Transport Canada to improve oversight plan following rail safety audit

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor

The Office of the Auditor General of Canada issued its 2013 Fall Report and criticized Transport Canada's safety management system (SMS) of the nation's rail network saying the department "needs to address significant weaknesses in its oversight of safety management systems implemented by federal railway companies to manage safety risks on a day-to-day basis."


In particular, the report says the department has not fully integrated the assessment of Canadian railways’ safety management systems into its oversight planning activities; its level of oversight was not sufficient to obtain assurance that federal railways have implemented adequate and effective safety management systems; the guidance and tools it provides to inspectors for assessing federal railways’ safety management systems need improvements; the department has not assessed whether its current workforce has the competencies it will need to oversee the safety management systems implemented by federal railways and says Transport Canada does not have a quality assurance plan to continuously improve its oversight of rail safety.

Transport Canada is responsible for the regulatory framework required for the safe operation of federal railways in Canada, which include Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, Via Rail Canada and 28 smaller federal railways.

The report does state that Transport Canada has made progress working with the federal railways on moving from a regulatory framework to an SMS approach, but recommends senior management now concentrate its efforts on ensuring that oversight plans are based on up-to-date safety risk and performance information, that inspectors and auditors are given training and tools to better assess the safety management systems and that managers provide the necessary review and supervision.

In reaction to the report, Canada’s Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt, issued a statement agreeing with the recommendations outlined in the auditor general’s report, saying:

“The Auditor General’s report, which examined Transport Canada’s oversight of the Safety Management Systems of federal railways for the 2011-2012 period, provides a valuable review of our Safety Management Systems oversight program.

“My department has developed an accelerated plan to respond to all the recommendations and has already begun working to implement most of them.

“In response to the auditor general’s findings and recommendations, the department is

• improving processes, procedures and tools inspectors use to assess risk;
• reviewing inspection tools and continuing to improve them as necessary;
• ensuring timely and mandatory training for inspectors and managers;
• determining whether the current workforce has the required skills and competencies; and
• adopting a quality assurance plan that supports consistent oversight and inspection methodology.

“In addition, Transport Canada is accelerating the development and implementation of regulations stemming from the recent amendments to the Railway Safety Act.

“Last week, I announced a protective direction directing rail companies to share information with municipalities to further enhance safety in the transportation of dangerous goods and to facilitate an ongoing dialogue between railways and municipalities.

“Furthermore, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities recently agreed to study the transportation of dangerous goods to ensure they are moved safely, including a review of the implementation of Safety Management Systems across air, marine and rail sectors. The Committee will also consult with industry and government stakeholders to get their perspectives and advice on what more should be done to further strengthen Canada’s transportation system.

“Transport Canada’s oversight role includes monitoring railway companies for compliance with the Railway Safety Act, its rules and regulations through audits and inspections.

“Transport Canada does not hesitate to take appropriate enforcement action, as required.

“Railway companies are responsible for the safety of their rail line infrastructure, railway equipment and operations.

“This includes ongoing inspection, testing and maintenance programs in accordance with regulatory requirements, as well as any particular operating and environmental conditions.

“While Canada has one of the safest railway systems in the world – from 2007 to 2012, train accidents in Canada have gone down by 10 per cent and train derailments are down by 41 per cent, from the five-year average – the department always looks for ways to make the railway system safer for all Canadians.”

Categories: Class 1, Intercity, Safety/Training