Within hours of January’s deadly double-decker bus crash, Transport Canada officials were scrambling to put together information about what the department had been doing to improve bus safety since an earlier deadly crash in Ottawa involving an OC Transpo bus and a Via Rail train.According to documents obtained by this newspaper through access to information, the answer was not very much when it came to making buses better able to withstand crashes.There had been very little progress in developing so-called crashworthiness standards for large passenger buses, something recommended by the Transportation Safety Board after an OC Transpo bus collided with a train in 2013, killing six people.
First responders at the scene of the Westboro Station bus crash in January.
Wayne Cuddington /
Unlike with smaller vehicles and school buses, there are no federal government standards requiring large passenger buses to have reinforced sides or other safety features to help them withstand crashes or rollovers and to protect passengers, something highlighted after Ottawa’s 2013 bus-train crash.An internal Transport Canada email prepared on the evening of Jan. 11, just hours after the rush-hour crash at Westboro Station, “acknowledged” the recommendation for standards to help buses withstand crashes, but added: “Extremely high forces were involved in the collision that are beyond reasonable expectations of structural integrity for any road vehicle.” A section describing how Transport Canada had advanced the project was redacted.But internal emails reveal frustration at how difficult it was to get the project moving.Progress on the “crashworthiness project” at Transport Canada was “glacial”, according to one email exchange between officials working on it. The biggest slowdown was trying to get hold of a so-called “test buck” which reproduces structural elements of a bus, for testing.In fact, when bus No. 269 crashed on Jan. 11 of this year, killing three people on board and injuring 23 others during Friday afternoon rush hour, Transport Canada had not yet launched a competitive tendering process for the crucial item needed for testing — more than three years after the Transportation Safety Board recommended it develop crashworthy standards.
Transportation Safety Board of Canada photograph from the scene of a fatal collision between an OC Transpo bus and a VIA Rail passenger train in September 2013.
Darren Brown /
In a memo written just weeks before January’s bus crash, an official with Transport Canada wrote that tender documents were being prepared. But in mid January, a Transport Canada spokesperson said it was still working with Public Services and Procurement Canada to launch a competitive process.That tender was just posted on the electronic tendering service MERX last week — nearly three and a half years after the recommendations were made. The testing, according to the tender document, could take 24 months.The lag time in moving the crashworthy project forward appeared to frustrate some officials, according to documents.“Despite expedition on our side for our high priority testing in that domain, the bus procurement has been glacial — Contracting is simply overwhelmed, overloaded and overprocessed,” wrote a Transport Canada employee, who appeared to express frustration with the lack of progress in an email exchange with others involved in motor vehicle enforcement.Related
Suzanne Tylko, Transport Canada’s respected head of crashworthiness research, appeared to share that frustration, saying in an internal email in late 2016 that “getting any paperwork through PWGSC (Public Works and Government Services Canada) has been hell …”The Transportation Safety Board has noted that there is a gap when it comes to crashworthiness of large passenger buses which have no standards for strength when they are involved in a head-on or lateral collision, a rollover or a crash. School buses, which have reinforced sides, fare better in crashes — even with trains — than large passenger buses that have no crashworthy standards.
The wreckage of a fatal crash outside of Tisdale, Sask., is seen Saturday, April, 7, 2018. A bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos hockey team crashed into a truck en route to Nipawin, killing 14 and sending over a dozen more to the hospital.
Jonathan Hayward /
The Canadian Press
Observers say such standards might have protected some passengers in the two deadly crashes in Ottawa involving OC Transpo double-decker buses, as well as the 2018 Humboldt Broncos bus crash that killed 16 people.The lack of action on developing crashworthy standards for heavy passenger buses came into focus during January’s OC Transpo crash, but also earlier when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos was hit by a transport truck.After the January crash, Transportation Safety Board head Kathy Fox slammed Transport Canada for taking so long to act on the recommendations made in 2015.Last month, at a parliamentary hearing into bus safety, Fox reiterated those concerns. “The board is concerned by the slow progress on addressing crashworthiness standards,” she told the parliamentary transport committee in April. Fox added that the Transportation Safety Board, which annually reviews responses to its recommendations, has downgraded its response to Transport Canada’s action on the file.“We’re concerned that (Transport Canada) has taken a lot of steps to try to address the issue of bus safety, but it’s not moving fast enough on the issue of crashworthiness.”Later at the same April parliamentary committee hearing, Kevin Brousseau, assistant deputy minister for safety and security at Transport Canada, said the department has now accelerated its work on crashworthiness and plans to begin testing out-of-commission buses this summer.“I agree that we were taking too long.”Emails and other documents obtained by the Citizen offer a glimpse into why it has taken Transport Canada so long to take even initial steps toward developing those standards. Difficulty procuring a “test buck” or bus shell was the main barrier.A 2016 memo written for Laureen Kinney, Assistant Deputy Minister for Safety and Security at Transport Canada noted that the original plan to obtain a bus shell for testing had failed. “An extensive search throughout North America failed to locate any double-decker or single deck transit bus shells available for purchase, even at junk yards.”The memo then said a collaborative program was being developed with Volvo buses. Prevost, a Quebec bus manufacturer and subsidiary of Volvo, agreed to manufacture “test bucks” that replicate a transit bus, the memo concluded.
The OC Transpo bus involved in the crash at Westboro station was towed from the scene, revealing extensive damage, on Jan. 12, 2019.
David Kawai /
“Purchasing the test bucks should be less expensive than purchasing an entire coach bus and will provide greater flexibility for the test program”, the memo said, noting that used coach buses can cost between $165,000 and $450,000.What happened to that plan?In the fall of 2016, according to emails, Tylko appeared to have made progress planning a testing program, although she noted that she had no staff and hoped to hire a student to help with the literature review that would be part of Transport Canada’s work on the project.In an email she described the potential project as taking about three years and costing in the range of $100,000 a year.In late 2016, a background note described the project to test “bucks” made by Prevost in Quebec City for crashworthiness looking at structural stiffening and inflatable technologies. Under the category “risk”, the background document noted that “there may be long lead times to issue a purchase order.”In 2017, internal email discussions had turned to the issue of funding the project and procurement.FEATURE: Six on a bus: How small decisions determined the fate of six passengers on OC Transpo Bus 8155Ahmed Shalaby, a transport engineering expert at the University of Manitoba who reviewed the documents, said the emails reflect a cash-strapped department where responsibility and resources are mismatched.Trying to purchase shells for testing seemed to stall the project, he said.“Transport Canada was mired in a purchasing mess. This is typical of these types of unique and custom order contracts.”Shalaby also said the apparent lack of resources of the head of crashworthiness research does not square with Minister Marc Garneau’s repeated assertion that safety is the department’s top priority.“It is clearly not.”email@example.comALSO IN THE NEWSOntario eliminates Indigenous Culture Fund, cuts millions for the artsParamedics revive runner who collapsed during Race Weekend 10K‘I’m just so angry’: Ottawa woman’s World Cup dreams sullied by FIFA seating shock