Simple fixes could keep trains from blocking ambulances in Cambridge,
retired conductor says
Published: August 19th 2010
Source: By Kevin Swayze, Record staff
CAMBRIDGE — Ron Bowman watches with dismay as a freight train groans to a stop in front of him a couple metres short of a Cambridge railway crossing, before creeping forward and blocking traffic for about five minutes.
The Kitchener man retired Aug. 1 after 37 years as a conductor and national safety manager for Canadian Pacific Railway. He’s not surprised an ambulance was delayed more than eight minutes at the Concession Road crossing July 3 while carrying a gravely ill, two-year-old boy.
“This is something that doesn’t have to happen here,” he said, his voice rising as a train a trundled by.
Canadian Pacific must upgrade it signal equipment and tracks to minimize the time trains block traffic in Cambridge, Bowman said. That would allow a faster train, so crossings aren’t blocked for nearly as long with cars made at the Toyota car factory north of Preston.
Today, Bowman said trains have to stop before crossings to ensure lights and gates are activated. Modern sensors would allow trains to keep moving, he said. It takes time to stop a kilometre-long train — and just as long to get it going again to the 16 km/h speed limit.
“You need to minimize overall delays,” Bowman said.
“Fewer stops mean fewer delays. Less fuel is used. It’s a benefit for everybody.”
The railway should also move shunting out of town to a new rail yard it built near the new Woodstock Toyota factory, he said.
A Canadian Pacific spokesperson wouldn’t offer any comment on Bowman’s observations. All Mike LoVecchio would say, is railway officials had a “very positive meeting” last week in Cambridge with representatives from Waterloo Region ambulance, Transport Canada and the city.
“Everybody in that room wanted the same thing: to see if we could improve what went on,” said John Prno, head of the ambulance service.
“I think has become a very positive, collegial, relationship.”
The boy was pulled from a pool behind a Concession Road home, revived by police and paramedics and put in an ambulance for a three-minute trip Cambridge Memorial Hospital. Instead, the ambulance was boxed in by a train shunting slowly back and forth at Concession.
The boy died two weeks later in a Hamilton hospital. As matter of policy, the Ontario coroner’s office is investigating. Any decision about an inquest is months away.
The Cambridge meeting uncovered local emergency dispatchers had outdated phone numbers for railway police. Even so, the railway worker who answered the call acted fast to transfer the emergency call to the people able to radio the train crew to get out of the way, Prno said.
New phone numbers were distributed last week to police, fire and ambulance dispatchers. Work is also underway on a map translating road-rail intersections into railway location language, to reduce today’s confusion.
Prno wouldn’t talk in detail about ideas discussed in the meeting, but hinted some of Bowman’s hopes for upgraded railway crossing signals were on the table.
New radio equipment allowing ambulances to trip traffic signals green might also be applied to railway crossings, Prno said.
The there are four railways crossing Waterloo Region: Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, Goderich & Exeter, and the Waterloo tourist train. They’ll likely all be invited to the next meeting in Cambridge, expected in a few weeks, Prno said.
“We want to make sure that when we have solved something, we’ve solved it for them all.”