The Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) says the May 2018 fatal railway crossing accident at Broadway Avenue in Chilliwack highlights “the persistent risks faced by persons using assistive devices.”
The TSB’s report released July 23 reiterates the need for improved safety at railway crossings for people using wheelchairs.
Matthew Jarvis died on May 26, 2018 when a CN freight train struck him after his wheelchair got stuck on the tracks. Two motorists attempted to save Jarvis before the collision.
One of them, Julie Callaghan, suffered serious injuries when the train struck her hand. Her injury is so bad that she needs to have her hand amputated, and she has been repeatedly called a hero for her actions.
What led to the terrible accident just after 5:30 p.m. that day is a persistent problem for wheelchair users at all railway crossings, according to the TSB.
The motorized wheelchair Jarvis was in on May 26, 2018 had caster wheels 50 millimetres (mm) wide, half as wide as the narrowest gap next to the rails at the Broadway Crossing, referred to as a flangeway. The TSB found that when Jarvis, who was travelling southbound, stopped with the rear wheels on the south rail, he then moved the motorized wheelchair in the opposite direction.
“As a result, both rear caster wheels likely rotated and fell into the 103 mm gap at the crossing, known as a flangeway, between the sidewalk and the rail,” according to the report.
Impending changes to flangeways coming in 2021 as required by Transport Canada will reduce the maximum flangeway width to 75 mm.
“This reduction, however, would be insufficient to ensure that caster wheels of 50 mm, such as those involved in this accident, do not become lodged in the flangeway,” the TSB report found.
The detailed TSB report outlined the agonizing seconds before the impact that day.
• At 1733:27 (5:33 p.m. and 27 seconds), Jarvis began moving on to the crossing as the train was 6,706 feet from the crossing heading west.
• At 1733:34, he crossed the north rail, stopped between the rails and looked west and then east.
• At 1734:26, he moved the wheelchair in the opposite direction resulting in one of the rear wheels becoming lodged in the flangeway gap of the south rail, immobilizing the wheelchair. Addition movement resulted in the second rear wheel becoming lodged as well. At this point the train is 2,640 feet from the crossing.
• At 1734:34, the wheelchair still immobilized as the crossing gates begin to descend. The train is 2,110 feet away.
• At 1734:56, Callaghan and another woman attempted to move Jarvis to safety. They get the two rear wheels out but can’t move the wheelchair. The train is 592 feet away and the locomotive horn is sounded continuously for two seconds.
• At 1734:59, three seconds later the train is 410 feet away and the two motorists are still trying to help.
• At 1735:01, the motorists keep trying, the train is 280 feet away, and the locomotive is sounding its horn.
• At 1735:04 the train strikes Jarvis in the wheelchair, the two motorists attempt to jump out of the path, but Callaghan was struck and Jarvis was killed.
The TSB reported that following the investigation of a previous crossing accident involving a motorized assistive device in Moncton, New Brunswick in 2016, the TSB recommended that Transport Canada (TC) work with stakeholders to identify engineering options for the improvement of crossings designated for persons using assistive devices.
TC agreed with the recommendation and reported that measures were taken to identify and assess engineering options that would help improve crossing safety for wheelchair users.
“The TSB has assessed the TC response to the recommendation as having Satisfactory Intent.”
Transport Canada also issued a notice of non-compliance to CN that identified a number of safety concerns with the Broadway Street public crossing. TC also issued a notice to the City of Chilliwack concerning issues with the sidewalks and road approaches, and the city has improvement work scheduled for this summer.