Canada says to oblige railways to install recorders in cabs

MONTREAL (Reuters) - Canada intends to oblige railways to install video and audio recorders in the cabs of locomotives in an effort to boost safety, the country’s transport minister said on Thursday.

The move comes in the wake of an oil tanker car disaster that killed 47 people in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic in 2013, Transport Minister Marc Garneau told an audience of business executives in Montreal.

“This critical information can be used during accident investigations of the future, while protecting the privacy of employees,” he said.

Canadian National Railway Co, Canada’s largest railroad, welcomed the plan for the cameras.

“This technology is a powerful and important tool in the investigative process to get to a better understanding of causation, which will lead to improved safety practices,” CN Chief Executive Luc Jobin said in a statement.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, which represents 12,000 rail workers in the country, is opposed to giving railway companies access to the recordings, but is open to their use by government officials during accident investigations.

Teamsters spokesman Stephane Lacroix said on Thursday that the union is happy the recorders’ usage is limited to accidents and will “preserve the private lives of our members.”

But Canadian Pacific Railway Co [CPCPR.UL] Chief Operating Officer Keith Creel in a statement urged Garneau to allow railways access to the recordings for use as a “preventative, proactive, behavior-changing tool.”

The use of recorders only for accident investigations “doesn’t afford the railroads the opportunity to take appropriate corrective action in the event unsafe behaviors are found.”

The government also delayed a decision until 2017 on whether to maintain a cap that it imposes on the revenue railways earn from hauling western grain.

Canadian National and Canadian Pacific oppose the revenue cap, saying it discourages investment, while farmers and grain companies say it’s necessary given limited rail competition.

Garneau said his government will introduce legislation next spring that will include decisions on the grain revenue cap and extended interswitching, the transfer of cars from one railway’s line to another’s.

Grain handlers welcomed the government’s plan to include in that legislation the ability to apply reciprocal penalties in shippers’ service agreements with railways.

“It will allow shippers to hold railways accountable for their performance in the same way railways hold shippers accountable for performance,” said Wade Sobkowich, executive director of Western Grain Elevator Association, whose members include Richardson International and Viterra [VILC.UL].

Reporting by Allison Lampert, writing by David Ljunggren and Rod Nickel; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alan Crosby