Chapter 11: Resources

Changes in the railway industry structure, the implementation of a new regulatory framework and the current economic environment have put pressures on the financial and human resources dedicated to managing rail safety. These pressures will increase with the projected growth in the railway industry. The Panel's recommendations for improvements impose additional resource requirements that must be addressed if Canada's railway safety regime is going to realize the intended benefits.

11.1 Railway Companies

Many factors can affect a railway company's safety performance. Among the most important are recruitment and retention of employees, their training, their reporting culture, and financial investment.

11.1.1 Recruitment and Retention

The number of qualified employees and their demographics will likely raise safety-related challenges in the future. Over the past several years, employment in the rail sector has declined significantly, in part because of the adoption of new technologies, from more than 67,000 employees in 1990 to about 35,000 in 2005, representing an average 4.3 per cent decrease per year.1 Because the industry curtailed hiring in the 1980s, the age demographic of the North American railway workforce is now slanted towards older workers, many of whom are approaching retirement. Furthermore, the Panel heard that potential applicants are dissuaded by the difficulty of the work, the challenging work conditions and frequent, sometimes extended, absences from home.

Another common (but not universal) view was that companies are operating with fewer and fewer employees and that those employees are being pushed hard in all areas of railway operation.

Sussex Circle, Governance, section 4.

Throughout the course of the Review, the Panel repeatedly heard concerns that new technologies were replacing workers and that, where safety is concerned, technology is not always a substitute for people. The Panel believes that the introduction of new technologies that make operations safer should be complementary to a railway company's well-qualified workforce. Nonetheless, the possibility always exists that the introduction of certain technologies will result in some reduction in the workforce.

The staffing of trains has already become a problem because of a shortage of employees. Having fewer employees in critical positions is creating an additional set of challenges. We heard of several instances in which this situation is causing employees and supervisors to work longer hours with less rest and less time off. In turn, this can lead to fatigue and reduce alertness, which increases the risk of accidents.

If not addressed, the shortages will be exacerbated by an increase in absenteeism and in the rate of departures. The Panel has been advised that railway companies are making concerted efforts to address this matter.

11.1.2 Training

Recruitment and retention challenges could bring pressure to rush employees through necessary training. The Panel heard of situations where supervisors or managers were operating trains or performing switching functions because of staff shortages, or being used as replacement workers during strikes. We are concerned that if replacement workers with limited operational background or current experience have not received sufficient training, it could present a safety risk.

The very limited experience and training that these replacement workers had was a very real concern to the locomotive engineers that were required to work with them.

Brian Martin Submission.

Since the railway industry is responsible for its own training and the certification of running trades, there is a perception that the industry may not be entirely objective and that there is insufficient oversight and monitoring of training by government. While consideration was given to recommending alternative approaches to the delivery of training and the certification of the running trades, we are aware that the current initiative to develop rules for training, being discussed by the Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada, is intended to address this issue.

11.1.3 Reporting Culture

Conceptually, the implementation of an effective safety management system (SMS) not only improves safety in a railway company's organization, but also provides economic benefits. The foundation for an effective SMS is a strong safety-conscious culture throughout the entire organization.

A significant number of railway accidents result from human decisions. These may be avoided in the future by having a better understanding of why certain decisions led to the accidents. Rather than promoting a culture that lays blame on employees for errors or failure, we strongly believe that railway companies need to create an environment in which employees can report incidents and accidents without fear of reprisal. This takes time and effort because it involves developing and implementing initiatives that will contribute, over time, to the culture change required for an effective SMS.

The sustained effort that will be required over an extended period may require resources to be expended in training and educating managers and staff of railway companies on how to create a climate in which people feel comfortable reporting problems. The Panel observed that some railway companies are currently more advanced than others, but there will be a continued need to expend resources and develop commitment on the part of management and employees in all companies to achieve a blame-free reporting culture.

11.1.4 Investment

While many factors, such as longer and heavier trains, and improper train handling, may contribute to main track train derailments, wheel and rail failures are the two principal causes. Sufficient investment in infrastructure, proper maintenance and new technology are major measures to mitigate these failures. Both CN and CP, which operate about 75 per cent of the domestic network, are reinvesting in their main track infrastructure.

