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Watchlist 2010

Passenger trains colliding with vehicles

Added to Watchlist on August 16, 2010


The risk of passenger trains colliding with vehicles remains too high in busy rail corridors.


Every day, cars and trucks regularly cross Canada's 20 000 railway crossings.Footnote 1 What happens is usually straightforward, but 380 times in the last 15 years— on average, once every two weeks—something has gone wrong, and 106 Canadians have died when their vehicle was struck by a passenger train. Warning signs, at both public and private crossings, are the first line of defence, helping to reduce the risk by making drivers aware of approaching trains. Approximately one-thirdFootnote 2 of public crossings also feature flashing lights, a bell, and crossing gates. Yet despite these active warning devices, collisions between vehicles and passenger trains continue to occur.

In 1993, prior to authorizing an increase in train speed from 95 mph to 100 mph along the Québec-Windsor corridor, Transport Canada conducted safety assessments to identify crossings that required upgrading. These assessments are nearly 20 years old. They no longer reflect the present risks, nor do they consider emerging ones. Given that a third track is being considered along portions of the busy corridor between Montréal and Toronto, the need for action is even more pressing.


Following the investigation of a 2008 collision between a passenger train and an immobilized tractor-trailer, the TSB called for clearer warning signs at steep crossings, noting that the design and placement of these signs has been inconsistent.Footnote 3 This recommendation was the sixth that the TSB has made since 1999 about the dangers of vehicles crossing railways in busy corridors.Footnote 4

As Canada's population has grown, so has rail traffic in communities along busy rail corridors. Improving the design and placement of signage is just the beginning. New information from safety assessments is needed to reduce the risks of collisions at rail crossings.