Rail transportation safety recommendation R15-05

 Recommendation R15-05 in PDF [186 KB]

Reassessment of the response to TSB Recommendation R15-05

Grade separation of Woodroffe Avenue, the Transitway, and Fallowfield Road

Background

On 18 September 2013, at about 0832 Eastern Daylight Time, westward VIA Rail Canada Inc. (VIA) passenger train No. 51 departed from the VIA Ottawa Station on time and proceeded enroute to Toronto. At 0847:27, OC Transpo double-decker bus No. 8017 departed from the Fallowfield Station on the OC Transpo bus Transitway. At 0848:06, while proceeding at about 43 mph, the train entered the OC Transpo Transitway crossing, located at Mile 3.30 of VIA's Smiths Falls Subdivision. At the time, the crossing lights, bells and gates were activated. The northbound bus was travelling at about 5 mph with the brakes applied when it struck the train. As a result of the collision, the front of the bus was torn off. The train, comprising 1 locomotive and 4 passenger cars, derailed but remained upright. Among the bus occupants, there were 6 fatalities and 9 serious injuries, and about 25 minor injuries were reported. No VIA crew members or VIA passengers were injured.

The Board concluded its investigation and released report R13T0192 on 02 December 2015.

TSB Recommendation R15-05 (December 2015)

Originally, grade separations had been planned for Woodroffe Avenue, the Transitway, and Fallowfield Road. The plans were based on environmental assessments (EAs) conducted in the late 1990s. At that time, members of the public were opposed to any roadway overpass structure, and the National Capital Commission (NCC) supported the public position. Consequently, overpass options were not considered as part of the EAs. The original plan then focused on the preferred option of open-cut roadway underpass grade separations for each location. However, by February 2003, subsurface testing had determined that the conditions were not suitable for the construction of underpasses. Due to unexpected subsurface conditions, the estimated cost to construct the open-cut roadway underpasses increased from 40 million dollars to more than 100 million dollars. Noting that this option also presented significant risks, the underpass alternatives were not pursued.

Roadway overpass alternatives were then reconsidered. Although the soils in the area were determined to have limited load-bearing capacity, it was noted that roadway overpass structures could have been built using light approach fills and multiple bridge spans. However, construction of any of the roadway overpass options would have required reopening the EAs that had been previously undertaken. The time required to redo the EAs would further delay completion of the project beyond the time constraints imposed through Millennium funding (end of March 2006). This would have resulted in the loss of the Millennium funding, which accounted for approximately 70% of the original estimated project cost.

While it was possible to construct roadway overpass grade separations for Woodroffe Avenue, the Transitway, and Fallowfield Road, the need to reopen the EAs, the possible loss of Millennium funding and the clear preference for the roadway underpass alternative demonstrated by both the public and the NCC limited the grade separation options considered in 2004. Once the preferred option of open-cut roadway underpasses was no longer available, it was decided in 2004 to forego grade separations and install the level crossings with enhanced AWD protection. This decision was based on the following considerations:

  • Population for the south end of Ottawa was approximately 100 000.
  • There were only 10 trains per day.
  • The train/vehicle cross-products were less than the 200 000 commonly used as a threshold for grade separation to be considered for both Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road. Furthermore, the Transitway had not yet been constructed.
  • All passenger trains were stopped at the VIA Fallowfield Station.
  • All trains were restricted to 20 mph over both the crossings.

Once the crossings were constructed, the need for grade separation at Woodroffe Avenue, the Transitway, and Fallowfield Road was not formally reviewed or reconsidered, nor was it required to be.

By 2013, the following changes had occurred:

  • The population for the south end of Ottawa had increased to 145 062 (45% increase) and was projected to grow to 171 000 by 2020.
  • The number of trains had increased to 23 trains per weekday (130% increase). Any future increase in train traffic on this corridor would further increase the risks associated with the crossings.
  • The cross-product had increased to 699 108 (285% increase) for Woodroffe Avenue and 406 592 (116% increase) for Fallowfield Road. Similarly, the Transitway cross‑product had increased from 0 in 2004 to 23 161 in 2013, with a corresponding train/vehicle/occupant cross-product of 532 703.
  • While all VIA passenger trains continued to stop at the VIA Fallowfield Station, some VIA passenger trains were now traversing the crossings at 40 to 60 mph.

Grade separation projects usually involve multiple jurisdictions with funding provided by the railways, the respective road authority and the federal government. The decision to proceed with level crossings was based on known risk factors in 2004. Since that time, changes have occurred in the risk factors such as area population, number of trains, train speed, the number of vehicles, the resulting cross-product and the average number of vehicle occupants. These risk factors will continue to increase with further urban and potential railway development in the area with a commensurate risk that existing level crossing protection may no longer be adequate. Therefore, the Board recommends that

the City of Ottawa reconsider the need for grade separations at the Woodroffe Avenue, Transitway, and Fallowfield Road level crossings.
Transportation Safety Recommendation R15-05

City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (February 2016)

The City of Ottawa has indicated its intention to move forward with a feasibility study that will review the technical requirements of providing grade separation at the locations recommended in the report. Further, the City will study an additional two level crossings in the area in question in order to have a complete understanding of the remaining level crossings in this part of Ottawa. This study will be undertaken in financial partnership with VIA Rail Canada, recognizing their shared interest in public safety and service reliability at rail crossings.

