Summary of work conducted by the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities on Rail Safety since 2016


The Committee undertook a study on Rail Safety from March to June 2016.

The Committee presented its report to the House of Commons on 16 June 2016.

The Committee made 19 recommendations. The Government presented its response on 6 October 2016.

The Government agreed with about half of the recommendations but for the other half, it agreed in principle or noted its support for initiatives by third parties (such the municipality of Lac Mégantic).

Following the 2016 study on Rail Safety, the Committee held 2 hearings that touched upon rail safety.

        21 February 2019: Briefing on the removal of transportation of flammable liquids by rail

o   The Chair of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board and Transport Canada’s ADM, Safety and Security appeared to discuss the removal of transportation of flammable liquids by rail from the TSB’s watchlist.


        27 February 2020: Mandate of the Minister of Transport

o   During his appearance on his Mandate letter, the Minister spoke about importance of rail safety and recent measures taken by the government.

Details and excerpts:


Committee’s study on Rail Safety

From March to June 2016 the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities held 5 hearings for its study on Rail Safety.

Witnesses included the Transport Canada, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board, Via Rail Canada, the Canadian National Railway Company, the Canadian Pacific Railway, and other provincial railway companies and associations.

The Committee presented its report to the House of Commons on 16 June 2016. The first section of the report outlines changes to the federal legislative framework for rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods. The second section presents stakeholder views on the Transportation Safety Board of Canada’s key rail safety recommendations from 2014. Sections describing what the Committee heard about railway operating crew fatigue, remote control operations for locomotives and locomotive voice and video recorders follow. The issues of federal resources for rail communities, the railway rule-making process, whistle-blower protections for railway employees and the unique situation of short-line railways were additional topics of interest to the Committee and are also discussed.

The committee made 19 recommendations. The Government presented its response on 6 October 2016.

Many of the recommendations are issue-specific. Below are some of the higher-level recommendations and excerpts from the government responses that may be of interest.

Recommendation 5: That Transport Canada undertake frequent, interactive and publicly visible inspections of railway operations in communities where there have been major incidents to mitigate ongoing fears.

                Excerpt from the response: (…) The Government agrees that it is important for inspections to be more visible to communities that have been affected by significant rail incidents, as well as to have mechanisms in place the help ensure communities’ concerns are being heard. Enhanced inspection resources from Budget 2015 will support these efforts. As well Transport Canada will continue its outreach efforts and work with advocacy groups on rail safety issues.

Recommendation 6: That Transport Canada immediately increase the number of on-site and visual inspections for compliance with rail safety regulations and rules it conducts in a given year, prioritizing rail operations with a record of poor performance in terms of developing and implementing effective safety management systems or have demonstrated repeated marginal or non-compliance with federal rail safety regulations.

                Response: The Government agrees with this recommendation as it is in line with the Government’s commitment to ensure more robust oversight of the rail transportation system, as announced in Budget 2016. This includes continuing to focus on priority inspections through risk-based planning, conducting more standard and targeted audits of companies’ Safety Management Systems, as well as continuing to conduct follow-up inspections of railway companies with poor compliance or safety records.

Recommendation 13 : That Transport Canada establish and adopt an expedited process for responding to Transportation Safety Board safety-related recommendations and that an enhanced reporting system be adopted to prevent recommendations from languishing, without action, on the Transportation Safety Board Active Rail Recommendations list.

                Excerpts from the response: (…) The Government agrees in principle with this recommendation, recognizing that Transport Canada is required by law to respond to TSB recommendations within 90 days. (…) In all cases the Government actively reviews and considers recommendations from TSB, and factors recommendations into decisions about priorities. It is important to note that in some cases, identifying longer-term solutions to recommendations requires research to identify available technological solutions and consultations with stakeholders. Transport Canada will make further efforts to publish more information on the progress of its responses to the TSB’s recommendations. One recommendation touches upon the transportation of dangerous goods which was the subject of a recent CESD audit:

Recommendation 17: That Transport Canada immediately develop legislative and/or regulatory structures to require rail companies operating in Canada to (1) provide real time knowledge of dangerous goods to first responders in communities via cellular or Internet services where possible (such as the AskRail app); (2) study other means of delivering this information ahead of time or in real time via other mediums to communities outside of cellular range; and (3) that these communities be consulted in the development and implementation of the plan.

                Excerpts from the response: I believe that sharing data is extremely important so communities and first responders are prepared in case of an accident. That is why I issued Protective Direction 36[i], which improves the information communities receive about the dangerous goods crossing their jurisdictions. The Government agrees in principle with this recommendation. (…). Currently, dangerous goods regulators require that railway operators provide CANUTEC, Transport Canada’s 24-hour emergency centre for incidents involving dangerous goods, with data, so that first responders have the information to respond effectively to an incident.

