Tall grass, driver issues among factors in train crash that killed 4 in Sask.

Driver inexperience and a partially obstructed view of the train tracks were likely factors in a 2012 train-camper crash at Broadview, Sask., that left four young people dead, the Transportation Safety Board says.

Lack of warning technology also cited as factor in accident

The crash happened at a level crossing near Broadview, Sask., which is about 155 kilometres east of Regina.

Driver inexperience and a partially obstructed view of the train tracks were likely factors in a 2012 train-camper crash at Broadview, Sask., that left four young people dead, the Transportation Safety Board says.

The TSB released its report Wednesday on the Aug. 9, 2012, collision that also injured the 15-year-old driver and his mother.

The people who died included a woman, 18, two 11-year-old girls, and a boy, seven.

Three of the four were from Turner Valley, Alta. or had connections to the town, while the fourth was from the Whitewood, Sask., area.

The camper-van had been heading south on a dirt road at a level crossing when it was hit by the westbound Canadian Pacific freight train.

The site is described as a "passive" public crossing in that there were reflective signs at the train tracks (so-called crossbucks mounted on posts), but no automated arms to provide additional safety. 

A number of factors likely had something to do with the crash, the report said. 

"A partially obstructed view, the position of the sun, the vehicle characteristics, the driver's limited experience with the risks associated in negotiating a passive public crossing protected solely by [Standard Reflectorized Crossing Signs], and the fatigued state of the supervising driver likely contributed to the accident," a news release from the TSB said.

The train had its lights on and was using a horn as it approached the crossing. But there was tall grass and other vegetation east of the site that could have prevented the train crew and camper occupants from getting a good look at each other.

New driver

The driver, a week away from his 16th birthday, had a learner's licence and had experience driving farm vehicles for at least two years, the report noted. However, he had limited experience with passive rail crossings.

The TSB recommends that passive level crossings should be equipped with better technology to warn people that a train is approaching. Some of this technology would be low-cost, it says.

"Considering the serious consequences that can result from a crossing accident, and the technological advancements that have been made, the board is concerned that, in the absence of timely implementation of low-cost alert systems, the risk of accidents at passive crossings will continue," the TSB said.

The driver was severely injured. His mother received minor injuries.

The TSB said over the past 10 years, there have been 658 accidents involving vehicles at passive public crossings, with 59 fatalities.

Concerns from surviving passenger

CBC News contacted one of the passengers, Vicki Morrison, who was not immediately available for an interview.

However, Morrison provided CBC News a copy of her submissions to the TSB as the agency was finalizing its report.

Morrison was also concerned about the ability of the young driver, her son Luke, to see the train.

Vicki Morrison, with her son Luke, survived the crash. (Courtesy: Vicki Morrison)

"I still question who is responsible for keeping the intersections clear and safe," Morrison wrote, after reviewing a preliminary report about the crash by the TSB. "I’m not saying that the train was completely impossible to see ... [However] between the vegetation, the grade of the hill approaching the tracks, the tin building and the setting sun, vehicle obstructions such as mirror and windshield posts, there were enough factors to inhibit the sightline."

Morrison also raised concerns about the apparent lack of enforceable regulations for the maintenance of grade-level crossings. Rules have been written but are have been in the draft stage for almost 25 years, according to TSB. Morrison said she found that fact troubling.

"What will need to happen for the draft to be finalized," she wrote. "I know the loss that all families are experiencing. How many more people must die before these guidelines are finalized and implemented?"

Morrison's concerns were reflected, in part, in the final TSB report released Wednesday.

"Regulations have been in the draft stage for nearly 25 years, during which there has been ongoing dialogue with the industry as well as provincial and municipal authorities," the TSB report said, noting that the industry has been using some draft standards as a guideline for best practices. "However, until sightlines are required to be maintained at all times, unsafe crossings will continue to present a risk to railway employees and the travelling public."