Recommendation R15-05

Assessment of the response to Rail Safety Recommendation R15-05

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Grade separation of Woodroffe Avenue, the Transitway, and Fallowfield Road

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 R15-05 (December 2015)

Originally, grade separations had been planned for Woodroffe Avenue, the Transitway, and Fallowfield Road. The plans were based on environmental assessments (EAs) conducted in the late 1990s. At that time, members of the public were opposed to any roadway overpass structure, and the National Capital Commission (NCC) supported the public position. Consequently, overpass options were not considered as part of the EAs. The original plan then focused on the preferred option of open-cut roadway underpass grade separations for each location. However, by February 2003, subsurface testing had determined that the conditions were not suitable for the construction of underpasses. Due to unexpected subsurface conditions, the estimated cost to construct the open-cut roadway underpasses increased from 40 million dollars to more than 100 million dollars. Noting that this option also presented significant risks, the underpass alternatives were not pursued.

Roadway overpass alternatives were then reconsidered. Although the soils in the area were determined to have limited load-bearing capacity, it was noted that roadway overpass structures could have been built using light approach fills and multiple bridge spans. However, construction of any of the roadway overpass options would have required reopening the EAs that had been previously undertaken. The time required to redo the EAs would further delay completion of the project beyond the time constraints imposed through Millennium funding (end of March 2006). This would have resulted in the loss the Millennium funding, which accounted for approximately 70% of the original estimated project cost.

While it was possible to construct roadway overpass grade separations for Woodroffe Avenue, the Transitway, and Fallowfield Road, the need to reopen the EAs, the possible loss of Millennium funding and the clear preference for the roadway underpass alternative demonstrated by both the public and the NCC limited the grade separation options considered in 2004. Once the preferred option of open-cut roadway underpasses was no longer available, it was decided in 2004 to forego grade separations and install the level crossings with enhanced automatic warning device (AWD) protection. This decision was based on the following considerations:

  1. Population for the south end of Ottawa was approximately 100 000.
  2. There were only 10 trains per day.
  3. The train/vehicle cross-products were less than the 200 000 commonly used as a threshold for grade separation to be considered for both Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road. Furthermore, the Transitway had not yet been constructed.
  4. All passenger trains were stopped at the VIA Fallowfield Station.
  5. All trains were restricted to 20 mph over both the crossings.

Once the crossings were constructed, the need for grade separation at Woodroffe Avenue, the Transitway, and Fallowfield Road was not formally reviewed or reconsidered, nor was it required to be.

By 2013, the following changes had occurred:

  1. The population for the south end of Ottawa had increased to 145 062 (45% increase) and was projected to grow to 171 000 by 2020.
  2. The number of trains had increased to 23 trains per weekday (130% increase). Any future increase in train traffic on this corridor would further increase the risks associated with the crossings.
  3. The cross-product had increased to 699 108 (285% increase) for Woodroffe Avenue and 406 592 (116% increase) for Fallowfield Road. Similarly, the Transitway cross-product had increased from 0 in 2004 to 23 161 in 2013, with a corresponding train/vehicle/occupant cross-product of 532 703.
  4. While all VIA passenger trains continued to stop at the VIA Fallowfield Station, some VIA passenger trains were now traversing the crossings at 40 to 60 mph.

Grade separation projects usually involve multiple jurisdictions with funding provided by the railways, the respective road authority and the federal government. The decision to proceed with level crossings was based on known risk factors in 2004. Since that time, changes have occurred in the risk factors such as area population, number of trains, train speed, the number of vehicles, the resulting cross-product and the average number of vehicle occupants. These risk factors will continue to increase with further urban and potential railway development in the area with a commensurate risk that existing level crossing protection may no longer be adequate. Therefore, the Board recommends that

The City of Ottawa reconsider the need for grade separations at the Woodroffe Avenue, Transitway, and Fallowfield Road level crossings.
TSB Recommendation R15-05

City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (February 2016)

The City of Ottawa has indicated its intention to move forward with a feasibility study that will review the technical requirements of providing grade separation at the locations recommended in the report. Further, the City will study an additional two level crossings in the area in question in order to have a complete understanding of the remaining level crossings in this part of Ottawa. This study will be undertaken in financial partnership with VIA Rail Canada Inc., recognizing their shared interest in public safety and service reliability at rail crossings.

The results of the study and any action recommended by City staff will be before Ottawa City Council in 2017.

TSB assessment of the City of Ottawa’s response to Recommendation R15-05 (March 2016)

The City of Ottawa, in financial partnership with VIA Rail Canada Inc., will conduct a feasibility study to review the technical requirements of providing grade separation at the Woodroffe Avenue, Transitway and Fallowfield Road crossings, as well as at two other locations.

The Board is pleased that the City of Ottawa has committed to studying the feasibility of grade separations at the recommended crossings, and commends the City for including additional crossings in the scope of its study. The action proposed by the City of Ottawa is a positive first step toward reconsidering grade separation at these crossings in order to effectively manage the risk of vehicle / train collisions.

Therefore, the Board assesses the response to Recommendation R15-05 as having Satisfactory Intent.

City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (March 2017)

The City of Ottawa, in financial partnership with VIA Rail Canada, has contracted a consultant and progressed with a feasibility study on the three crossings in question and two additional locations at Merivale Road and Jockvale Road respectively. In addition to addressing the feasibility of grade separation, the study will also seek to address any recommendations that may pertain to sequencing of grade separation construction and associated cost estimates.

It is anticipated that the study will be completed and its findings reported to the City's Transportation Committee, a standing committee of City Council, and then to the Ottawa City Council during June/July 2017.

TSB reassessment of the City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (March 2017)

The City of Ottawa, in financial partnership with VIA Rail, contracted a consultant to conduct a grade separation feasibility study. The study will focus on the three crossings in question and on two other locations. The study will also examine the sequencing of grade separation construction and the cost estimate for each crossing.

By July 2017, it is expected that the completed study will be presented to the City's Transportation Committee, a standing committee of City Council, and then to the Ottawa City Council.

The Board is encouraged that the feasibility study is nearing completion. This action is a positive step toward reconsidering grade separation at the recommended crossings to effectively manage the risk of vehicle / train collisions. Therefore, the Board assesses the response to Recommendation R15-05 as having Satisfactory Intent.

Next TSB action

The TSB will continue to monitor the progress of the planned actions.

This deficiency file is Active.