Canada's Railway Safety Regulatory Regime

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When accidents happen on the railway catastrophe usually follows for individuals, the public, property, and the environment. The extreme weights involved in moving railway equipment give no quarter to anything unfortunate enough to get in its path—whether metal, rock, or flesh. In addition, trains regularly carry dangerous goods through populated urban areas; products whose potential to inflict death and destruction is immense and previously proven. Canada is no stranger to railway accidents and Part II of this paper explores a few of the more recent examples. Canada has a complex regulatory regime in place to ensure the safe operation of railways running within its borders, and the safety of those that could suffer damage as a result of railway mishaps—railway employees, the public, the environment. Part III examines Canada’s existing and past railway safety regulatory regime, and the “deregulation” which began in the late 1980s, as well as the present trend toward creeping re-regulation that seems to be occurring in light of a recent spate of headline-grabbing derailments in Canada. Part IV concludes the paper with the suggestion that government should take back the safety obligations that have been granted to industry (i.e. self-inspection and safety management systems) and recognize that deregulation of safety, wherein the railway is responsible for the management of its own safety, is not adequately protecting the interests of the Canadian public, the Canadian environment, or Canadian railway workers.

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