Concerns were expressed that since its privatization in 1995, CN has focussed on reducing costs and increasing productivity to the detriment of safety; however, the Panel saw no evidence that CN was not investing adequately in its main track infrastructure. In 2007, CN will invest approximately $1.6 billion in technological enhancements or improvements in rail infrastructure or equipment.2

Short line companies are generally faced with a different situation. Certain short line companies have limited financial ability to maintain and reinvest in track, bridges and rolling stock. However, when they operate over the track of CN and CP, the larger companies are responsible for their safety conditions. Because the majority of short line operations are providing feeder services to CN and CP and frequently operate over the larger companies' track, these larger companies monitor the short line operations. Although the Panel did not conduct a detailed financial review of short line companies, we found no safety issue as a result of insufficient investment by short line operators.

The Panel noted that the high number of non-main track accidents may indicate that more emphasis needs to be placed on investing in facilities that are not part of the main track and on addressing factors that lead to non-main track accidents.

11.2 Transport Canada

The necessity for more resources dedicated to rail safety in Transport Canada was a theme that the Panel heard repeatedly and independently from many sources with a variety of interests. While no specific study was conducted for us on Transport Canada's resource requirements, the Panel was made aware of Transport Canada internal reviews that supported this finding, and we are convinced that this is a significant challenge that needs to be addressed.

Transport Canada is challenged to maintain and reinforce its capacity to oversee a modern railway safety system. For example, the increase in the number of short line railways and the shift to SMS has had an associated impact on workload for Transport Canada inspectors. This fact was noted in the Rail Safety Service Line Resource Review of 2005. It recognized that inspections and audits must be increased to cover all companies. It also noted that Transport Canada, Rail Safety staff often needs to invest a significant amount of time in assisting short line companies to better understand the regulations and take the necessary corrective actions to be compliant.

In addition, while minimal resources have been provided to assist with the development and implementation of the SMS framework, its integration into the broader rail safety program continues, as do the traditional inspection activities. This operating environment has been recognized as posing particular problems from a resource perspective. There is a need for Transport Canada to develop the capacity to provide effective oversight of SMS while maintaining appropriate inspection functions.

The Panel's view is that Transport Canada is inadequately resourced to carry out its many responsibilities in the area of railway safety. The problem is essentially one of inadequate financial and human resources compounded by the rapid loss of experienced people through retirement and other causes.

Finally, lack of resources, both financial and human, to carry out the Transport Canada rail safety mandate was a matter of widespread concern within the department and elsewhere. There was a general sense that the ability of Transport Canada to create and manage an effective railway safety regime is limited by a shortage of the right people (and the financial resources to support them). Replacing those who are retiring and getting people with the right skills, experience and attitudes to deal effectively with new approaches such as safety management systems and risk management is seen as a critical and difficult challenge.3

In providing a strategic overview of the 1999 amendments to the Railway Safety Act (RSA), Transport Canada recognized the burden that these new authorities would place on the institutional capacity of its organization. It wrote:

These new and enhanced functions will require new competencies, shifts in resource allocation and, potentially, additional resources. New competencies in statistical analysis and auditing will be required for program staff. However, traditional technical skills will continue to be important to ensure the credibility of the program in the eyes of industry. Resource shifts will be necessary at headquarters and in the regions in order to take on new functions and increase the emphasis on selected existing functions. Because Rail Safety staff are already stretched and no current activities are going to be entirely abandoned, at least in the short-term, it is expected that additional resources will be required.4

The Panel is convinced that these requirements for new and enhanced competencies and resources still exist. For example, Transport Canada, Rail Safety Directorate has introduced a risk-based business planning initiative to assist its staff in identifying, evaluating and developing risk control strategies for safety issues with regard to railway operations. This approach is being implemented nationally and is, by nature, resource-intensive, involving a combination of mitigation strategies such as enforcement, education, development of new rules or regulations, and focussed audits.

There will also be added pressure to take on the new responsibilities recommended in this report. Resources will be needed in order to consult widely and effectively, support the regulatory framework, enhance the data collection and analysis capacity, enhance public education programs, develop sufficient capacity and expertise in aspects of environmental protection, further contribute to improvement of grade crossings, contribute to research and development and work with the U.S. on harmonization matters.

