters.

Railway Logic – Comparing Trains to Cars:

However, Kevin McKinnon of the Railway Association of Canada sees the issue differently, and believes that the new rules will prevent another mishap like the one at Lac-Megantic.

“The public should be very comfortable with what was put out by us,” he said.

McKinnon argues that it isn’t necessary to have someone continuously keep an eye on a train, saying that people do not sleep outside alongside their cars.

Greenpeace’s Stewart counters MacKinnon’s analogy stating that “Your car parked in the driveway can’t destroy your whole neighbourhood. A train filled with oil can. And that’s why the rail companies should be required to take much stronger precautions to prevent that from happening.”

Personally, I’d add that I’d hope that anyone designated to be watching a train not be sleeping outside next to it, to answer to McKinnon’s comparison.

As well, I’d feel a lot more comfortable living next door to a neighbour with an unattended Toyota, parked, the engine shut off, with a case lot of Clorox purchased from a big box retailer left inside of it, rather than an entourage of idling locomotives abandoned with freight in tow, consisting of tankers and tankers of the stuff left where people live nearby.

I’ll also point out, continuing with McKinnon’s comparison, that leaving your car idling needlessly, in many jurisdictions in this country, could net you a fine for your thoughtless contribution to air pollution.

How about comparing the rail industry’s new rules to existing ones for cars now, Mr. McKinnon?

I think that the Railway Association of Canada should be just about as comfortable with that idea as the public should be with the RAC’s watered-down railway safety provisions.


Sources for this article include:

CTV Newsnet, Dec. 31, 2013:                                                                                                                                                          “CTV Poll: 77% of Canadians believe railways have too much leeway on safety” 

Vancouver Sun, Jan.  11, 2014:                                                                                                                                                                ” CN Rail balked at having to staff hazardous trains round the clock”

Vancouver Sun, Jan. 10, 2014:                                                                                                                                                                ” Ottawa adopts new safety rules drafted by the rail industry”

© Copyright 2014

  1. Andrew permalink

    trainjane on January 12, 2014 at 9:20 PM
    Andrew, the topic of this blog is railway noise and vibration, its relationship to communities, and the reducing rail’s impact on the environment. Please stay on topic.

    Being a NIMBY is a very big problem too!

    I live near a flight path, but I don’t complain about planes.

    Things like electrification, welded rail, belt lines, etc help as well, but you can’t be in a vacuum either.

    • trainjane permalink

      At last Andrew, we have something in common. I live not that far from a flight path as well. now, let’s get something else in common. Get your own blog as your bickering about the premise of this one is more about trying to turn into your hobby topic rather than contributing in a meaningful way. All the best to you.

  2. Andrew permalink

    trainjane on November 3, 2013 at 9:37 PM
    In two recent examples that I observed recently, there was no need. In the first instance, a change in traffic flow resulted in homes along one stretch of road along of Canada’s major cities experiencing a major increase in volume of cars and trucks directly behind it. There were no complaints after the diversion was completed. That was due to the fact that a noise wall for residents was constructed and completed at the same time as the diversion.

    The second example was the widening of a major arterial route for trucks through a densely-populated suburb. The road expanded closer to homes so traffic could move more freely. And residents there also received acoustic protection as part of the project.

    Both the community and the road transportation network benefitted in the end.

    It’s great to see when transportation projects place a priority on mitigative measures for the community. But then there’s rail…

    So then ask government to fix tracks and put up sound walls. If truckers are going to get welfare, then railways need welfare too!

    • trainjane permalink

      When railways make changes to operations that affect residents, too often those impacts are not addressed up front like they were in the road projects you listed. Railways don’t need welfare. They need a new social contract and more accountability to the communities in which they operate. And I think that I am in good company. When CN bought the EJ&E Railway line in the Chicago area, they were made to toe the line and install noise mitigation along parts of the route they acquired. It takes our American friends to show us how to deal with Canadian National. And you need to get your own blog.

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