A transportation engineering expert who studied the Humboldt Broncos bus crash last April and Ottawa’s 2013 bus-train crash says the city should immediately call in independent investigators to examine Friday’s deadly double-decker bus crash at Westboro Station.
“There needs to be an independent safety investigation,” Ahmed Shalaby, professor and municipal infrastructure chair with the department of civil engineering at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, said Saturday.
A file photo of University of Manitoba civil engineering professor and transportation safety expert Ahmed Shalaby.
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.”
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, at the mayor’s invitation.
“It looks very similar to what happened in 2013, yet we are not calling in the people who investigated it,” he said.
Among the factors being examined by six Ottawa police collision investigators are weather and road conditions, speed and human error, police said Saturday.
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 a drainage pipe that runs off at an overpass just before the crash location and creates puddles or ice there. Witnesses spoke of feeling the bus shake just before the crash.
Police said Saturday the investigation would be “long, detailed and complex.” Among other things, the bus carried around 90 passengers who need to be interviewed.
Shalaby believes Ottawa police should not lead a safety investigation involving the City of Ottawa. He cited potential conflicts of interest and the fact that police do not have the same capacity to make recommendations to prevent future tragedies.
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. That was where many of the serious injuries occurred and where several people were trapped.
First responders attend to victims of a horrific rush hour bus crash at the Westboro Station near Tunney’s Pasture. Photo by Wayne Cuddington/ Postmedia ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Ottawa January 11, 2019
“It is a crash that wasn’t designed for. It wasn’t designed for a double-decker to head toward the shelter,” Shalaby said. He also noted there were no barriers to stop or slow a bus from mounting the curb.
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. When hit by a slow-moving train or as in Friday’s crash it offers little protection to its occupants.”
In its report after the 2013 Ottawa crash, the TSB noted that most transit and interprovincial buses were “generally subject to the fewest safety standards.”
Investigators also noted that four of the six people fatally injured in 2013 were seated in the front row of the upper deck of the double-decker bus. “Although the ADL E500 (the model of that bus) met all regulatory requirements, the front-end framings were not designed to provide any impact protection for upper deck occupants seated in the front row.”
The OC Transpo bus involved in Friday’s crash at Westboro Station was towed from the scene on Saturday, revealing extensive damage.
Since the TSB delivered that report in 2015, calling for improvements in “crashworthiness” of buses, Transport Canada has taken small steps, but is still a long way from taking real action.
In an update published last year, the TSB reported that 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 the TSB has proposed be mandated on most school buses and inter-city buses.
During a news conference within hours of Friday afternoon’s crash, OC Transpo head John Manconi made a point of saying that OC Transpo acted on all the recommendations out of the 2013 crash investigation and that its double-decker fleet met all safety requirements. The question of crashworthiness, he said, was for the federal government.
Shalaby is not the only one concerned about the ongoing failure to make buses safer.
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.”
Like Shalaby, Herold is pushing for better safety standards for buses and for the Transportation Safety Board to routinely investigate such accidents and push for changes.
Ottawa police have the area around the Westboro transit station cordoned off with police tape and cruiser’s Saturday Jan. 12, 2019, while the collision is investigated.
“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. I think there need to be higher standards on bus construction by Transport Canada. They need to look at the safety side of these buses.”
Transport Canada and Ontario’s Ministry of Transport are involved in the investigation, officials said Friday. Transport Canada is conducting a study on serious collisions, Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau said.
Shalaby said that was no substitute for a TSB investigation.
Shalaby and others believe bus safety requires the same independent oversight as airline safety, and the TSB automatically investigates any plane crashes.
The TSB, on its website, describes its mandate as advancing transportation safety in the marine, pipeline, rail and air modes of transportation.