11.2.1 Consultations

A rigorous, structured consultation mechanism is essential to making the RSA regulatory framework function effectively. A well-managed consultation process provides transparency and builds confidence among all the participants. The Railway Safety Consultative Committee, however, needs to be revived. We also feel that there is a need to enhance consultation with the provinces and that the Federal–Provincial Working Group on Railway Safety should be used more deliberately to share information. In order to support the ongoing consultation activities, a permanent secretariat should be funded and established in Transport Canada's Rail Safety Directorate.

11.2.2 Regulatory Framework

The RSA framework is built on a foundation of collaboration and, throughout the Review, the Panel observed how people and institutions are working together, how they communicate and what processes are used to make decisions. One area where there are issues to be resolved is the rule-making process. Both the Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada, Rail Safety Directorate have stated that they work well together and are in general agreement on many issues, except for rule making.

The Panel firmly believes that Transport Canada, Rail Safety needs to participate actively in the rule-making process. In order to fulfill this role, the Rail Safety Directorate should develop and enhance its expertise in the legal aspects of rules and in the technical safety issues respecting individual topics covered by rules.

The introduction of performance-based SMS Regulations in 2001 necessitated a significant shift in the traditional roles and responsibilities of industry and Transport Canada. This shift requires a change from substantive testing to an audit-based approach in which audits will be carried out at the system level rather than the purely operational level. With this come new criteria for skills and capabilities.

In the Panel's opinion, Transport Canada, Rail Safety was not provided with sufficient human and financial resources and the appropriate skill sets at the outset of the SMS program. This impeded the transition to a regulatory oversight program that focuses on risk assessment and performance-based auditing at the safety management system level. The Rail Safety Directorate in Ottawa is responsible for SMS program development and has created a small unit to oversee the program. Program delivery is the responsibility of Transport Canada regional offices, and only two additional staff members were added to each regional office on a temporary basis when the SMS program was introduced, although use of these resources differs from region to region.

New resources and skills are required for Transport Canada to accelerate the transition from inspection to audit, ensure audits are performance-based, and collect and analyze the information required to monitor and/or audit performance. This point was underscored in a research study commissioned by the Panel, which summarized views expressed on the issue:

The view was that rail safety is a complex and serious matter that requires substantive expertise and staffing for the long term. Moreover, the need is not just to find or train people to provide the traditional skills and knowledge of rail safety management; rather, new types of expertise are needed for the evidence-based, risk-management approach of a modern safety management system.5

The Panel also heard that Transport Canada should develop a better understanding of the short line operating environment, especially in the context of SMS implementation, to ensure effective delivery of services called for under its MOUs with provinces.

11.2.3 Information Collection, Analysis and Dissemination

Under the SMS framework, the regulatory oversight model requires a systems analysis of safety-related data and information. Transport Canada must focus on being a data-driven, analytical organization. It must be more proactive in identifying priorities and using analysis to drive policies, regulations and compliance activities.

Currently, the railway companies collect data for internal use and SMS reporting, the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) collects information on accidents and incidents for publication and Transport Canada collects data for regulatory oversight. The Panel heard from the major railways that they collect activity data to effectively manage their safety programs. As we outlined in Chapter 6, however, such information is not reported to or collected by Transport Canada and is, therefore, not being used as effectively as it could be for assessing the safety of the system.

In Chapter 6, we also outlined our concerns about the TSB data and how results are reported. The data may not provide an accurate representation of overall safety performance of the railways. Additionally, TSB accident reporting needs to be strengthened so that critical safety information is provided in a timely manner.

Transport Canada must work with the industry to assess the data required, enact the regulatory authority to collect it, and establish a system to analyze and disseminate it appropriately.

11.2.4 Public Outreach

Outreach programs such as Operation Lifesaver and Direction 2006, which are cooperative efforts among all levels of government, railway companies, public safety organizations, police, unions and community groups, have been successful in educating the public and promoting railway safety. However, more needs to be done. The government needs to limit the number of new crossings, increase funding for grade crossing improvements, and give consideration to the creation of grade separations, wherever feasible.

The Grade Crossing Improvement Program (GCIP), which provides grants of up to 80 per cent of the cost of improvements to railway safety at public crossings in Canada, has been successful. However, the Panel feels that the GCIP should apply to private crossings as well as public ones. We also heard that there is a backlog of planned crossing improvements and that more research is needed in this area. We support additional funding for safety improvements at federally regulated crossings.

