Category Archives for "National News"

Nov 06

Gaspésie Railway Reps to meet with Minister of Transport

By admin | Interurban Rail and Bus , National News

According to Radio Gaspésie, representatives of the Gaspésie Railway, the MNAs for Bonaventure and for Gaspé will soon meet the Minister of Transport (Québec) to convince him to fund the return of the (passenger) train to their line. The track has to be upgraded to passenger train standards according to VIA Rail which has stated it will restart the “Chaleur” train if the track is upgraded.

The Member of National Assembly for Gaspé, Gaétan Lelièvre will argue that the need of LM Wind Power to ship wind power components (blades) to the USA by rail and the shipping needs of two new, un-named rail freight customers would justify the expense in economic terms. The MNA says these are major factors favouring the investment.

Adapted by Harry Gow

Nov 04

State of play regarding Lac-Mégantic’s quest for justice and for safety of oil transported by rail

By admin | Interurban Rail and Bus , National News

PIAC article on state of play regarding Lac-Mégantic’s quest for justice and for safety of oil transported by rail.

Bruce Campbell, PIAC* Board member

It has been more than three years since the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, which killed 47 people; left 27 children orphaned; spilled six million litres of crude oil, poisoning the land and waterways; destroyed the town centre; and traumatized a community – trauma that continues to afflict its residents. Combining lives lost, environmental damage and physical destruction the July 6, 2013 Lac–Mégantic rail disaster is – outside of wartime – without precedent in modern Canadian history.

Have the lessons from this disaster been learned? Has it led to fundamental improvements in the rail safety system? A number of policy changes have been put in place since the tragedy including: the rule allowing single operator freight trains has been removed; rules regarding train securement have been made more precise; crude oil has been designated a dangerous good requiring an emergency response plan; a stronger crash resistant tank car has been introduced and will be phased in over 10 years. Nevertheless, massive oil trains continue to run on increasingly overstressed and under-maintained tracks, through urban areas, sometimes at excessive speeds. Main track derailments of trains carrying dangerous goods have increased.

The CPC-1232 tank cars (a slightly improved version of the old legacy DOT-111s), which currently carry virtually all crude oil, continue to puncture and their contents explode – most recently in May, 2016 in Mosier, Oregon, where a disaster was narrowly averted. These unsafe cars will be allowed to carry their dangerous cargo until 2025, when their stronger replacements (DOT-117) are fully in place.

Rail oversight measures essential to a safe regulatory system – notably frequent on-site inspections – remain inadequate. Without them, companies are still “regulating themselves”, compromising safety when it conflicts with costs. An impediment to a robust rail safety system is the “cozy” relationship between Transport Canada and the powerful rail industry. Far too often, the industry is able to shape regulations to its own benefit while compromising the public interest. The industry can block or delay new regulations, and remove or dilute existing regulations that adversely affect its costs.

The 2016 budget allocated $48 million per year for three years to “strengthen oversight and enforcement, and to enhance prevention and response capabilities, related to rail safety…”; but results so far are far from what is needed.

Here are a few measures that would substantially improve safety of rail transport of crude oil:

  • Combine Safety Management Systems (SMS) with robust on-site inspections
  • Substantially increase the Transport Canada’s rail regulatory resources and independence, reducing the potential of regulatory capture by industry.
  • Accelerate the timetable for phase-out of CPC-1232 tank cars.
  • Remove volatile components from oil (including bitumen) before loading
  • Address worker fatigue problems
  • Address speed and alternative route problems
  • Enhance the ability of TSB to enforce recommendations

The people of Mégantic paid a terrible price for failures of a dysfunctional regulatory system. The government must admit its responsibility and commit now to building forthwith a rail bypass around the town, which they are demanding. Fundamental reforms are needed to persuade skeptical public that that lessons of Lac-Mégantic have been learned.

*Public Interest Advocacy Centre

Oct 24

Positive Train Control

By admin | Interurban Rail and Bus , National News , Topics

By Robert Wightman

There has been a lot of talk on Positive Train Control, PTC, lately, especially with the New Jersey Transit, NJT, in Hoboken recently. Exactly what is PTC, why did it come in to being and what will it do?

