Ottawa bus-train crash: speed, video screen factor into investigation

The federal agency investigating last year's fatal crash between a Via Rail train and an OC Transpo bus in Ottawa provided a progress report today, saying speed and distracted driving could have been factors in the crash.

Crash between Via Rail train, OC Transpo bus killed 6 people on Sept. 18, 2013

Speed, distracted driving possible factors in crash

9 years ago
Duration 3:28
TSB investigators suggest speed and distracted driving could have played part in bus-train crash.

Speed and distracted driving could have been factors in a fatal crash between a Via Rail train and an OC Transpo bus in Ottawa last year, federal investigators say.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada's lead investigators Robert Johnston and Dan Di Tota gave a progress update Wednesday morning in Ottawa.

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.

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

The TSB report says 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. "Full braking force was not initially applied," it says.

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

Police have said there were 83 people on board and the bus weighs approximately 50,000 lbs. when empty.

The Transportation Safety Board issued this depiction of what a double-decker bus driver sees during the news conference on Wednesday. Driver distraction has been raised as a possible issue. (TSB)

Video screen placement debate

It also suggests 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.

"This situation can lead to a driver being visually distracted from the driving task," the report says. Investigators later told the media that one potential fix is to make the screens go blank any time the bus is moving.

Speed control recommendations

The report also recommends more ways to monitor and control the speeds buses travel, particularly around rail crossings.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada's lead investigator, Robert Johnston, provided an update on the agency's investigation into last year's fatal crash between a Via Rail train and an OC Transpo bus in Ottawa on Sept. 24, 2014. (Chris Rands/CBC)
No drugs or alcohol were found in driver Dave Woodard's system, nor were any medical conditions involved in his death, according to the TSB.

The report says the bus was in proper working order, and the TSB says it has 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.

TSB investigators repeatedly reminded members of the media that the investigation is continuing and Wednesday's news conference was an update on its progress, not final indications of cause.

The City of Ottawa is set to respond to the update later in the day.