Recommendation R15-04

Assessment of the response to Rail Safety Recommendation R15-04

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Grade separation guidelines

Background

On 18 September 2013, at about 0832 Eastern Daylight Time, westward VIA Rail Canada Inc. (VIA) passenger train No. 51 departed from the VIA Ottawa Station on time and proceeded en route to Toronto. At 0847:27, OC Transpo double-decker bus No. 8017 departed from the Fallowfield Station on the OC Transpo bus Transitway. At 0848:06, while proceeding at about 43 mph, the train entered the OC Transpo Transitway crossing, located at Mile 3.30 of VIA's Smiths Falls Subdivision. At the time, the crossing lights, bells and gates were activated. The northbound bus was travelling at about 5 mph with the brakes applied when it struck the train. As a result of the collision, the front of the bus was torn off. The train, comprising 1 locomotive and 4 passenger cars, derailed but remained upright. Among the bus occupants, there were 6 fatalities and 9 serious injuries, and about 25 minor injuries were reported. No VIA crew members or VIA passengers were injured.

The Board concluded its investigation and released report R13T0192 on 02 December 2015.

TSB Recommendation R15-04 (December 2015)

Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road are major arterial roads that service the area and, along with the Transitway, cross railway tracks used daily by numerous VIA passenger and some freight trains. The VIA Fallowfield Station (Mile 3.57) is located between the Woodroffe Avenue/Transitway and the Fallowfield Road level crossings (Mile 3.28/3.30 and 3.88 respectively) and adjacent to the OC Transpo Fallowfield bus station. Each of the crossings is equipped with automatic warning device (AWD), which include flashing lights, bells, gates and constant warning time track circuits. The railway signalling system throughout this area is complex with a number of additional built-in safety features.

While the signalling system was generally reliable, with the additional features and programming, additional potential points of failure were introduced. During the course of this investigation, the TSB reviewed a number of other OC Transpo bus incidents at these crossings, as well as a number of reported trouble calls concerning the AWDs.

When one or more components or systems fail, the crossing protection enters the fail-safe mode and remains activated. While this is a designed safety feature, such repeated activations are categorized as nuisance operations that can impose significant delays to roadway users and erode public confidence in the system.

With recent improvement in technology, additional crossing warning systems may be available, including the following:

  • Talking global positioning systems (GPS) have become quite advanced and can be programmed to alert drivers to an upcoming crossing and the need to slow down approaching the crossing.
  • Other train detection technologies (e.g., GPS, radar, wheel sensors based on magnetic flux) can be used to provide low-cost active warning sign alternatives.
  • Collision avoidance technologies for the automobile industry, which include blind spot detection, vehicle spacing, speed control and automated emergency braking, have been developed and/or implemented.

However, these technologies and applications do not specifically include systems for detecting and automatically responding to a potential collision with a train approaching from the side. While these technologies may be helpful, they may also increase driver workload, especially when approaching and traversing a crossing.

Ultimately, the safety of a crossing is dependent on a roadway vehicle driver making appropriate decisions based on the information displayed and responding appropriately to any additional warnings. Consequently, the only way to ensure that similar accidents do not occur at such high-traffic locations is to physically separate the roadway from the railway through grade separation.

Cross-product has always been one of the primary criteria used to assist in identifying potential grade separation projects. Historically, a cross-product (number of trains X number of vehicles per day) of 200 000 was the accepted threshold used by Transport Canada (TC) and industry for considering grade separation. However, there was no indication of when, why or how the 200 000 threshold was established and no research to support it.

The new Grade Crossings Standards identify cross-product thresholds at which AWD protection is required. Part C, Section 9, outlines warning systems specification and states in part:

9.1 The specifications for a public grade crossing at which a warning system without gates is required are as follows:

  1. where the forecast cross-product is 2,000 or more

[…]

9.2 Specifications for a public grade crossing at which a warning system with gates is required are as follows:

  • 9.2.1 a warning system is required under article 9.1 and;
    1. the forecast cross-product is 50,000 or more.

