One killed in GO bus crash

A fire truck lights the scene of a GO bus crash; Vaughan, January 15, 2015

It is the first ever fatality in GO Transit’s history. A passenger died in a crash on Highway 407 last night. And there were a lot of questions about the driver today — who is from Hamilton — and the bus.

The flag here at the Hamilton GO station on Hunter Street is flying at half staff tonight. The bus left from this GO station last evening and was heading to York University. Just 10 minutes before it was scheduled to arrive, it somehow lost control, hit a guardrail and flipped onto its side on the 407. A 56-year old woman from Brampton was killed. Police are still trying to figure out how this happened.

A mangled mess of on the side of the 407 is all that remained.

This GO bus was heading east to York University when it lost control, slammed into a guardrail and flipped onto its side in the grassy median near Weston Road.

The steel guardrail went right through the windshield and out the roof. Several of the windows were broken.

56-year old Radika Nankissoor from Brampton was thrown from the bus and trapped underneath. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt: “She needed to be extricated with heavy equipment to get the bus off of her.”

Three other passengers were taken to hospital. But amazingly, they weren’t seriously hurt.

Six people, including the 66-year old driver from Hamilton, were on the bus at the time.

Sgt. Schmidt: “Had that been a fully loaded bus, I think this situation could have been far, far worse.”

Crash scene investigators from the OPP are still trying to piece together what happened.

The roads were clear and dry at the time of the crash. There are no skid marks on the highway, which runs straight in this section. And the driver didn’t have any apparent medical condition that may have led to the crash.

Sgt Schmidt: “He did not appear to be suffering from any severe or any specific medical condition. He was treated at the hospital and released.”

They’ll be looking at whether a mechanical issue or driver error caused the crash.

The woman who died was a custodian here at York University and she’d worked there since 2010. The president of the university released a statement calling her a valued member of their staff. One of the injured passengers was a student here at York the other was an alumnus.

The university said: “We extend our deepest sympathy to her family, friends and co-workers at this difficult time.”

The OPP and Metrolinx are continuing to investigate what caused this bus to veer off the highway. The bus was an older model so it didn’t have any cameras on board. But it had a diagnostic computer on it which should show how fast the bus was going. They will also be looking at traffic cameras in the area that may have captured the crash.

GO Transit President Greg Percy called the bus driver experienced, saying the 66-year-old Hamilton man has more than 15 years of service with GO: “(Does the driver have any medical history? Has he ever lost time at work because…) Again, those specifics we won’t talk about at this point. It’s part of the investigation and we’ll respect the integrity of the OPP investigation.”

“(Was this the bus driver’s regular route?) The routes are bid every year. So he’s a certainly experienced driver and he is familiar with the route so again those details will come out in the investigation. There is a very rigorous and prescribed training and refresher program covering many, many aspects of the job of a bus driver for GO Transit and this driver complies as to all and we make sure that happens.”

Percy wouldn’t say specifically how often drivers are re-trained, only that it varies, depending on the type of training.

The GO bus crash this is the first fatal accident in the 48-year history of GO Transit. That record makes it one of the safest systems in North America.

But could it be improved?

It was an impressive record.

Greg Percy is GO Transit President: “We have not had a death on a GO bus or GO train in our history.”

That history spans 48 years and more than 62 million passengers per year.

Raynald Marchand, Canada Safety Council: “It’s certainly safer to be in those buses, than it would be in your car, with your seat belt on.”

But you can’t wear a seat belt, on a GO transit bus. And the Canada Safety Council says, that’s becoming a larger issue due to the design of modern transit buses.

Marchand: “Large coach buses typically have huge windows so you can see nicely outside. The downside of that is, in a rollover situation, these windows tend to break, and people can get ejected.”

Which is exactly what happened in this case.

Percy says: “The seat belt regulations, all regulations, are controlled by the federal or provincial governments and we adhere to the fullest extent to those regulations.”

Which sounds reassuring, but there are no regulations governing seatbelts on transit vehicles. Which the safety council says isn’t really an issue travelling on city streets. But the highway, is a different story. Marchand: “We would favour the installation and use of seat belts on coach buses.”

And when asked about seat belts the Ministry of Transportation says: “As part of their internal investigation, Metrolinx will be considering all options in light of this tragic incident.”

But there are other safety issues too. While mechanical inspections are required for all buses on an annual and semi-annual basis, there are no similar requirements for drivers. Raising questions about the health of the 66-year old driver, in a system where there is no mandatory retirement age, and no requirement for on-going testing or training of drivers.

While the Ministry says it takes safety seriously, it also maintains that the current system to licence bus drivers is good enough.

Ajay Woozageer: “The ministry is satisfied that the current examiners test drivers properly, and ensure that the testing standards are met.”

One last note about seat belts on coach buses. The U.S. Federal government has now brought in regulations making belts mandatory for highway buses, but has exempted transit vehicles.

It’s estimated that the cost to install belts on these vehicles could run between eight and 15 thousand dollars per bus, depending on the bus design, and may also require a reduction in the number of seats available for passengers to make room for the belts to be anchored on the bus.

Additional video: News Now coverage of Metrolinx news conference about crash: