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Despite safety pleas, Transport Canada recommends ‘voluntary’ recorders in trains

This announcement comes before the Transportation Safety Board issues its final findings on the 2012 Burlington VIA Rail derailment Tuesday.

Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

Transport Canada is leaving it up to rail companies to decide whether to install video and audio recorders in locomotives, despite a decade of recommendations by accident investigators to install the devices.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in 2003 that recorders, which serve a similar function as black boxes in airplanes, should be installed to better determine what happened in locomotives in the event of accidents. The issue came to the forefront again following the VIA Rail derailment in Burlington, Ont., in February, 2012.

VIA has since committed to testing and installing audio recorders in locomotives by the end of this year. And a new report by Transport Canada recommends a voluntary approach like VIA Rail's. The federal department isn't making the recorders mandatory, as they do for airplanes.

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"Our government accepts the report's findings, and supports the voluntary use of voice recorders," said Transportation Minister Denis Lebel in a press statement. "We applaud VIA Rail's commitment to voluntarily installing voice recorders on all their trains, and we strongly encourage other rail operators to consider doing the same."

This announcement comes before the Transportation Safety Board issues its final findings on the 2012 Burlington VIA Rail derailment Tuesday. The Transportation Safety Board is an agency independent from Transport Canada, which investigates accidents and makes safety recommendations.

Olivia Chow, the opposition critic for transportation in Ottawa, decried the decision not to make recorders mandatory.

"The decision comes as a slap in the face of the VIA Rail crash victims and families a few days before the TSB releases its final report," she said. "For 10 years, successive federal governments have ignored the Transportation Safety Board's call for voice recorders in locomotive cabs, while they are mandatory on airplanes and ships."

A working group set up by Transport Canada faced an array of opposing views. According to the group's final report, rail companies supported the installation of recorders, but not if the data could only be used by Transportation Safety Board investigators. Unions opposed the recorders if rail companies could also use them to monitor employees.

"Given all considerations and factors examined, the working group considers that the voluntary approach is the best option to recommend to the minister," the report said.

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