EXPERT: GET TSB IN NOW, ‘NOT IN A WEEK’
Calls for independent probe, tougher safety standards
A transportation engineering expert who studied the Humboldt Broncos bus crash and Ottawa’s 2013 bus-train crash says the city should call in independent investigators to examine Friday’s double-decker bus crash.
“There needs to be an independent safety investigation,” Ahmed Shalaby, professor and municipal infrastructure chairman with the department of civil engineering at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, said Saturday.
Shalaby had called Friday night for Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson to invite the Transportation Safety Board to investigate the rush-hour crash that killed three people and sent 23 to hospital.
“They needed to be there (Friday) night, not in a week,” he said.
The Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal investigative agency, was automatically brought in when an OC Transpo bus and Via Rail train collided at Fallowfield station in 2013 because train operations fall under federal jurisdiction. The TSB can and should also be called in this time, Shalaby said.
“It looks very similar to what happened in 2013, yet we are not calling in the people who investigated it,” he said.
Transport Canada and Ontario’s Ministry of Transport are involved in the investigation, officials said Friday. But Shalaby said that is no substitute for a TSB probe.
Among the factors being examined by six Ottawa police collision investigators are weather and road conditions, speed and human error, police said Saturday. The bus carried around 90 passengers, who cops will need to interview.
In videos taken Friday, a buildup of snow and ice was clearly visible on the Transitway not far from the crash site. There were reports of bus drivers complaining about puddles and ice forming under a drainage pipe at an overpass just before the crash site. Witnesses said the bus shook just before the crash.
Shalaby believes Ottawa police should not lead a safety investigation involving the city. He cited potential conflicts of interest and the fact police do not have the same capacity to recommend changes as the TSB.
One area that should be examined, Shalaby believes, is the height of bus shelters along the Transitway. On Friday, the bus slammed into a shelter that sliced though the vehicle’s upper deck.
“It is a crash that wasn’t designed for. It wasn’t designed for a double-decker to head toward the shelter,” Shalaby said.
Some of the recommendations the TSB made after the 2013 crash were aimed at making buses better able to withstand collisions, but they have yet to be acted on.
“The TSB investigated the 2013 Barrhaven crash, and one of their important recommendations was that Canada needs bus crash safety standards. We have none,” Shalaby said.
“Basically, a double-decker bus does not meet any crash safety standards and is built without consideration of how occupants are protected.”
In its report after the 2013 Ottawa crash, the TSB said most transit and interprovincial buses were “generally subject to the fewest safety standards.”
In an update published last year, the TSB reported Transport Canada was searching for a bus shell for testing, “but has not been successful.” It has proposed seatbelts on some commercial buses and electronic stability control systems, which will be required on most school buses and inter-city buses.
Russel Herold, whose son Adam died in the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, said he looked at photos of Friday night’s Westboro station crash in horror.
“This brings it all back. It is just that horror all over again, looking at those pictures,” Herold said.
Like Shalaby, Herold is pushing for better safety standards for buses and for the TSB to routinely investigate such crashes.
“The standards need to be raised. Buses have the lowest standard for crush compaction and roof standards in the industry. They are not built as robustly as passenger cars. Everybody assumes a bus is a safe thing because it is a big vehicle,” Herold said.
“They are like an aluminum can going down the road.”