The federal government has introduced legislative changes that will require the installation of voice and video recorders in locomotives, a move Canada's transportation safety investigator and freight railways are applauding as a significant safety step.
The legislation, introduced on Tuesday by Transport Minister Marc Garneau, will allow investigators and railways to improve crew training, operating procedures and equipment by learning what trains operators said and did before a derailment, collision or other incident, said Jean Laporte, chief operating officer of the Transportation Safety Board.
"This is a tremendous tool for us," Mr. Laporte said by phone. "We have voice recordings on aircraft and we have them on the bridge of ships and it helps us focus on some areas of investigation and rule out other things very quickly."
The amendments to the Canada Transportation Act also include measures that would prevent airlines from bumping passengers.
The amendments to the Canada Transportation Act unveiled on Tuesday include measures that would prevent airlines from bumping passengers from their flights. For railways, the changes include expanding the abilities of shippers to access a competing railway, and allowing companies that ship by rail to seek reciprocal financial penalties for poor service.
Railways have always had the right to install in-cab recorders, but have generally refused to do so until the law was changed to allow them to view the recordings.
The proposed rules do not allow the companies to use the recordings to discipline employees for minor safety infractions nor let them monitor crews in real time. Instead, railways can "conduct random sampling" of recordings to improve procedures or training, or to probe an incident not investigated by the TSB.
The TSB has pushed for the use of recorders for several years. In 2013, the TSB said its investigation of a three-fatality Via Rail crash was hampered by the lack of recorders.
The definition of "random" and which recorded safety violations can draw punishment has yet to be determined, Mr. Laporte said. "Our view is just having the recorder there will be a deterrent" to unsafe behaviour, Mr. Laporte said.
In a statement, Luc Jobin, chief executive officer of Canadian National Railway Co., said the recorders are powerful investigative tools and will lead to better safety practices.
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd.'s Keith Creel, as the company's operating chief and now the CEO, has pushed for access to the recordings to discipline employees, calling the ability to keep tabs on crew behaviour important for safety.
It's "a big issue with me," he said in an interview on Monday, a day before the amendments were proposed in the House of Commons.
The vast majority of employees operate safely, but "it only takes one person" to cause a wreck, Mr. Creel said, adding employees can be assured their privacy will be protected.
"It's a rolling office. It's not a private centre. It's a work centre. It's no different than walking into a bank or walking out on the streets," Mr. Creel said. "If I've got a locomotive engineer and a conductor and they're operating a train that has got hazardous materials on it, it's got crude oil operating through Toronto … I think it's my obligation to provide the safest work environment I can in that rolling office."
Mr. Creel said the company has audited recordings on some locomotives in its U.S. operations, and "we caught employees doing things no one would consider safe." Train operators were seen sleeping, reading and using cellphones, Mr. Creel said.
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