Watchlist 2012—Opening remarks

Wendy Tadros, Chair
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
Ottawa, Ontario
14 June 2012

See the PowerPoint presentation (PPT)  

Check against delivery.

Good afternoon, and thank you all for coming.

Today I’d like to talk about progress: how it happens, and how we at the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) want to keep it happening.

Two years ago, the TSB launched its first safety Watchlist. That list, which identified the most critical safety issues facing Canada’s transportation system, became our blueprint for progress. Here are the priorities, we said—priorities based on two decades of experience, priorities based on hundreds of accident investigations, tens of thousands of hours of research, and 41 very specific Board recommendations.

Well, Transport Canada and the transportation industry listened. And then they actedtogether. And today, over one-third of those 41 Watchlist recommendations have received our highest rating of Fully Satisfactory.

In fact, given how far we’ve come, we needed to take stock and decide what we’ll target next. So today we’re announcing a new version of the Watchlist, one with items removed, but also with updated issues, including several new challenges that need to be tackled.

At the TSB, we have a mandate, and that mandate is to advance transportation safety. Not just to report on it, but to push for progress. That’s why, as we drew up this new Watchlist, we asked ourselves two key questions: First, on issues where there was progress, was it enough progress—that is, had the risk been eliminated, or at least substantially reduced? And second, were there any new issues that deserved our attention?

For instance:
Canada’s freight railways have reduced the dangerous in-train forces that can destabilize today’s ever-longer and ever-heavier trains. Measures such as distributed power, marshalling and handling guidelines, and new computer programs mean Canadian railways are safer than they were two years ago.

Second, both Transport Canada and the ferry industry have put in place positive measures to ensure crews will be prepared for an emergency. New regulations will improve passenger counts and require crews to carry out more realistic emergency drills.

Today, I am pleased to say that, for both these issues, progress has been significant enough that we were able to remove them from the new Watchlist.

And that’s not all: In the last two years, we have also seen positive action with respect to safety management systems on Canada’s railways, as well as some movement on improved data recorders in the air, rail, and marine modes.

But is our work complete? No. Because as I said, the TSB’s mandate is to advance transportation safety. And since transportation is always evolving, so are the risks. Let me tell you about two new issues that have become significant enough to merit inclusion on the new Watchlist.

A few months ago, a VIA rail train derailed outside Burlington, Ontario, killing three people and leaving dozens injured. Thanks to the data recorder that was on board, our investigators were immediately able to begin piecing together some of what happened. But what isn’t required—and what we need—are voice recordings, or video, of crew communications inside the cab. This information is invaluable for helping TSB investigators understand what happened, and the context in which decisions were made.

That is why we’ve added this issue to the new Watchlist. The good news is, the technology is already out there—for example, airline cockpits have had recorders for decades, and some sectors of the marine industry are considering adding video recordings to supplement the voice recordings they already have. We want the rail industry to ensure—for the safety of everyone, passengers and crews—that this information is recorded.

The second new issue on the Watchlist has to do with railway signals. As we have learned from hard experience, if a persistent problem is not addressed, there will be another accident. Since 2002, there have been an average of 11 occurrences per year where a signal indication was misidentified, misinterpreted, or not recognized in time. This is a troubling pattern, one that represents a significant risk to the public when it results in a derailment or a collision. That’s why we want to see more safety defences put in place, to ensure that signal indications are consistently recognized and followed by locomotive crews.

Progress, unfortunately, doesn’t always follow a plan, and there are also issues on today’s new Watchlist where we have seen little or no change since 2010. These include aircraft landing accidents and runway overruns; and passenger trains that continue to collide with vehicles in our busy rail corridor. These and several other problems remain on the Watchlist because we still have a long way to go.

What’s needed, what we’re calling for today, is more action. We want a concerted effort—more of a concerted effort—from Transport Canada and from our marine, rail, and aviation industries. At the end of the day, they’re the people who can make the most difference, and so we want them to take immediate steps to address both these new and persistent issues.

We won’t be shy about praise, either. When progress gets made, the TSB will say so. But if not enough has been done … well, we’ll say that too.

I want to point out that I’m not under any illusions that this is going to be easy. Meaningful change seldom is. But until enough progress has been made so that aircraft no longer collide with land and water, or until we have improved the safety of fishing vessels and the men and women who make their living on the sea … Or until accident investigators have access to voice and video recordings … Until that happens, we at the Transportation Safety Board will continue to push for better regulations, improved safeguards, and more defences. Because Canadians deserve the safest transportation system in the world: whether it’s along our waterways and railways, our pipelines, or in our skies.

Thank you. I am now prepared to take some questions.