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MPs debate proposed rail safety laws


November 2, 2017   by Canadian Underwriter


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Legislation mandating voice and video recorders in locomotives “needs to be better thought out” and it is not reasonable to deny shippers of toxic inhalation hazards access to a proposed long-haul rail interswitching mechanism, opposition members of parliament suggested this week.

If Bill C-49 is passed into law, a “new mechanism called long-haul interswitching,” would be created, Transport Minister Marc Garneau told the Commons in June. For “captive shippers,” long-haul interswitching “would introduce competitive alternatives for their traffic and better position them in negotiations for service options and rates,” Garneau said during debate on second reading.

Bill C-49 was referred in September to committee and is now before the Commons for third reading.

If passed into law, the Canadian Transportation Act would have “a new remedy for shippers who have access to the lines of only one railway company at the point of origin or destination of the movement of traffic in circumstances where interswitching is not available,” the government stated in a preface to Bill C-49, which proposes changes to several existing laws.

Toxic inhalation hazards, or TIHs, would exempted from the proposed long-haul interswitching mechanism, noted Kelly Block, Conservative MP for Carlton Trail-Eagle Creek, Sask., on Oct. 31 during debate on third reading of Bill C-49.

“This is not a reasonable exemption to make,” Block said. “TIHs are shipped under an extensive safety regime, as prescribed under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act and its regulations.”

In 2005, a rail accident involving toxic inhalation hazards killed nine. On January 6 of that year,  a Norfolk Southern Railway freight train struck a parked train in South Carolina. As a result, three chlorine tank cars derailed and one of those chlorine tank cars was breached, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board said at the time. In addition to the nine people who died, more than 554 others were taken to local hospitals.

After the Norfolk Southern tragedy, “you saw underwriters becoming more focussed on the transportation of toxic inhalation hazards and poison inhalation hazards, gases and liquids,” Dan Bancroft, then senior vice president and transportation practice leader at Willis North America Inc., told Canadian Underwriter earlier.

On this side of the border, a freight train derailment west of Toronto in 1979 resulted in the evacuation of more than 200,000 but caused no casualties.

“A large portion of Mississauga, together with a small part of Oakville to the west and isolated pockets of Etobicoke … to the east” were evacuated on Nov. 11, 1979, wrote Justice Samuel Grange, who presided over an inquiry into the incident. A Canadian Pacific train hauling chlorine, propane and other hazardous materials derailed near Mavis Road and Dundas Street in Mississauga.

One example of a TIH is anhydrous ammonia, which “is a key building block of nitrogen fertilizer,” Clyde Graham, senior vice president of Fertilizer Canada, said Sept.13, 2017 before the house of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities.

“Fertilizer Canada represents the manufacturers and wholesale and retail distributors of potash, nitrogen, phosphate and sulphur fertilizer, and related products,” Graham added during the committee hearings on Bill C-49.

Member of Fertilizer Canada “use purpose-built railcars for safe handling of ammonia,” Graham said. “Our members invest significantly in the insurance coverage and safety measures necessary to safeguard the transportation of our products. Our members already pay significantly higher freight rates to transport dangerous material, and our association proactively develops safety codes and educational resources for our supply chain and for first responders to support the safe handling of fertilizer.”

Under the proposed changes to the Canada Transportation Act, a shipper would not be entitled to apply for a long-haul interswitching order under certain circumstances – such as the movement of toxic inhalation hazards, vehicles, parts of vehicles, radioactive material, movement of containers or trailers on flat cars

With Bill C-49, the ruling Liberals are also proposing to change the Railway Safety Act to require that railway locomotives be fitted with voice and video recorders.

That measure “addresses a key safety issue,” the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in May, 2017.

In an investigation report into a fatal passenger rail accident near Hamilton in 2012, TSB said the absence of voice and video recordings from the cab “left a number of questions unanswered and represents a lost opportunity to mitigate potentially serious crew resource management issues in the industry.”

But the public “has not seen the analysis of the privacy aspect of this initiative,” Conservative MP Kellie Leitch said Oct. 31, 2017. “Regulations mandate that airline cockpit voice recorders keep only a record of the last two hours of a flight. Thus far, all we have heard is that an entire transport trip would be recorded with respect to rail.”

Leitch – MP for Simcoe-Grey, Ont. – added Oct. 31 that “there are concerns that there would be no limit on (locomotive voice and video recorder) usage in the legislation and that the rail industry would use it for employee discipline beyond the intended purpose.”

But Karen McCrimmon, parliamentary secretary to Garneau, told the Commons that the government “has carefully considered and examined how to maximize the safety benefits of this technology while respecting employee privacy.”

The changes proposed with bill C-49 “specifically define, limit, and control access to, and uses of, the data obtained through these recordings in accordance with Canadian privacy laws,” she told the Commons Oct. 25.