Crossing and Trespass Safety Improves Each Year in Canada

OTTAWA, April 23 /CNW/ - General Electric is a major supplier of highway/railway crossing safety technology, mainly for freight railroads. The company also manufactures warning systems for train detection, grade crossings and virtually every piece of equipment installed on-site to make each crossing safer.

Because of the hundreds of thousands of components installed in 55,000 grade crossings in Canada, the industry doesn't change quickly. Crossings are built to last at least 20 years and the industry replaces some 2,000 highway/railway crossings a year throughout North America. About 100 crossings a year -- 155 in 2010 -- are upgraded in Canada.

In the past, one piece of technology operated the gates, another flashed the lights, and another detected the approaching train. The functions have become much more integrated today, and they generate more information in all circumstances such as hot and cold weather, lightning conditions and electrical surges, said Bill Shields, a product manager in crossing safety application engineering in Kansas City, Missouri. He has specialized in this area of the domestic and international market for more than 30 years.

The use of LED technology (Light Emitting Diode) for clearer, more visible crossing lights and internet-based protocols which allow one box to talk more easily to another, have been significant in the past decade.

Aaron Branston of VIA said his company is having seven advanced Electrologixs systems, designed by General Electric, installed on its Chatham, ON subdivision. The predictors see a train, predict the speed it is travelling and sets the signal to begin operating in due course.

Each "active" crossing, one equipped with flashing lights, bell and/or gates, has specific parameters for a time warning. For example, if a train is travelling at 50 miles an hour, the system gives a motorist 25 seconds of warning time at the crossing while gates, and other more-sophisticated systems, require more warning time.

Dave McNeill, Manager of Track and Signals for Rail Term, said his company has a main office in Dorval, QC and satellite offices in Ottawa, Chatham, Brockville, Aston and St. Jerome. It maintains 150 miles of track and signals, including 1,140 crossings and warnings, for VIA Rail. They also serve OC Transpo in Ottawa and have a system in Rutland, Vermont for American rail traffic control operations. Rail Term employs 110, including 45 track and signaling workers.

They are among those who install fully-equipped signaling bungalows to facilitate between 80 and 100 crossing upgrades across the country each year. The Chatham subdivision was also equipped with 18 miles of fencing before year-end last year to reduce trespassing incidents.

Matt Holland, Director, Safety and Security for GO Transit, the largest commuter rail operation in Canada, said his staff works with stakeholder agencies to distribute Operation Lifesaver materials and extend GO Transit's reach to targeted audiences, including commercial drivers, off-road vehicle clubs, snowmobile clubs and schools.

When GO re-introduced service to Barrie, it had been more than 15 years since passenger trains ran from Bradford to the community. To re-educate the residents about an active rail corridor in their neighbourhood, GO developed and participated in Operation Lifesaver programs to approximately 30 public schools, announcements to high schools outlining the dangers associated with trespassing on railway property, and a "newly licensed driver" video program focused on educating new drivers about vehicle safety around highway/railway crossings. GO Transit also has an annual fence installation program on a priority basis.

GO established a three-phase, multi-year crossing rehabilitation capital plan, beginning in 2004. All 90 of GO-owned at-grade crossings are now equipped with bells, lights and gates. They replaced old-style cantilevers with new walk-out bridge type gate/cantilever combinations, upgraded to LED lights improving visibility for motorists, and installed new control equipment at certain crossings including event recorders, grade crossing predictors and solid-state crossing controllers.

Last month, they began upgrading their crossings by replacing eight inch incandescent light units with larger, more-visible 12 inch LED light units. Currently, GO is conducting a corridor risk management study which will identify high risk trespassing points at crossings and rank their risk to help the commuter service eliminate it on a priority basis.

GO has embarked on one of its biggest public outreach programs ever, focusing on 180 driving schools, 25 school bus companies, 90 child care facilities, 100 snowmobile clubs, 80 all-terrain vehicle clubs, 60 cross-country ski clubs, 60 cycling clubs, 50 rail fan clubs and 90 farm machinery retailers. Other initiatives are being planned.

Eric Renaud of X-Rail in Chateauguay, Quebec, and a native of Point aux Tremble, said Quebec has already improved 30 to 40 crossings with LED lights, and employees are currently installing event recorders to track safety activities and processes. X-Rail's 35 employees maintain 500 crossings a month and do regular safety assessments. He's proud of his workforce's youthful average age - 30 - and believes they are in the business for the long haul.

SOURCE Railway Association of Canada

For further information: For further information: Paul Goyette, Railway Association of Canada, (613) 564-8097; www.railcan.ca; Sean Rushton, Transport Canada, (613) 991-6031; www.tc.gc.ca

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