The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has begun to probe the circumstances leading to the fatal crash between a CN freight train and a snowplow in London .

Malcolm Trudell, 26, was killed as he operated a Bobcat sidewalk plow at the rail crossing near Colborne and York streets on Tuesday morning. Trudell was employed by a contractor who works for the City of London.

Rob Johnston, a regional manager for the TSB based in Ottawa, is overseeing the preliminary investigation.

"I want to be clear here. We're not committed to a formal investigation yet, but … we will have people in and around London following up on certain things."

Johnston says the federal agency looks into as many as 1,500 rail incidents in Canada each year, and each is assigned an investigator.

Rob Johnston - TSBC

Rob Johnston, regional manager for the rail/pipeline investigations branch of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. (TSB)

He says after a preliminary investigation, the agency determines whether it's left as a gathering exercise or if there's a safety issue that "we may need to do more drilling down on."

Lack of sidewalk gates

Johnston said one "obvious" concern that will be looked at is the absence of any sidewalk gates at the crossing where the crash occurred.

He notes there are certain criteria for installing such gates, also known as guard-arms, and that there is a shared responsibility between Transport  Canada, the railway and the city involved. "There's a lot  of things that come into play … but certainly there's an aspect we've seen before and is something that gets our attention."

Other potential issues

Johnston said other potential issues include how long the main gates were down, how long the train's horn sounded, and whether the train was travelling in an anti-whistling area.

Municipalities in Canada can apply to have a railway not sound their horn at crossings but a formal agreement is required. Otherwise, under the regulations, trains have to activate their horn within a quarter mile of the crossing.

scene-of-fatal-crash-snowplow

Johnston said he doesn't know whether the area where the crash occurred is an anti-whistling zone but, he added, "it was reported that the horn was operated for an extended period of time."

Possible recommendations

The agency has the purview to make recommendations to prevent future accidents, such as addressing the lack of sidewalk crossing gates.

"We've certainly seen issues like this before … not necessarily involving snow equipment but certainly where guard-arms on a sidewalk may have been helpful. But there may be other aspects at play here, but until we know the full story, it wouldn't be in anyone's interest for us to speculate."

Johnston couldn't say how long it will take complete the probe into Tuesday's crash. "It takes as long as it takes, wherever it lead us to."

CN Police are also investigating the collision. Johnson said police always look for any potential violation of the law, but the TSB focuses on any safety violations under the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act.