The 20th Annual Conference 2008 of Operation Lifesaver
Wendy Tadros

Transportation Safety Board of Canada
at the 20th Annual Conference 2008 of Operation Lifesaver
Aylmer, Quebec
September 16, 2008

Click here to see PowerPoint Presentation

Slide 1

Thank you for your kind introduction. It's been 3 years since I last spoke to you and 3 years since I have seen many of you. It's good to be back.

Slide 2

Operation Lifesaver is a successful partnership and I want to applaud the efforts you have made over the past 27 years to educate Canadians about what they can and must do to be safe around railways.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) and Operation Lifesaver share the same goal: to make transportation safer.

The TSB raises awareness of safety deficiencies in the rail transportation system and makes recommendations to operators and regulators to reduce risks. We also make all our findings public.

Operation Lifesaver works to raise public awareness of risks so action can be taken to prevent injury and loss of life where people and railways meet.

Slide 3

Steve Henderson just presented the latest statistics on railway crossing accidents. As you know, the downward trend in crossing accidents continued last year but we saw the highest number of trespasser accidents in the last 10 years. While we are encouraged about the crossing accidents, we hope that trespasser accidents can also be reduced.

In our experience, accidents are always due to a number of causes and contributing factors. Crossing and pedestrian accidents are no exception. There is never only one cause.

These accidents are a result of a complex interaction of factors like human behavior, available audio and visual cues, the crossing design and the surrounding terrain.

I would like to explore some of these themes with an aim to further reducing the number of crossing and pedestrian accidents. I will provide insight into investigations that are currently underway and the progress made on some key TSB recommendations.

Slide 4

Let me start with three crossing accidents that occurred in the past year - two involving tractor-trailers and one that involved a passenger vehicle.

Slide 5

The first took place at one of Canada's busiest crossings near Pincourt, Quebec, on Île Perrot, just west of Montreal on December 17, 2007. A westbound VIA train hit an empty tractor trailer that was stuck in a snow bank and blocking the crossing. The tractor trailer was destroyed and the driver received minor injuries.

Slide 6

The initial draft report is on its way out for designated reviewer comment. The safety issues that came out of this investigation prompted the Board to ask:

  • Is the emergency contact information at crossings adequate?

  • Should driver training manuals contain information on contacting railways in an emergency?

  • Should roadway vehicle presence detectors be fitted at high-risk automated crossings? and

  • How should emergencies be broadcast?

Slide 7

The second accident I want to talk about took place in a less populated area though with more tragic results.

On January 19, 2008, a minivan carrying two adults and three children collided with a Chemin de Fer de la Matapédia et du Golfe freight train - at a crossing near St-Arsène, Quebec, east of Rivière-du-Loup.

One child was ejected from the minivan, two died in the collision and one of the adults was seriously injured.

Slide 8

The report is now with Draft Reviewers for comment. During the field phase of the investigation, we noted some deficiencies with the warning systems at the crossing. The Board wants to take a closer look at Transport Canada's process for upgrading crossing warning systems.

Slide 9

The third crossing investigation we have underway occurred on CN's Kingston Subdivision on July 15th of this year. A VIA train travelling at 75 mph struck a "lowboy" tractor trailer in Mallorytown, Ontario. There were no injuries reported, though the locomotive and baggage car derailed and sustained serious damage.

Slide 10

This isn't the first accident of this kind. We saw a similar accident in May of 2002, when a lowboy tractor trailer could not clear the tracks at a crossing in Kingston. It was subsequently struck by a VIA train.

Slide 11

In the Mallorytown investigation we are once again looking at various factors - construction standards for crossings on high speed main lines, lowboy trailer design, driver awareness and emergency and roadway signage.

Slide 12

Let's take a look now at some closed investigations and what's been done to address the safety deficiencies identified by the Board.

Slide 13

In May 1990, a train struck a pedestrian on a railway bridge near Carleton University - just a few kilometres across the river from here. This bridge was frequently used to travel to and from the university campus. There was little appreciation of the hazards and the Board concluded that more needed to be done to prevent this type of accident.

Slide 14

We made two recommendations. The first was to Transport Canada to establish minimum standards for barriers where trespassers are known to enter railway infrastructure. Our second recommendation called for better regulations so the laws against railway trespassing can be enforced.

The Contraventions Act now allows for easier ticketing of trespassers. And Transport Canada has drafted Access Control Regulations, which require more effective pedestrian barriers around railway rights of way. Until these regulations are put in force, the risk to pedestrians near railways in populated areas remains.

Slide 15

Time and time again, we are seeing regulatory changes moving at a glacial pace. We see a TSB investigation which clearly identifies a risk, we see TC accept the Board's findings and the need to address the risk -BUT - measures to mitigate the risk are not put in place because the process is too slow. This is a safety issue in and of itself and I will come back to it.