From Wikipedia

Positive train control (PTC) is a system of functional requirements for monitoring and controlling train movements as an attempt to provide increased safety. The American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) describes Positive Train Control as having these primary characteristics:[1]

  • Train separation or collision avoidance
  • Line speed enforcement
  • Temporary speed restrictions
  • Rail worker wayside safety

It resulted after a Metrolink Commuter train and a Union Pacific freight train collided on September 12, 2008, in California, which resulted in the deaths of 25 and injuries to more than 135 passengers. The operator of the commuter train was allegedly texting on his cell phone at the time and ran a red signal. The US Congress passed a 315 page bill that President Bush signed into law on October 16, 2008.

PTC would have prevented the Metro North Derailment where the commuter train entered the curve at three times the stated speed on Dec. 1st, 2013 killing 4 and injuring more than 70. It would also have prevented the Amtrak derailment near Philadelphia in May of 2015 that killed 8 and injured over 200.

There are many incidents that PTC would NOT have prevented. In the US these include:

  1. The accident on FEB. 3rd, 2015 where a Metro-North  train slams into an SUV on the tracks at a railroad crossing about 20 miles north of New York City, killing the SUV’s driver and five people aboard the train,

  2. The April 3rd, 2016 accident on Amtrak where two employees moved a back hoe onto the tracks near Chester PA without obtaining permission from the Rail Dispatcher. If they had done this the track would have been locked out and the train switched to another track.

  3. The Sept. 22nd 1993 incident where a barge hits a railroad bridge near Mobile, Alabama. Minutes later, an Amtrak train hits the bent tracks and plunges into the bayou, killing 47 people.

  4. The accident of January 26, 2005 when a, southbound Metrolink commuter train #100 collided with an SUV that had been abandoned on the tracks immediately south of the Chevy Chase Drive The train jackknifed and struck trains on either side of it—one a stationary Union Pacific freight train, and the other a northbound Metrolink train (#901) traveling in the opposite direction. The chain-reaction collisions resulted in the deaths of 11 people.

  5. The collision in Feb. 2015 where six people died and 12 were injured when a Metro-North  train smashed into an SUV that was stopped on the tracks in Westchester County.

  6. The most recent collision in the US, the New Jersey Transit, NJT commuter train crash in Hoboken NJ, would not have been prevented by PTC because the Federal Railway Administration, FRA, had granted a Main Line Track Exclusion Addendums (MTEAs) for the New Jersey Transit’s Hoboken passenger terminals where speeds are restricted to no more than 20 mph and interlocking rules are in effect as the terminal is too complex for the system, PTC, to operate.

In the Canadian context PTC would have prevented the VIA train derailment at Burlington on Feb. 26th 2012 when a Via train entered a 15 mph crossover at 56 MPH killing the 3 crew in the locomotive and injuring 46 people. It would not have prevented the Lac Megantic disaster where an unattended train ran away backwards down a grade after being left without enough hand brakes applied nor would it have prevented the CP Derailment in the winter of 2015 near Nippigon ON that was caused by broken rail inside an insulated joint which was partially caused by extreme cold.

Positive Train Control may look like a major safety advance, and it is, but at price tag of over $2 billion Canadian it makes one wonder if it is the best bang for the buck. There are more people killed each year in level crossing collisions between trains and autos than in PTC preventable railway accidents. Would it not be more prudent to increase level crossing grade separations before PTC? Major train accidents maybe more spectacular but more people are killed in level crossing accidents each year that in train accidents.

  1. American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), Lanham, MD (2009). “Meeting the Communication Challenges for Positive Train Control.” AREMA 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, IL.

Jun 13

“Transport Canada Survey” & “Minister Marc Garneau to be on Facebook Live!”

By admin | National News

From the Transport Canada website:

The Future of Transportation in Canada:

Developing a Long-term Agenda for Transportation

Transport Canada believes listening to Canadians will help us better fulfil our mandate, deliver programs, launch new initiatives and build public trust.

Giving Canadians, our stakeholders and industry experts more opportunities to get involved will give us new perspectives and identify the public’s concerns and values. This knowledge leads to more creative solutions, more effective policies and better decisions.

Sharing your views on the following main elements will help us develop a long-term agenda for the future of transportation in Canada.

Join Minister Garneau on Facebook Live on June 16 at 6:30 p.m. (EDT) to share your experiences as a passenger!

Click here to view the survey on the Transport Canada website!

May 29

Auditor General’s Special Examination Report on VIA Rail

By TAO-admin | Interurban Rail and Bus , National News


        Going before the judge must be a troubling experience for federal government departments and Crown Corporations.  And so it likely was for VIA Rail Canada when the Auditor General (AG) published its Special Examination Report (SER) covering the period November 2013 to September 2015.  An understanding of VIA’s troubled legislative and political history is needed to put the SER in full perspective.  Successive federal governments who have repeatedly knelt before the personal automobile, the short-haul flight and have persistently ignored the very negative and social and economic impacts of a fragmented public transportation system and sub-par tourist industry are really a watermark on each page of this document.