The results of the study and any action recommended by City staff will be before Ottawa City Council in 2017.

TSB assessment of the City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (March 2016)

The City of Ottawa, in financial partnership with VIA Rail, will conduct a feasibility study to review the technical requirements of providing grade separation at the Woodroffe Avenue, Transitway and Fallowfield Road crossings, as well as at two other locations.

The Board is pleased that the City of Ottawa has committed to studying the feasibility of grade separations at the recommended crossings, and commends the City for including additional crossings in the scope of its study. The action proposed by the City of Ottawa is a positive first step towards reconsidering grade separation at these crossings in order to effectively manage the risk of vehicle / train collisions. Therefore, the Board assesses the response to Recommendation R15-05 as having Satisfactory Intent.

City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (March 2017)

The City of Ottawa, in financial partnership with VIA Rail Canada, has contracted a consultant and progressed with a feasibility study on the three crossings in question and two additional locations at Merivale Road and Jockvale Road respectively. In addition to addressing the feasibility of grade separation, the study will also seek to address any recommendations that may pertain to sequencing of grade separation construction and associated cost estimates.

It is anticipated that the study will be completed and its findings reported to the City's Transportation Committee, a standing committee of City Council, and then to the Ottawa City Council during June/July 2017.

TSB reassessment of the City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (March 2017)

The City of Ottawa, in financial partnership with VIA Rail, contracted a consultant to conduct a grade separation feasibility study. The study will focus on the three crossings in question and on two other locations. The study will also examine the sequencing of grade separation construction and the cost estimate for each crossing.

By July 2017, it is expected that the completed study will be presented to the City's Transportation Committee, a standing committee of City Council, and then to the Ottawa City Council.

The Board is encouraged that the feasibility study is nearing completion. This action is a positive step toward reconsidering grade separation at the recommended crossings to effectively manage the risk of vehicle / train collisions. Therefore, the Board assesses the response to Recommendation R15-05 as having Satisfactory Intent.

City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (December 2017)

The City of Ottawa, in partnership with VIA Rail, completed the Barrhaven and Merivale Road Rail Crossing Grade Separation Study in May 2017, and it was presented to the City's Transportation Committee, a standing committee of City Council, and subsequently to City Council in June 2017 (see Agenda Item #15).

The study concluded that the five rail crossing locations studied (including at Woodroffe Avenue, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road), should ultimately be grade separated due to the existing and anticipated increases in road, Transitway and rail traffic. It further indicated that such grade separation appears feasible, provided high level cost estimates for those grade separations and suggested a prioritization order: first — Woodroffe Avenue, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road; second — Merivale Road; and, third — Jockvale Road. The order of magnitude costs for these rail grade separations (all 2017 dollars) are: Woodroffe Avenue and Transitway (together) - $145 million, Fallowfield Road — $130 million, Merivale Road - $75 million and Jockvale Road - $80 million.

At the time of receipt of the study, Council also established the Barrhaven Rail Safety Program which anticipates a phased approach to improving safety at rail crossing in Barrhaven for all users. Although the Jockvale Road grade-separation is listed as lower in priority, Council is interested in a grade separation in the near-term for a multi-use pathway at this location. This is due to the high number of residents, including children, crossing the rail line on foot and on bike to access schools, churches, and other community amenities.

Even though the issue of funding for the construction of the grade separations has not been resolved, City Council is taking steps towards their eventual implementation — starting with their environmental assessment studies. In September 2017, the City's Transportation Committee reviewed the Statement of Work (scoping documents) for the Woodroffe Avenue, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road Rail Grade Separation Environmental Assessment Study, as well as the Statement of Work for the Jockvale Road Multi-Use Pathway Rail Grade Separation Environmental Assessment Study (see Agenda Item #1).

New environmental assessment (EA) studies are required because the previously completed ones are dated. The Statements of Work were approved by Committee with direction that they be undertaken subject to funding in the City's 2018 budget.

In November 2017, the draft City of Ottawa 2018 budget was released and it proposes a new Barrhaven Rail Safety Program with funding in the amount of $3.5 million. It states that the first priority for these funds would be to undertake environmental assessment studies for rail grade separations at Woodroffe Avenue, the Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road, and at the multi-use pathway which runs along Jockvale Road. Council will consider the budget for final approval on December 13, 2017.

The remaining EA (grade separation at Merivale Road) will be addressed at a future date. Similar to Jockvale (road-rail crossing), the Merivale crossing location is not the subject of the TSB's 2015 review. Additionally, it should be noted that the currently planned Jockvale EA is for the pathway crossing only. An EA study would also need to be done in the future for the adjacent Jockvale Road crossing of the rail line.

