Wilson calls for action from Transport Minister 

Review of Railway Safety Act will take months, new legislation in 2008

click to enlarge Dead zoneCn derailment in August 2005 spilled 40,000 litres of caustic acid into the Cheakamus. Photo by Bonny Makarewicz.
  • Dead zoneCn derailment in August 2005 spilled 40,000 litres of caustic acid into the Cheakamus. Photo by Bonny Makarewicz.

A local politician says the federal government is neglecting the safety of Canadians by failing to make timely changes to the railway system.

On July 11, the Transportation Safety Board released its report on the devastating 2005 CN derailment in the Cheakamus Canyon, citing improper training and faulty technology as central causes of the accident that killed 500,000 fish.

Days later, West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky MP Blair Wilson issued a press release calling on federal Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon to make improvements along the Sea to Sky rail system.

Wilson says safety improvements should have been made immediately after the derailment, but now that Cannon has findings from the TSB report, he should definitely be taking action to keep a similar accident from happening again.

“… He’s got the proof and the backing of the TSB report… to turn his back on the findings and to turn his back on the report is just unconscionable,” Wilson said last week.

When contacted for comment Thursday, representatives from Transport Canada’s office said the Railway Safety Act is currently under review, and findings from the TSB report should be taken into consideration by the independent panel conducting the review.

But Wilson said a review isn’t good enough. He doesn’t believe Cannon should be waiting for a review to be completed, and wants him to step forward and make changes now.

“That’s the whole aspect of being proactive — ministers have the authority to change legislation as things happen,” said Wilson.

But Linda Licari, spokesperson for Transport Canada, said this isn’t the case.

“All amendments to legislation must go through the parliamentary process, regardless,” Licari said.

Natalie Sarafian, spokesperson for Transport Canada, said the panel’s findings are due to the minister by the end of October.

Sarafian thinks the minister’s recommendations should be made public by the end of 2007, but explains that any changes to the legislation wouldn’t be made until 2008.

A review of the Act was last conducted in 1994, with amendments made five years later, in 1999.

Licari points out that amendments were introduced in May 1996, but they did not get through the legislative process before Parliament was dissolved in April 1997.

The Railway Safety Act was developed in January 1989 as a framework to govern rail operations throughout Canada.

In December 2006, after a series of serious derailments in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, Cannon ordered a review of the Act, citing a need for improvements to operating procedures.

“Canada’s New Government takes the safety of the Canadian rail system very seriously and is committed to ensuring that appropriate levels of safety are maintained,” Cannon said in a press release issued on Dec. 14, 2006.

“A full review of the Railway Safety Act by an independent panel ensures that Canada will have modern, efficient rules and regulations for rail companies.”

In February, a four-person panel was appointed to conduct the review. Members of the panel include former MP Doug Lewis, Pierre-André Côté, Martin Lacombe and Gary Moser.

Members of the public are invited to participate in the current review process by submitting a written presentation, or attending and participating in public meetings held throughout the country. In B.C., meetings were held in Vancouver, Kamloops and Prince George.

The TSBs report is listed on the website for the Railway Safety Act review as a received submission.

As part of the review process, the panel commissioned 11 independent research studies on a variety of safety issues. Summaries of these studies will be released when the panel submits their report to the minister.

Wilson says he has been pursuing the issue of rail safety since the Cheakamus derailment in 2005, and so far Cannon hasn’t responded to his inquiries.


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