         But VIA management, it points out, also have culpability and both VIA users and their advocates are well aware of their corporate missteps and spin machine that continue to both annoy and insult.  Although on-board services are quite acceptable by international standards and train staff are generally accommodating, one gets the feeling of a growing creakiness in the organization and the SER shines a light on the many reasons why.

         The full Auditor General’s report can be read on-line on the website of the Office of the Auditor General.  Some of the key points are as follows:

   Corporate governance.  It’s quite clear that the political nature of the VIA board precludes the necessary talent to plan, manage and operate a customer-focused passenger rail network.  Since 2008 VIA has been unable to obtain federal approval of its five-year corporate plan and has resorted to short-term measures to mitigate operational crises.  Whether this is a direct result of VIA management capability or stone-walling by entrenched federal government ideology is not clear from the report.  Either way, there is no future for VIA without a fully-funded, long-term corporate plan and a forward-thinking federal mandate.

   Frequency and track access.  The report discusses how this inhibits VIA operations and, superficially, one might be inclined to sympathize with VIA.  Both CN and CP are primarily focused on shareholder value, but CN recently rejected VIA’s accusations that it consistently gives priority to its freight over passenger traffic.  So where is the truth?  Why is Transport Canada not working with CN and CP on a better plan of mutual accommodation based the on facts?  Meanwhile VIA continues to display conflicting behaviour by announcing a dedicated Montreal – Toronto track plan, separate from the CN-owned infrastructure, while, at the same time telling Kingston passengers that their station will be modernized and trains “repurposed.”  In fact, VIA spent close to $500 million to add passing track on the current route through Kingston to reduce conflict with freights which should mean that a passenger-only dedicated tract Torontoo-Peterborough-Smith Falls is not required.

   Contract management.  The SER highlights the fact that many VIA capital projects have gone wildly over-budget (Exhibit 5 below).  It shows eye-watering variances that would result in a major management cull in a private company.  But an audit on infrastructure improvement, performed by KPMG, has deflected several access to information requests by concerned citizens.  The conclusion one must draw from this secrecy is that it comprises a litany of very poor planning and ineffective project management by VIA and other contractual players.

You are encouraged to read the entire Special Examination Report as it tells an interesting, if troubling story.  But the bottom line is that the fundamental problems rest squarely on the shoulders of Marc Garneau, Federal Minister of Transport, to sort the mess out.  Instead, he has chosen to kick the can down the road for another three years of study while funding VIA to “imagineer” its future rolling stock requirements.  Both actions are unacceptable.

         “Rise, ye, from the alter of the personal automobile, the short-haul flight, the rolling railway museum and misguided political dogma and soon give Canada a passenger railway that works – please.”

– Ken Westcar, Transport Action Ontario








Key financial indicators (in millions of dollars)






Total operating costs






Government funding – operations






Government funding – capital






Key operating statistics
Passengers (in thousands)






Average passenger load factor (%)






Overall on-time performance (%)






Number of employees






OAG Special Examination – VIA Rail Canada – Exhibit 1: Summary of VIA’s performance over the past five fiscal years.  Source: adapted from 2014 Annual Report, VIA Rail Canada.



Exhibit 5: Improvements to CN Kingston Subdivision rail structure

Initial project 2007 Revised project in light of 2009 Canada Economic Action Plan Project completion and results as of 31 Dec. 2014

$21 million

$251 million

$318.5 million

Improve track and some stations

160km of triple track

at $1.6M/km

70km triple track

at $4.5M/km

Expected benefits

Revised expected benefits

Actual results obtained

12 additional trains

14 additional trains

8 additional trains

Reduced travel times

Reduced travel times

Increased travel times

Improved on-time per-formance (stood at 82%)

Improved on-time performance

Worse on-time perfor- mance (average 65%)

$32 million in additional revenue

$32 million in additional revenue

No additional revenue

23% increase in ridership

23% increase in ridership

17% decrease

 in ridership since 2009

OAG Special Examination – VIA Rail Canada – Exhibit 5 (not all information included here)



The Auditor General’s report on VIA may be found on-line by searching for “VIA Rail Canada Inc.Special Examination Report2016.”