A CBC News investigation into Canada's top 25 most accident-prone railway crossings has found wide-spread design flaws across the country and, in Saskatchewan, that accidents are going up.
- CBC INVESTIGATES | Transport Canada's list of 500 'highest risk' railway crossings not widely shared
Some of the most dangerous railway crossings in Canada lack automated gate arms, protective pedestrian gates, advance warning signs, bells and flashing lights. Other deficiencies include poor sightlines for drivers, confusing road signs and overgrown bush.
In fact, roughly two-thirds of the 17,000 public railway crossings under federal watch are "passively protected," according to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), a federal agency that investigates rail accidents.
CBC News analyzed records of more than 3,500 accidents from the TSB's rail accident database, which is intended to capture every incident involving trains, pedestrians and vehicles at street-level crossings since 2000.
Data, submitted by railway operators, includes time, date and location of accidents as well as a brief summary and injury reports.
While accidents in Eastern Canada have dropped by more than 40 per cent since 2000, rates in the Prairies have only marginally declined. In Saskatchewan, the frequency of collisions has actually been trending slightly upwards over the same period.
More than 463 people have been killed at crossings since 2000, many more were seriously injured. One of them was 11-year old Kendra Cameron.
She died in December 2012 at a crossing near her home in London, Ont., that did not have a pedestrian gate despite its location in a residential neighbourhood.
"She ran across the roadway and on to this pedestrian sidewalk where there was no barrier," Robyn Cameron told CBC News, standing next to a large vigil of flowers and photos that remains at the site.
The girl's mother said her daughter routinely saw adults racing to beat slow-moving freight trains passing through their neighbourhood and, tragically, misjudged the speed of the train which was moving at more than 50 km/h.
"It should be blocked off in some ways so the innocent don't get hurt," Cameron said.
TSB officials concluded, in addition to Kendra's decision to run across the track, that a lack of automated gates to block the sidewalk posed a risk at the site.
Despite a public outcry after the girl's death, there remains no pedestrian gate at the crossing.
TSB official Dan Holbrook says CBC's findings of design deficiencies at crossings match his own experience on the ground.
"I think the investigation record shows that when we look at an accident at a particular crossing, often we find a deficiency," Holbrook said in an interview with CBC News.
Just west of where Kendra Cameron was killed, along the same CP Rail line in London, Ont. is the most crash-prone crossing in all of Canada.
Sightlines are poor at St. George Street where CP freight trains pass through the heart of a busy urban area. The roadway is a popular shortcut for motorists looking to avoid jams at a nearby intersection. The crossing has seen 12 crashes since 2000.
CP Rail installed an automated gate a few months ago while the city placed "no left turn signs" — but they are routinely ignored by motorists.
Local rail safety consultant Richard Plokhaar has personally funded his own studies on crossing safety throughout London, and has concluded the placement of warning devices is inconsistent.
In Langley, B.C., the crossing at Smith Crescent has seen six accidents since 2002, including one fatality.
There are no gates nor flashing lights or warning bells. Shrubbery blocks views of oncoming trains and a stop sign leaves motorists little choice but to block the track as they wait to pull out onto an adjacent highway.
CBC News discovered the Cochrane Road crossing in Hamilton, Ont., ranks in the top 25 most accident-prone in Canada. There have been five crashes in the residential neighbourhood since 2005.
Four involved motorists slamming into trains at a crossing marked only by flashing warning lights and bells but no gate.
New regulations at a glance
In 2014, new regulations came into effect for federally regulated grade crossings. The changes to the Railway Safety Act were designed to provide consistent safety standards across the country, clarify the roles and responsibilities of railway companies and road authorities, improve safety features at crossings and mandate information sharing.
The new standards apply to all new grade crossings or to crossings undergoing significant changes. However, they will not apply to existing crossings until 2021. Currently there are approximate 17,000 public grade crossings in Canada.
Generally speaking, railway companies are responsible for ensuring the crossing itself meets safety requirements in terms of warning devices, while local governments are responsible for the roadway leading up to the crossing and sightlines (ie. ensuring bushes, trees and other obstacles do not obstruct the view of motorists).
According to government documents, it is estimated these changes will result in about to 1,000 fewer accidents and over 250 fewer fatalities and serious injuries over the next two decades.
Canada's 25 most accident-prone rail crossings
- London, Ont., St. George Street
- Lethbridge, Alta., 30 Street North
- Edmonton, 91 Street Northwest
- Winnipeg, Logan Avenue
- Saskatoon, 3rd Avenue North
- Woodstock, Ont., Wilson Street
- Montreal, Rue de Courcelles
- Les Couteaux, Rue Sauvé
- Winnipeg, Bishop Grandin Boulevard
- Weyburn, Sask., Queen Street
- Langley, B.C., Smith Crescent
- Ingersoll, Ont., Oakwood Street
- Saskatoon, Idylwyld Drive
- Macoun, Sask., Appleton Avenue
- Hamilton, Cochrane Road
- Spences Bridge, B.C, Highway 8
- Calgary, 52nd Street Southeast
- Wetaskiwin, Alta., 50th Avenue
- Kamloops, B.C., Red Lake Road
- New Westminster, B.C., CN Thornton Yard
- Vancouver, Bridgeport Road
- Winnipeg, Notre Dame Avenue
- Wilkie, Sask. 1 Avenue
- Edmonton, 86 ST. N 51 Ave.
- Fort Langley, B.C. Glover Road
(Source: Transportation Safety Board accident data, 2000-15)