Lac-Mégantic report to be final act for TSB chair Wendy Tadros

The chair of the Transportation Safety Board steps down next week, but not before the agency releases its final report on last year's deadly rail crash in Lac-Mégantic, Que. Wendy Tadros says she expects "a strong and positive response" to the report.

Transportation Safety Board's retiring chair expects report to get strong support from government

Wendy Tadros of the Transportation Safety Board will step down on Wednesday, one day after the TSB releases its final report on the deadly rail accident in Lac-Mégantic. (CBC)

The Transportation Safety Board releases its final report on the deadly train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Que., on Tuesday, and the outgoing chair of the agency expects it to receive "a strong and positive response."

Wendy Tadros, who is stepping down from her role on Wednesday, spoke to CBC Radio's The House and said she has been amazed at how much attention the story has generated over the past year.

Forty-seven people were killed on July 6, 2013 when a runaway train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in the heart of Lac-Mégantic.

That disaster started a debate in Canada and the United States about the safety of transporting dangerous goods by rail. Changes have already been enacted, including tougher standards for the DOT-111 tanker cars that were involved in the Lac-Mégantic crash. The DOT-111s are considered the workhorse of the North American railway system.

Behind the changes is the TSB. The agency is not only responsible for investigating accidents, but also conducts public inquiries and makes recommendations to improve the safety of transportation in Canada.

Changes to rail safety

Tadros joined the agency in 1996 and has been its chair for the past eight years. During that time she said the work and the professionalism at the agency has remained consistent but the way the TSB deals with the media and the public has changed.

"I think the organization is better known by Canadians, the good work of the organization is better known. And I think we've found more of a voice to speak about the issues we feel strongly about," she said.

Smoke rises from railway cars that were carrying crude oil when they derailed in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Que., on July 6, 2013. DOT-111 tanker cars, older models of which are known to puncture or leak during crashes, were involved in the crash. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

That assertiveness has led to more of the board's recommendations being implemented. Tadros said during her first 10 years with the TSB about 46 per cent of its recommendations were being implemented. Now, thanks to greater pressure from the agency, a watch list that identifies safety issues, the TSB being visible at the accident site and being clear about what needs to change, that number has increased to 74 per cent.

"I really would have liked to see it go to 80 per cent before I left, but 74 per cent is pretty good," she said.

Voice recorders in trains

One of the recommendations Tadros is still pushing for is voice recorders to be used on all trains. 

"I'm very optimistic about that happening in the next couple of years," she said.

The problem right now is railways want to use voice and video recorders to punish people, but in order to be an effective safety tool, that should not be the case. For example, in the airline industry, there is an understanding that the voice recorders will only be used for safety purposes.

Voice recorders on trains are voluntary and not widely used. Via Rail is considering a pilot project and the Rocky Mountaineer has recorders, but only in case of an accident.

Tadros would like to see more recorders being used as part of the rail safety plan, so companies can look at what's happening on trains, see if mistakes are being made and if those mistakes can be addressed.

"They can learn before an accident happens," she said.

Changes still needed

Aside from rail safety, Tadros said one area she still feels strongly about is improving the safety of smaller planes, because that is where many of the accidents are happening.

She wants smaller planes to carry flight recorders and wants to see the safety around float planes improved, including installing shoulder harnesses in the back seats of float planes, something regulators have been unwilling to do so far. 

Kathy Fox, who is currently on the board, will take her place.