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Government’s ‘hands-off approach’ to rail safety criticized by NDP transportation critic

Response was prompted by the recent TSB report into a 2019 fatal Field train derailment

Taylor Bachrach, MP for Skeena-Bulkley Valley and the NDP’s transportation critic, is speaking out about rail safety in response to the Transportation Safety Board’s findings conected to the fatal derailment in Field that left three dead.

The report, released Thursday (March 31), highlighted what Bachrach called a ‘hands-off approach’ to rail safety from the federal government, which he says allows rail companies to self-monitor and self-investigate incidents such as these.

“I was watching the press conference yesterday and thinking about the families of the three men and what they’ve gone through and just how infuriating and frustrating it must be to see so little regard given to the safety of railroaders,” Bachrach said in a phone interview Friday morning.

“This is an issue that affects thousands of men and women across our country who work on trains and my hope is that justice will be served and that regulations will be put in place to finally hold the rail companies accountable.”

The report made three recommendations to increase safety and prevent incidents like in Field, stating that the implementation of automatic parking brakes and asking that Transport Canada establish and enhance test standards and time-based maintenance for cars operating on steep grades and in cold.

It also recommended CP Rail address their culture of safety management and risk assessment.

READ MORE: TSB finds fatal B.C. train derailment caused by cold weather, brake failure

In question period following the report, Bachrach called on the Transport Minister Omar Alghabra to act, and says that he felt the ministers response came up short.

“We’re going to examine [the report] and act upon it and build on the interim measures that we put in place after it happened,” said Alghabra in response.

“I want to ensure every member of this house and every Canadian know that safety is our top priority and we will continue to do everything that we can to maintain the highest level of safety here in Canada.”

Immediately following the derailment in 2019, Transport Canada mandated the use of handbrakes when a train stops on a mountain grade after an emergency use of the air brakes, according to the office of the minister.

In March 2021, the Minister of Transport issued two additional orders in regards to rail safety.

The first requires railway companies to implement specific procedures that must be followed by their locomotive engineers to prevent the uncontrolled movement of railway equipment due to an unintended release of the train’s air brakes.

The second requires railway companies to improve performance standards for locomotives equipped with roll-away protection, which is a feature designed to apply the air brakes when movement is detected.

“We thank the Transportation Safety Board for conducting a thorough investigation of the derailment,” read a statement from the Office of the Minister of Transport on Friday afternoon.

“As next steps, there are plans to build upon important safety measures that have already been put in place, including requirements for securing trains on steep grades and ensuring thorough employee training for these situations. We will continue prioritizing the safety of all rail workers and communities, and take action to mitigate safety concerns.”

Bachrach continues to have concerns, however, highlighting a train derailment that occurred on the same line in early 2021. Bachrach said that the car was parked on the same stretch of tracks, without handbrakes applied, and that Transport Canada called it a ‘near miss’ at the time and could have become another fatal incident.

It’s not an isolated incident - a runaway rail car was reported on the same line in January 2020, and one this past summer in July 2021. There was also one in late January 2021 that left nearby townsite Field without power for 30 hours

“It’s the government’s responsibility to ensure that there are rules in place to protect railroaders,” said Bachrach.

“Our focus is on the Minster of Transport and ensuring that he acts in a concerted way to prevent any future accidents like the one that took these three men’s lives.”

As transport critic, Bachrach is able to initiate parliamentary hearings on rail safety, which have been occurring over the last year. He is also part of a committee that is in the process of drafting a report that will include addressing safety management systems used by rail companies that are failing to create safe work conditions.

“I think many Canadians would be horrified to know these companies have their own police forces to investigate themselves, there’s zero accountability.”

The report is expected to be completed in the next month or so.

Bachrach also says that he’s glad that a criminal investigation is ongoing, and that he hopes that the families of the deceased get justice.

Claire Palmer
Editor for the Golden Star
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