Transport Canada introduces new rail security measures

Transport Canada is introducing new security regulations for rail companies that transport dangerous goods to require carriers to have security plans and training programs for employees related to terrorism.

New regulations are meant to mitigate risk of terror attacks, but the goal may be easier trade with U.S.

Transport Canada is aligning its regulations for rail companies that carry dangerous goods to that of the U.S. (Matthew Brown/The Associated Press)

Transport Canada is proposing new regulations to reduce the risks of terror attacks on the Canadian rail system.

The proposed regulations, which were published on Friday, would apply to freight carriers that transport dangerous goods, such as flammable or radioactive materials.

Transport Canada estimates that of 30 million shipments of dangerous goods that occur in Canada each year, about 24 per cent occur on rail.

While no successful terrorist attacks have been carried out on Canada's rail system, Transport Canada says attacks in other parts of the world highlight the vulnerability of the system.

According to a June 24 notice of the regulations in the Canada Gazette, the federal government's official publication, Canada's rail system "is open and extensive, with many potential access points for terrorists to infiltrate." 

Dangerous materials are also easy to identify given safety marking regulations.

The proposed regulations would require rail carriers and consignors to implement security plans as well as security training for employees.

Regulations lack specifics 

Veronica Kitchen, a counter-terrorism and international relations expert from the University of Waterloo, said the proposed regulations suggest the government is taking a hands off approach.

"It is not clear what the enforceable component is beyond having a training program or a security plan," she said in an interview with CBC News.

She said while the regulations are a "good first step," they are vague. She said the wording of the regulations suggests the government will allow firms to implement their own strategies, with few minimum requirements.

For example, the proposed regulations require that a security plan "sets out measures to prevent access by unauthorized persons to those dangerous goods and to the railway vehicles used to transport those dangerous goods."

Given that most firms have mitigation strategies for other hazards related to human error, Kitchen said allowing firms to develop their own security plans may be effective, but that it remains to be seen.

More about trade

Kitchen said the new regulations may have more to do with trade with the United States than terrorism.

According to the government's notice, the regulations will "enhance alignment with" U.S. transportation regulations, which will "make it easier for industry to do business on both sides of the border."

In an e-mail to CBC News, Transport Canada said "the proposed regulations were developed taking into account international standards and best practices, and are generally aligned with U.S. regulations and UN recommendations. Transport Canada held consultations with industry stakeholders and other government departments over the last several years."

Cross-border trade is listed as one of the primary benefits of the regulations in an analysis published in the Gazette.

With recent terrorist attacks in Europe targeting civilians rather than infrastructure, Kitchen said the government focusing on rail security for trade purposes makes sense.

Transport Canada is allowing 30 days for feedback on the language of the proposed regulations