Ottawa level crossing gate down 25 seconds before crash

The gate guarding the level crossing where an Ottawa transit bus and a Via passenger train collided was fully horizontal 25 seconds before the impact that killed six people, a preliminary investigation into the crash has revealed.

Transportation Safety Board investigators detail moments before crash

Transportation Safety Board investigators detail moments before crash, turn their focus on the bus and its driver 2:41

The gate guarding the level crossing where an Ottawa transit bus and a Via passenger train collided was fully horizontal 25 seconds before the impact that killed six people, a preliminary investigation into the crash has revealed.

Transportation Safety Board lead investigator Rob Johnston said the crossing lights, bells and gates for the level crossing near Fallowfield station had engaged 47 seconds before the crash, and that 25 seconds before the crash, the gate was down.

The crash happened Wednesday morning at 8:48 a.m. when an OC Transpo Route 76 bus travelling from the south Ottawa community of Barrhaven passed through the rail crossing near Fallowfield Station as Via Rail Train 51 was heading west.

A tow truck moves the Ottawa transit bus Thursday from the scene of the fatal crash with a Via Rail train. The bus will be taken to a storage facility. (CBC)

The front end of the bus was sheared off in the collision and five people, including the driver, were pronounced dead at the scene. One bus passenger died later in hospital from injuries. More than 30 people were also injured in the crash.

Johnston noted that the train's emergency brakes were engaged two seconds before impact, and that it was travelling 75 km/h at impact. The maximum allowable speed for a train there is 161 km/h.

Bus driver had diabetes

Investigators will look at the driver's physical and mental condition before the crash, among other factors. 

Woodard's family on Friday confirmed he had diabetes.

Dave Woodard was killed when the OC Transpo bus he was driving collided with a Via Rail passenger train Wednesday morning. (Facebook)
Craig Watson, president of the local chapter of the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), told CBC News the union has no access to Woodard's medical records — the union would only know if Woodard had a health problem if he had come to ATU with a complaint.

Watson said that if Woodard's diabetes had been unmanageable, a doctor would have been required to notify OC Transpo and have him taken off the road. That is standard procedure, said Watson.

Watson said that Woodard had one of the cleanest, thinnest files in its records. Woodard's work record shows no disciplinary action and no leaves of absence, he said.

Johnston, the TSB investigator, said the train did not whistle at its approach because of a municipal bylaw banning whistling between 8 p.m. and noon, but that its bells were activated.

The information on the train’s speed and brakes was obtained from the locomotive’s event recorder, or black box.

Johnston said one download has been obtained from the bus’s event recorder and the information is being evaluated, but more work is continuing to retrieve data. He said the bus tires have also been removed and taken to another location for a detailed examination.

The attention of the investigation will now focus on a mechanical assessment of the bus and its recording modules, said Johnston. 

There will also be an assessment of the sight-lines at the intersection, he said.

Johnston said the TSB would not be providing any further updates after today but said the investigation will continue.

"We commit to conducting a comprehensive and thorough investigation in order to try and explain what happened and why.  Only by doing that can we hope to prevent this type of accident from ever happening again in Canada," said Johnston.

Ottawa police identified all six victims of the collision on Thursday.

They are, in no particular order:

  • David Woodard, 45, the driver and a 10-year veteran of OC Transpo.
  • Connor Boyd, 21, a Carleton University student.
  • Kyle Nash, 21, a Carleton University and Algonquin College student.
  • Michael Bleakney, 57, a geotechnical engineer at Public Works.
  • Karen Krzyzewski, 53, a mother of two who worked at Library and Archives Canada.
  • Rob More, 35, an employee at the IBM building on Palladium Drive.

Some of the injured were sent home with minor scrapes and bruises, while others with more serious injuries underwent surgery. There were no serious injuries among train passengers.

Witnesses struggle with memory

Several witnesses said the bus driver didn't brake at the rail crossing until moments before the collision, but that it wasn't enough to stop the bus before hitting the train.

A day later, crash survivor Colleen Thomas said she was still haunted by what she saw Wednesday.

Dealing with trauma

The City of Ottawa has posted phone numbers to a number of places people can go to for help should they be in need of help after a traumatic event like the bus crash.

The Distress Centre answers calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with crisis line specialists providing confidential support. They can be reached at 613-238-3311.

The Mental Health Crisis Line answers calls for people ages 16 or older 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Callers can reach the line at 613-722-6914.

Tel-Aide Outaouais offers French-language mental health telephone support from 8 a.m. to midnight every day. Ottawa residents can call 613-741-6433 and Gatineau residents can contact 819-775-3223.

The Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868) provides confidential 24/7 phone and web counselling for children ages 20 and under.

The Youth Services Bureau (YSB) provides youth and family counselling, crisis support and a 24/7 crisis line at 613-260-2360.

"At night, every time I would close my eyes, I would see the train hitting and ... I think I slept for 20 minutes last night. So I don't know. I'm just trying to process it," said Thomas.

"You just see the bodies, you see the twisted metal, the people, everyone running around. Just like the noise, people screaming, just like the impact of it is, I don't know, like I don't know how we're going to be able to get through this.

"We'll carry this with us for the rest of life. You don't get over that … I'll never be able to make that go away," she said.

Province, city, looking into level crossings

In an emailed statement Friday, Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray said he's asked staff for information on level crossings.

Flowers were left on the train tracks close to where an Ottawa transit bus collided with a Via Rail passenger train Wednesday, killing six people. (Kristy Kirkup/CBC)
"In light of Wednesday’s tragic events, I have asked staff to gather information on at-grade railway crossings. It’s premature to speculate on possible changes at this point.... We await the outcome of [the investigation's] findings. We need to let investigators do their work," he said.

"The province will thoroughly examine any recommendations that come out of the TSB inquiry, and we will implement those recommendations as is necessary."

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson had said Wednesday he asked the city manager to gather any and all information about whether the intersection should have an underpass or an overpass.

This comes years after the city decided against an underpass at the crossing due to the high cost.

"Obviously any recommendations to improve safety that come out of this inquiry … we will do our utmost to adopt them,” said Watson.

Prior to Wednesday's crash, there had been no collisions at the intersection of the rail crossing and the Transitway since Ottawa Police began tracking those statistics in 2002.

​ATU's Craig Watson said OC Transpo drivers have not had an issue with rail crossings in the past.

"Obviously we have that concern now," the union president told CBC News Network anchor Carol MacNeil.

Officials said the makeshift memorial at the site of collision, where residents and people who attended a vigil Wednesday left flowers and condolences to honour the people killed and injured, would have to be moved closer to Fallowfield station for safety reasons.

A private memorial was also held Friday for Boyd and Nash, the two Carleton students killed in the crash.


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