Canada's most dangerous rail crossings

Canada's most dangerous rail crossings

Organisation: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC News) (Canada)

Publication Date: 04/07/2017


In a country as vast of Canada, rail transportation is part of everyday life. However, due to the low population density of in most of the country (approx 4 people per sq km), the vast majority of rail crossings (where roads and rail intersect) have little to no safety controls in place. Meaning that hundreds of collision with trains happen every year, many of which are fatal and unexpected. It was well-known that Canada's federal transportation agency maintained a database of accident data, but through sources we discovered that the data generally released publicly did not contain all the relevant data fields that could otherwise shed light on exact locations of crossing accidents. After getting copies of the complete relational database through a series of FOIAs, we were able to geolocate every collision between vehicles and trains over a 15-year window across the country by merging these records with a rail network map that had been released on an open data portal. The crux was that until now the the unique IDs for each rail crossing intersection was not made public, but with the complete fields lists, we were now able to pinpoint on a map where accidents occurred most frequently. In the process, we learned that an internal government document had identified a list of the top 500 highest-risk crossings in the country requiring upgrades -- a list that had never before been shared with affected local communities. The internal data proved to be accurate, as days before publishing, two people were killed a crossing that was ranked 4th-highest risk based on the internal government documents.


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