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Teamsters laud committee report that puts public safety above railway profits
Published: May 30, 2008
Source: Teamsters Canada
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OTTAWA – Teamsters Canada is optimistic concerning the approach to public safety taken by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport Infrastructure and Communities Report on Rail Safety.

The committee yesterday released recommendations that put public safety first. The report urges the government to force Canada’s railways to upgrade their infrastructure to cut down the rising number of railway derailments, especially aimed at possible catastrophes involving trains carrying dangerous goods through urban areas and environmentally-protected regions.

“It is obvious that safety in the rail industry must be improved,” says Robert Bouvier, President of Teamsters Canada, which represents 125, 000 workers in the country, including 4,000 who inspect, monitor and repair rail track. “The stakeholders all have to take the appropriate measures to guarantee the health of the public and the workers. We will work hard to ensure these recommendations from the committee are implemented as soon as possible.”

There is still much to be done, but the committee is on the right track. “We can achieve truly safe Canadian railways only if all stakeholders across the board work together,” says William Brehl, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division (TCRC MWED). “The recommendations in this report, including the endorsement of the role of labour in implementing Safety Management Systems and ensuring railways safety, are certainly a big step in the right direction.”

The report is the culmination of an in-depth study into railway safety in Canada, which was launched by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in October 2006 after an alarming rise in railway derailments and other accidents.

Among the recommendations of the report:

Developing the mechanisms for better Safety Management Systems (SMS), including monitoring by the government of systems put in place after the industry was deregulated a decade ago;
Involving and consulting labour on the issues of SMS implementation; and
Ensuring a rigorous rail safety inspection process, with adequate resources to properly support it.

“We fully share the Transport Committee’s concerns about the failure of the Safety Management Systems to achieve intended goals,” says Mr. Brehl, “Sadly, there is no clear understanding on how these systems should work, no clear benchmarks to assess their effectiveness and no open, consistent communication among the parties involved, including labour. We are the people who see the track and see the problems day in and day out. We have seen what has happened over the last decade: railways are moving longer and heavier trains on a more frequent basis, and transporting dangerous goods and toxic chemicals through urban areas, populated by millions of Canadians. A major derailment in a residential or environmentally sensitive area may be catastrophic. All these factors mean a growing need for more frequent and thorough inspections of both track infrastructure and equipment.”

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