(This president's message was originally published in the Summer 2017 issue of Interchange magazine)

How Canada’s railways are addressing our country’s most pressing public-rail safety issue

As we enter the legislative review of the Railway Safety Act, it is worth looking at the facts around rail safety in Canada. In reviewing monthly rail statistics collected by the Transportation Safety Board, a recurring theme emerges. In February 2017 – the most recent monthly data available at the time of this magazine’s publication – there were two fatalities, both the result of people trespassing on railway property (the data does not distinguish between a trespassing accident and a suicide). This amount is actually lower than the four trespasser fatalities recorded in February 2016, and the five-year February average of three. With respect to serious injuries, there’s a similar trend. In February 2017, three of the five serious injuries involved trespassers. Again, this total was higher than the previous year (two) and the five-year average (one).

Annual safety data, and statistics for any other month of the year, tell the same story. According to TSB data from the last 10 years, 91 per cent of fatalities and 85 per cent of serious injuries occurred either at a crossing or as a result of trespassing on railway property.

The summer 2017 issue of Interchange is dedicated to rail safety, specifically as it relates to innovation, technology and enforcement. The articles cover how the industry is harnessing data and information technology to improve safety, the role of railway police forces in Canada and much more. For Canada’s railways, nothing is more important than safety. When it comes to crossings and trespassing, we have a responsibility to do everything that we can to ensure that our operations are safe, that people understand the dangers of railway operations, and that we work with governments, communities and stakeholders to foster safe behaviour.

Canada’s railway industry is focused on three areas that offer the most impactful public-rail safety benefits. First, we believe in education and outreach. That is why we partnered with Transport Canada to create Operation Lifesaver (OL) more than 35 years ago to teach Canadians about rail crossing safety, and to raise awareness about the dangers of trespassing on railway property. This year, OL launched a new, innovative virtual reality campaign to communicate important safety messages to school children and specific groups that are at risk, such as drivers and those living near railway property. We want people to take OL’s “Look, Listen and Live” message to heart.

We also have an important community initiative designed to ensure that cities and land planners understand the right way to develop property in proximity to railway operations. Developed with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations – or Proximity Guidelines, for short – provides specific engineering advice and it has now been adopted by dozens of municipal governments across Canada.

Finally, Canada’s railways have invested more than $24 billion in infrastructure since 1999 to maintain a safe and efficient network. This amount includes investments in railway-roadway crossings to ensure they meet stringent federal regulations that require crossings to have adequate sightlines, proper signals and reflectors, and physical barriers in hundreds of locations from coast to coast.

During the review of the Railway Safety Act, we will be putting forward our views as to how these areas can be strengthened even more, through a combination of regulation, voluntary action and good public policy. When it comes to rail safety, it pays to get the facts.

Michael Bourque
President & CEO
Railway Association of Canada
@bourqrail

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