While TC does regulate as to when a crossing at-grade is not permitted, there is no requirement outlining when a grade separation should be considered. In Canada, there are no guidelines and no specific cross-product value at which grade separation should be built. In comparison, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Highway Administration (FHA) Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook (2007) provides specific guidance as to when grade separation should be considered. Chapter V, Part A, Section 6, Grade Separation, states in part:

[…]

  1. Highway-rail grade crossings should be considered for grade separation across the railroad right-of-way whenever the cost of grade separation can be economically justified based on fully allocated life-cycle costs and one or more of the following conditions exist:

[…]

  1. Crossing exposure (the product of the number of trains per day and AADT [average annual daily traffic]) exceeds 500,000 in urban areas or 125,000 in rural areas; or
  2. Passenger train crossing exposure (the product of the number of passenger trains per day and AADT) exceeds 400,000 in urban areas or 100,000 in rural areas.

Considering the 2013 train and traffic volume cross-product values of Woodroffe Avenue (699 108) and Fallowfield Road (406 592), both roads met the United States FHA cross-product criteria for grade separation. If occupant cross-product is also considered, the Transitway (532 703) would also meet the FHA cross-product criteria.

It is recognized that federal guidelines are generally not enforceable, particularly in other jurisdictions. However, the Board considers that guidance similar to that contained in the United States DOT FHA Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook would be a useful framework that provides consistent guidance on issues related to grade separation for the industry as well as federal, provincial and municipal road authorities. Since Canada has no such guidelines for grade separation, the Board recommends that

The Department of Transport provide specific guidance as to when grade separation should be considered.
TSB Recommendation R15-04

Transport Canada's response to Recommendation R15-04 (February 2016)

TC accepts this recommendation.

Grade crossing safety is a shared responsibility between railway companies, road authorities, and private authorities. In 2014, TC published new Grade Crossings Regulations which clearly define the roles and responsibilities at grade crossings for the design, construction, maintenance and inspection of the crossing surface, signage, and warning systems. Although the regulations specify when new at-grade crossings are prohibited, they do not regulate when grade separation should be implemented at existing grade crossings.

TC will work with the provinces and railways to develop guidelines that would assist road authorities and railways to determine when grade separation should be considered. The decision to construct a grade separation will continue to be the responsibility of the road authority and the railway.

TSB assessment of Transport Canada’s response to Recommendation R15-04 (March 2016)

Transport Canada (TC) has accepted this recommendation.

TC indicates that new Grade Crossing Regulations were published in 2014, but acknowledges that these regulations specify when new at-grade crossings are prohibited and do not specify when grade separation should be implemented at existing grade crossings. TC will work with the provinces and railways to develop guidelines to help determine when grade separation should be considered.

The Board is encouraged that TC will be working collaboratively with key stakeholders to develop guidelines for determining when grade separation should be considered. Although no timelines have been established yet for this work, the Board assesses the response to Recommendation R15-04 as having Satisfactory Intent.

Transport Canada's response to Recommendation R15-04 (February 2017)

TC has initiated a dialogue with provincial counterparts and stakeholders, including the Transportation Association of Canada, and Federal/Provincial Working Group, for the development of guidelines. Once TC has a commitment for the project from key partners, TC will be able to provide a timeline on the development of grade separation guidelines.

In the interim, TC is gathering information from various sources, which will help form the basis for recommended best practices.

To support this work, TC will be engaging an external organization to conduct analysis to support the development of guidelines. It is expected that outputs from this work will facilitate engagement with provincial counterparts and stakeholders.

TSB reassessment of Transport Canada's response to Recommendation R15-04 (March 2017)

TC is gathering information from various sources and has initiated dialogue with provincial counterparts and stakeholders for the development of grade separation guidelines. TC will be engaging an external organization to conduct analysis to support the development of the guidelines.

However, TC has not yet obtained the required commitment from key partners. TC is therefore unable to provide a timeline as to when the work can actually begin on the development of grade separation guidelines. Although no timelines have been established, the Board reassesses the response to Recommendation R15-04 as having Satisfactory Intent.

Next TSB action

The TSB will follow up with TC to ask that a timeline be identified and will monitor the progress of the planned actions.

This deficiency file is Active.