Rail Trends - Safety Issues
Speaking Notes
Mrs. Wendy A. Tadros

Board Member
Transportation Safety Board of Canada
To Operation Lifesaver (18th Annual Conference)
Aylmer, Québec
September 13, 2005


Thank you for those kind words of introduction. I also want to thank Operation Lifesaver for inviting me here today.

I welcome the opportunity to speak to you about the work of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) and some new perspectives we are developing.

I want to start by applauding the work your organization does to raise awareness. Your programs have profile and impact in Canadian communities. And you should be very proud of the role you play in keeping rail crossing safety top of mind with the public, the media and the railway community.

There is no question in my mind that your organization is one of the key partners in the transportation safety business. Everyone in this room knows that.

You come at rail safety from the perspective of educating the public about the dangers in railway yards, along rights-of-way and at rail crossings.

And you help reduce accidents by changing public attitudes and behaviours. Through your work, you are strengthening the power of the safeguards and the safety symbols found at rail crossings - so more and more Canadians (even the very young) know the meaning of a train whistle, a ringing bell, a crossbuck and other safety signage.

I looked again at your Web site last week and was impressed by the breadth of resources you've amassed, particularly those aimed at school-aged children.

Since 1981, your efforts, your community-based approach and your capacity to target resources effectively have definitely delivered in terms of growing public awareness of rail safety. You are the pre-eminent organization that governments, regulators and investigators turn to when we need help with public understanding and awareness.

Transportation Meets People

Operation Lifesaver and the Transportation Safety Board find their common ground in the places where the transportation sector, with all its power and potential, intersects the lives of average Canadians.

We want and need that sector to be strong and vibrant, but we also need it to traverse our towns and cities in ways that do not jeopardize the health and well-being of Canadians or our communities.

Rail crossings epitomize the hard fact that business and transportation sometimes conflict with our day-to-day lives. Your work, and our work at the TSB, is about making that co-existence as safe as possible.

Operation Lifesaver

Again, I come back to the fact that Operation Lifesaver and the TSB share common ground. In a sense we have the same objective - to reduce the risk of death and injury. And our roles are certainly complementary. Along with others in the safety community, we can leverage our resources to produce the results we are looking for.

Your involvement in Direction 2006 is absolutely key.

It has also been exciting to watch your "Look, Listen, Live" campaign roll out across the country and to see OLEV [Operation Lifesaver Educational Vehicle] targeting communities from coast to coast to coast.

Through your participation in Direction 2006 and your independent programming, Operation Lifesaver must give itself credit for contributing to the momentum in rail crossing safety.

Government Commitments

I am glad to see, as well, the government's continued commitment to providing funding for research and grade crossing improvements.

The arrival of the Highway-Railway Grade Crossing Research Program is welcome news too, especially since it engages such a wide cross-section of stakeholders. Its mandate is to improve the safety of grade crossings with innovative technologies. Hopefully, it will contribute significantly to reducing risk.

TSB Iinvolvment In Rail Crossing Issues

I can't stress enough that the TSB and Operation Lifesaver are in the same business, even though we approach rail safety issues from different perspectives.

Like you, the TSB is preoccupied with the circumstances that lead to death or injury of drivers and pedestrians. Lately, we've become concerned about what's been happening at the far end of what we call the "safety continuum." Sometimes the results or level of engagement we had hoped for is not there, and risk remains.

We need to keep talking and sharing what we learn. You need to understand that we are serious about creating change and we are ready to work with you.

Our Core Mandate

Like you, the TSB has a very specific and yet critical role in rail safety. Operating at arm's length from other government departments such as Transport Canada, we are the principal investigator on the scene at rail accidents.

The TSB is fundamentally a "recommending" body and we offer Canadians an assurance that every stone will be turned to find the facts. There are strict rules surrounding our investigative procedures and we operate with a lot of autonomy, without interference from other jurisdictions and agencies, and without fear of legal impediments.

We sift through all of the information available. Often we even stage re-creations of the accident scene and circumstances so we can truly understand how and why the accident happened.

We also believe - no, we know - that our investigative process is thorough and effective. We never ascribe blame; we just lay out the facts and let them speak for themselves.

And while we cannot insist that our reports be acted upon, we can illuminate and create knowledge about the "whys and wherefores" - and prompt change.

Our reports have led to fundamental changes in the transportation sector over the years. Over time, we believe the TSB will continue to learn and provide the information foundation upon which safer systems can be built in the future.

Current Investigations

At present, we are investigating about a half-dozen crossing accidents. Later today, Dan Holbrook will give you an insider's perspective on a number of ongoing investigations and he will give you a flavour for the kinds of factors our investigators look at.

Chief among these is our ongoing investigation into the tragic accident in Brockville, Ontario, where a 12-year-old girl was killed and another seriously injured. I'll speak about that investigation later. Suffice it to say, we hope our investigations will yield new information about the systemic reasons behind these accidents.

