Consultants hired by Via Rail recommended repainting Ottawa’s transitway to give buses better warning about the rail crossing at the site of last month’s fatal crash, but the city didn’t carry out the recommendation.
It’s one of several factors the Transportation Safety Board will consider in its review of the Sept. 18 crash, when a double-decker OC Transpo bus drove through barriers and struck a Via Rail train. Bus driver Dave Woodard and five passengers died. Mr. Woodard’s funeral is scheduled for Wednesday in Ottawa.
It’s unclear why the bus didn’t stop, but the bus and Mr. Woodard – not the train – are a focus of the investigation. The 2010 safety report said the intersection “warrants consideration” of an overpass or underpass if traffic passes a certain threshold. Traffic figures are 33 per cent above that threshold already. The report also mentions a “timetable max speed” of 32 kilometres per hour for trains at the crossing. The term is undefined in the report, but that doesn’t appear to have been the actual speed limit. At the time of a crash last week, the train was travelling 75 km/h, and the TSB said the speed limit is 160 km/h.
The buses run along their own road, called a transitway. It is immediately parallel to Woodroffe Avenue, which carries all other traffic. The rails cross both roads, and the crossing undergoes regular safety reviews. One report was released on Sept. 11, 2010, from AECOM Consultants Inc., on behalf of Via Rail.
AECOM suggested relocating the “X” markings on the transitway pavement to be closer to the crossing, noting they were 340 metres away, rather than the recommended 120 metres. It also recommended moving the “stop bars” – white painted lines – on the pavement to be farther from the rail, five metres instead of the current 3.5 metres.
The city didn’t make the changes, saying in a statement the consultants used a different standard, called the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices Canada 1999, while the city follows standards under the Highway Traffic Act. Meanwhile, Via Rail spokesperson Jacques Gagnon said road markings “are the responsibility of the road authorities.”
AECOM also Ottawa should look at building an overpass or underpass if traffic levels were high enough. The requirement is based on calculating an “exposure index,” by multiplying the average annual daily traffic volume (AADT, a common industry figure) by the number of trains passing daily. Anything more than 200,000 “warrants consideration of a grade [separation],” the 2010 report said.
The report said 11 trains cross Woodroffe and the transitway daily. The city says 530 buses use the transitway each day, meaning it alone would not meet the threshold for an underpass or overpass. But Woodroffe – essentially, the same crossing – does meet the requirement. The City of Ottawa’s AADT figure for that stretch of Woodroffe is 24,908 cars per day, a snapshot figure the city nonetheless considers “a projection of a typical day during the year.” That leaves an “exposure index” of 273,988, or 33 per cent above the 200,000 threshold.
The city is awaiting the TSB report before changing the crossing. “Transportation Safety Board has indicated that part of its ongoing investigation will include an examination of the crossing and the City of Ottawa awaits the Board’s findings,” a written city statement said.