TSB makes five recommendations in OC Transpo bus, VIA Rail report

Written by Jenifer Nunez, assistant editor
image description
A westward view of derailed cars and displaced track at the accident site.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada's (TSB) investigation into the September 2013 collision between an OC Transpo bus and a VIA Rail train in Ottawa, Ontario, identified numerous contributory factors including company practices, work-related driving distractions, speed, the configuration of the Transitway and bus crashworthiness.


On September 18, 2013, an OC Transpo double-decker bus en route toward downtown Ottawa along the Transitway failed to stop at a grade crossing as the automatic warning devices, bells and gates at the Woodroffe Avenue and Transitway railway crossings were activated.

Meanwhile, VIA Rail passenger train No. 51 was approaching these crossings. The train was within normal operating parameters and slowing down to approach the Fallowfield train station. When the train crew realized that the bus would not stop in time, the emergency brakes were activated. About three seconds before impacting the train, the bus driver released the throttle and applied the brakes 35.6 meters (0.02 miles) away from the point of collision.

“This complex investigation identified 15 inter-related findings that played a part in this tragedy,” said Kathy Fox, chair of the TSB. “Remove even one and this may have had a very different outcome. But because of this accident, we are calling for concerted action to reduce the risk of railway crossing accidents.”

TSB said the main question focused on “Why didn’t the bus driver see the train and stop in time?” The investigation determined that, while accelerating toward the railway crossing, the bus was negotiating a significant left curve in the road. The driver’s view of the crossing was obstructed and there was only a short time when the activated crossing signals were visible to the driver. During this critical time, the driver was also distracted by surrounding conversations about seating on the upper deck, and by the perceived need to monitor the upper deck on a small screen that was positioned up and to the left of the driver’s seat and to make an announcement about no standing on the upper deck. At the speed the bus was travelling, the driver was unable to stop in time, even after passengers began to shout “stop”.

“Given the same circumstances, this accident could have happened to just about any driver,” said Rob Johnston, the investigator-in-charge.

To address the major safety deficiencies identified in the investigation, the TSB issued five recommendations aimed at reducing the risks. The recommendations deal with the installation and use of in-vehicle video displays, crashworthiness standards, data recorders for commercial passenger buses and grade separations at busy railway crossings, both in Ottawa and across Canada.

“Every day, vehicles and trains interact at thousands of railway crossings across Canada,” added Fox. “The number of crossing accidents remains too high; that’s why it’s on the TSB’s Watchlist. Whether it’s a busy street or a country road, people need to understand that railway-crossing safety is a responsibility shared by the regulator, transit operators, road authorities, bus manufacturers and also vehicle drivers. Drivers need to slow down and be prepared to stop as if there were always a train approaching.”

“The safety of Canada’s transportation system is a shared responsibility regulated under many jurisdictions,” stated Minister of Transport Marc Garneau. “Transport Canada officials are reviewing the recommendations and are committed to working with their provincial and territorial partners to continuously improve the safety of all Canadians.”