Railway Crossing Rules to Change After School Bus-Train Crash in Saskatchewan

A Canadian National EMD SD70M-2 train rolls through Chicago.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) released the investigation report on a March 2013 school-bus railway crossing accident in Carlyle, Saskatchewan that determined the bus driver’s obstructed view was a contributing factor.

The bus driver did not see the train and proceeded from a stop onto a public, passive-level crossing where the bus was struck. One child suffered minor injuries in the accident.

In response, the Province of Saskatchewan will amend the School Bus Operating Regulations section of its Traffic Safety Act to require school bus drivers in the province to open the side door and driver side window when approaching a crossing that is not equipped with an automatic signal device. Approximately one-third of public crossings in Canada have crossing gates and/or flashing lights and bells, according to the TSB’s website.

Additionally, Saskatchewan Government Insurance will develop and distribute information promoting school bus and rail safety to student transportation providers and recommend that routine assessment of school bus routes be conducted in order to minimize the risk of railway crossing accidents.

On the afternoon of March 26, 2013, a freight train was heading east on the Lampman Subdivision when it struck a southbound school bus transporting seven elementary school children at the 4th Street East crossing in Carlyle.

In line with provincial school bus regulations, the school bus halted at the stop sign located at the north side of the passive crossing before attempting to cross the tracks. But the bus driver did not open the door and thus did not see or hear the train as it sounded its horn. The investigation determined: First, the driver was probably distracted by tasks associated with the road traffic and pedestrian activity around the crossing at the time of the accident; and, second, the school bus’ frame (A-pillar) and side mirror adjacent to the door obstructed the driver’s view and concealed the train when the driver looked for a train.

In June 2013, the TSB issued a Rail Safety Advisory Letter proposing that Transport Canada (TC), in conjunction with provincial authorities, review the requirements for school buses when stopping at and traversing railway crossings. The letter also indicated that train horns do not consistently provide adequate warning to school buses that have doors and windows closed when stopped at railway crossings. In July 2013, TC responded that it had informed provincial authorities of the issue and was following up with them on requirements for school buses when traveling across railway crossings.

TSB previously reported there were 810 accidents at train crossings across Canada between Jan. 1, 2008 and March 8, 2012: In those 810 crashes, there were 101 fatalities. The number of fatalities decreased in the past decade, from a high of 46 in 2002 to 29 in 2012, while the number of accidents at rail crossings nationwide fell from 221 in 2008 to 170 in 2011, according to TSB statistics.

In the U.S., at least 166 train-school bus collisions occurred between 1902 and 2000, and 35 resulted in fatalities to school bus passengers, causing 192 deaths and at least 546 injuries. The National Transportation Safety Board provides more details about railway accidents on its website. The Federal Railroad Administration has been keeping statistics on railroad crossing fatalities since 1981.