Calgary

Some C-Train crashes include factors you 'can't avoid,' says councillor

Every day, thousands of people in the city take a transit trip, usually to work or school. So, when people die on the train line, Calgarians pay attention.

This week 2 pedestrians died after being hit by Calgary Transit trains

Calgary police asked motorists to avoid the area around the Erlton LRT station after a pedestrian was killed Monday in a C-Train collision. (Mike Symington/CBC)

Every day, thousands of people in the city take a transit trip, usually to work or school.

In fact, Calgary Transit recorded 101.9 million trips last year.

So, when people die on a C-Train line, Calgarians pay attention.

On Monday morning, a six-year-old girl was rushed to hospital in life-threatening condition after she was hit by a C-Train in the city's southwest. She died in hospital.

In that case, police said she had begun crossing the train tracks and panicked, doubling back, after the crossing arms began to flash and lower. The train's driver hit the brakes but couldn't stop in time.

Just hours later, a man was hit by a train and died at the Erlton C-Train station. EMS said he was found dead at the scene. Police didn't provide an update on this incident.

These deaths opened up discussions about Light Rail Transit safety in Calgary, where there are 65 level crossings — points where cars and pedestrians might come into the train's path.

Coun. Shane Keating, chair of the transportation and transit committee, said it's a tough day when people die on Calgary Transit tracks — for the victims' families and for drivers. But he's not raising alarm about Monday's deaths.

"I wouldn't say that it's not working," said Keating. "Well, I would say in the vast majority of the incidents there have been special circumstances, things that you can't avoid, unfortunately."

Calgary Transit says 84 people have died at or near C-Train stations from 1981 until now.

Between 1985 and last year, 31 per cent of deaths on C-Train tracks were suicides, while two-thirds were believed to be accidents, according to transit officials.

Wanda Heater was in the driver seat for one of those fatalities in the 1980s, and years later she remembers the incident like it was yesterday. She's now retired.

"I had left the station and passed through an intersection, and a guy stepped out from the middle of the block, he was inebriated, and stepped in front of my train," she said. "I hit him. I didn't have time to stop."

She said he didn't die on the tracks but in hospital later. That incident caused a lot of anxiety for Heater, who said she had to seek medical help.

'You can't prepare yourself'

"Nobody wants it to happen, and you can't prepare yourself, it's impossible," Heater said.

Calgary Transit does provide counselling and medical assistance to staff, according to Keating, and it addresses concerns in training. He believes operators are supported.

Keating said that since the '80s, transit has done a number of things in an effort to improve safety, especially at level-crossings. He said there's a committee that is always looking at the best ways to improve the crossings.

More pedestrian integration

"They've even changed some of the gates so that they are angled in such a way that you're actually facing the oncoming train if you are going across," he said. "So there's there's a number of things we can do and there's a number of things that we can't avoid," Keating said.

With the Green Line build approaching, the C-Train will be more integrated with pedestrians with low-floor trains. Keating said the trains will be more like buses with stations raised to the level of a curb, instead of the big platforms Calgarians see now.

Looking at new technology

Keating says he's open to looking at different options based on the newest best practices and technology available — especially with safety in mind.

He said there is an effort to make sure plans for the Green Line limit at-grade crossings where possible.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.

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