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Minister of Transport Marc Garneau speaks with the media following party caucus on Parliament Hill Wednesday April 20, 2016 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Transport Minister Marc Garneau is launching wide-ranging consultations on the future of Canadian transportation to build upon a comprehensive and sweeping analysis that was part of a statutory review last year.

"I will begin holding round tables this spring and early summer with transportation experts, system users and big thinkers across Canada," Mr. Garneau said in a speech to the Economic Club in Toronto. "We will hold discussions around the themes of trade corridors, green and innovative transportation, the traveller, waterways, coasts, [the] North, as well as safety."

Mr. Garneau said he wants input to expand on an independent report by former cabinet minister David Emerson, who examined the country's transportation network and put forward 60 recommendations for improvements.

"I see transportation in Canada as a single, interconnected system that drives the Canadian economy," Mr. Garneau said.

Mr. Emerson's study, submitted to the government in December but not tabled until February, looked at air, marine, road and rail, including grain transportation. It found the transportation network needed to be revamped to keep Canada competitive.

"Our global infrastructure and related rankings have been declining and Canada continues to compare less favourably to other developed nations on a number of measures – disturbing trend for a small, open economy in which prosperity depends on success in global trade," the report said.

Mr. Garneau acknowledged the goal of any future policy is to eliminate bottlenecks that block the free movement of people and goods to market. He noted there has been a doubling of goods travelling by rail and this has meant longer trains and, in some cases, double-stack containers to handle the demand.

"The question is whether our rail system can handle even more traffic in the future," he said. "And in the marine mode, with traffic having grown by 50 per cent in the past three decades … are Canadian ports operating efficiently enough to face these growing demands?"

Mr. Garneau said Ottawa would like to see a world-class passenger rail system, which is why the government funded a study of VIA Rail's proposal for a high-frequency rail service in the Windsor-to-Quebec City corridor.

Mr. Emerson's review of the Canada Transportation Act also dealt with rail safety and urged the government to support the relocation of rail lines outside of dense urban centres.

The March 22 budget announced $143-million over three years to boost rail safety in areas such as inspection and money for municipalities to improve rail crossings.

Other new rail-safety measures will include better testing and mapping of dangerous goods and more funding for first responders to deal with train derailment.

Mr. Garneau said the consultations will delve into the challenge of unlocking the North's vast economic potential without damaging the fragile environment and respecting the ways of the northern indigenous communities.

Mr. Emerson's report was fast-tracked by the former Conservative government in response to the 2013-14 grain crisis, which cost Western Canada an estimated $6.5-billion.

In his report, Mr. Emerson recommended the limits on what the railways can earn shipping regulated Prairie grain should be eliminated within seven years.

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