Via Rail 'negligence' contributed to bus-train crash, city says in defence

The City of Ottawa says Via Rail's "negligence" contributed to a fatal crash between an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail passenger train, according to statements of defence filed in response to lawsuits from two victims' families.

6 people killed in crash between OC Transpo bus and Via Rail train in September 2013

Six people were killed after a crash between a Via Rail train bound for Toronto and a double-decker bus in south Ottawa on Sept. 18, 2013. Thirty people were injured. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

The City of Ottawa says Via Rail's "negligence" is partly to blame for the fatal crash between an OC Transpo bus and Via Rail passenger train, according to statements of defence filed in response to lawsuits from two victims' families.

The city is defending lawsuits filed by the families of Michael Bleakney and Rob More, two of the six people who died when the bus and train collided on Sept. 18, 2013.​

City lawyers also filed a third-party claim against Via Rail Canada as part of its defence.

The city denies any negligence in the collision, which happened at a level crossing on the Transitway near the Fallowfield station, located in the south Ottawa community of Barrhaven.

The city also defends the bus driver Dave Woodard, whose estate is listed as one of the defendants, as a "competent, trained and experienced driver."

These were the six victims of the 2013 bus-train crash (at top, left to right): Kyle Nash, Michael Bleakney and Dave Woodard and (at bottom, left to right) Connor Boyd, Karen Krzyzewski and Rob More. (Photos courtesy of Ottawa police/Facebook)
The statements of defence say the "negligence of Via Rail and/or the operators of the Via Rail train" contributed to the crash and claims the city was not responsible for the train or railway.

One of the city's statements blames Via Rail for the following: 

  • Operating the train at an excessive rate of speed given the visibility and railway crossing conditions.
  • Failed to activate lights, signals, horn, whistle, or otherwise notify motorists, including Woodard, of train's approach.
  • Distracted, fatigued or otherwise not paying proper attention to the subject crossing.
  • Failed to properly apply the train's brakes.

In an emailed statement, Via Rail spokesperson Maxime Dupont-Demers wrote that a preliminary Transportation Safety Board of Canada report into the crash "did not identify issues related to the train operation, the crossing signals or the tracks."

Woodard, Bleakney, More, Kyle Nash, Connor Boyd and Karen Krzyzewski were killed in the crash, which also injured dozens of bus passengers.

Bleakney's family is seeking $1.8 million in damages while More's family is looking for $600,000 after the crash. Ten crash survivors have also sought damages from the city, but statements of defence have not been filed in those lawsuits.

The total amount sought by the 12 plaintiffs is $12.75 million.

Bus speed, distracted driving were potential factors: TSB

The TSB's preliminary report, released in September 2014, listed the speed of the bus and distracted driving as possible factors in the crash.

During the TSB news conference announcing the preliminary report into the bus-train crash in south Ottawa this visualization was issued of what a double-decker bus driver sees. (TSB)
The TSB report 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 said 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 said, 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 pounds when empty.

The early report 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.

The report also recommended more ways to monitor and control how fast buses travel, particularly around rail crossings.

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 TSB has also said it 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.