New rail safety regulations to be unveiled 'this year,' Raitt says
Published Sunday, September 22, 2013 10:26AM EDT
Last Updated Sunday, September 22, 2013 11:12AM EDT
The federal government will unveil new rail safety regulations "this year," says Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, who is also serving notice to rail companies that she expects them to come up with their own ideas for transporting goods and passengers more safely in the wake of last week's deadly accident in Ottawa.
Raitt told CTV's Question Period that the government has been developing regulations for level rail crossings since 2010, and those guidelines are now in the drafting stage.
Asked when they will be unveiled, Raitt responded: "We're going to see them this year." But she also said industry stakeholders and municipalities that are concerned for safety at crossings in their areas "should be talking to one another, too."
Raitt's comments came days after a collision between an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail passenger train killed six people and injured more than 30 others. Investigators said Friday that the gates, lights and bells at the level crossing in southwest Ottawa were in proper working condition, and were activated 47 seconds before impact.
The train's crew also applied the emergency brakes two seconds prior to the crash, but did not blow its whistle due to a municipal ban on whistles in the area, the Transportation Safety Board said. Investigators will spend some time studying recorders retrieved from both the train and the bus, and will also look at issues such as whether sightlines at the crossing were obstructed.
Raitt said the new regulations would include "ground rules" for how the rail industry, which operates the tracks, and the municipalities or provinces, which own the surrounding land, work out "the appropriate level of safety" at level crossings.
Retired TSB investigator Kim Nelles said in his experience, regulations governing level crossings were regarded as "un-enforceable" because they were in the process of being re-written.
He said new regulations must cover a variety of factors that could influence the risk level for a collision, such as the presence of both auditory and visual signals.
But one of the key issues, he said, is the clearing of sightlines at crossings.
"Quite often these sightlines are off public domain and into private property," Nelles said. "Now you don't have the right to go in to start clearing out sightlines so somebody approaching a crossing can look left and see if a train's coming and look right and see the same."
When asked about the problem of government regulations remaining toothless when they go unenforced, Raitt said: "We have the regulations and people, we expect, will adhere to those regulations."
New rules were put in place in 2009 to govern the transportation of dangerous goods, she said. An investigation into the fatal train crash in Lac-Megantic, Que., that killed 47 people, found that the labels on the rail cars did not properly identify the hazard level of the chemicals inside.
A report by Canada's Environment Commissioner recently noted that regulations for the transportation of dangerous goods were not being fully enforced, including the fact that labels for hazardous goods were often incorrect or incomplete.
Raitt said the Lac-Megantic accident and the Ottawa collision will help "sharpen our focus" on where improvements can be made to safety guidelines.
"I hope companies are watching this and they understand clearly that safety is an important part of the culture of transportation of dangerous goods, transportation of passengers, all those things are incredibly important, and that we will be looking far more closely at all those interfaces," Raitt said.
"They should expect to hear from us in terms of understanding what they're doing to make sure that they're part of this culture that we want to create."