September 18, 2013 1:09 pm
Updated: September 18, 2013 2:03 pm

Via sought train speed increases at site of fatal crash

Emergency workers attend to Wednesday's crash scene in Barrhaven, a southwestern suburb of Ottawa.

CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
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Via Rail has been seeking to raise speed limits on express routes through the southwestern suburb of Ottawa where one of its trains collided with a city transit bus Wednesday morning killing at least six people.

The plan may be in doubt following the deadly collision at the Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road railroad crossing – one of five in Barrhaven, home to 75,000 residents.

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For more than a year, the passenger train operator has planned to increase speeds on twice-a-day express routes that would see trains travel through the suburb at speeds approaching 160-kilometres an hour – or about 100 kilometres an hour faster than they travel now.

That proposal would let express trains continue at their normal travelling speeds through stations such as Fallowfield, which is located about 150 metres from Wednesday’s crash that killed six and left at least 10 others in critical condition.

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The plan was postponed last year when city councillors as well as Ottawa mayor Jim Watson complained that the city and the public weren’t given enough notice under the federal Railway Safety Act.

The mayor’s office sent a letter to then-Transport Minister Denis Lebel requesting to postpone the speed increases, after which, Via agreed to delay the plan by at least 60 days.

The city of Ottawa hired a consultant to look at Via crossings in Barrhaven, according to city Councillor Jan Harder, though the report hasn’t been made public.

As of April, Via was still pursuing the request, and had been expecting back a risk assessment report.

A company spokesperson could not be immediately reached for comment.

The train involved in Wednesday’s accident, Train #51 from Montreal to Toronto, was not an express train and was slowing to stop at Fallowfield station though the exact speed the locomotive was travelling isn’t known.

Part of the proposal included refitting crossing lights and arms at road crossings that would respond to an incoming train travelling at higher speeds.

Via has spent $40.4 million over the last two years on improving safety at nearly 250 crossings along the Quebec-Windsor corridor, including five in the Ottawa area.

Trains that stop now at the Fallowfield station run on average at 60-70 km/h through Barrhaven, a spokesperson for Via told the Ottawa Sun in April.

“We wish to assure local residents that safety of people is the cornerstone of our business,” Via spokeswoman Mylene Belanger said in an e-mail sent to the Sun in April.

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