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Watchlist 2014 — Opening remarks

Kathy Fox
Chair, Transportation Safety Board of Canada
24 November 2014

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Good afternoon, and thank you for coming.

Today, we are releasing our latest Watchlist, which comprises the 8 issues we believe pose the greatest risk to Canada's transportation system.

These 8 issues concern the marine, rail, and air transportation industry, affecting Canadians from coast to coast to coast. One is a brand new issue, three have been expanded from previous editions, four remain, and thanks to progress made, one air issue has been removed.

These issues are supported by hundreds of accident investigations, thousands of hours of research, and dozens of TSB recommendations. New issues must pass a rigorous vetting process for inclusion on the Watchlist, and the process for removing issues is just as meticulous.

In choosing these Watchlist issues, we are reminded that advancing transportation safety in Canada can often be a slow and difficult process. But the fact remains: if we don't continue to press for change – lives can, and will, be lost.

So let me begin by highlighting an expanded issue and then introducing a new issue—both of which were present in the Lac-Mégantic investigation, but have also been identified in other transportation accidents.

The first expanded issue is Safety Management and Oversight. A Safety Management System—or SMS—is an excellent tool to help companies identify risks in advance, and to deal with those risks before accidents occur. However, not all air and marine transportation companies are required to have formal safety processes in place to manage their risks. And for those air, marine AND rail transportation companies that are required to have a formal SMS, they don't always implement it effectively. Moreover, Transport Canada's oversight and intervention has not always proven effective.

The solution is threefold: First, Transport Canada must extend the regulations for formal safety management processes to include a wider range of operators.

Second, those operators that do have an SMS must demonstrate that it is working—in other words, that hazards are being identified, and that effective mitigation measures are being implemented to deal with those hazards.

And third, when companies are unable to effectively manage safety, Transport Canada must not only intervene, but do so in a way that succeeds in changing unsafe practices.  As we now know, a weak company safety culture and inadequate Transport Canada oversight contributed to the Lac-Mégantic accident.

Also coming out of Lac-Mégantic and other recent rail accidents is the issue of the transportation of flammable liquids by rail. The amount of crude oil being shipped by rail across North America has grown dramatically over the past several years—from slightly over 11,000 carloads five years ago, to over half a million last year.

And as the scope of the devastation in Lac-Mégantic made painfully clear, much of this crude oil is volatile. If North American railways are to carry more and more of these flammable liquids through our towns and through our cities, the emerging risks need to be effectively mitigated.

To reduce the likelihood of dangerous goods being released in a train accident, we are calling for more robust tank cars, as well as route analysis and measures to control risks, to ensure safer operations for all trains carrying dangerous goods in Canada. And until this happens, this issue will remain on our Watchlist.

As I mentioned, there are 2 other issues that have expanded scopes this time around. Earlier this year, we released our final report into the tragic crash of a First Air flight in Resolute Bay, which revealed the catastrophic consequences of continuing an unstable approach. We know that too many unstable approaches are continued to a landing, and that, across Canada, there are approximately150 approach-and-landing accidents each year.

That's why we're calling on Transport Canada and aviation operators to take action to reduce unstable approaches, a consequence of which can be a runway overrun. We are also calling on Transport Canada to move ahead with regulatory changes to guide airports to develop tailored solutions to lengthen runway end safety areas or implement other engineered systems to stop planes that overrun.

The other expanded issue is railway crossing safety. This was first put on our Watchlist in 2010 and focused on passenger trains colliding with vehicles in the busy Quebec City-Windsor corridor. Thankfully, there has been a significant decrease in this area. However, in the rest of Canada, the number of trains and vehicles colliding remains high. In fact, over the past 10 years, there was a staggering 1865 crossing accidents—resulting in over 400 people killed or seriously injured, including the 2013 VIA Rail / OC Transpo accident here in Ottawa.

We are calling on Transport Canada to implement new grade-crossing regulations and develop enhanced standards for crossing signs. A comprehensive solution must also include consultation with provincial authorities and more driver education about the dangers at railway crossings.

And then there are 4 outstanding issues that have seen little improvement since they were first added to the Watchlist back in 2010.

In the air mode—there is the ongoing risk of aircraft colliding with vehicles or other aircraft on the ground. In the marine mode—fishing vessel accidents across Canada continue to claim an average of one fisherman per month. And along our railways—the problems of signal indications not being recognized and followed; and the lack of locomotive video-or-voice recorders, persist.

Each of these issues will require a concerted effort to resolve. And each of these issues will require an investment of time, energy, and political will. But each of these issues is eminently solvable. And we have seen progress.

One issue was removed from this Watchlist—the issue of aircraft colliding with land and water, because requirements for new technology have reduced the risk.

With this Watchlist, once again the TSB is calling on the government to make public safety a priority—we're also calling on the transportation industry to up their game and act in concert with Transport Canada to address these critical issues.

The first step comes today, with the identification of the new issues. Then, over the coming months, I, along with my fellow Board Members and TSB employees, will take every opportunity to meet with stakeholders, to remind them of what's needed.

I can assure Canadians that we will be reporting publicly on what we find, holding officials to account, not just for what they do, but for what they say they'll do. Where progress has been made and risks have been mitigated, we will say so. But where not enough has been done … you can expect us to be very clear about that as well.

Thank you.