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News conference for Railway Investigation Report R16M0026 - Opening remarks

Faye Ackermans, Board member, TSB
Don Ross, Investigator-in-charge, TSB
Moncton, New Brunswick
15 February 2018

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Faye Ackermans

Good morning.

Shortly before 2 a.m. on the night of July 27, 2016, a person in a wheelchair was struck and killed by a CN freight train at the Robinson Street railway crossing here in downtown Moncton. The motorized wheelchair had become lodged in the gravel alongside the crossing, and the wheels were unable to reverse back onto the asphalt sidewalk.

Following its investigation, the Transportation Safety Board is concerned that key information regarding some public crossings is not being shared between road authorities and Canada's railways—specifically, information about crossings that have been designated "for use by persons with an assistive device," such as wheelchairs, hand- and arm supports, or hearing aids. And while stricter standards for these designated crossings were introduced by Transport Canada in 2014, there remains a clear need for additional improvements to these standards. Therefore, the Board is recommending that Transport Canada work with stakeholders to identify potential upgrades at these designated crossings, and then update its regulatory provisions accordingly.

I'll get back to both the Board's concern and the recommendation in a few minutes, but first I'll turn things over to the investigator-in-charge, Don Ross. He'll discuss the sequence of events from that night, and explain how and why this accident took place.

Don Ross

About a month before the accident, CN made some repairs to the crossing and hired a contractor to repair the crossing surface between and around the rails, which included the sidewalk. The reflective lines marking the sidewalk's edge were not repainted after the new asphalt was applied, nor were there any requirements to do so. Moreover, although the new asphalt covered most of the crossing, it did not cover the entire east sidewalk area. This left a "void" or hole near the north rail.

On the night of the accident, the wheelchair user was travelling north along this sidewalk. A post in almost the middle of the path, however, means sidewalk users must move to the right. The individual, who also had a visual impairment, would likely have seen the white line that marked the sidewalk's right edge and would have used that line to guide his way ahead.

To determine what happened next, the TSB carried out a series of simulations at the occurrence site, both at night and during the day. An identical motorized wheelchair would proceed forward following the white line up to the new pavement, and then along the paved right edge of the sidewalk. In each case, the chair's right front wheel dropped into the void, causing the chair to turn right, into the gravel. The wheelchair would then become lodged and, due to the height difference between the gravel and the paved asphalt, the rear wheels were unable to reverse back onto the asphalt.

This is not the first time a person using an assistive device has been struck at a rail crossing after becoming immobilized. Since 1990, in fact, there have been seven occurrences in Canada reported to the TSB. Five of them, including this one, resulted in fatal injuries.

I'll now turn things back to Faye, who will tell us more about what remains to be done to make this—and many other crossings nationwide—safer.

Faye Ackermans

Following the accident, the entire sidewalk at the crossing was fully paved and widened, and the lines bordering it were repainted, to make them once again visible at night and indicate the edge of the sidewalk. The City of Moncton, as the official "road authority," also designated this crossing, along with another at nearby Victoria Street, for persons using an assistive device.

According to regulations, a road authority must notifya railway whenever such a designation is made.

This kind of a designation is a relatively new concept, first introduced in November 2014 with the creation of Transport Canada's Grade Crossings Regulations. According to these regulations, the deadline for municipalities and road authorities across Canada to share the list of designated crossings with railways was two years later: November 2016. Today, more than a year after the deadline, our investigation revealed that not all road authorities have shared this and other crucial information. The Board is therefore concerned that the sharing of prescribed data between the road authorities and the railways, along with the identification of designated crossings by road authorities, has not yet been completed. This needs to happen. Because until such crossings are designated and the information is shared, Canadians, particularly those using assistive devices, will continue to be at an elevated risk at public grade crossings.

This is not a small number of people, either. Over 2 million Canadian adults identify as having a mobility disability, and some 300 000 of these use a wheelchair. Moreover, the number of persons using assistive devices is on the rise. During the course of this investigation, the TSB communicated with a number of different groups and associations, to better understand the needs of, and the challenges faced by, persons using assistive devices at railway crossings.

This brings me to the second issue: how to physically improve the crossings themselves. Current regulations and standards focus primarily on surface conditions at designated crossings. But these crossings are used by persons who have particular needs, so it only makes sense that they require particular consideration as to the design and safety features, such as: adding extra lights or auditory cues, changing the width or texture of the walking surface, filling the gaps along the rail with displaceable material—or even changing the angle of the sidewalk so that it is more perpendicular to the rail, thereby reducing the risk of a wheel getting stuck. All of these are options that have been either suggested or implemented elsewhere. Some of them can already be found in a draft document by Transport Canada, called the Pedestrian Safety at Grade Crossing Guide. These options, however, are not mandatory. Thus, they are neither systematically considered when improvements are being made, nor are they enforceable.

Today we have an opportunity. As designated crossings throughout Canada are identified and upgraded, additional safety improvements can be made at these locations. But unless upgrades go beyond surface condition improvements set out by current regulations and standards, people who use assistive devices will continue to be exposed to an elevated risk at public grade crossings.

That's why the Board is recommending that Transport Canada work with stakeholders to identify and assess engineering options for the improvement of those designated crossings, and then update its regulatory provisions to include additional safety measures.

Thank you.