Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for October 28th, 2007

The sorry state of railway safety in Canada

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Emile Therien is former president of the Canada Safety Council

A very professional and objective assessment of what has been happening on Canada’s railways recently – but especially CN.

At one time, the railway culture was determined by safety. Now that appears to have been replaced by the desire for growth and ever increasing profits. There is no doubt at all the CN has been very successful from the point of view of its shareholders. But the cost to our environment and the working conditions of employees has been dreadful. And I cannot help but draw the conclusion that government has not just allowed this to happen, but has actually encouraged it. We need to think very carefully before we subscribe to the notion that private sector business practices are the touchstone by which all activity is measured. They are very bad indeed when it comes to notions of “externalities”. But just because they do not show up in the quarterly financials does not mean they are not very significant indeed.

Right wing governments across the world have indulged in an orgy of privatisation and deregulation, mainly due to ideological rather than sound performance reasons. Governments started to take enterprises into public ownership when private sector business could not deliver the required performance. Often, in the case of Canada’s railways, when companies failed and went bankrupt. While society’s needs do change over time, some fundamental public concerns remain and they were supposed to be incorporated into regulatory regimes. But the same ideologues have been cutting into government’s ability to do its job – mainly on the excuse that less government (and more tax cuts) are good for us. Well looking at the transportation sector, I think we can now draw the conclusion that these policies were wrong, and must be reversed. And if something manifestly doesn’t work, continuing to do it is a sign of insanity.

Written by Stephen Rees

October 28, 2007 at 3:13 pm

Posted in privatisation, Railway