Canada does bad job of overseeing rail safety: official watchdog

Tue Nov 26, 2013 3:27pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada, where 47 people died in a tanker train crash in July, is not doing enough to ensure rail safety thanks to inadequate audits, ill-trained staff and too little focus on high-risk railroads, an official watchdog said on Tuesday.

The damning report from Auditor-General Michael Ferguson revealed a series of problems at the federal transport ministry, which is supposed to check that the 31 railways it oversees have effective safety management systems.

There was not enough focus on high-risk railroads or "the most significant safety risks" and there were weaknesses in collecting data and auditing railroads, the report said.

"Transport Canada needs to address significant weaknesses in its oversight of safety management systems," Ferguson said in the report, adding the ministry was taking too long to resolve significant safety issues.

The government promised to act on the recommendations.

"I've told Transport Canada officials that the public expect better of them," Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said in a statement. She said later she had told senior civil servants: "We need to move forward and fix this for the Canadian public."

Ferguson, who examines government spending and performance, completed his audit on June 28, days before a train carrying fuel oil derailed and exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic on July 6.

Extending the period of the audit to include Lac-Megantic would have delayed the report by at least two years while safety officials probe the accident, Ferguson's staff said.   Continued...

Canada's Auditor-General Michael Ferguson listens to a question during a news conference upon the release of his report in Ottawa April 30, 2013. REUTERS/Chris Wattie