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Distracted driving played role in fatal Langley train, ambulance collision

Jennifer Saltman

A fatal collision between an ambulance and a train in Langley two years ago was caused by driver distraction and the complex design of the railway crossing.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board (TSB) released its report into the Sept. 11, 2015 fatality during a news conference on Thursday morning.

“The TSB investigation found the initial question of what happened was relatively straightforward,” said the investigator in charge, Peter Hickli.

On Sept. 11, 2015, a northbound Canadian National train hit an ambulance at the Crush Crescent-Glover road rail crossing in Langley. Two paramedics — one was driving and one was attending to the patient — in the ambulance were injured, and the patient died of injuries suffered in the crash.

According to the TSB investigation, the ambulance entered the intersection after the grade crossing system — which included ringing bells, flashing lights and gates — had been activated.

The ambulance driver, who was on a personal cellphone call at the time, was intending to make a left-hand turn from Crush Crescent on to Glover. The driver crossed the first set of tracks while the train arm was up, but stopped on the second set of tracks when a lowered crossing gate for the opposite lane appeared to be blocking the way.

The driver edged the ambulance forward to try and fit it between the main track and the lowered gate, but it was not enough to move it clear of the approaching train. The train hit the rear passenger side of the ambulance.

According to the TSB, the lowered gate, which was in the opposite lane, was not an impediment to the ambulance moving forward.

The complexity of the crossing — it has multiple lanes, two adjacent rail tracks and many different and apparently contradictory signals — contributed to the accident, according to the report. The driver’s cellphone use was also a factor, likely decreasing their ability to understand the warnings. It’s unclear whether a hands-free device was in use.

In February 2016, Transport Canada issued a an order to the Township of Langley, the B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure and Canadian Pacific Rail, which owns the tracks. It stated that the timing configuration for the traffic light pre-emption and warning system gate delay was inadequate for longer vehicles to clear the crossing safely and that road markings were absent or faded.

Following the notice and order, the light and warning system delays were increased.

A month later, the TSB issued a rail-safety advisory to Transport Canada, the Transportation Ministry and CP, suggesting they review the functionality of the crossing, including the interconnection between the crossing's automatic warning devices and the traffic lights.

A second advisory was issued this year, which states that Transport Canada, the Transportation Ministry, CP and the Township of Langley should resolve jurisdictional responsibility for roadway markings at the crossing and other crossings in B.C. where responsibility is unclear.

Since the collision, safety improvements have been made at the crossing, including relocating the warning system to encompass both tracks and upgrading its equipment, installing flashing lights for better visibility, repainting pavement markings and adding an LED sign warning of an approaching train.

The TSB has investigated three previous incidents at the crossing, in 1993, 2006 and 2009. Two resulted in injuries, and one resulted in no injuries.