Ottawa bus crash isn’t Canada’s first train-crossing accident – but it’s the most fatal in years

Watch: Sea O’Shea reports on the lessons learned in previous rail accidents

Wednesday’s fatal collision between an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail passenger train in an Ottawa suburb is not the first such crash in the past few years.

But it is one of the most fatal.

Five people died on the scene and one has died in hospital, according to Ottawa emergency responders. That would make this Canada’s deadliest rail crossing crash in more than five years, according to a Transportation Safety Board database of accidents from January 1, 2008 through March 8, 2012. The next-highest crossing collisions were two 2010 accidents which had three fatalities each.

This is the highest fatality count of any incident in that database, which would make it second only to this summer’s fatal explosion in Lac-Megantic, which killed 47 people.

VIDEO: TSB officials discuss the ongoing investigation at scene of Ottawa accident

Between January 1, 2008 and March 8, 2012, there were 810 accidents at train crossings across Canada, according to the database. 215 of those were in Ontario, more than in any other province.

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In those 810 crashes, there were 101 fatalities.

But only one of these – a collision on April 4, 2008 near Oakville, ON – involved a bus.

While a CN train was performing switching operations, the train moved forward onto a road, striking a bus with 15 people on board. There were no fatalities or serious injuries reported.

According to these records, the number of accidents at rail crossings Canada-wide has been falling year over year: from 221 in 2008 to 170 in 2011.

Fatalities at crossings have been trending downwards too, according to TSB statistics. They hit a high of 46 in 2002, and were at 29 in 2012.

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In 2012, 18 per cent of rail accidents involved vehicles or pedestrians at rail crossings – nearly unchanged over the past five years.

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Passenger trains accounted for only 4 per cent of all rail accidents in Canada in 2012. Most accidents involve freight trains, and the rest, locomotives and individual rail cars.

Canada’s worst level crossing accident was in August of 1936 in Louiseville, Quebec, west of Trois-Rivieres, after a truck carrying men home from a political meeting passed cars stopped for a train, drove on to the tracks and was rammed. Twenty-five people died, the Globe and Mail reported.

Two of the deadliest crossing collisions have involved school buses: On November 29, 1960, a CN freight train hit a school bus in Lamont, AB, northeast of Edmonton. The train cut the bus in half, killing 16 high school students. A witness described the bus as “a twisted, tangled mess of steel … impossible to recognize as a bus.”

On October 7, 1966, a Toronto-bound freight train hit  a school bus in Doiron, west of Montreal, killing 19 teenagers and injuring another 21. The Globe and Mail reported “a thunderous crash that could be heard from a great distance.”

On December 12, 1975, a GO train hit a TTC bus that had stalled on a level crossing in Scarborough as passengers fled the bus. Nine people died, according to contemporary press accounts.

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