Level railway crossings are dangerous

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Transport Canada tracks accidents at railway crossings in Canada, but the list of the most dangerous crossings isn’t one that they appear to share with the public nor with the communities involved. Municipal governments were caught by surprise that the list of the 500 most dangerous crossings exists at all.

Most railway crossings in urban areas are regulated with lights and bars barring access to cars when a train is approaching. Pedestrian access is not generally blocked in urban areas, and in rural areas there is often only the lights / bells warning of the train’s approach. In some cases there are not lights or bells and drivers are left to slow down and assess the situation for themselves. This all leaves a great deal of room for error, inattention or stupidity to occur. Sadly when a train strikes a person or car the resulting accident is usually a fatal one.

There are many questions about why Transport Canada hasn’t warned municipal governments about the hot spots as a matter of routine. Many people feel that if the dangers are known then changes could be made to make the crossings safer. Municipal staff and leaders feel that the warnings should be routine and done as part of the duty to consult with the municipalities.

The Transportation Safety Board in Canada was also unaware of this list, and according to spokesman Dan Holbrook “There’s no point in keeping valuable safety information secret. Get it out there… We don't sit on that. We get it in the hands of the people who can do something about it ASAP. I have a sense of urgency, if I know something, heaven forbid that something happens in the interval between when you identify something and the agents of change are notified. There's a sense of urgency for me to get that information in the public domain."

Following the publication of the news article by the CBC and the outrage expressed by the public, transport Canada agreed to release its GradeX rating tool to municipalities for their use as well. According to the CBC’s analysis of the report:

  • There are 17,000 public railway crossings in Canada, running over 50,000 km of track
  • There have been 3524 accidents at rail crossings since 2000
  • 460 people have been killed at railway crossings
  • Almost 30% of the accidents led death or serious injury
  • 17% of crossings have gates and bells
  • 22% have only lights and bels
  • 615 have no automated warnings at all

Many of the highest risk crossings are in SW Ontario. 8 are in Oxford County, 9 in Ramara Township, 12 in Middlesex County and 13 in Chatham-Kent. You can read the full list of the 500 crossings here.