Federal regulations require most railways to install voice, video recorders by late 2022

Rail operators in Canada have two years to install black boxes on their trains after the federal government published regulations in the Canada Gazette on Wednesday setting out the new safety requirements. 

Union representing 16,000 railroad workers says new regulations violate privacy

A Canadian Pacific Railway train hauling grain passes through Calgary. New government regulations will require trains like this one to install video and voice recorders. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Rail operators in Canada have two years to install black boxes on their trains after the federal government published regulations in the Canada Gazette on Wednesday setting out the new safety requirements.

"A considerable amount of research and consultation has gone into the robust regulations for the use of locomotive voice and video recording technology in Canada," Transport Minister Marc Garneau said in a statement.

"I am encouraged by the significant benefits when this technology is used proactively to enhance rail safety management and prevent future accidents."

The information gathered from the video and voice recorders will be used by investigators to study rail accidents and by railway companies looking to identify potential risks to rail safety.

Companies will be required to install the recording devices on every train they operate if they meet at least one of three conditions: 

  • The company earned $250 million gross revenues in Canada in each of the last two years and operates on more than eight kilometres of track in Canada. 
  • The company operates a passenger service in a city or between municipalities.
  • The company has more than 15 staff, operates on more than 32 kilometres of track with at least one train that goes faster than 40 km/h and conducts more than 10 per cent of its gross ton miles on Canadian track.

Questions of privacy

Those exempt from the new regulations include steam locomotives or trains used exclusively for tourists and trains that travel under 40 km/h. Trains used exclusively in service yards, trains used for testing or trains scheduled to be taken out of use by February 2024 are also exempt. 

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has been asking for the regulations for more than a decade.

"VIA Rail is aware of this new regulation and is currently working with all parties involved to implement the necessary requirements for our trains to be conformed on time," said VIA spokesperson Karl-Philip Marchand Giguere.

Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, the union representing 16,000 Canadian rail workers, is expressing concerns about privacy. It says engineers and conductors spend many hours together during long shifts and discuss very personal subjects with one another. 

"The federal government's policy on LVVR [Locomotive Voice and Video Recorders] continues to represent a grotesque invasion of workers' privacy which would essentially see Canadian railroaders monitored 24/7 by employers who could easily abuse recordings to spy on  railroaders, nitpick and ultimately discipline them and get rid of employees they don't like," said Christopher Monette, a spokesperson for the union. "It subjects railroaders to a level of surveillance that no other worker would or should have to endure." 

Monette said the Teamsters are not opposed to the use of LVVR but they want assurances that the recordings will only be used by Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board for safety purposes.

"We call on the minister once again to fix this, to have a productive discussion with all of the parties who are involved and hopefully to find a way to do right by workers," added Monette.