Lewis optimistic 50 recommendations will improve safety
Published: March 11, 2008
Source: Orillia Packet & Times

An Orillia lawyer who chaired a panel that reviewed Canada's railways has faith stakeholders will buy into the 50 recommendations it made to improve safety across the country.

"My hope would be that each of the players, Transport Canada and the railway companies, takes this report and uses our recommendations and findings as a guide to improve railway safety in Canada," Doug Lewis, former MP and transport minister, said Monday.

Lewis goes before a parliamentary standing committee on Thursday to answer questions regarding the panel report, tabled Friday in the House of Commons.

"Rail safety in Canada is reasonably good, but can be made much better," Lewis said. "That should be done... by concentrating on improving the safety culture of both Transport Canada and the railways.

"If you've got a disaster and have to start over, that's one thing, but that is not the situation we find ourselves in."

The all-party standing committee will do its own study and make recommendations to the Ministry of Transport, Lewis noted.

The panel report states the industry is facing specific, safety-related operations issues that affect both people and equipment.

"These include fatigue management, locomotive design, locomotive event and voice recorder, rail traffic control locations, track and infrastructure, training, train dynamics and drug and alcohol programs," the report states.

CN Rail and Canadian Pacific Railway operate about 74 per cent of Canada's rail network.

The report said CP has made great strides improving its safety culture, but CN's strict adherence to a rules-based approach focused on disciplinary actions when mistakes were made.

CN "has instilled a 'culture of fear and discipline' and is counter to an effective safety management system," the report said. "CN needs to acknowledge this openly and take concrete steps to improve."

CN train wrecks were responsible for at least two of the environmental disasters that set off the safety review.

In 2005, a chemical spill from a CN train into the Cheakamus River, near Squamish, B.C., sterilized the river, killing more than half a million fish.

A defective rail was responsible for an August 2005 derailment in which 700,000 litres of oil and chemicals were dumped in and around the shore of Lake Wabamun near Edmonton.

The panel held public meetings at 15 Canadian locations, and met with stakeholders, including the Transportation Safety Board, railway companies, provincial governments and the Federation of Canada Municipalities.