Adjournment Proceedings (Rail Transportation)

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, this is rare. I know this is the first time I have had an adjournment proceeding to follow up on a question asked in the House of Commons, my question of February 24, where there has been such clear action by the government that I can start my adjournment question by commending the Minister of Transport for moving against the DOT-111 unsafe railcars. I know the hon. minister is unlikely to participate in the debate this evening and it will likely be the parliamentary secretary, but I am encouraged that Canada has taken action.

In the time that I have, I would like to go over this in terms of what the issue is in a nutshell, and proceed to ask what further safety steps the current administration is considering. Because, as the Minister of Transport has said in a number of the news stories, it is clear that rail safety is not assured even by moving to remove the DOT-111 railcars off the tracks. It is going to be a phased-in process. That is one issue of concern that I know some parties have spoken to. There is the concern that 5,000 railcars will be taken off initially, but another 65,000 will be removed over a period of three years. As we know, phasing out these cars is complicated by the fact that replacement cars are not being manufactured quickly enough to replace the most dangerous cars. We know we have the shipment of hazardous goods through Canadian communities and that it is a cause for concern.

I have noted that in the media coverage of the decision taken by the Minister of Transport to remove the DOT-111 cars there is also going to be an examination and risk assessment of the routes which are being used and ensuring that as much as possible is being done for rail safety.

So in line with what we know is taking place, I have a couple of questions that I would like to pursue this evening in our adjournment proceedings. Again, I am so pleased that we are moving to get rid of the DOT-111 cars because the Transportation Safety Boards in both Canada and the U.S. have said that these cars are unsafe for the shipment of hazardous goods. Canada has taken action ahead of the United States, and that is to be commended.

However, this issue remains, and I wonder if the hon. parliamentary secretary will be able to share this with the House. What other steps are being taken? Is the federal government now prepared to find a system of advance notification for prior informed consent for any communities that are located along rail lines that are carrying hazardous goods where they would like to have advance notification? We all know the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic happened with no notice whatsoever to the community that anything hazardous was being shipped through it. I think it is fairly clear from the investigations that perhaps even the shipper did not know how dangerous the unconventional Bakken crude would be.

I would also like to know if the federal government is considering following the lead of the U.S. rail safety improvement act a few years ago that instituted something called “positive train control” systems to ensure that an operator in a control room would know whether the brakes were working and whether all systems on the train were on track through sophisticated software on board the trains.

I would also like to know whether we are prepared to say that some goods are simply too hazardous to be shipped by rail.

Those are the questions to proceed tonight, but again, I am extremely pleased that my question on February 24 took place when we had no action and that tonight, April 28, we have seen substantial action.

Jeff Watson: Mr. Speaker, let me begin by thanking the hon. member opposite for her intervention in this proceeding tonight.

As was noted, there have been a number of actions taken by this government with respect to rail safety. I have been on the transport committee since 2007, prior to my appointment as a parliamentary secretary last year, and a number of important safety remedies have been undertaken.

I recall back then that an independent rail advisory panel was struck to make recommendations to the minister and the government at the time. A number of those recommendations, in fact almost all of them, have been fully implemented.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities did an important review as well, and many of its recommendations were put into place.

Bill S-4 came forward with a number of important amendments, among them, everything from mandating that a company executive be appointed specifically for safety at the company, the requirement for environmental management plans, and whistle-blower protection. A number of important measures came out of that as well.

A number of important steps have been taken in light of Lac-Mégantic as well, and important new directives from the minister regarding the proper testing and classification of dangerous goods.

An important consultation took place between the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities that resulted in an important information-sharing protocol that establishes a registry of designated first responders in communities, who will be contacted with respect to historic information about the types of shipments that will be passing through communities, and the additional requirement that if there is any market change in that regard, that there would be a more immediate notification to the people on that registry of what is passing through their community.

That was important obviously for the ability of first responders and communities across the country to begin planning what resources they need for what typically would come through their communities, and what types of exercises they need to do in modelling response.

A number of additional consultations resulted in directions as well. The requirement now is for environmental response action plans for very flammable, dangerous goods, things like aviation fuel, ethanol, crude—things that were not there before, and a task force that would come, bringing together first responders and municipal officials to talk about that response and how we do that.

As the member alluded, important steps were taken on DOT-111s, the immediate banning of the worst offenders and the phase-out of retrofit over three years for the remaining ones.

I should also note that the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities has also been asked by the minister to look into a number of additional measures in all modes. The rail aspect of that will be wrapping up in about another two weeks and interim findings will be coming in a report on that particular segment.

There has been testimony regarding positive train control, which is a broad term for a number of different possible automatic braking features that could be done. The question of advance notification has been raised in the questioning, and the committee has not come to a decision on that or a recommendation to the minister, but I invite the member opposite to stay tuned to what the committee is doing in terms of its important work.

Elizabeth May: Mr. Speaker, I am encouraged to know that positive train control is being examined and could be brought in.

We have a lot of hazardous goods moving on rails, and I think over the years we have seen cutbacks in the number of crew. I remember that when a number of significant derailments in Canada were analyzed forensically afterwards, had there not been such cutbacks, for instance having rail crew travelling in a caboose to know what was going on, there would not have been a derailment.

I see my hon. colleague from Edmonton—Strathcona in the chamber. I may misspeak the name of the lake near where her cottage was.

Linda Duncan: Lake Wabamun.

Elizabeth May: At Lake Wabamun, there was a significant derailment, where it appeared that there was a lack of train crew on board.

It was clear that we have seen real problems in rail safety before Lac-Mégantic, although nothing has ever been as devastating.

I encourage the current Minister of Transport and congratulate her. I do not think we say often enough in this place when something good has been done. I thank her and congratulate her. I look forward to working with her for greater rail safety.

Jeff Watson: Mr. Speaker, I know that the minister will be pleased to hear the commendation. In light of the announcements last week as well, we know that there have been positive things that have been said from important stakeholder groups in this regard. The president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, Claude Dauphin, has spoken very highly of it. He said:

The new safety measures announced today respond directly to our call for concrete action and are another major step forward in improving the safety of Canada’s railways and the communities around them.

The NDP’s transport critic, on the issue of the three-year phase-out, said, “The three-year period is the best thing that can be done”.

The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs has also said very commendable things about this.

It has been a consultative approach that has resulted in very concrete steps to improve public safety. Again, the standing committee on transport is very involved in this. There will be interim findings in June, with a final report and recommendations by the end of the year. I encourage members to see what is going on in that particular committee. If they have suggestions, of course, let us know. If there is more that we can do and it is reasonable, believe me, we will be making those recommendations.