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Under new safety rules announced by Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, Canadian railways will have until Jan. 1, 2017, to obtain an operating certificate from Transport Canada.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canadian railways will have until Jan. 1, 2017, to obtain an operating certificate from Transport Canada under new safety rules announced by the minister.

New railway entrants to the Canadian market must obtain a "Railway Operating Certificate" before they hit the tracks, but Canada's existing 66 rail companies have been given two years to meet the regulations, which come into force in the new year.

The operating certificates were first recommended back in 2008, and last November the auditor general called for proper regulations governing when a railway is granted such a certificate.

The audit report came in the wake of the devastating derailment of an unattended oil train in Lac Megantic, Que., which claimed 47 lives.

"These new regulations are an added tool for this government to ensure that railway operations are being conducted in the safest manner possible," Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said in a release Wednesday.

"Railway Operating Certificates represent an additional layer to Transport Canada's oversight program and further strengthen its enforcement regime."

According to a government backgrounder in the Canada Gazette, the application form will take only an hour to complete — including six minutes by management and 54 minutes by clerical staff — and does not require documentation proving that rail companies will meet safety standards.

"The company's chief executive officer (CEO) or most senior level executive who possesses unique knowledge of company resources and operations is best able to make this determination and be comfortable attesting to such based on his or her own, internal risk management analysis, which does not need to be submitted to Transport Canada," says the Canada Gazette.

It adds that the "CEO will not be held personally liable based on the attestation since it is made at a particular date and time."

Raitt announced the government was looking at operating certificates last March and opened the process to stakeholder consultations.

Railway companies objected to regulations requiring that they meet the "highest level of safety," according to the Canada Gazette, but the term was retained.

"The Act defines the term 'highest level of safety' as 'lowest acceptable level of risk as demonstrated by a risk management analysis,"' says the document.

A copy of that analysis is not required by Transport Canada.

The certificates are a means of enforcing safety compliance by railway companies without resorting to prosecution, says the Gazette.

Inspectors may issue non-compliance letters, which rail companies will have 14 days to address.

"As a matter of policy," states the Canada Gazette, "Transport Canada would only cancel or suspend the ROC (Railway Operating Certificate) in extreme cases where there is company-wide or chronic non-compliance or where their operation poses a serious risk to safe railway operations."

The government document says the anticipated benefit of the certificate is "improved rail safety that takes into account Canada's economic well-being."

"This program and process have been designed to be quick and efficient and to avoid undue burden on applicants," says the document.

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