11.2.5 Environmental Protection

Along with the safety objective, in 1999 the RSA introduced environmental protection as one of the Act's objectives. This created a need for Transport Canada, Rail Safety to work within the broader environmental legislative framework under which the railway industry is governed. This framework includes Environment Canada, the provincial governments and Transport Canada's Transport Dangerous Goods Directorate. These different organizations appear to be relatively well harmonized and complementary.

To effectively fulfill its environmental protection role, Transport Canada, Rail Safety will require increased expertise and resources. Additional effort will be needed to carry out these responsibilities. Resources will be required to oversee the development and implementation of a protocol for emergency response to environmentally hazardous goods, as well as the standard for response to dangerous goods, environmentally hazardous goods and other goods. Additional resources will also be needed to monitor the annual environmental plans and audits submitted by the railway companies.

11.2.6 Research and Development

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in the U.S. sponsors a significant amount of research and development that benefits all railways operating in North America, and both CN and CP invest in new technologies that address issues particular to their own operating environments. Nonetheless, additional research and development are required to address safety issues that apply broadly to the Canadian operating environment, such as research into better materials for manufacturing wheels and rail that can withstand Canadian winters. The Panel has recommended that the railway industry and Transport Canada should jointly fund scientific and technological innovation to address safety issues that are specific to the Canadian operational and physical environment.

We noted that Transport Canada, Rail Safety needs to recognize the importance of assessing and facilitating the implementation of new technologies. An increased capacity will be required to carry out this role effectively.

Furthermore, the Rail Safety Directorate lacks the specialized expertise in human factors to ensure that the human element of accident causes is well understood. This capacity needs to be developed. Consideration should be given to hiring technically competent personnel and providing introductory training in human factors to existing staff.

11.2.7 U.S. Harmonization

In our discussions with the U.S. FRA, officials stressed that mutual respect had been built up with their Canadian counterparts, and referred repeatedly to how their collegiality had facilitated the resolution of a number of cross-border issues. The main way to resolve such issues is to have more opportunity to work and spend time together. Financial constraints, such as a shortage of human and financial resources in Transport Canada's Rail Safety Directorate, can make this difficult. The Government of Canada should increase its contribution to joint research and development activities with the United States.

* * * * *

Addressing Transport Canada's resource problem will take considerable time and money. Staffing levels of the department's Rail Safety organization should be reviewed in order to ensure that it has sufficient people with the right expertise to address the demands placed upon it. Transport Canada can then plan to create new capacity and renew its staff and expertise.

Recommendation 53

Transport Canada should:

  • develop a multi-year human resources plan for the renewal of staff and expertise in the Rail Safety Directorate with particular emphasis on recruiting and developing the skills required for a modern performance-based safety management system;
  • develop a related plan to ensure adequate provision of inspection and other services in the regions, and to the provinces, pursuant to their harmonization arrangements with the federal government;
  • make a commitment to re-think its approach to inspection and audit so that the skills and time of the inspectors and other professional personnel in Transport Canada are appropriately allocated to meet the safety needs of the industry and the public under a performance-based safety regime; and
  • give high priority to recruiting and developing within the Transport Canada, Rail Safety Directorate or regions, the analytical and management skills necessary for a modern risk-based safety management system.

Essentially, the federal government needs to provide the funds required to adequately resource the railway safety function in Transport Canada. Lack of available government funds is not a valid argument. We note that not only does the increase in rail traffic result in the need for more regulatory oversight, but it also generates additional revenue for the railway companies and an accompanying increase in tax revenue for the Government of Canada.6

Recommendation 54

The Government should provide the necessary resources to renew and expand railway safety capacity in Transport Canada.


1 Transport Canada, Transportation in Canada 2006, Annual Report (May 2007), page 49.

2 CN, “Safety – A CN Core Value, An Overview” Opening Submission to the Railway Safety Act Review Panel (April 2007), page 8.

3 James Mitchell and Nigel Chippindale, Sussex Circle Inc., The Governance of Railway Safety in Canada (September 2007), section 4, “From the Federal Players.”

4 Transport Canada, Railway Safety Program Strategic Overview (2001), section 4, at

5 Mitchell and Chippindale, Sussex Circle, Governance, op. cit., section 5-C, “Issue 6.”

6 The Railway Association of Canada states that the total taxes paid by their member railway companies have increased to $1.1 billion in 2006, from just under $0.5 billion in 1997, 2007 Railway Trends (October 2007), page 13.

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