President's Message

100 years and counting

On Oct. 23, 2017, the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) will officially celebrate its 100th anniversary. Our organization was originally created during the First World War to ensure the safe and efficient movement of goods and people by rail. Through collaboration with the government and the military, the group was so successful in advancing the interests of railways in Canada that it continued its work beyond the war.

A century later, our purpose is equally relevant: through our advocacy efforts, we ensure that Canada’s rail sector remains safe and efficient so that our members can enable rail customers to compete globally.

During this celebration, we will reflect on our industry’s contribution throughout the past century, and look forward to what the next 100 years will bring.

We pride ourselves on being a collaborative industry that engages with its key stakeholders regularly. We have a responsibility to do everything we can to ensure that our operations are safe, and that we work with governments, communities and others to foster safe behaviour. We are committed to this obligation.

Through various outreach programs, Canada’s railways are strengthening communication and building relationships with the communities through which they operate. For example, our industry is focused on communicating the importance of proper approaches to railway-community proximity issues through a joint initiative with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). For the last four years, we have given presentations, published articles and participated in conferences hosted by provincial and municipal associations. As a result of this joint effort, some 60 municipal governments across Canada have adopted the Proximity Guidelines – a set of best practices related to developing near railway property – into their long-term development plans. In addition, 10 municipalities are reviewing the guidelines and more than 100 others have sought railway commenting for setbacks and safety barriers as potential conditions of approval.

Another example of a partnership for outreach is Operation Lifesaver, a national rail safety program sponsored by RAC and Transport Canada. Operation Lifesaver is using an innovative approach to public education and outreach through its new ‘Look.Listen.Live.’ virtual reality campaign. By having people virtually experience a close-call with a train, we hope to stop them from engaging in dangerous behaviour around rail property.

We also believe rail safety is enhanced by working closely with first responders. We’re committed to delivering emergency preparedness and response training through outreach programs like TRANSCAER. Our Transportation of Dangerous Goods Team has held more than 1,200 TRANSCAER events to inform municipalities about the products being moved through their communities. Through programs like this, RAC and its members have trained close to 29,000 railway employees, industrial plant personnel and first responders on dangerous goods handling and emergency response over the last five years.

Finally, our most active partnership is the responsibility we share with municipalities for the safe maintenance of railway-roadway crossings. Crossing and trespassing accidents collectively represent our country’s most pressing public-rail safety issue. Over the past decade, more than 85 per cent of all rail-related deaths and serious injuries in Canada occurred as a result of motor-vehicle collisions at railway crossings or trespassing on rail property. We believe that virtually all of these accidents could have been avoided and that preventing future incidents is a shared responsibility.

There are some 14,000 public crossings and thousands more private crossings in Canada. The safest crossing is one that doesn’t exist. Next is the one that is grade separated, either through a bridge or tunnel. Investments in infrastructure would reduce train traffic at grade crossings and, most importantly, improve safety.

Some new federal funding is available for rail crossing infrastructure, as part of the federal government’s Rail Safety Improvement Program. Provincial and municipal governments can access these funds to invest in railway crossing grade separations, improvements and closures. These investments will provide connectivity, productivity and safety benefits for years to come.

However, if we are to fully address this issue, federal funding programs must be significantly increased, as there is demand for additional resources across the country. We know that many of our municipal partners are pressed to meet new, stringent federal grade crossing regulations. We continue to work with the FCM, mayors and other municipal representatives to advocate for additional infrastructure funding for railway-roadway crossings.

Railways are proud of their history and their excellent safety record. By raising awareness of safe crossing practices, adopting proper approaches to railway-community proximity issues, continuously improving our emergency response network and capability and investing in our networks, we can get closer to our shared goal of zero accidents.

Michael Bourque
President & CEO
Railway Association of Canada