An investigation into a crash that killed six people in Ottawa this week is now focused largely on the double-decker bus and its driver, after Transportation Safety Board (TSB) investigators say they have so far found no problems with the train, tracks or the crossing signals where the impact occurred.
The developments came as Transport Minister Lisa Raitt pledged that long-delayed regulations for railway crossings are a priority for her department. But the department will ultimately weigh the recommendations of the independent TSB against those of industry and municipalities, some of which have warned major changes could prove costly.
The investigation into Wednesday morning’s crash has so far revealed the train applied its brakes two seconds before it was struck by the bus, which had plenty of warning – the lights and bells at the crossing had been activated for 47 seconds before impact, and the crossing bar across the lane had been lowered for 25 seconds. Some passengers have said in interviews the bus driver braked at the last moment.
The Via black box also revealed the train was travelling 75 kilometres per hour, well below the limit along that stretch, TSB lead investigator Rob Johnston said Friday. The train didn’t sound its whistle – due to a municipal ban, which the TSB says is common – but the train’s bell was ringing and the crossing alerts were functioning.
“We have not identified any issues with the operation of the train, or the condition of the track, that we consider causal at this time,” Mr. Johnston said, stressing that the crossing had the “highest level of protection and automated warning devices available” for ground-level crossings between roads and railway tracks, known as level or at-grade crossings.
Officials are still examining the bus and its data recorder, but have drawn few conclusions. “We’re going to take that bus apart, so that doesn’t happen overnight,” Mr. Johnston said Friday, after earlier noting “the bus collided with the locomotive.”
They also plan on continuing to look into the driver, 45-year-old Dave Woodard, who died in the crash. That includes examining his work schedule, medical history and training. “This work will require time and effort,” Mr. Johnston said. Mr. Woodard’s widow has said her husband was in good health and had a clean driving record, and that a mechanical failure must have been to blame.
Ms. Raitt, the minister, told The Globe and Mail she didn’t want to speculate on what caused the crash or if the system could have prevented it. “I don’t even know what happened. We have to let TSB tell us what happened. All I know is it’s an incredible tragedy,” Ms. Raitt said Friday.
Federal regulations for grade-level railway crossings continue to be drafted, with the TSB chair calling it “a long and woeful tale” in a television interview. Ms. Raitt said the regulations will be released within months, and that she sees them as a priority. “Not necessarily because of what happened, just because we have two years until the next election and I want to make sure these things are dealt with, because it’s an outstanding item from when I came in,” said Ms. Raitt, who took over her post in July.
She gave no signal, however, that the government would push through any major overhauls of railway regulations, saying it will instead weigh the “incredibly important” work of the TSB against what it hears from industry and municipalities. “We have to make sure in government that we balance the recommendations with what industry can implement and what municipalities want,” she said.
Other factors under ongoing examination include the “alignment” of the intersection, Mr. Johnston said. A 2004 City of Ottawa safety assessment of the intersection found that the sightlines at the crossing were satisfactory.
That safety assessment also noted the ban on the whistle, but said improvements at the crossing – lights, a bell and the bars lowered to stop traffic – made the whistle unnecessary.