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Ottawa to require video and voice recorders on trains: Garneau

Transport Minister Marc Garneau answers a question in the House of Commons in Ottawa on April 21, 2016.

PATRICK DOYLE/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Ottawa will implement rules to require railways to install video and voice-recording devices in locomotives, Transport Minister Marc Garneau said Thursday.

He said they would be used to investigate accidents such as the 2013 train derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Megantic, Que.

"Accidents will always happen but we need to learn from our experience to help avoid them in the future," Garneau said in Montreal, where he appeared before members of the business community to outline Ottawa's transportation plan for the coming decades.

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He said the government also plans to bring forward the review of the Railway Safety Act to 2017 from 2018.

The president and CEO of Canadian National Railway welcomed the announcement on recording devices, calling it "an important safety initiative."

"Regulators on both sides of the border recognize the value of these devices," Luc Jobin said in a statement.

"We believe 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 —something we all want."

The government's plan, which is in response to recommendations in a review of the Canada Transportation Act by former minister David Emerson, includes promised changes to Canadian airline international investment rules.

It also addresses zero-emission vehicles, drones, environmental protection for coastlines and development of transportation infrastructure in the North.

Some $10.1 billion of the investment is earmarked to improving transport and trade corridors, Garneau said.

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This includes plans to introduce legislation next spring for a long-term plan for moving grain by rail that Garneau promised would help clear up some longstanding issues among shippers, farmers and rail companies.

Farm groups that met with Garneau in recent months have stressed the need for competition and accountability in the rail industry.

With farmers reporting a great crop this year, they had expressed worry that a repeat of a 2013-2014 rail bottleneck could once again leave bumper grain crops sitting in containers unable to reach their markets.

On Thursday, Garneau said the 2017 legislation will allow reciprocal penalties against rail companies and customers who don't respect agreements. It will also address the future of interswitching, or the transfer of traffic between two railway companies.

The president of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers welcomed Garneau's announcement, particularly the decision to allow reciprocal penalties.

"The announced legislative changes coming in this regard will increase commercial accountability, providing recourse for farmers and shippers, and addressing poor service and performance issues," Levi Wood said in a joint statement with the organization's chair, Jim Wickett.

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The highlights of the "Transport 2030" plan outlined by Garneau also included commitments to work with territorial government and indigenous peoples to assess transportation needs in the North and a promise to invest in clean public transit infrastructure.

He said the government would also work to create clear guidelines for drones, and announced the government is certifying Canada's first unmanned air vehicle test site in Foremost, Alta.

Garneau promised more details on the various elements of the plan would be unveiled in the coming weeks.

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