OC Transpo will not change policy for stopping at railway crossings

The city will not change its policy and require OC Transpo buses to stop at railway crossings unless the warning lights are flashing and the safety barriers are down.

MMM Group, hired to investigate the issue, released its report on Wednesday afternoon at city hall.

Geoffrey Millen said requiring buses to stop at level crossings at all times would actually increase the chances of a collision between a bus and train by 17%. He explained there's more room for driver error.

Councillor Diane Deans admitted she was surprised by the statistic, but is convinced.

"You're on the track longer. If you’re starting from a stop position, you have more potential for a stall out on the track. So you have to consider all of those things and the number is actually quite substantial."

The report's conclusion is significantly based on a 1985 Federal Highway Administration study (that's where the 17% figure comes from). Millen defended the decades old data, saying he's "comfortable" using those numbers. Updated figures are not easy to come across since he said, thankfully, vehicle-train collisions are not very common.

Transit manager John Manconi also bristled at the suggestion that using those numbers was a bit of a stretch.

"Yeah, there is an old study, it's a very good study...But there are other things they considered. They considered the human factors, they considered the driver's environment, they look at the road safety literature. We talked to every other jurisdiction in Canada, the large organizations, what are they doing? We looked at the legislation. So yes, this is complicated, and somewhat difficult to explain, but the data that exists is the data that exists."

Toronto and Montreal are two jurisdictions that require buses to stop at all crossings even when the signal lights and safety arms are not activated.

Ottawa has about 75 railway level crossings, and 20 of those are used by OC Transpo service.

The report by MMM Group did conclude that buses should only travel over crossings that have both signals and safety barriers. That means the city will update/outfit four of its crossings with crossing gates or barriers (at Herzberg, Lester, March and McCarthy) at a cost of up to $400,000. The other two crossings without gates are in Carp Road and the once a week service may be re-routed.

Manconi repeated that the policy may change, depending on the results of the investigation by the Transportation Safety Board which is looking into the cause and other factors of the deadly collision between an OC Transpo bus and Via Rail train that killed six people.

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