Transportation safety – Still looking for the facts
22 September 2015
Posted by: Michel Traversy
My interest in transportation safety was awakened early in life. Unfortunately, it was due to a tragic event. During my teenage years, the death of a dear friend at a railway crossing touched me deeply. The questions about this event have lingered with me throughout my life and ultimately through my career with the Federal Public Service. I was only 14 at the time, but I wanted to know: What happened? How, and why did it happen? When a tragic event such as this happens to a loved one, as we hurt and grieve, we look for logical explanations.
In a twist of fate, in the early seventies, I joined the Canadian Transportation Commission, which then held public hearings on railway accidents. When a train derailment caused the evacuation of 100,000 Mississauga residents, and when two trains collided in Edson, Alberta, causing many deaths, I was called upon as a communications officer during the hearings.
Then, in 1988, the Canadian Aviation Safety Board (CASB) hired me as a communications advisor and I was immediately thrust into the release of the investigation report on the terrible Arrow Air crash in Gander, Newfoundland, which resulted in over 280 deaths.
I joined the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) when it was created in 1990, and have been working in different communications roles ever since. I went through a series of experiences, since I was now working for an organization that dealt with more than one mode of transportation: not just air, or rail, but also marine and pipeline accidents.
The Swissair aviation crash near Peggy’s Cove in Nova Scotia, became the biggest investigation the TSB had ever undertaken at the time. It went on for four years of complex investigative work to assemble and analyze evidence to produce an investigation report that included numerous safety recommendations.
In the marine sector, the investigation of the sinking of the Queen of the North in British Columbia brought about ingenious recuperation methods in order to recover elusive evidence that was contained on a sunken computer hard drive.
More recently, the runaway train and derailment of an oil train in Lac-Mégantic, Québec, reminded me of my Canadian Transportation Commission days. I witnessed investigators working under severe conditions, tirelessly gathering up the evidence needed to explain to the community the circumstances that led to this disaster. They were on the front line, trying to manage the heat of the critical zone and facing people who had suffered a terrible loss. Not only had their downtown core been destroyed, but also the heart of their community, as so many of their loved ones had disappeared.
When the investigation was complete, the Board was in a position to make safety recommendations that would aim to reduce the risk for such an accident to re-occur. But for this to happen, we had to go back to some very basic questions. What happened? How, and why did it happen?
Ultimately, we all look for answers to these questions when an accident occurs. Maybe we find solace in knowing we can prevent something like this from happening again. And with today’s technology, we can explain the causes with surprisingly high accuracy, ranging from the speed at which a plane or a train was travelling, to the angle of impact and even further in terms of human factors: what decisions were taken by the people involved and what motivated their choices.
As for my role in promoting safety and working with our investigators and the media, the evolution in the communications field through the years has been astonishing, especially the speed at which information is now being released.
During this short stroll down memory lane, I could not list all of the transportation occurrences that crossed my path in my 25 years at the TSB. But the one constant that runs through working for the TSB is the expertise and the dedication of all our employees to carry out our mandate, to keep questioning and ultimately to find answers to questions.
M. Traversy is at the TSB since the beginning. He is a Media Analyst in the Communications team. He describes himself as a gearhead and when he is not at work, he takes interest in vintage automobiles and motorcycles.
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