Calls for in­de­pen­dent probe, tougher safety stan­dards

Ottawa Sun - - NEWS - EL­IZ­A­BETH PAYNE

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.”

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