Saskatchewan home to 10 of top 100 highest risk rail crossings in Canada

A 2014 crossing risk assessment conducted by Transport Canada ranked the country's top 500 riskiest rail crossings — 63 were located in Saskatchewan.

Transport Canada 2014 risk assessment ranked Muskowekwan First Nation crossing 2nd highest risk in country.

This crossing on the Ring Road in Regina is ranked #40 riskiest in Canada. (Craig Edwards/CBC)

Transport Canada ranked the country's top 500 riskiest rail crossings in an internal document and found that 63 were located in Saskatchewan.

According a risk-assessment of road-level rail crossing conducted by Transport Canada in 2014, a Muskowekwan First Nation rail crossing ranked second in the country in terms of the risk factors present.

However, CBC News has found that many communities were not aware of such rankings and the reasons behind it.

"Over the years I've heard the railway going through the reserve took a lot of lives," said Muskowekwan councilor Calvin Wolfe.

The number two ranking was news to Wolfe.

"It's very interesting to know that it's the second worst in Canada."

Wolfe said he's not sure what more can be done to improve the safety. He said both of the crossings in his community are right off main roads and give drivers little time to react.

"I do know that sometimes their trains go by quicker and they should slow down," Wolfe said.

The data behind the list

The list was generated in 2014 by Transport Canada in part by a risk assessment computer model called GradeX, that was developed for the department by the University of Waterloo to assist with targeting improvements to higher-risk crossings.

The GradeX system is only made available internally to Transport Canada staff. In order to assess risk factors, the model evaluate factors such as volume or road rail traffic, train speeds, number of tracks and warning devices present. The federal agency explained that changes made to crossings or other new variables after 2014 are not reflected in the ranking, and that a reassessment today would not necessarily yield the same results.

Officials did not accept interview requests Tuesday, but they further explained their ranking system in a written statement.

"Risk factors do not necessarily mean a crossing is unsafe," according to the statement sent out by the media relations department. "When you compare two different crossings against these risk factors you may deem one crossing to be higher risk than the other. These characteristics are not compliance related, that is to say a crossing that is deemed as a higher risk is not unsafe.

Crossing safety involves many players

Crossing safety in Canada is the shared responsibility of road authorities, municipalities, rail companies and Transport Canada. In the case of this 2014 risk assessment, the data was found to have not been made public or shared, CBC News has found after consulting with dozens of communities and road authorities.

The data reveals that the majority of high-risk crossings in the province are located in rural regions. However, the 40th ranked crossings in terms of collision risk factors is in the heart of Regina on the Ring Road between Winnipeg Street and McDonald Street.

Rankings not shared with City of Regina

The rail crossing ranking was new information for Regina's Fire Chief Ernie Polsom. 
Ernie Polsom is in charge of Regina's fire and protective services. (CBC)

"We've got no record of interaction with Transport Canada on anything like that," said Polsom. "We however as a municipality do our own risk assessment, risk evaluation and risk preparedness." 

In addition, the list shows that at the time of ranking, the Saskatchewan Department of Highways was the road authority responsible for ensuring the sightlines and roadways met safety requirements leading up to 9 crossings on the list.

'Get it out there,' TSB official urges

"There's no point in keeping valuable safety information secret. Get it out there," urged Dan Holbrook, western regional manager with the Transportation Safety Board (TSB), adding he had only recently become aware of the system.

The TSB investigates train crashes after they happen and issues recommendations to improve crossing safety. Holbrook said investigators always issue public advisories if they find problems at a crossing.

"I think if critical safety information is in the public domain, it's a benefit to everybody." he said. "We at the safety board are of the view that more needs to be done."

"That there's risk at public crossings that we should all take seriously and that we should all get together to try and improve each of these installations." he said. "Certainly Transport Canada's got to get the message out there and ensure that every road authority is prepared to come to the table and do what needs to be done, do their part."

INTERACTIVE: Canada's top 500 riskiest crossings

with files from Holly Moore and Jacques Marcoux