MPs have unanimously approved the government’s Fair Rail Freight Service Act, which gives shippers the right to a level-of-service agreement with railways.
Public hearings begin this week.
Bill C-52 was approved on a voice vote without opposition Feb. 8 and the Commons transport committee began to examine details of the bill Feb. 12 with transport minister Denis Lebel the first witness.
Conservatives say they want swift passage.
During Commons debate, opposition MPs said they support the bill in principle but expect that committee hearings will give full voice to shippers, including those who would like the bill strengthened.
Shippers are lining up to appear before the committee, chaired by rural Ontario MP and former agriculture committee chair Larry Miller.
Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway are ex-pected to use the hearings to argue that legislation is not necessary.
Bill C-52 requires carriers to entertain a request from a shipper that they negotiate a level-of-service agreement with penalties if either side does not live up to the commitments.
If an agreement cannot be reached, the shipper can apply to the Canadian Transportation Agency for an arbitrated settlement that imposes service obligations on carriers with penalties for non-compliance.