Ottawa

TSB questions federal response to Ottawa bus-train crash recommendations

The chair of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says she's concerned the federal transportation ministry's responses to safety recommendations made after the fatal Ottawa bus-train crash "don't go far enough, fast enough."

'Transport Canada's research, review and consultation must lead to concrete action in a timely manner'

This double-decker OC Transpo bus collided with a Via Rail train in the Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven in September 2013, killing the bus driver and five bus passengers. A Transportation Safety Board of Canada report in 2015 found that the driver was likely distracted by a video screen he was required to monitor on the job. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

The chair of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says she's concerned the federal transportation ministry's responses to safety recommendations made after the fatal Ottawa bus-train crash aren't happening quickly enough and don't do enough.

"There are a few good initiatives proposed by the regulator to address some of the safety deficiencies we identified in our investigation. But I'm concerned these efforts don't go far enough, fast enough," TSB chair Kathy Fox is quoted saying in a media release issued Monday.

"To advance railway crossing and passenger safety even further, Transport Canada's research, review and consultation must lead to concrete action in a timely manner."

A double-decker OC Transpo bus collided with a Via Rail train in the Ottawa suburb of Barrhaven in September 2013, killing the bus driver and five of the passengers on board. A Transportation Safety Board of Canada report in 2015 found that the driver was likely distracted by a video screen he was required to monitor on the job.

The TSB made five recommendations after reconstructing and analyzing the 2013 crash, four of which were directed at Transport Canada (click on each to jump to the TSB's responses):

  1. On distracted driving: That Transport Canada develop comprehensive guidelines for the installation and use of in-vehicle video monitor displays, in consultation with the provinces, to reduce the risk of driver distraction.
  2. On bus crashworthiness: That Transport Canada develop and implement crashworthiness standards for passenger buses to reduce the risk of injury.
  3. On vehicle event data recorders: That Transport Canada require passenger buses to be equipped with dedicated, crashworthy event data recorders.
  4. On grade separation guidelines: That Transport Canada provide specific guidance as to when grade separation should be considered.

The TSB — an independent agency that investigates marine, pipeline, railway and aviation incidents — is tasked with checking up on the responses to its recommendations on an annual basis, and reporting its findings publicly.

Distracted driving

Transport Canada told the TSB it will ask a distracted driver working group of the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators to consider developing guidelines for the installation and use of in-vehicle video monitor displays to reduce driver distraction.

The ministry also told TSB that as co-chair of the group, it will suggest that experts and industry stakeholders be consulted to identify any challenges, as well as effective strategies, for reducing driver distraction caused by video monitors.

The TSB called Transport Canada's intentions regarding this recommendation "satisfactory."

"Although meaningful results from the planned action will not likely occur in the short term, the board is encouraged that [Transport Canada] will be taking a leadership role in the development of the guidelines," the board stated in a media release.

Bus crashworthiness

Transport Canada told the TSB it will review accident data from urban centres around the world to evaluate the existing crashworthiness of commercial passenger buses, but the TSB wasn't fully satisfied.

"Beyond this commitment, there are no explicit plans to develop and/or implement crashworthiness standards for commercial passenger buses," the board said.

"Furthermore, no specific timeline has been provided for the planned review and analysis. Therefore, the board assesses the response to this recommendation as being satisfactory in part."

Vehicle event data recorders

The TSB was also not fully satisfied with Transport Canada's response about vehicle event data recorders.

The ministry told the TSB it will research event data recorder technologies and review available international commercial vehicle standards and recommended practices, then review the results to evaluate the feasibility of developing an event data recorder standard or guideline for commercial passenger buses.

"While the board is encouraged by [Transport Canada's] response, the work will take time and no specific outcome or timeline has been provided," the board said.

"In addition, there are no explicit plans for the development of event data recorder standards for commercial passenger buses. Therefore, the board assesses the response to this recommendation as being satisfactory in part."

Grade separation guidelines

Transport Canada admits that its grade crossings regulations from 2014 do not specify when grade separation should be implemented at existing level grade crossings, the TSB said.

But the ministry said it will work with provinces and railways to develop guidelines to help determine when grade separation should be considered.

"The board is encouraged that [Transport Canada] will work with key stakeholders to develop guidelines for determining when grade separation should be considered," the TSB said.

"Although no timelines have been established yet for this work, the board assesses the response to this recommendation as having satisfactory intent."

TSB pleased with city's response so far

Transportation Minister Marc Garneau said his ministry has looked carefully at the TSB's recommendations but won't be rushed.

"We have to look at the implications for [the recommendations], which sometimes go beyond safety and are sometimes complex and require quite a bit of consultation in terms of how we will make a final decision," he said.

The final recommendation was that the City of Ottawa should reconsider the need for grade separation at the Woodroffe Avenue, Transitway and Fallowfield Road level crossings.

The city told the TSB it's partnering financially with VIA Rail to conduct a feasibility study to review the technical requirements for providing grade separation at those crossings, as well as two others. The TSB called the city's intent satisfactory.

"The board is pleased that the City of Ottawa has committed to conducting a feasibility study of grade separation at the recommended crossings, and commends the city for including Merivale and Jockvale roads in the study," Fox is quoted saying.

"The city's residents deserve the safest crossings on which to travel."

In a memo to mayor and council, John Moser, the city's acting deputy manager, said work on the feasibility study has begun and is expected to be complete for committee and council in the first quarter of 2017.

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