Railway safety act review panel

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Saskatchewan Highways & Transportation May 29, 2007

Government of Saskatchewan Submission

To the Railway Safety Act Review Panel

I Introduction

The Saskatchewan government is pleased to submit its comments on issues related to the efficiency and effectiveness of the policy and regulatory framework for the safety of the rail industry established under the Railway Safety Act. The Advisory Panel’s public consultation process will enable stakeholders to bring forward proposed solutions to enhance the safety of the national rail system, including possible legislative amendments and operational changes that will improve overall railway safety in Canada.

Amendments to the Railway Safety Act enacted in 1999 facilitated the implementation of Safety Management Systems (SMS) by CN and CP Rail in 2001 to promote the integration of safety measures in day-to-day operations. SMS have integrated safety objectives more effectively with the financial and production goals of railway operations. Enhanced communication on safety processes and practices within the railways, and the establishment of railway risk assessment processes have contributed to reducing risk to the public and the environment.

However, the use of longer and heavier trains to accommodate increased freight volumes, and train configurations designed to enhance operating efficiencies have increased pressure on rail infrastructure and equipment, and have given rise to safety concerns.

Saskatchewan’s submission will focus on priority rail safety issues that have been identified by provincial stakeholders. Our submission will identify concerns about railway safety performance, and discuss potential solutions that could reduce risks to public safety in the following areas:

  • Inclusion of a railway safety policy statement in the Railway Safety Act that enables public risk to be defined and measured more effectively;

  • Safety improvements at grade crossings;

  • Rail safety research and development.

II Railway Safety Policy Framework

The stated objectives in Section 3 of the Railway Safety Act are to:

  1. promote and provide for the safety of the public and personnel, and the protection of property and the environment, in the operation of railways;

  2. encourage the collaboration and participation of interested parties in improving railway safety;

  3. recognize the responsibility of railway companies in ensuring the safety of their operations; and

  4. facilitate a modern, flexible and efficient regulatory scheme that will ensure the continuing enhancement of railway safety.

Saskatchewan supports these basic objectives of the Railway Safety Act. We believe the policy and regulatory framework for railway safety could be enhanced by including a comprehensive statement of railway safety policy as part of the objectives section, to ensure that railway safety measures effectively address both railway safety performance and public interests.

This would complement the national transportation policy statement in Bill C-11, an Act to Amend the Canada Transportation Act, which states that:

“It is declared that a competitive, economic and efficient transportation system that is safe and secure, respects the environment, and makes uses of all modes of transportation at the lowest total cost is essential to serve the needs of its users, advance the well-being of Canadians and enable competitiveness and economic growth in both urban and rural areas throughout Canada”.

Inclusion of a railway safety policy statement in the Railway Safety Act could clarify railway safety terminology used in the Act, establish criteria for measuring railway safety performance, and demonstrate commitment to ensuring responsibility and accountability of the railways in meeting safety objectives.

Saskatchewan believes the establishment of criteria for measuring railway safety performance can contribute to determining acceptable levels of risk for specific rail operations. Measures of acceptable risk for specific occurrences can be used to set performance targets and track results of railway safety management planning, while defining when government regulatory action is required to protect public safety.

A transparent policy and regulatory framework is essential, to ensure that risk management processes promote accountability and justifiable decision-making. Performance targets to establish an acceptable level of risk and frequency of occurrences will require relevant safety information and enhanced data management, to promote enhanced railway safety performance. For example, reporting of grade crossing occurrences should combine risk-based analysis with the incidence of train accidents on a per crossing basis.

In addition, inclusion of the proposed rail safety policy statement in the Railway Safety Act will address linkages among safety and other key elements of the rail transportation system defined in the national transportation policy statement of the Canada Transportation Act.


1. Section 3 of the Railway Safety Act should be amended to incorporate a comprehensive statement of railway safety policy as part of the objectives section, to ensure that railway safety measures effectively address both railway safety performance and public interests.

2. Measurement of railway safety performance should be improved through the

development of performance targets and risk-based analysis that establish acceptable levels of risk for specific rail operations, while promoting accountability and enhanced public safety.

III Safety Improvements at Grade Crossings

The railway industry's overall safety record has improved in recent years. However, strong growth of rail and highway traffic creates safety concerns at highway/rail grade crossings, where train accidents and other occurrences continue to be a serious problem.

Crossing accidents across Canada increased to 270 in 2005, up 14 per cent from 237

in 2004, and 5 per cent higher than the five-year average of 258 accidents. Crossing-related fatalities totaled 38 in 2005, up 52 per cent from 25 in 2004, and 9 per cent higher than the five-year average of 35 deaths. These data on train accidents at grade crossings may understate the risk to the public and the environment, since the number of grade crossings has declined as a result of closures in recent years.