Slide 16

In November of 1999, a tractor trailer became stuck on a farm crossing near Bowmanville, Ontario. First a freight train struck the vehicle, and then a passenger train struck wreckage on the adjoining track. This caused both trains to derail and some minor injuries.

Slide 17

TSB's investigation found numerous safety deficiencies in the design of this farm crossing, as well as others along the Kingston Subdivision. In general, these crossings are constructed to lower standards as compared to public crossings and are often ill-maintained with minimal warning signs.

Transport Canada had been developing more stringent crossing standards for some time when this accident occurred.

Slide 18

At the conclusion of this investigation, we made three recommendations on private and farm crossings. The first was that Transport Canada implement the new crossing regulations as soon as possible to put in place better crossing standards. We also recommended that both Transport Canada and CN take a good look at the private and farm crossings along the Kingston Sub to close the unused ones and increase the safety of those that remain open.

The Board applauds Transport Canada and CN's review of all the farm and private crossings along the Kingston Sub. We were pleased to learn that improvements were made to many of these crossings and nine of them were actually closed. This should go a long way towards reducing the risks of collision along this busy rail corridor.

Slide 19

However here's another case where improved regulations have been drafted but not put into force. Horizontal alignment standards were developed but have not yet been incorporated into regulations. And, the Canadian public still waits for grade crossing regulations which have been in the works for the last 19 years.

In this time, the Canadian public continues to be exposed to risk that could be avoided. As I said before, the slow pace of regulatory change can sometimes be a safety issue in and of itself.

Slide 20

Now let me move on to another kind of accident: a second-train accident in Brockville, where a little girl was killed and another injured. The TSB found that while the children watched the first train pass, they did not see or hear the train travelling in the opposite direction.

What you are about to see is an animation of this accident. You will see and hear what happened at the crossing that day. Pay close attention to the sight line to the left. (Play video)

Slide 21

This is a classic "second-train accident". It became clear that pedestrians were not as well-protected as vehicles at this busy multi-track crossing; they did not have the same cues and they did not have the same physical protection.

A similar accident occurred in 1995 not far from this one in Brockville. Two teenagers were killed. At that time, we recommended that pedestrian protection systems for multi-track crossings in populated areas be upgraded on a priority basis. Since then, there have been more second-train accidents including the one in 2005.

In that second investigation, we looked beyond Brockville. We found there were many other communities with busy multi-track main lines running through them.

The people in these communities cross railway lines every day on their way to work and school. They too are at risk of "second-train accidents".

Slide 22

With this in mind, the Board made it clear there are three things we would like to see happen.

The first is for Transport Canada to assess the risks to pedestrians for second-train accidents at all multi-track mainline crossings in Canada.

The second is to make those assessments public so communities will understand the risk for second-train accidents.

Lastly, we felt there absolutely needed to be follow-through. That is why we asked Transport Canada to work with railways and communities to design solutions to further prevent deaths and injuries at busy rail crossings.

We are pleased to learn that in response to our recommendation to make these crossings safer for pedestrians, Transport Canada will improve some high risk crossings as resources permit.

The Board also commends Transport Canada's intent to better educate the public through its Pedestrian Safety at Crossing guide. I hope that Transport Canada works closely with Operation Lifesaver to get this information out to those who regularly use these high-risk crossings.

Slide 23

I think you can see now that accidents are always due to a number of causes and contributing factors.

Just from the accidents we talked about today, we saw deficiencies related to:

  • crossing design;
  • warning system placements;
  • the people who insist on trespassing onto railway infrastructure; and
  • inconspicuous railway emergency contact information for roadway users, to name just a few.

I think you can see that we must do more to make crossings safer. There are technological solutions being explored, and some communities have implemented improved pedestrian crossing warning systems. But more needs to be done so that safety improvements are made across Canada.

And, while we are pleased that TC has developed regulations to make railway crossings safer, they are only effective if put into force. They must be given a higher priority.

Operation Lifesaver has done a lot to prevent injury and loss of life where people and railways meet. This important initiative is a key part of the solution.

We must continue to work together and share information, as we are doing today, that we may ensure continued success so please consider us an important resource as you develop new educational programs and materials.

I urge you to keep abreast of our key findings and recommendations. You can download most of our investigation reports as they are made public.

Over the years, we have learned a great deal about the many factors at play in crossing and pedestrian accidents, and we seek as many ways as we can to get this information to Canadians. Operation Lifesaver is an important avenue. We want to work with you and your members on our one and only priority: to advance transportation safety.

Slide 24

Thank you.