International Benchmarking in Rail Safety Governance (File No.: T8080-170445)

  • As part of the 2017-18 Railway Safety Act Review

Prepared by: Laurie Mitchell

The 2017-18 Railway Safety Act (RSA) Review commissioned a study to assess and compare the rail safety governance models from a number of countries. This literature review provides general overviews and tabulated comparisons of how different governments and/or regulators are structured to provide regulatory oversight of railways at the national and sub-national level (i.e., provincial/territorial, state, or local). The jurisdictions included: Canada, the U.S., Australia, and the European Union (EU).

A brief description of each governance model is presented, including general industry overview, related legislation, regulations, and analyses of similarities and differences, pros and cons, and best practices. Options to strengthen and streamline the Canadian rail safety regime are also provided.

Canada has a complex rail safety governance model stemming from a Constitutional separation of federal and provincial responsibility for railways. It is made up of various federal and provincial regulators, legislation and rules.

The EU model has similar complexity. Recent reforms have created an EU-level regulatory body, the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) that is mandated to increase railway interoperability across the EU using a common approach to rail safety. The 26 EU member states having railway systems and their own National Safety Authority (with full regulatory, oversight and enforcement powers) are being encouraged to include ERA regulations into their respective regulatory regimes.

By contrast, the U.S. and Australia each have a simplified system of rail safety governance based on one regulator and one rail safety law applying to all railroads nationally. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is the only regulator in the U.S. Individual states requiring rules for specific circumstances work with the FRA to promulgate these, but the process is solely managed by the federal regulator. Whereas, the Australian model is characterized by a “one-industry” approach and is co-operative, co-regulatory and non-prescriptive. All stakeholders are responsible for rail safety and industry has a major part to play in developing standards.

Although not necessarily transferable between all jurisdictional contexts, some best practices identified include:

  • one nationally regulated law adopted by all sub-national jurisdictions and applicable to all federal and state/territory railways;
  • inclusion of national provisions into sub-national regulatory regimes;
  • non-prescriptive, collaborative regulatory models;
  • rule-making flexibility (i.e., RSA s. 19 and s. 20); and
  • cost recovery linked to the Consumer Price Index (CPI).

Identified options for strengthening and streamlining the rail safety regime in Canada include:

  • reducing “management of complexity” between federal and provincial bodies through harmonization (either by updating/standardizing existing agreements for provincial inspections or ceasing to conduct inspections on behalf of provinces); and
  • updating the cost-recovery regime to more closely reflect the British Columbia Safety Authority model.

In conclusion, a detailed comparison of the Canadian rail safety regime to the U.S., Australia, and the EU was performed. The results reveal that the U.S. and Australian models are the least complex as characterized by a one-law, one regulator approach, while those of Canada and the EU are more complex with many interrelated and interdependent actors, legislation, and roles. To strengthen and streamline the Canadian regime, roles and responsibilities of the federal and provincial governments need to be more clearly delineated, and options and best practices are identified to help achieve this.

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