Accidents caused by poorly maintained level crossings and inadequate warning systems should be a primary target area for reducing collisions with vehicles and improving the train accident rate.

The safety of railway crossings in rural Saskatchewan is a significant issue. About 25 collisions occur between vehicles and trains at rural railway crossings in the province every year. Reducing the number of collisions at grade level crossings should be given high priority.

Transport Canada proposed changes to the Road/Railway Grade Crossing Technical Standards and Inspection, Testing and Maintenance Requirements (RTD 10) in October 2002 that would apply to all existing federal grade crossings in Saskatchewan, totalling more than 4,900 sites. This represents about 25 per cent of all grade crossings in Canada. Grade crossing regulations and standards to implement the draft RTD 10 safety standards have not been enacted by the federal government.

Major grade crossing improvements have generally been exempted from safety measures identified at highway/rail interfaces in the draft RTD 10 standards, until they are reconstructed as a result of highway or railway upgrading. Implementation of the draft RTD 10 regulations could result in significant incremental costs for the construction of new crossings and the renewal of existing crossings, when safety improvements are implemented.

A December 2001 consultant’s report prepared for Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation estimated that the total cost of complying with the proposed RTD 10 standards would be between $232 million and $278 million.

Grandfathering of existing grade crossings can alleviate the impact of provincial and municipal funding liabilities associated with infrastructure improvements required to comply with the new standards. In addition, potential modifications that scale back the proposed RTD standards, consistent with sound engineering principles that ensure the safety of individuals using the crossing, could further reduce the costs associated with proposed changes to the RTD 10 standards. The cost of complying with a modified RTD 10 regime was estimated at between $84 million and $122 million.

Saskatchewan believes safety assessments for grade crossings should prioritize potential safety improvements on the basis of their potential impact in reducing the risk of accidents at highway/rail interfaces, as well as the safety implications for the public and environment associated with non-compliance with the RTD 10 standards.

Significant upgrading of the province’s grade level crossings would be required to meet specific requirements of the proposed RTD 10 standards. This includes technical requirements such as:

  • Maintaining roadway approach angles between 70 degrees and 110 degrees for crossings without a grade crossing warning system, that are protected by Standard Reflectorized Crossing Signs;

  • Maintaining roadway approach angles between 45 degrees and 135 degrees at crossings protected by a grade crossing warning system, including flashing lights and bells;

  • Installation of flashing lights and bells with gates at crossings within 30 metres of an adjacent stop control intersection.

Implementing safety improvements to meet RTD 10 standards would reduce collisions at rural level crossings in Saskatchewan. However, the high cost of complying with proposed RTD 10 standards may delay the implementation of safety improvements at rural level crossings to prevent train/vehicle collisions.

To expedite upgrading of rural level crossings, Saskatchewan believes joint action by the province and the railways is required to pursue necessary safety improvements. Improving rail safety at rural crossings will require commitments by both the railways and road authorities to expand safety assessments. Saskatchewan believes that safety assessment requirements should be included as a schedule to the regulations, to clarify the responsibility and timeframe for conducting inspections of level crossings.

Implementation of the RTD 10 standards will require qualified safety inspectors to review all grade crossings every five years. Saskatchewan is concerned that the ongoing costs of safety audits will have to be absorbed by the province, municipalities and road authorities.

Grade crossing projects should be ranked using the results of safety assessments to prioritize the allocation of funding for crossing improvement projects. Decision-making for specific projects should also consider the cost of implementing improvements to comply with RTD 10 standards, and the benefits associated with reducing risk levels at these crossings.

Implementation of safety improvements to comply with RTD 10 standards should recognize that level crossing improvements, realignment of road approaches, and installation of signs and road markings and grade crossing warning signals are a joint responsibility of the railways and road authorities.

The process for implementing safety improvements should be simplified, to expedite compliance with the new RTD 10 standards and regulations. The railways, and municipal and provincial governments should be encouraged to negotiate agreements for implementing safety improvements that reflect their joint responsibility for maintaining acceptable safety standards at railway and highway interfaces.

If effective solutions for enhancing rail safety cannot be negotiated, consideration should be given to establishing an arbitration process with a local arbitrator to expedite grade crossing improvements that minimize the risk of vehicle/rail collisions. This would enable railways and road authorities to choose an arbitrator with the authority to select one of the offers proposed by the affected parties for complying with the RTD 10 safety standards. This could provide a timely, cost-effective solution for resolving cost apportionment disputes for grade crossing improvements.


  1. Safety assessments should be cost-shared on a 50/50 basis between railways and road authorities.

  2. Existing grade crossings that have acceptable risk levels to the public and the environment should be exempted from compliance with RTD 10 standards until major highway or railway upgrading is required.