TSB reassessment of the City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (March 2018)

The Barrhaven and Merivale Road Rail Crossing Grade Separation Study was completed in May 2017. The study concluded that the 5 rail crossing locations (including Woodroffe Avenue, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road) should be grade-separated due to the existing traffic, and the anticipated increases in road traffic, transitway traffic, and rail traffic. The study also concluded that these grade separations are feasible.

The issue of funding for the construction of the grade separations has not yet been resolved. However, steps were taken towards the eventual implementation of the grade separations, including:  

  • In September 2017, the City of Ottawa's Transportation Committee reviewed the statement of work for the Woodroffe Avenue, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road Rail Grade Separation Environmental Assessment Study. The statement of work was approved, with the direction that work will be undertaken subject to funding in the City's 2018 budget.
  • In November 2017, the draft 2018 budget was released, which included funding ($3.5 million) for the Barrhaven Rail Safety Program. It was stated that the first priority for these funds would be the environmental assessment studies, including the grade separations at Woodroffe Avenue, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road.
  • In December 2017, City Council approved the $3.5 million in the 2018 budget to undertake the environmental assessment studies. The City has started the process to procure consultant services to assist with these studies.

The Board is encouraged that the grade separation study has been completed, and that the procurement process for consultant services to undertake the environmental assessment has started. The Board looks forward to the completion of the environmental assessment studies. These actions are positive steps toward establishing grade separation at the recommended crossings to effectively manage the risk of vehicle/train collisions. The Board considers the response to Recommendation R15-05 as having Satisfactory Intent.

City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (January 2019)

In May 2018, the City completed the procurement process to retain a consultant and initiated the following two Environmental Assessment Studies as part of the Barrhaven Rail Safety Program:

  • Barrhaven Rail Grade-Separation (Woodroffe Ave, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road) Environmental Assessment Study; and
  • Jockvale Road Multi-Use Pathway Rail Grade-Separation Environmental Assessment Study.

On June 27, 2018, City Council further directed City staff to immediately undertake an Environmental Assessment Study to convert the existing Southwest Transitway between Baseline Station and Barrhaven Town Centre to a Light Rail Transit (LRT) facility (Motion No. 72/8), such that the results can inform the upcoming City of Ottawa Transportation Master Plan (TMP) Update.

Since the study areas for the Barrhaven LRT and the Barrhaven Rail Grade-Separation studies overlap and include common design issues, process requirements, study durations and consultation activities; the two Environmental Assessment studies were integrated into one study. The revised Environmental Assessment Study is titled as the Barrhaven LRT and Rail Grade-Separation Environmental Assessment Study (Baseline Station to Barrhaven Town Centre). This will bring efficiencies to the Environmental Assessment process, streamline consultation and project management activities, and reduce costs to the City. The schedule of the original grade-separation study is still maintained with this new combined study approach.

The Environmental Assessment studies are expected to be completed as follows:

  • Barrhaven LRT and Rail Grade-Separation EA Study (Baseline Station to Barrhaven Town Centre) – September 2020.
  • Jockvale Road Multi-Use Pathway Rail Grade-Separation Environmental Assessment Study – December 2019.

As noted in our correspondence of December 15, 2018, the remaining environmental assessment for rail grade-separations at Merivale Road and Jockvale Road will be addressed at a future date as these two crossing locations are not the subject of the TSB's 2015 review.

TSB reassessment of the City of Ottawa's response to Recommendation R15-05 (March 2019)

In May 2018, with the completion of the procurement process to retain a consultant, the environmental assessment study for grade separations at Woodroffe Avenue, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road (as part of the Barrhaven Rail Safety Program) was initiated.

In June 2018, as part of the update to the City of Ottawa Transportation Master Plan, city staff was directed by City Council to undertake an environmental assessment study to convert the existing Southwest Transitway between Baseline Station and Barrhaven Town Centre to a Light Rail Transit (LRT) facility. With the overlap between the study areas for the Barrhaven LRT and the Barrhaven Rail Grade-Separation projects, the two environmental assessment studies were integrated into one study. The revised environmental assessment study (i.e., the Barrhaven LRT and Rail Grade-Separation Environmental Assessment Study (Baseline Station to Barrhaven Town Centre)) is expected to be completed by September 2020.

The Board is encouraged that the environmental assessment study for grade separations at Woodroffe Avenue, Southwest Transitway and Fallowfield Road has started. The Board looks forward to the completion of the environmental assessment study. These actions are positive steps toward establishing grade separation at the recommended crossings to effectively manage the risk of vehicle/train collisions. The Board considers the response to

Recommendation R15-05 as having Satisfactory Intent.

Next TSB action

The TSB will monitor progress for the planned actions, including the completion of the environmental assessment study.

This deficiency file is Active.

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