Rail safety needs to be a priority for government: Hughes

Ottawa – It shouldn’t take another tragedy for the government to realize that there is still work to do to make rail transportation safe, according to Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, MP, Carol Hughes.


Hughes was speaking in an adjournment debate about the rash of derailments in Northern Ontario in February that saw trains go off the rails on three separate occasions. The worst of these events took place near Gogama where tanker cars left the track, caught fire, and dumped a million litres of crude oil into the Mattagami River.  

“One of the key take-away items from the event was proof that the new standards for tanker cars are still inadequate,” said Hughes. “In fact, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada is urging Transport Canada to quickly introduce enhanced protection standards for more robust cars.”

Hughes tied the derailments to years of deregulation and a huge increase in the use of rail to transport crude oil which has jumped from 500 carloads in 2009 to 160,000 carloads in 2013.

“No matter how one views it, that is a staggering rate of growth for the transport of one commodity and the corresponding increase in demand for tanker cars capable of most-safely moving this volatile product,” said Hughes.

Hughes also raised the question about the suitability of the track being used to carry these extremely heavy loads, which was highlighted by the Transportation Safety Board in their interim report on the Gogama derailment. 

“(The report) suggests that the sheer weight of trains carrying oil has a higher-than-normal impact on tracks which may have been a factor in that derailment.”

Hughes questioned the effectiveness of allowing rail companies to be in charge of safety inspections that is one of the key features of deregulation that began in 1999.

“The practice has gone from making sure that rail is safe to letting the companies tell us it is safe,” said Hughes.  “The time has come to stem the tide and inject some sense into the rail safety process.”