Ottawa asks Ontario university to find better rail crossing safety tools

OTTAWA – The federal Transport Department wants experts at an Ontario university to study the safety of level crossings.

The call for a study follows a horrific crash in Ottawa last week involving an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail passenger train.

Six people died and more than 30 were injured when the bus slammed into the train after going through a safety barricade.

A funeral for one of the victims, 21-year-old Carleton University student Connor Boyd, was held Monday.

The two-year, $120,000 study will look into whether there are better ways for inspectors to assess the potential dangers of railway crossings.

It will gauge the effectiveness of a computer program called GradeX, used by inspectors to evaluate risks at level crossings and identify ways to improve safety.

The contract tender identifies GradeX as “a one-of-a-kind, customized decision-support tool for railway safety inspectors to evaluate risks at grade crossings and identify cost-effective safety improvement strategies.”

The department said the University of Waterloo is the intended recipient of the contract because it’s the only known agency in North America with the specialized knowledge and expertise needed.

“The research team consists of both established and new researchers with extensive expertise in the fields of road and railway safety,” says the advance contract award notice.

“They have been working on the issues related to highway-railway crossings over a decade and have already established reputation both in Canada and internationally.”

Researchers will look at historical data on train collisions at Canadian crossings, investigate ways to prevent future accidents and determine how much it’ll cost to implement new safety measures.

“The end goal is to reduce the injury and fatality rates at railway grade crossings,” says the tendering document.

Other universities or firms which feel they meet the study criteria have until Oct. 9 to bid for the contract.

Before the study is even completed, new rail safety regulations are expected to be in place. Those regulations are to be unveiled “this year,” Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said on the weekend.

However, the focus on what caused last week’s deadly crash in Ottawa has turned to the city bus that was involved.

On Friday, Transportation Safety Board investigators said that the safety gates, lights and bells at the level crossing in southwest Ottawa were functioning as they were supposed to and had been activated 47 seconds prior to impact.

The train’s crew also applied the emergency brakes, but only two seconds prior to the crash. They did not sound the train’s whistle because that was forbidden under a municipal ban in the area.

Raitt appeared to leave some safety issues to the rail industry and other levels of government to sort out, saying Sunday that new ground rules would spell out how the rail industry and municipalities _ or provinces _ work out “the appropriate level of safety” at level crossings.

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