IV Grade Crossing Subsidy Program

The federal Grade Crossing Improvement Program funds up to 80 per cent of the cost of upgrading or relocating eligible railway crossings, including crossing improvements such as installation of flashing lights and gates, and other active warning devices. The balance of funding for crossing improvements is provided by the railways, municipalities, or provinces.

The Canadian Transportation Agency’s recent decisions on apportionment of this portion of grade crossing improvement costs have found that the traditional cost sharing formula of 12.5 per cent allocated to the road authority and 7.5 per cent to the railway company is no longer relevant. The Agency’s decisions have indicated that costs should be apportioned among the parties who benefit from safety improvements on a case by case basis.

Grade crossing improvements are a priority rail safety issue because approximately half of vehicle/train collisions occur at crossings with active warning devices. Annual federal expenditures of up to $11 million are allocated to enhance safety at grade crossings across the country. Saskatchewan believes current federal funding for crossing improvements under the Grade Crossing Subsidy Program is inadequate to ensure that risks to vehicles and individuals crossing railway tracks are minimized.

Saskatchewan believes any road or rail modifications required to improve safety at grade crossings should be eligible for federal funding, and cost sharing between the railways and road authorities. This could include advanced road signage, realignment of road allowances to meet minimum angle requirements at highway/rail interfaces, changes to railway signals and signage, and so on.

Increased funding levels are necessary to expedite the installation of active warning devices at railway crossings and other warning devices to reduce the level of risk associated with traversing railway lines. The backlog of planned grade crossing projects due to funding constraints is compromising safety at crossings where the risks of vehicle/train collisions and other incidents exceed minimum acceptable levels. Transport Canada has advised Saskatchewan Highways and Transportation that there is currently a five-year backlog of grade crossing projects recommended for funding approval by the federal Transport Minister.

Railways and road authorities must make necessary improvements to alleviate safety concerns at these locations. If increased federal funds are not available for this purpose, the railways should assume a greater share of financial responsibility than 7.5 per cent of the cost of safety improvements at crossings, to ensure that vehicles and individuals are adequately warned and protected from the risk of train operations at grade crossings.


  1. More funding should be allocated by Transport Canada to implement safety improvements at grade crossings.

V Rail Safety Research and Development

Transport Canada addressed the need to improve rail safety performance by establishing Direction 2006 to achieve the goal of reducing collisions by 50 per cent between 1995 and 2006. Operation Lifesaver has improved safety awareness by distributing information about best safety practices at grade crossings, which has contributed to the success of Direction 2006 in reducing the number of collisions during this period.

The Transportation Development Centre has developed and implemented a research and development program to improve rail safety, in partnership with industry, universities, and other stakeholders. This program has focused on developing innovative technologies to increase the effectiveness and lower the cost of warning systems, and examining human factors involved in grade crossing collisions.

The Saskatchewan government supports the Transportation Development Centre’s research and development initiatives to enhance rail safety. We believe the Highway-Railway Grade Crossing Research Program and related rail research activities should give greater priority to developing incremental safety improvements that can be implemented at grade crossings by local road authorities with limited budget resources.

Effective and affordable solutions are critical for pursuing continued reduction in crossing accidents, to meet the targets for improved rail safety performance established by Direction 2006.

Crossing accidents across Canada declined from 379 to 248, or 35 per cent, between 1995 and 2006. Accidents per million train-miles declined from 16.4 to 11.9, or 27 per cent, during this period1. However, these rail safety performance improvements fell short of the target of a 50 per cent reduction in collisions established by Direction 2006.

Improving pedestrian safety at grade crossings and on railway rights of way is also a priority issue. The decrease in the number of fatalities and serious injuries from train collisions with individuals on the right of way has been more modest than the reduction in crossing accidents. The number of fatalities and serious injuries from train collisions with pedestrians on the right of way declined from 106 to 86, or 19 per cent, between 1995 and 2006. Trespasser accidents account for the majority of rail fatalities, totaling 59 deaths in 2006.

The high fatality rate, representing 69 per cent of pedestrian-related occurrences in 2006, indicates that more research is required on opportunities to reduce the risk of serious injuries and death to the public associated with trespasser occurrences and individuals traversing rail lines.


6. The federal government should allocate more funding for research and development initiatives to promote cost-effective solutions through incremental safety improvements that recognize the limited financial resources of local road authorities.

7. The federal government should consider short-term safety solutions that reduce the risk of occurrences at grade crossings, to help eliminate the existing backlog of planned crossing improvements until safety measures that comply with the RTD 10 standards can be implemented.

1 Reported improvements in the train accident rate at grade crossings may overstate railway safety performance, since they do not address the impact that crossing closures have had in reducing the number of collisions.

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