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295 Meetings
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Railways need heightened safety
Published: August 11, 2007
Source: Globe & Mail - GEOFF NIXON
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Five members of an independent panel heard deputations on issues of rail safety from stakeholders and members of the public in Toronto yesterday, as part of an ongoing review of the Railway Safety Act.

Among the speakers were Anne Fairfield and Donna Spicer, the two sisters of Donald Faulkner - a British Columbia train engineer with more than 40 years of railway experience who was killed in a derailment near Lillooet, B.C., in June of 2006.

The sisters said they wished to see a change in the way railways looked at safety and that the industry needed to ask its front-line workers about the kinds of risks they face.

"We don't need [any more] chopped-off legs and men not able to work in the railway business any more," Ms. Fairfield said.

In the past six months alone, there have been several serious incidents that have sparked renewed fears about railway safety in Canada:

Aug. 4, 2007: Two trains collided in Prince George, B.C. - one full of gasoline, the other lumber - which led to a major fire.

April 23, 2007: CP Rail train engineer Lonnie Plasko, 51, was killed in a train derailment in Trail, B.C.

March 30, 2007: A train derailment in Englehart, Ont., poured 150,000 litres of sulphuric acid into the Blanche River.

March 11, 2007: A Via Rail passenger train collided with a car at a train crossing near Guelph, Ont., killing nine-year-old Srinayana Chalapati.

Feb. 28, 2007: Hydrochloric acid spilled from a CP Rail train that went off-track near British Columbia's Kicking Horse Canyon.

Rail Safety Act review spokesperson Gabriela Klimes said members of the public can continue to voice their concerns about rail safety to the panel through their official Transport Canada website until the end of the month.

The act itself came into effect in 1989 - replacing the existing Railway Act - but has not been updated since 1999.

The Toronto meeting took place only two days after Canada's Transportation Safety Board announced it was launching a full investigation into a Prince George, B.C., train derailment that caused a major fire last weekend.

In addition to the Toronto meeting, the panel has visited 13 other cities across Canada and will wrap up its face-to-face public consultations with a final public meeting in Ottawa Aug. 21.

Federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon announced the review of the act last December. The panel is expected to report back on its findings by the end of the fall.

Panel chair Doug Lewis said before the meeting that the panel had seen evidence of "an awful lot being done ... on the issue of railway safety" during its travels across Canada, but cautioned that the panel's mandate had its limits.

"We've stayed away from public security issues, union management issues and customer issues," Mr. Lewis said.

The Toronto deputations touched on a wide range of topics from the maintenance of Canada's national railways, to the ways railway companies are managing employee concerns about rail safety, to the environmental impact of train derailments.

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