Ottawa bus-train crash: New unit to enforce bus speed limits

Officials from the City of Ottawa and OC Transpo say, among other things, they will create a new unit to enforce speed limits after the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said speed and distraction from a video screen could have contributed to a fatal bus-train crash last year.

Speed, video screens could have been factors in crash, investigators say

TSB update reaction from Ottawa

9 years ago
Duration 2:40
City of Ottawa officials and residents react to possible factors in bus-train crash.

OC Transpo officials say they will create a new unit to enforce speed limits along its Transitway, focused on the stretch of road where a city bus and Via Rail train collided last year in Ottawa, killing six people.

The officials addressed a Transportation Safety Board of Canada news conference from earlier Wednesday that suggested speed and distracted driving could have been factors in the fatal crash.

Five passengers and the driver of OC Transpo bus 8017 died after the city bus collided with Via Rail passenger train No. 51 on the morning of Sept. 18, 2013.

The collision at a level crossing near Fallowfield station, in the south Ottawa community of Barrhaven, also injured dozens of bus passengers.

On Wednesday morning, the TSB’s lead investigators Robert Johnston and Dan Di Tota said the bus was travelling 67.6 km/h when the brakes were first applied, three seconds before impact, in an area where the posted limit was 60 km/h. 

The report stated if the bus had been travelling the speed limit and all other factors were the same, it may have been able to stop before colliding with the train. One potential variable, it said, was how many people were on the bus, as weight affects stopping distance.

In response to concerns about the speed of the bus, OC Transpo General Manager John Manconi said Wednesday the transit company would create a unit of supervisors and special constables to monitor, assess and enforce speed limits on the Transitway seven days a week.

The unit will concentrate on the Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road area near the level crossing, plus some other areas of the city, he added. OC Transpo also plans to look at new approaches to speed enforcement such as employee supervision, GPS and other technologies.

Video screen placement questioned

The TSB issued this visualization of what a double-decker bus driver sees during its news conference, suggesting distraction from the video screen was a potential issue. (TSB)
Also on Wednesday, the TSB suggested reviewing the placement of video screens used to keep an eye on passengers on the top level of double-decker buses, without specifically implicating distraction from a screen in this particular crash.

Drivers are told not to stare at the screen while the bus is in motion, but the report says they may need to "periodically glance" at it to make sure all passengers have been seated after the bus starts moving again. A passenger on the upper deck was standing at the time of the crash.

In response, officials said OC Transpo would reach out to the double-decker bus manufacturer to discuss engineering and safety requirements incorporated into the design and specifications of the operator’s video monitor, and to explore changes to how it’s used.

The company would also review procedures on ensuring customers on the upper level and in the stairwell are seated safely, while avoiding distracted driving. Labels will also be posted on the upper level of double-decker buses telling customers standing isn’t allowed.

More electronics means more distractions, union head says​

The head of the union that represents OC Transpo bus drivers says he applauds any review, especially when it comes to distracted driving. Craig Watson said he wants a review of the driver's compartment.

"We’d like to see a complete safety audit done of exactly what’s there. It’s changed a lot over the years. It keeps being increased, the amount of stuff we have to deal with," Watson said.

"When I started, it was a radio, a fare box and a speedometer, and now that whole compartment is just littered with electronic stuff, video screens and a constant pressure to watching that little line to make sure you’re on time. There’s all these distractions that drivers are facing.”​

ATU Local 279 head Craig Watson wants a safety audit of the driver's compartment, which includes video screens on double-decker buses. (CBC)
The TSB report also recommends more ways to monitor and control the speeds buses travel, particularly around rail crossings.

The report did state the bus was in proper working order and found no issues with the operation of the train or crossing signals, or the condition of the track.

The train's emergency brakes were applied two seconds before impact when it was travelling at a speed of around 75 km/h.

The TSB said its investigation continues and reminded everyone this report is only a progress update.