Federal rail safety report finds 'culture
May 30, 2008
Source: Vancouver Sun
Printer friendly version
A "culture of fear" at Canadian National Railway is making it difficult
for employees to report safety violations that raise the risk of
derailments and other accidents, a federal parliamentary committee says
in a new report to the House of Commons.
The standing committee on transport says both the federal government and
railways bear responsibility for a failure to meet safety standards that
were implemented in 2001, and a consequent rise in major accidents since
The committee has "serious concerns" about a slow and inadequate effort
by Transport Canada and the railways it governs to take a more proactive
approach to safety - despite a seven-year opportunity to take action.
CP Rail fares somewhat better than CN in the report, although CP Rail
gets only a bare passing grade, three out of five, compared to one out
of five for rival CN when it comes to implementing safety management
standards that were introduced in an update to the Railway Safety Act in
The committee reported hearing from railway workers who said it was
difficult to create a "safety culture" and worried about reprisals and
disciplinary action if they voiced concerns.
"This was especially true in the case of CN rail, where employees stated
they were working within a 'culture of fear'," the report says.
"While CP Rail was viewed as having as somewhat better approach to
safety management, there was still concern that its safety record could
be improved. The fear of discipline for reporting safety violations was
viewed by railway employees as a major deterrent to reporting such
The committee report arises out of an October 2006 decision to inquire
into rail safety after a series of major accidents and derailments,
including a toxic chemical spill and subsequent fish kill in the
Cheakamus River near Squamish, suggested an upward trend in main track
This is the second significant report on the subject in 2008.
Last March, after extensive consultations with stakeholders across
Canada, an advisory panel to the Minister of Transport reported that the
safety record of Canadian railways is among the best in North America -
but had shown insufficient improvement since the Railway Safety Act
The report identifies fundamental institutional barriers to improved
safety - including a hands-off approach by Transport Canada, and a lack
of effort by railways to implement a culture of safety among employees.
In particular the committee found that safety management systems were
getting little more than lip service from railways - and that Transport
Canada was not successfully promoting those systems.
"We are of the opinion that, if more stringent oversight by Transport
Canada had taken place, there might have been better results in
implementing [safety management systems] and the railroads would have
been further along in developing a safety culture than they are today,"
the standing committee reported.
"Transport Canada will have to take a much more 'hands-on approach' in
this process if we are to see a favorable implementation of [safety
management systems] in a timely manner. To be at the stage we are today,
after seven years, is clearly not acceptable."
The committee called on Transport Canada to respond within one year with
an "action plan" for toughening safety requirements, "including
timelines for full implementation of the system."
It also called on the federal agency to develop a "rigorous" safety
inspection program and to spend money hiring more people to carry out