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Rail transportation safety issue investigation R20H0082

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Factors contributing to seasonal variations in train–motor vehicle accidents at level crossings

In May 2021, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) launched a safety issue investigation (SII) into the factors contributing to an increase in the rate of railway crossing accidents involving motor vehicles during winter months in Canada.

An SII is broad in scope and involves looking at multiple occurrences in order to identify the underlying safety issues. The Board may make recommendations to address any identified systemic deficiencies. The TSB will communicate its findings once the investigation is complete.

Purpose

Every year, approximately 23 people are killed and another 28 seriously injured in railway crossings in Canada. In 2019, 29% of crossing accidents resulted in fatal or serious injuries, making them one of the deadliest types of rail accidents. To improve transportation safety in Canada and internationally, it is important for the TSB to identify and communicate safety deficiencies that contribute to these accidents so that effective safety defenses can be developed. This SII aims to augment results of prior analyses (see Figure 1) demonstrating a seasonal pattern in level crossing accidents involving motor vehicles by statistically comparing the factors contributing to level crossing accidents in winter months to those contributing to accidents in non-winter, non-vacation months.

Figure 1. Average monthly rate of accidents at Canadian public level crossings, by month (non-vacation months only, 2007 to 2017
Average monthly rate of accidents at Canadian public level crossings, by month (non-vacation months only, 2007 to 2017

Scope

The SII will compare the factors contributing to level crossing accidents that happen in non-vacation winter months (January – February) to those contributing to accidents that take place in non-vacation non-winter months (May, June, September) that are comparable in terms of physical crossing characteristics (such as warning protection type) and location (rural vs. urban vs. industrial). Drivers and eyewitnesses to recent accidents at level crossings will be interviewed by TSB investigators so that firsthand accounts can be documented. Those accounts, as well as data from other sources, will be compiled and compared statistically to identify and better understand the underlying causal factors to these occurrences

Research outcomes will be communicated in a final TSB report, which will provide findings and, potentially, recommendations for improving road-rail level crossing safety, especially during winter months. This could include, for example, safety defenses relating to snow clearance practices around crossings, improving traction on snow- or slush-covered approach roads, and the development of targeted driving strategies to improve driver perception and decision making in winter conditions.

Methodology

The SII will compare a sample of winter motor vehicle crossing accidents to non-winter crossing accidents. These will be explored using various approaches that will continue to evolve as the investigation progresses


Media materials

News release

2021-06-23

TSB launches safety issue investigation into higher rate of railway crossing accidents during winter in Canada
Read the news release


Investigation information



Investigator-in-charge

Photo of Missy Rudin-Brown

Christina (Missy) Rudin-Brown has been a Senior Human Factors Investigator since joining the TSB in 2012, and the manager of the Human Factors and Macro Analysis group since 2017. She holds PhD and Master of Arts degrees in Experimental Psychology and, from 2014 to 2018, was a board member of the Canadian College for Certified Professional Ergonomists (CCCPE). Previous to the TSB, Missy was a Senior Research Fellow with the Human Factors team at the Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) in Melbourne (Australia) and spent over 10 years as a Human Factors Specialist in Transport Canada’s Road Safety Directorate. Missy has over 20 years’ experience in human factors and transportation safety research and evaluation, and has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers across a number of transportation safety areas, including operator behaviour and adaptation, driver speed choice, operator distraction, road infrastructure and rail level crossing safety, transportation safety policy, child and adult occupant protection and operator impairment.


  Download high-resolution photos from the TSB Flickr page.

Class of investigation

This is a class 1 investigation. These investigations—also known as safety issue investigations (SII)—analyze a series of occurrences with common characteristics that have formed a pattern over a period of time. These investigations, which may result in recommendations, are generally completed within 730 days. For more information, see the Policy on Occurrence Classification.

TSB investigation process

There are 3 phases to a TSB investigation

  1. Field phase: a team of investigators examines the occurrence site and wreckage, interviews witnesses and collects pertinent information.
  2. Examination and analysis phase: the TSB reviews pertinent records, tests components of the wreckage in the lab, determines the sequence of events and identifies safety deficiencies. When safety deficiencies are suspected or confirmed, the TSB advises the appropriate authority without waiting until publication of the final report.
  3. Report phase: a confidential draft report is approved by the Board and sent to persons and corporations who are directly concerned by the report. They then have the opportunity to dispute or correct information they believe to be incorrect. The Board considers all representations before approving the final report, which is subsequently released to the public.

For more information, see our Investigation process page.

The TSB is an independent agency that investigates air, marine, pipeline, and rail transportation occurrences. Its sole aim is the advancement of transportation safety. It is not the function of the Board to assign fault or determine civil or criminal liability.