Investigation Reports

For the TSB looks beyond what physically happened to all other factors at play. It is usually fairly easy to find out what happened. It is a lot more challenging to examine not only what happened but why it happened.

If you look through our reports, you'll see that over the years we've identified and commented on the complex human and engineering factors at play in crossing and trespasser occurrences.

We publish and promote all our reports in a very public fashion, along with our annual rail edition of Reflexions magazine, which looks at specific reports and trends in rail safety.

Monitoring Canada's Progress

For all of their tragedy, two pivotal TSB reports stand out in my mind - Tecumseh and Brockville - because of what they teach us.

Our big safety payoff occurs when everyone agrees about what needs to be done and gets on with it.

TSB investigators were on the ground in Tecumseh, Ontario, after an 11-year-old girl was killed taking a shortcut over the rail line. The two recommendations from TSB urged TC [Transport Canada] and its partner, Direction 2006, to implement changes and improve public awareness.

TC concurred with these recommendations, and Direction 2006 worked to make more pedestrians understand the hazards in high-speed train corridors. We saw a decline in trespasser fatalities in the years immediately following our recommendations.

Conversely, there are times when our recommendations go unheeded, and it is not always clear why that happens.

A decade ago, a TSB investigation about an accident involving a second train at a level crossing in Brockville led to a recommendation that, if accepted and implemented, would have reduced the likelihood of a recurrence - like the one that took the life of 12-year-old Sabrina Latimer just this past February.

There is no question that governments, the rail industry and others in the transportation sector have the know-how to address problems and improve safety records. For example, Transport Canada has been investing in studies on how to improve rail crossings.

But still, we have not fully delivered what we should and could - a safer situation in Brockville and at rail crossings across this country.

One of our biggest challenges as an investigative body is to figure out how to have an impact all the way along the "safety continuum." How can the TSB and all the players in the transportation safety business work together to prevent accidents?

I see great potential in having your organization engaged with ours. In the coming months, I believe we need to talk and explore how we could improve the level of engagement along that safety continuum.

Stepping Up the Pace

Today, my goal was to talk to you about stepping up the pace, so we get the most out of what we all do to bring information and solutions to the table.

You have a continued role in public education, but I'd like to engage your support on a couple of other fronts.

There are hard realities out there that lead to rail accidents - realities like those identified in our Bowmanville, Bellamy and Limehouse investigations - some of which can be fixed, and fixed now, with new grade crossing regulations!

While you and I can recite the sad statistics and implore all of our partners in the transportation sector to take better care, I still think we haven't entirely hit on what really works in terms of stepping up the pace, meaning that we get preventive action and fast responses.

After we've done the good work of confirming the facts and laying out a way forward, we have to find that elusive impetus for change.

At the TSB, we've been giving some thought to this problem and we are prepared to make THREE commitments today.

  • FIRST: We'll continue to deliver high-quality, fact-based reports and we will remain a vigilant participant in discussions about how to improve safety for drivers and pedestrians.
  • SECOND: The TSB will soon take the step of going much more public with our evaluations of responses to our recommendations. We will point out what needs to be done, but we will also give credit where credit is due.
  • AND LASTLY: We will try harder to develop the story about why companies and governments should do what we recommend. There is no doubt that effective responses can cost a lot of money - and it takes a lot of time and effort to change behaviours, attitudes and complex large-scale business operations. If our recommendations are to be implemented, business needs to understand the risks of the status quo and it needs clear reasons why change serves its interests.

Let's get to the point where industry, in cooperation with communities and landowners, is prepared to invest in change because it makes sense on all fronts. All parties will start to see the payback in terms of cost efficiencies, performance, employee satisfaction and a solid public reputation.

We would be particularly keen to involve Operation Lifesaver on this last point - building the business case for safety. Working together, we can ensure that we are providing good, solid options for our railway industry and for governments. You bring your focus on public awareness and we bring reliable data and evidence, but we can argue each other's cases from time to time.

Together, we can consistently advocate for change and improvement to advance our national safety culture. And we can help industry and governments move change as fast as the railways move trains.


If you didn't already know it, I hope you've learned today about the comprehensive role the TSB plays in rail crossing safety.

I hope you didn't need to read between the lines to recognize our passion and our commitment to supporting change and improvement. I hope you heard that we'd like to work with you.

As I leave you, here are a few final thoughts about how we can start that walk together. In the future, I'd ask you to:

  • continue your good efforts to promote safety through your programs, including your participation in Direction 2006.

I'd ask you to:

  • stay current with TSB investigations, their key findings and safety recommendations and encourage others, including your partners, to do the same.

And I would ask that you:

  • start talking to us more about all of the issues we have in common and help us build the business case for change.

I want to thank you for your ongoing efforts and I look forward to your future contributions in advancing rail safety.

Thank you.

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