Transport Canada is under the gun -

Transport Canada is under the gun

Tease the day: The department responsible for ensuring safe railways has a tough job ahead

Don’t blame oil for the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic

Mathieu Belanger/Reuters

Transport Canada, the massive federal department tasked with ensuring safety on Canada’s roads, rails, and waterways, has a big job staring it in the face. In the wake of the massive rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que., Transport officials have to convince anyone watching that they’ll figure out what went wrong, do whatever they can to prevent future tragedies, and give people confidence that railways are safe for any humans and freight onboard any train across the land.

This kind of lede, published in this morning’s Toronto Star, doesn’t help the cause.

Despite repeated warnings of potential dangers from freight trains carrying crude oil and other flammable cargoes, the federal government has been slow to tighten up safety standards on rail lines.

Brian Stevens, a Canadian Auto Workers national representative, told the Star that federal rail inspectors aren’t as thorough as their provincial counterparts, a claim that makes government cuts to rail safety—they’re spending $33.8 million this year, down $3 million from a year ago—more worrisome.

Maybe the department has a handle on the situation, and Lac-Mégantic was simply a terrible confluence of events that required everything to go wrong all at once. But Transport Canada has a monster task on its hands, and every story that questions rail safety makes the department’s job that much more difficult.

What’s above the fold this morning?

The Globe and Mail leads with Lac-Mégantic, Que., businesses hoping to restore rail service through the town as soon as possible. The National Post fronts former security watchdog Arthur Porter’s interest in investing millions of dollars in an Ontario gun manufacturer. The Toronto Star goes above the fold with recommendations that Toronto’s public school board tighten spending across the board. The Ottawa Citizen leads with the Transportation Safety Board’s ongoing investigation of the staffing on the train that derailed and exploded in Lac-Mégantic. iPolitics fronts the importance of protest movements in Brazil, Turkey and Egypt. leads with businesses near the devastated core of Lac-Mégantic reopening for business. CTV News leads with vigils planned today in Lac-Mégantic. National Newswatch showcases a Toronto Star story that reveals a number of angry letters that Canadians sent to the prime minister in the wake of the Wright-Duffy expense scandal.

Stories that will be (mostly) missed

1. Aboriginal relations. Manitoba Grand Chief Derek Nepinak says his province’s chiefs unanimously oppose the Assembly of First Nations’ ongoing treaty negotiations with the feds. 2. Drugs. An RCMP report says 10 Canadians with ties to the drug trade have been shot in Mexico since 2008, a byproduct of Canadians cutting out American middlemen.
3. DND spending. The Parliamentary Budget Office says the Department of National Defence didn’t spend $2.3 billion of budgeted funds last year, part of a longer trend in the department. 4. Toronto. Residents have adopted environmentally friendly practices that have reduced water consumption by 10 per cent since 2005—a $350-million drop in city revenue.
5. Pigs. Thousands of pigs in almost a dozen American states are dying from a virus that’s similar to human stomach flu—and almost always fatal once a pig is infected. 6. Luxembourg. A juicy spy scandal involving secret tapings, unathorized surveillance and illegal luxury car sales has brought down the prime minister, who served for 18 years.


Transport Canada is under the gun

  1. Morale on the marine safety side of TC has been low for quite some time. Pretty much every employee there got an affected letter, which basically said There are now 8 jobs in this department. Next year there will be 2. I’m not saying you’re going to be let go, but I am saying that there’s a 75% chance that you’ll be let go. Many of these employees made a rational choice and devoted their energies towards finding employment outside ot TC. Expertise was lost. Succession plans were probably thrown into chaos (or into the shredder). I wonder if the same thing happened within other TC departments and offices?

  2. Transport Canada is now prioritizing corporate profits over public safety. The exemption they gave Maine and Atlantic is just the tip of the iceberg – they’re now giving exemptions to airlines to allow them to have less flight attendants on board, despite the fact that 5 previous Transport Ministers decided against this, deeming it ‘not equivalent safety’. We’ve seen from the Asiana crash that an adequate number of cabin crew on board is critical to rapid evacuations (Asiana had a ratio of 1 flight attendant per 24 passengers, Transport Canada wants to reduce our ratio of 1:40 to 1:50), and now the consequences of railway exemptions lead to deaths. The Harper Government must really be hoping there isn’t an airplane crash in Canada before the next elections. Shame on them.

    • where does the 30.8 million go is gonna be a very interesting subject…

  3. It is about time Transport Canada begins to take things seriously, airport security agents in Canada only do their jobs correctly only when there is a Transport Canada inspector around. The minute he or she leaves is back to doing anything they want. BTW what is the having more than 80% or more of East Indians who barely speak English at Pearson Airport in Toronto Ontario? they check everyone but when one of their own is crossing the security point. The East Indians with turbans do not get checked like the rest of the public and neither those his family. What kind of mafia is this? Who is in charge of hiring these security agents at the airport?

  4. Wait for the TSB report on the Lac-Mégantic incident before jumping to leftwingnut lunatic conclusions.

    • I agree we should wait – but the second half of your statement [“leftwingnut lunatic conclusions”] implies you already have your mind made up.

      • Ya, made my mind up about leftwingnut lunatics.

        • And about rightwing nutbars? Clearly you think there is a correct answer and any report that says otherwise is leftwing and wrong.

      • “Lunatics” doesn’t take an apostrophe since it is not possessive. That’s a stat you can find in a grammar book.

        • OK, so you can’t refute my points. Thanks for coming out grammar Nazi. You’re clearly brilliant.

      • That’s interesting, because deaths and injuries from railway accidents have increased in the past few years. That could mean that rail accidents are becoming less common but more deadly/dangerous. It could mean that the increase in traffic is creating more opportunity for disaster, even if the industry is becoming safer and more vigilant as it gets busier. Or it could mean that the TSB has changed reporting standards in the past few years, and that accidents that would have been booked in the past are not being booked currently.

    • Having two engineers would have at least given both of engineers back-up. In the airlines, many equipment checks are done by two people AND they have to initial/sign off on them. That enforces checks and provides a measure of security against accusations that a job was not done correctly. Surely you don’t think that’s a bad idea? I also think it’s unrealistic to expect that people won’t speculate before findings come in. It’s human nature and let’s face it, with the degree of damage that was done here–with 3000 degree temperatures–it will be a long time before answers are found.

  5. This disaster could have been averted had there been two engineers. It would have allowed them to cross-check the manual brakes properly. Also, several people I interviewed believe that the train was too long and too heavy to have been held properly with just the manual brakes. The train was parked on an incline after all.

    • You don’t have a shred of evidence for a single thing you said there. For all we know, there could have been 20 engineers on the train and the same string of events would have occurred.

      • Actually I do Rick. I was a flight attendant for many years and cross-checking when it came to safety and equipment was part of our routine. It is built into protocols to prevent mistakes. Flight attendants have the same long, difficult hours and airlines recognize that that can create the context for serious errors. Besides, this isn’t really a situation that requires “evidence.” Commonsense will do here.

      • Also, please read carefully: “several people I interviewed BELIEVE that the train was too long and heavy.” I didn’t say that it was true, only that residents believe it to be true.