By Alex Binkley

A railway service bill, and action on a budget proposal to track transportation trends appear to be the federal government’s first initiatives connected to its Transport 2030 action plan. Meanwhile it’s moving ahead with proposals from last year’s $1.5 billion Oceans Protection Plan to acquire icebreaking and ship-towing assistance. Transport Minister Marc Garneau has said he’ll introduce legislation this spring to implement seven key measures recommended by the report on the Canada Transport Act review released last year.

In a letter to the Commons transport committee, Garneau said, “I look forward to presenting this legislation, which will support a more transparent, balanced, safe, and efficient freight rail system, for the benefit of all users.” The bill will “advance a long-term agenda for a more transparent, balanced, and efficient rail system that reliably moves our goods to global markets.” The budget promised the creation of a Canadian Centre for Transportation Data (CCTD) to measure the performance of the country’s freight handling systems, to “look for the pinch points” as one observer describes it. Transport Canada has been working on the data issue for years.

Meanwhile the Canadian Coast Guard is entering the second phase of its plan to acquire icebreakers and two specialty ships for the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts to tow ships in distress to safety before they become environmental disasters. They were part of the Oceans Protection Plan announced last fall by the Prime Minister.

Garneau has already said air travel issues, such as chronic overbooking by airlines, will wait until next year. Meanwhile the status of discussions on privatization of airports and ports is at best unclear along with other proposals raised in the review. However, comments by the Prime Minister in an interview with Bloomberg News last month appears to douse for now any likelihood of either ports or airports having For Sale signs on them. When asked about airport privatization, Mr. Trudeau said, “I’m interested in other things than that. … I’m interested in actually drawing in fresh capital to build new things.”

The government has refused to release reports it commissioned last year from Credit Suisse on privation of the national airports and from Morgan Stanley on disposing of the 18 Canadian Port Authorities. The government received the reports months ago, but says they are still under discussion and contain confidential business data.

Garneau said in a response to recommendations from the Commons Tansport Committee that the railway bill will be based on discussions with shippers and carriers and recommendations in the Emerson report on the Canada Transportation Act review.

The following will be among the issues to be covered in the bill to create “an effective and efficient rail transportation system”:

• the future of the 160-kilometre extended interswitching limit in the Prairie Provinces;

• the requirement under the Canada Transportation Act to move minimum volumes of grain;

• clarification of adequate and suitable service;

• financial penalties in the context of service level agreements;

• the future of the Maximum Revenue Entitlement;

• shippers’ recourse to dispute resolution processes;

• access to market data.

“In addition, the legislative package will propose other complementary measures for strengthening the freight rail policy framework,” Garneau said.

Earlier this year, the Committee proposed 17 recommendations for the bill, which is needed to preserve the minimum volume requirement for the start of the 2017-18 crop year next August. The thrust of their proposals was to establish a power balance between the railways and shippers including financial penalties on the railways if they fail to meet commitments in service level agreements.

In the letter Garneau said, “Canada has a world-class freight rail system, which directly supports our economic growth and trade agenda. Freight railways are critical links in many supply chains, including in the grain sector. … The continued accessibility and efficiency of the freight rail system is therefore essential for the long-term strength and sustainability of Canada’s grain handling and transportation system.”

The Emerson report called for an Integrated Data Platform and Multimodal Data Dashboard to facilitate transport collection and processing. Consideration should be given to housing this new entity with the Canadian Transportation Agency, he said.

In the budget, the government said it would create the Canadian Centre for Transportation Data, with $50 million in funding over 11 years. Peter Frayne, a spokesman for Statistics Canada, said CCTD “would be a partnership of Transport Canada, Statistics Canada and other parties to serve as an authoritative source of data and information on the transportation system in general.” Transport and StatCan “will work together with other stakeholders in the transportation sector to establish a comprehensive, authoritative source of multimodal transportation data and performance measures,” he said. “Other participants would include other levels of government, other federal government departments, industry, educational institutions and others with expertise or data to share in the area of transportation.”

The goal would be to provide “high quality, timely and accessible data and analysis to support innovations that will move goods more efficiently across supply and distribution chains, getting them from the manufacturer and into the hands of consumers more quickly, affordably and sustainably,” he said. It would have an open data portal. “As is the case today, data would not be released publicly if it is protected under statute.”

The Coast Guard is currently reviewing the results of a Request for Information it issued internationally for icebreakers and speciality towing ships, a spokesman said. A spokesman said it will issue requirements for a formal solicitation process this summer. “We need to increase our capacity to tow ocean-going vessels so that in the event that such a vessel loses power, we are able to tow it to safety and avoid the risk that it will founder. It is part of strengthening our capacity to prevent pollution incidents.”