Simple fixes could keep trains from blocking ambulances in
Cambridge, retired conductor says
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
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
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
“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outdated phone numbers for railway police.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
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.”