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A single citizen, a single voice: a major change with perhaps lives saved.

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By Pepper Parr

February 1, 2014

BURLINGTON, ON.

In April 2013 Burlington resident Denise Davy spoke as a delegation at the city’s Community Services Committee, urging the city to take responsibility for the safety of pedestrians at railway crossings. City Council directed staff to consult with community stakeholders to research rail safety.

This was the situation in Burlington before Denise Davey delegated to city council for a change.

A rail line safety and awareness stakeholder committee was formed to bring the various groups together to review the issue and develop strategies to prevent rail line deaths. The committee included representatives fromGO Transit, CN, VIA Rail, CPCOAST, ROCK, Canadian Mental Health Association, theNorth Halton Mental Health Clinic, Halton Police, Region of Halton Public Works, Transport Canada and theTransportation Safety Board.  The review resulted in a number of short-term strategies and long-term opportunities.

Today there is appropriate fencing and protocols in place to ensure that the city tells the GO people and other authorities that the fence has been breached.

It was not quite this easy when Denise Davey first took on the task of making the railway tracks safer by blocking crossing that were not properly secured.  Davey’s son, Ryan, was 18 when he was killed by a train in March of 1998.  Here is how she tells her story:

“Many more people have been killed by trains going through Halton since then and the numbers over the last year have increased at an alarming rate. In a six-month period, from August 2012 to February 2013, six people were killed, including a 23-year-old Hamilton man.

“That’s a huge increase from previous years and it speaks to the need for better safety measures to prevent further deaths. The area of major concern is along Fairview and Cumberland where many people have been killed by trains.

“It’s wide open and also extremely close to one of the busiest shopping plazas in Burlington. Although there are “Danger” signs posted, the well-worn footpath is a testament to how few people heed them. The same problem exists with the tracks that run between Appleby Line and Burloak, by Sherwood Forest Park.

“Not only are there openings in the fence by the park, but in many areas the bottom part of the fence has been pulled up where people have obviously crawled under. Finding out who is responsible for safety along the tracks was so difficult, however, that even after several calls to rail officials, I’m not completely clear on it.

“Indeed, it seemed even rail officials weren’t clear on it. Transport Canada and the Transportation Safety Board were quick to deflect all blame for any deaths or injuries and talk about the public’s responsibility.

“And there is truth in that. The public needs to be responsible around the tracks. But at some point, the people who run the trains also need to take some responsibility. I can think of several stories I’ve covered as a reporter in which a person was killed crossing the street illegally but a stoplight was later put in place to prevent further deaths or injuries.

“Not only are rail officials quick to deflect blame, they’re tight-lipped when it comes to statistics on train-related fatalities and injuries. After several calls to the GO media folks I was told they don’t have statistics on the number of people who have been killed by GO trains along the Halton tracks.

“How can it be?” I asked the GO spokesperson, “You’re telling me that you don’t know how many people have been killed by the service you run?” I was quickly put on hold then told I needed to talk to someone else. I never got the number from GO.

“I was eventually told by Halton police (who told me earlier they didn’t have the numbers) that five of the six recent deaths in Halton were a result of GO trains.

“I will be talking to members of Burlington city council about changes I think need to be made to areas along the tracks. They include fencing, surveillance cameras, motion sensitive lighting and noise barriers, the same type you see along the QEW in Grimsby.

“I figure if they’re deemed important enough to buffer noise for residents who live close to the highway, they should be considered important enough to save a life.”

Will the sign make a difference? If it doesn’t – well we tried. But if it does – that is a victory. Denise Davey deserves great credit for her efforts. Keep her in mind when it comes to selecting Burlington`s Best.

It was an uphill fight for a long period of time but at a city council meeting in January Bruce Zvaniga, director of transportation services said: “The various stakeholders came to the table prepared to discuss and make changes,” said Zvaniga, and  “I would like to thank them for their responsiveness, action and commitment to safety.”

The committee has already put in place a number of short-term strategies, including:

A communication protocol where city staff share information with rail operators regarding fence damage and footpaths near the rail line. Rail operators are also to share information with roads and parks maintenance staff regarding fence damage on city-owned properties

Rail operator “high rail” reviews that exchange information about identified outcomes

City fencing improvements in five different locations where chain fences will be installed

Rail line safety and awareness in 11 public schools and seven catholic schools as part of the schools’  safety awareness programs and under the leadership of Operation Lifesaver

Site specific strategies have been implemented by GO Transit and the Canadian Mental Health Association

“I am very proud of the work done by the stakeholder committee,” said Mayor Rick Goldring. “ The committee has created a set of best practices for the entire country. If what we have set in motion can save one life, than it has well be worth it.”

An annual stakeholder review process is now in place. The stakeholder group will meet each year to look at the outcomes of previous strategies, identify possible new strategies and discuss long-term opportunities. In 2014, the committee will invite the Catholic and public school boards to participate.

Somewhere along the way the woman who had lost a child to a rail line accident got forgotten as all the bureaucrats who should have been on top of this issue from the beginning did nothing until Denise Davey delegated.

The power of one person with a voice and the courage of their convictions is immense and magnificent.

Background links:

City staff directed to start asking questions.

Three deaths in seven months.

Parent wants better rail line safety – death level intolerable.

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  1. Well done Denise – this was a huge undertaking initiated by you. I hope you are proud of your efforts. I know many lives will be saved because of you. Thank you for the great work you do.