By Craig Campbell
A veteran expert on rail transport of dangerous goods who was reviewing the security of Class 111 non-pressurized rail tank cars retired from Transport Canada four months before the Lac Megantic derailment amidst what his union said was an internal restructuring that would have affected his job.
According to the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada’s report Vanishing Science: The Disappearance of Canadian Public Interest Science, engineer Jean-Pierre Gagnon left Transport Canada after 23 years.
Although Peter Bleyer, spokesperson for the union, did not blame Lac Megantic on Gagnon’s retirement, he said he anticipates further cuts to Transport Canada and its rail safety programs.
“You can be sure there will be fewer resources, and there already aren’t enough,” Bleyer said. “There’s no way of knowing the impact.”
A lack of money for Transport Canada, and specifically for rail safety, in last week’s Federal budget is no real surprise to Bleyer, who said the government only highlights areas they want the public to know about.
But the federal budget’s silence on rail safety doesn’t worry Claude Dauphin, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
He says he’s satisfied with the government’s current commitment, and that working with Transport Minister Lisa Raitt through the FCM’s Rail Safety Working Group there has been plenty of success already, with more expected.
“It doesn’t have to be in the budget,” he said. “If they want to create a new regulation tomorrow, they can.”
Transport Canada spokesperson Jillian Glover said that starting in 2009 the department’s Rail Safety Program received $72-million over five years, plus an additional $15-million a year in funding.
Glover said that money went to a variety of activities, including grade crossing improvements, regulatory development, safety management and research and development.
She said the department continuously analyzes its workforce to ensure it allocates resources where they provide the greatest safety benefits.
“If an area requires additional resources, Transport Canada adjusts priorities and re-allocates resources to those high-risk areas,” Glover said. “The safety of Canadians remains Transport Canada’s priority.”
Dauphin said he’s pleased with the first steps Transport Canada has taken in the past four months.
“Since Lac Megantic, nothing is the same as before,” he said. “For the first time, municipalities have the volume and the nature of dangerous material.
“We’ve been asking for a while, and we never got it. I think we did well, but it’s not over.”
Dauphin said the working group wants improvements to rail company’s insurance requirements, so they will have the financial ability to pay for response and clean-up when there are incidents and he is waiting for new emergency response plans which rail companies will be responsible for operating and paying for.
The first emergency response plan expected will focus on incidents involving crude oil.
“That’s good,” Dauphin said. “We want to expand that to all flammable or explosive liquids. We’re asking all flammable liquid have emergency response plans, with tools and training for rail companies at their expense.”