Following the 2016 study on Rail Safety, the Committee held 2 hearings that touched upon rail safety:

-          21 February 2019: Briefing on the removal of transportation of flammable liquids by rail.

The Chair of the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board testified, namely about the removal of transportation of flammable liquids by rail from the TSB’s watchlist. The transportation of flammable liquids by rail, was first added to the watchlist in 2014 in the wake of Lac-Mégantic. In 2016, the issue was kept on the watchlist. The TSB wanted to see two things: First, risk analysis and risk management by railway companies, and the accelerated removal of the least crash-resistant tank cars. They felt that TC and the industry had taken enough action in these two areas to remove the issue from the watchlist.

Questions focussed on: the types of cars that transport oil and removing the ones that pose a greater risk; impact of weather conditions; length and weight of trains, types of oils and liquids transported; safety of pipelines vs rail (2015 Fraser Report); what factors are considered to put an issue on the watchlist (accident and incident stats and non-implementation of recommendations); what do the companies do vs Transport Canada (companies inspect their own infrastructure and TC does inspections and audits of the safety management systems)?

Transport Canada’s Assistant Deputy Minister, Safety and Security also appeared. He noted actions taken by the department for rail safety including reducing permitted train speed and accelerating older tank phase-out timelines for the transport of crude oil, implementing new requirements related to liability and compensation, classification and emergency response, means of containment standards, and additional inspections in key route and key train requirements.

Questions focussed on: rail safety vs pipeline safety (2015 Fraser Report); sufficiency of resources at TC to address TSB watchlist issues; administrative monetary penalties (at the time of the hearing TC had issued half a million dollars in penalties to various railways); number of inspections done on paper vs in the field; how is risk management done for transportation of dangerous goods; what oversight measures / inspections are taken to ensure compliance.


-          27 February 2020: Mandate of the Minister of Transport

During his appearance on his Mandate letter, the Minister spoke about importance of rail safety and measures taken such as a ministerial order to reduce speed of trains carrying dangerous goods following the derailment in Saskatchewan near Guernsey; funding support for grade crossing improvements and public education; publishing a risk-ranked grade crossing inventory on the Government’s open data portal.

Questions and answers included:

-          Questions about safety of rail lines and crossings due to blockades and potential tampering rail lines, cars and signalling systems that were happening at that time.

o   Answer: CP and CN police monitor the railroads and have ability to prosecute.

-          What are the findings of investigation at the Guernsey Saskatchewan derailment?

o   Answer: Investigation is underway. In the meantime there is a ministerial order limiting train speeds.

-          Shutting down of CN traffic control centres and relocation of controllers in a single centre in Alberta:

o   what does this mean for safety overall,

o   what does this means in terms language issues and being able to communicate to ensure rail safety in Quebec,

o   will Transport Canada do inspections to ensure appropriate safety measures are in place,

o   has Transport Canada conducted its own risk assessment of the impact on rail safety?

Answer: CN is a private company and has made the decision. CN has assured TC that there will be no impact on rail traffic control which can be done at a distance from anywhere and in the proper language. TC will not be doing its own risk assessment.

-          Will the Minister of TC commit to conducting a criminal investigation into the deaths of 3 rail workers following the freight train derailment in BC on Feb 4, 2019 since the TSB cannot direct such an investigation?

o   Answer: A criminal investigation is decided by the local police authority. That's how it's done. Transport Canada can't come in and say, “We want a criminal investigation.”


-          Can you give a timeframe on building the rail bypass in Lac-Mégantic?

o   Answer: Negotiations to acquire the land are being led by another department. We intend to begin with plans and quotes later this year [2020].


-          2 days after the ministerial order to slow train speeds there was a derailment in Emo Ontario on Feb 18, 2020. Why not make the order permanent?

o   Answer: We are working with CP and CN on a whole bunch of other safety-related measures which will come into application starting on April 1 [2020].


-          The derailment in Saskatchewan involved new TC-117 cars which were supposed to be safe but derailed and exploded. What are you doing about this?

o   Answer: What we did was accelerate the transition from the older DOT-111s to the new TC-117 model. The trains go at a certain speed, and there cannot be a guarantee that you're not going to have a puncture or a leak at certain speeds. They are, though, safer than the old ones, and that is definitely a move in the right direction.

[i] Protective direction 36 was issued on 28 April 2016 and deals with three areas :

  1. Increased data requirements, including specific maximum volume of dangerous goods transported, frequency, and data reporting requirements;
  2. Confidentiality agreements adding more flexibility to enable better sharing amongst emergency planners within municipalities; and
  3. Public information; requiring rail carriers to share information that could be disclosed publicly.

The PD provides jurisdictions with appropriate dangerous goods information needed to conduct their risk assessments, emergency planning activities, and identify training requirements for First Responders by adding new requirements to the ones covered in a previous PD.

Here is the link for the full text: