Feature Story                                                                                                           Sunday, May 4, 2014


Train of Thoughts

Multiple agencies bring railway safety awareness to Chilliwack Streets

Staff/Voice photos


CN Police, RCMP and Transport Canada officials hand out brochures to drivers at the Young Rd. rail crossing last week.


or two hours last Wednesday, Transport Canada and BC Safety Authority officials, along with CN police, were stopping traffic at the Young Road rail crossing and handing out brochures to drivers and pedestrians as part of Public-Rail Safety Week that runs April 29 to May 4.


It's one of the busiest grade crossings in the country. Last year, two lives were lost at the Young Rd crossing. In April, a young man was injured while driving a tractor that was hit by a train at the South Sumas crossing. The accidents were caused by carelessness and unnecessary risk-taking.


According to a Canadian National Railway news release last week, pedestrian accidents are up 76 per cent over the last 5 years at grade crossings. In 2013, there were 58 trespasser accidents resulting in 44 fatalities and 10 people sustained serious injuries. There were 180 crossing motor vehicle accidents during the same period.


Transport Canada's Operation Lifesaver and its partners created Rail Safety Week in 2003 to raise public awareness of the potential dangers at highway/railway crossings and from trespassing on railway property. The initiative works with local schools and businesses to increase safety around railways.


CN Crossing and Trespassing Enforcement Officer, Cst. Norman Witzell, told the Voice on Wednesday that their officers attend special events throughout Chilliwack.


"I'll be attending one later on this year; the Community Safety Event with Samantha Piper (City of Chilliwack) at Canadian Tire, and I also engage the local schools close to the tracks in the community on railway safety awareness about railway crossings and trespassing to reduce the number of incidents that happen along the railways," said Witzell.


Canadian National, Canadian Pacific, Via Rail and Southern Railway all operate within the city limits and Witzell recommends people use the Yale Road overpass as much as possible.


"We have an alternative crossing with an overpass on it where people can cross over the railway tracks safely," he said. "For pedestrians, we also have two pedestrian tunnels here in town for people to walk underneath the railway tracks safely. So there are alternative routes built-in for public safety."




Eric Samuelson, with the BC Safety Authority, said his organization regulates provincial crossings and that Young Road crossing is under federal jurisdiction.


"We're supporting Transport Canada and their Operation Lifesaver," explained Samuelson. "We're trying to do something that disrupts people's lives as little as possible, so that it gets the message out there that they should be aware of how to behave around railway crossings and not to trespass on the tracks,"


VIA Rail operates some 500 trains weekly on 12,500 kilometers of track across Canada.

According to Operation Lifesaver, there are approximately 300 collisions and trespassing incidents at railway crossings and along railway tracks in Canada each year. "That's 300 incidents too many," according to Jean Tierney, Senior Director, Safety and Security at VIA Rail, "which is why VIA Rail continues to collaborate closely with Operation Lifesaver, the Railway Association of Canada, Transport Canada, CN, CP, Go Transit and other industry partners to improve safety and help spread the word about railway safety every day."


"Safety is a priority at Canadian Pacific," said Canadian Pacific Police Service Acting Chief, Ken Marchant in a release on Monday. "Public Rail Safety Week is an important reminder to the public to stay away from railway property and be aware at grade crossings."


Improvements could be made. On Monday, the gates at the Young Road crossing were up but the signals indicated a train. Cars crept through with caution, but there were no attendants on scene. RCMP reported the situation 2-3 hours later.


On Wednesday, Chilliwack MP Mark Strahl announced that $68,450 will be allocated for further safety improvements such as a constant warning device at the Young Rd. crossing as part of Transport Canada's Grade Crossing Improvement Program.


The device measures train speed and distance, predicting the arrival of the train at the crossing allowing for a relatively uniform warning time to public traffic. Improvements may also include installing flashing lights and bells, installing gate barriers, linking crossing signals to traffic signals, upgrading light bulbs to brighter LED lights, or adding new circuits or timing devices.




"As part of Rail Safety Week, I am very happy to announce safety improvements to this important rail crossing. The Conservative Government is committed to reducing rail-related injuries and fatalities across the country," said Strahl.


CN has been promoting railway safety for more than 25 years through its All Aboard for Safety community education program. Every year, CN Police officers make hundreds of All Aboard for Safety presentations and talk to more than 300,000 children and adults at schools and community events in Canada and the United States about the importance of safety and the dangers of walking or playing on or near railway tracks. Part of the strength of this program is the collaborative relationship with major community safety partners such as Operation Lifesaver and Parachute.


CN Police are urging the public to call CN Police at 1-800-465-9239 to report unsafe behaviour on railway property.




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