Canadian Underwriter

Political deadlock ties up train safety measures

May 15, 2018   by Greg Meckbach

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A controversial proposal touted as a way to help railways manage risk has put the Canada’s transport minister at odds with the Senate.

If passed into law, Bill C-49 would make voice and video recorders mandatory in locomotives in Canada. This measure will “increase opportunities to mitigate risks and prevent accidents from occurring,” Transport Minister Marc Garneau told the House of Commons in 2017.

But it’s not clear when or if the bill will be passed. The Senate voted in March to make several changes to bill C-49, which passed third reading in the Commons last year.

One Senate amendment would change the bill such that  railway companies would not have the ability to randomly collect footage of voice and video recordings made in locomotives.

On May 11, the House of Commons a motion to officially tell the Senate it disagrees with some of the Senate’s 18 proposed amendments to Bill C-49.

“The government does not support the [Senate]’s proposed amendment to prevent companies from proactively using the data from these recorders,” Garneau told the House of Commons May 3. The Senate has officially told the House it “insists” on some of the changes it proposed to Bill C-49. The last time the House and Senate disagreed on amendments was in 2006, the CBC reported earlier.

The Commons did agree with some senate amendments to Bill C-49,  which is an omnibus piece of legislation that does not only deal with voice and video recordings.

The proposal to let railway firms access some video footage came at the behest of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, an agency separate from Transport Canada that investigates accidents and incidents in pipelines, marine, aviation and railways.

“Railway companies have the ultimate responsibility for the safety of their operations,” TSB chair Kathy Fox told the standing senate committee on transportation and communications Jan. 30.  “The review of randomly selected recordings could enable a company to identify some weaknesses in their operational procedures or in employee training and to take corrective measures before an accident or an incident happens. Knowing how crews interact with each other and with their equipment allows companies to flag areas for improvement.”

Officials from Unifor, Teamsters and the Canadian Labour Congress told the senate committee that workers’ privacy rights would be violated if railway companies could access recordings of locomotive workers.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada recommended in 2013 that the federal government mandate in-cab video cameras in all “controlling locomotives in main-line” railway operations.

TSB made that recommendation was made in an investigation report into a derailment that killed three crew members. A VIA passenger train derailed in 2012 northeast of Hamilton, Ont. The train had been travelling 67 miles per hour in a 15 mph zone.

“We know that the signals were working properly and we know that the signals were conveying to the crew the need to slow down in anticipation of this crossover to another track,” Fox said of the 2012 tragedy near Hamilton. “We don’t know whether they saw them or not or whether they simply misinterpreted them.”

There have been several incidents where train crews did not obey traffic signals, Fox added.

“We aren’t always able to identify what the reasons were,” she said. “Having a voice recorder and a video recorder combined gives us a lot more information about what was happening at the time. Where were they looking? Were there other distractions in the locomotive cab that may have caused a crew to miss a signal or misinterpret a signal?”

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