New Democrat Position on Rail Safety – John Rafferty

Canada Geese
Canada Geese on rail line in downtown Thunder Bay South
Canada Geese
Canada Geese on rail line in downtown Thunder Bay South

Lac Megantic Tragedy means New Policy on Rail Safety Needed

THUNDER BAY – Politics – As the investigation into the Lac Megantic tragedy continues I would like to let you know what the New Democratic Party has proposed on rail safety over the years.  I think this is important information to consider as we head into the fall sitting of parliament as rail safety will be a high priority issue that will be up for debate.

Some MPs on the government side and media types have suggested that the Lac Megantic tragedy is a one off, that our railways are generally safe, and there is no need for urgent action.  I am not one of those people.  

According to Statistics Canada, the number of carloads of crude oil to travel on Canadian rails will have gone up by 75% in just four years – from 64,400 carloads in 2008 to 112,900 carloads in 2012.  It is simply irresponsible for anyone to suggest that this added rail traffic does not come with added risk for the communities through which this hazardous material travels.

Indeed, rail traffic of all kind has increased over the last decade.  New Democrats have called on the federal government to work with rail companies and experts to begin to draft and implement changes to industry regulations to prevent potential catastrophic accidents and derailments.   We’ve been making these calls for years.

Here are some measures that the Canada’s New Democrats have proposed on the issue of rail safety in recent years;

  • Implementing all measures proposed by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) including automatic braking systems like Positive Train Control, stronger tanker cars and better safety protocols. 
  • Phasing out the use of DOT-111 tank cars for the transport of hazardous materials and providing a deadline for their complete removal.  For more on the DOT-111 tanker cars please see visit:
  • Ending the practice of having only one engineer aboard a train when dangerous goods are being transported such as was the case with the ill-fated Lac Megantic train. 
  • Informing municipalities about where and when dangerous goods will be transported through their communities.  We think Canadians should know, or be able to find out, what hazardous materials are travelling through our communities.
  • Empowering federal inspectors to check, audit, and support the rail companies in their safety efforts. 

Since the tragedy in Lac Megantic, New Democrats lead by our Transport Critic Olivia Chow, have called on the Transport Infrastructure and Communities Committee (TRAN) to immediately convene and to study these and other measures to improve railway safety.  We think this is the prudent thing to do in the face of such a tragedy.  Unfortunately, the Conservative and Liberal members of the committee agreed to a meeting but not to studying rail safety measures until after investigation in Lac Megantic is concluded. New Democrats believe that both can be done at once, but Olivia’s proposal was ultimately rejected.

Regular meetings of the TRAN committee will resume in the fall and we all have a stake in their work on rail safety.   We hope for more cooperation at that time, but for now you know where New Democrats stand, and have stood on the issue of rail safety for many years. 

John Rafferty MP

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John Rafferty is the current Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay – Rainy River and a member of the New Democratic Party caucus in the House of Commons in Ottawa, Ontario. John was first elected to serve as MP in the 2008 federal election and was subsequently re-elected on May 2, 2011 with 48.1% of the vote.