The performance of Raitt’s own Transport Canada as the national rail regulator was severely criticized last year by the country’s auditor general for its failure to inspect the country’s short lines, including the former Montreal, Maine & Atlantic, whose runaway oil train exploded upon derailment at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, last July 6, killing 47.
Raitt specifically identified delays in shifting Prairie grain to ports as evidence of network inadequacy. The backlog is blamed by the railroads on bad weather and a bumper harvest, and by growers on the carriers’ preoccupation with moving mid-continent oil to coastal refineries.
The most intriguing term of reference in Raitt’s announcement is “what improvements could be made in a number of areas, including our strategic transportation gateways and corridors.”
As in the U.S., Canadian municipalities worry about the increasing volumes of hazardous materials transiting urban centers over trackage originally laid to deliver passengers and inert freight. The release by several state governments of hazmat shipping statistics will likely increase public anxiety, and political pressure, to separate freight trains from population centers.
The review is to be chaired by former government cabinet minister David Emerson and is to report by the end of 2015, a year earlier than the review requirement baked into existing legislation.