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Rail safety 'legacy' of victims

Ministers know they have work to do

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Ex-Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray was back in the city Wednesday as transport ministers from across the country met. Murray, now Ontario's transportation minister, marvelled at the new additions to the city, including the human rights museum.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Ex-Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray was back in the city Wednesday as transport ministers from across the country met. Murray, now Ontario's transportation minister, marvelled at the new additions to the city, including the human rights museum. Photo Store

Manitoba's transportation minister says the legacy of the Lac-Mégantic disaster in July will be a safer rail transportation system across Canada.

Rail safety dominated discussions in Winnipeg Wednesday as Canada's transportation ministers gathered for the first time since the train derailment and explosion destroyed the Quebec town's core, killing 47 people.

"The legacy of the victims is actually going to be a much better safety situation in terms of rail transport in Canada," said Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton, who co-chaired the three-hour meeting at the Fort Garry Hotel.

"I'm convinced... after the kind of discussions that I heard that is going to happen," he said afterwards. "(Canada will) have a much safer system than we had in July, a much safer system than we even have today. And sooner rather than later because everybody understands that time is of the essence."

But while ministers declared their good intentions, they did not come up with any new strategies for improving rail transportation in urban areas, Ashton acknowledged.

That is likely to happen once the Transport Safety Board report on the Lac-Mégantic tragedy comes out. The report is expected to address the causes of the incident, the response to it and liability concerns, among other issues.

Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt attended the meeting but left without speaking to reporters afterwards.

Ashton said provincial ministers want to be at the table when rail-system changes are discussed. "We think we have a lot to offer and we want to be part of the solution," he said, adding the provinces share jurisdiction with Ottawa over such things as level crossings where rail lines and roads intersect.

It's important municipalities and shippers also be involved in developing system improvements, he said. The safety of various types of rail cars used to ship dangerous goods is likely to be a key issue in the months ahead, as is the need for municipalities to be immediately aware of what types of goods are on a particular train so they can better respond to derailments.

The ministers meeting also brought former mayor Glen Murray back to Winnipeg.

Murray, now Ontario's transportation minister, said also discussed at the meeting was the need for greater investment in east-west transportation infrastructure as a means of boosting the Canadian economy. He said there's been too much of a focus on north-south routes, to the detriment of Canadian communities.

"We are significantly under-invested in this country in rail and transportation and trade. Our east-west transportation corridor of rail and highways is being challenged by the (American) interstate system and high levels of investment in high-speed rail south of the border," he said.

Murray, who left city hall nine years ago, said he was "pretty proud" and "pretty excited" to see several new landmarks rise in the Manitoba capital, some of which he championed or had a hand in developing.

"I was in the human rights museum today... I think it may be the greatest piece of architecture in Canada," he said.

He also recalled many criticized the MTS Centre as being too small ever to attract an NHL team back to the city, and now it is a major success. He spoke glowingly about the new airport terminal, the new football stadium, the convention centre addition and development along Waterfront Drive.

"It's interesting to see things that were budget line items when I was mayor and that were scribbles on the back of napkins (built years later)," he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2013 B9

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Updated on Thursday, September 26, 2013 at 9:42 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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