Northwest tired of waiting for rail safety, says Cullen

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE AUGUST 23, 2013

SMITHERS, B.C. – Nathan Cullen lambasted Transport Minister Lisa Raitt today in response to her department’s continued inaction to reduce blockages of public railway crossings by CN, which have become a significant burden to public safety and mobility in communities across the Northwest.

In a letter dated March 6, 2013 to Raitt’s predecessor, Denis Lebel, Cullen outlined two primary concerns: that CN freight trains were blocking public railway crossings for periods of thirty to 100 minutes, and that these blockages posed not only an inconvenience, but a major public safety hazard in the events of emergencies. He also noted instances of individuals becoming impatient with the waiting, and walking across the crossing in between rail cars.

Cullen also made one request to the Minister: enforce the laws that already exist under the Railway Safety Act to punish commercial rail operators who block public railway crossings. Raitt’s response, however, fell sadly short of the mark, said Cullen. Rather than addressing the issue seriously, Raitt simply summarized sections of the Railway Safety Act.

“Unfortunately, the mere existence of laws does not naturally preclude their violation. Laws need to be enforced, and in this case, that responsibility falls on your office,” Cullen wrote in a letter sent to Raitt today (attached below).

“The reluctance of the Conservative government to act on issues of rail safety across the board is astonishing,” said Cullen from Smithers. “We waited six months for a response from the Minister on this issue, and her message to the people of the Northwest who are stuck at crossings blocked by CN rail cars is they’ll just have to wait some more.”

“The Minister may be new to her post, but it’s tough to gather what kind of message she is trying to send to CN when she so brazenly turns a blind eye to this issue. The fact is it’s her job to enforce the rules that exist, but so far the only message she has communicated to CN is that the watchdog has lost its bark and its bite,” said Cullen. “So let’s try again: will the Minister let this situation drag on until there is a real catastrophe, or will she taken action to enforce the laws, and protect the mobility, the safety and the economic viability of our communities now?”

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Contact: Hugh Pouliot (613) 889-4055 nathan.cullen.a1@parl.gc.ca

 

Honourable Lisa Raitt Minister of Transport House of Commons Ottawa, Ont. K1A 0N5

23 August 2013

Dear Minister Raitt,

I would like to extend my congratulations on your new appointment, as well as my appreciation for your response dated 20 August 2013 to concerns I raised with your predecessor regarding CN freight trains blocking public railway crossings in my riding of Skeena—Bulkley Valley.

While the response is indeed greatly appreciated, the lack of commitment to public safety and mobility reflected in your response is deeply disquieting. My letter to your office dated 6 March 2013 conveyed two very simple concerns: • CN freight trains are regularly halting over railway crossings in communities throughout my riding for anywhere between thirty and 100 minutes • These blockages pose serious threats to public safety, which include, but are not limited to: crucial delays of emergency vehicles, as well as individuals, including children, on foot and bicycle losing patience and walking between halted railway cars

My letter to your office also contained one very simple request: enforce the laws as they are written, particularly those under Section 41, paragraph 2.1 of the Railway Safety Act, which apply to commercial rail operators who obstruct public crossings. But rather than acknowledge your department’s obligation to enforce these laws or look at other steps that could improve mobility and public safety, the response from your office fell short, going only so far as to summarize provisions of the Railway Safety Act – indeed, ones I brought to your intention in a letter written six months ago.

Unfortunately, the mere existence of laws does not naturally preclude their violation. Laws need to be enforced, and in this case, that responsibility falls on your office. While my conversations with representatives from CN have been somewhat productive, and lead to some minor safety improvements around crossings in multiple communities, the sheer deafness of the response from your office to this pressing issue is nothing short of shameful.

In the middle of CN’s hesitation to respect the law and your department’s reluctance to enforce it are the people who live in the communities I represent. I speak for all of them when I say: we do not want to wait for a fatality from a delayed ambulance or a child caught walking between rail cars for you to take the action you should have taken years ago.

Sincerely,

Nathan Cullen MP Skeena—Bulkley Valley Opposition House Leader