CJAD 800 News has learned a Quebec coroner is recommending Transport Canada review its policy regarding the intensity of train headlights, following the deaths of three young men two and a half years ago when a Via Rail train hit them while they were on the tracks in the Turcot rail yards.
While Via Rail train No. 668 had its lights dimmed to avoid blinding motorists in the area according to regulation, Quebec coroner Krystyna Pecko calls into question the intensity of the lights, since there was little difference between dimmed lights and lights that are off, Pecko saying this could be why the three victims weren't visible.
Dylan Ford and Mitchell Bracken-Guenet, both 17, and 18-year-old Ricardo Conesa were on the tracks painting graffiti on the concrete walls on Halloween night 2010 when the train hit them.
The coroner is recommending Transport Canada study the level of intensity needed when the train's headlights are dimmed and review situations to ensure it's safe.
It's a recommendation that's welcomed by Ford's mother Jamie McAllan.
"They said it could have been prevented if the lights were on. One hundred per cent," McAllan told CJAD 800 News.
The families say train and safety officials should have known better and kept the lights at a stronger intensity since this area was known to be popular with young people and graffiti taggers. The coroner also notes that all the graffiti in the area indicates trespassers go in and out of the area frequently. The coroner also says the victims had consumed alcohol and marijuana and that could have affected their perception and attention.
The coroner notes other factors were that the victims were wearing dark clothing, there was a fence around the tracks, and the train was just coming out of an S curve.
But the families of the victims say all of this information is wrong.
"We'll definitely be getting back to them," McAllan said.
"(We'll be telling them) to reinvestigate and to get the facts straight."
McAlllan also said there should be a further investigation into rail safety, that "there are too many deaths and more needs to be done."
The coroner also recommends all parties involved, including Via Rail, Transport Canada, the safety board, the city of Montreal, and police, collaborate on safety awareness campaigns as well as take measures to keep trespassers out and to make the area safer.
Montreal police say policing of the tracks is CN's responsibility.
CN said in an email to CJAD 800 News that it's conducting more frequent patrols to prevent trespassing. It said it's also installed new fencing to make the area less accessible. It added however that it's also the public's responsibility to obey the law at all times.
"This tragic incident is a sad reminder of the dangers of trespassing on railway property. CN has maintained its police presence in that area and is doing more frequent patrols to prevent trespassing. New fencing has been installed to make the area less accessible. But Police presence and fencing cannot be viewed as the only solutions to trespassing. Ultimately, it is the public’s responsibility to obey the law at all times.
Safety is paramount at CN. That includes safety of the neighboring communities where we operate. 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 being on or near railway tracks.
CN also notes that the practice of dimming locomotive headlights when facing oncoming vehicles at night is mandated by the Canadian Rail Operating Rules (Rule 17), a set of rules that applies to all Canadian railways, and is designed to protect the safety of vehicular traffic, by avoiding that drivers be blinded or distracted by locomotive headlights."
Transport Canada, also replying in an email, said that it will closely examine the coroner's recommendation before officially responding.
"Transport Canada regrets the loss of life of these three young men and our thought are with those who have been affected by this tragic accident. The Department recognizes the important role the Coroner's office plays in reviewing this case. We will closely examine the recommendation directed at Transport Canada before officially responding to the Quebec Coroner's Office.
Transport Canada is committed to ensuring that Canada has one of the safest rail transport systems in the world. Last Spring, important amendments were made to the Rail Safety Act that will further improve Transport Canada’s rail safety oversight regime.
Transport Canada’s role is to promote, monitor and enforce existing regulations. To this end, the Department monitors operations on the ground, conducts inspections, verifications and consultations with stakeholders and delivers education and awareness programs.
For example, Operation Lifesaver is a public education program co-founded in 1981 by Transport Canada and the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) to raise awareness of railway crossings and the dangers of trespassing on the tracks. The program develops and promotes videos, and sponsors events in schools and communities.
Transport Canada also works with stakeholders to improve rail safety through various awareness programs. In this regard, the number of accidents connected to trespassing has significantly reduced over the years in Canada."
Via Rail for its part said it's satisfied with the report which it said confirms it complied with regulations in force and that its policy is to strictly follow safety standards and regulations.
All three said their thoughts and sympathies are with the families of the victims.