Advocate for preventing railway crossing deaths given a bigger platform by Miniter of Transport: Raitt to promote better safety.

By Pepper Parr

March 23, 2014


Denise Davy, a mother who lost a son in a railway crossing accident, became a tireless advocate for change and took her concern about the lack of safety barriers at railway crossings in Burlington to city council.  She managed to bring about changes – there are barriers now in a number of places where people foolishly scoot across railway tracks, including ward 4 councillor Jack Dennison who publicly set an example he showed be ashamed of – but apparently isn’t.

There is now a sturdy fence at this rail line.

Davy, a former Spectator reporter, who now runs a writing and editing business, took her cause to the Regional government; she took it to Mississauga and got invited to a Roundtable held by the Member of Parliament for Halton,  and also the Minister of Transport, Lisa Raitt.  Here was someone who could do something.

Davy understood that she was to be one of a number of people taking part in a discussion about safety features along the railway tracks.  She was amongst some pretty important people:

Attending were: His Worship, Gordon Krantz, Mayor of Milton; Andrew Siltala, Senior Manager, Economic Development, Town of Milton; Bill Mann, Chief Administrative Officer, Town of Milton; Jean Tierney, Senior Director, Corporate Safety and Security, VIA Rail Canada; Susan William, Regional General Manager, Central, VIA Rail Canada; Greg Percy, President, GO Transit; Paul Finnerty, Vice President, Operations, GO Transit; Michael Farkouh, Vice President, Safety and Sustainability, Canadian National Railway; John Orr, Vice President, Eastern Canada, Canadian National Railway; Randy Marsh, Manager, Community Relations, Canadian Pacific Railway; Andy Ash, Director, Dangerous Goods, Railway Association of Canada; Brad Davey, Executive Director, OntarioConnex; Eve Adams, Member of Parliament, Mississauga-Brampton South and a Representative from the Halton Police.

Simple message bearing a lot of the pain that results from a needless death at a place where rail tracks were easily cross.  No more at this crossing.

There wasn’t a hope in hades that Denise Davy would have ever been able to pull a group of people with the kind of clout this crowd had.  Davy saw herself as one of the group and was a little stunned when after a few words from Minister Raitt, she turned to Davy and gave her the floor.  It wasn’t what Davy was expecting but she dove into her story, her experience and explained for the hundredth time that education alone does not work – barriers have to be put up – and if those barriers are expensive then we have to find a way to pay for them.

She worked at dispelling the myth that most of the people who lose their lives on railway tracks are suicides – the people in the rail transportation business have words to describe them: deliberates and accidentals.  To Denise Davy they are all lives that were needlessly lost.

She points to the way the public safety people reacted to motorcycle people who used to drive without helmets – we passed laws requiring motorcycle people to wear helmets and we reduced deaths.  We are in the process of putting in stiffer penalties in place for those who text and think they can drive at the same time.   We learned she said that public education didn’t work in those situations and we know it doesn’t work to prevent rail crossing deaths.  If it is going to cost money – then we have to find that money.

There weren’t a lot of concrete suggestions thrown out by others; mainly they went around the room and talked about what they’re currently doing, which included everything from public education to putting educational campaigns in the schools.

A fence that cannot be easily climbed with a notice and a contact number for those under severe emotional stress is now in place at Drury Lane.  Now for the rest of the Region and then the rest of the province and then the rest of the country.

Davy said she listened and commented then said that the problem was clearly none of the things they were doing are working because people are still being killed.

Raitt proved to want to be more proactive than many expected. She made it absolutely clear according to Davy, that this is an issue for her, that she is concerned and glad that it was brought to her attention and said that it should be included with an overall review on rail safety. She is going to connect with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Rail Association of Canada and get the conversation going on the issue with them as well.

She also wants to go big with something on rail safety week which is April 28. It was mentioned a few times by various people, that the area around the GTA has the highest number of accidents in Canada.

Raitt gave Davy a printout that listed 29 accidents and incidents in Burlington, Milton and Oakville between 2009 and 2013. The total for Halton for same period was 46.

The tragedy came right to the doorstep of the Friday Roundtable in Milton.  Passengers on the Lakeshore West GO line got the following message:  Due to a police investigation of a trespasser fatality at Clarkson, train service on your line is suspended between Port Credit and Clarkson until further notice.

Davy had not seen the message as she was preparing to drive from Burlington to Milton for the Roundtable.  “That is unreal. How many more people have to die before something is done!!! My heart is breaking reading this.”   All the pain, the grief, the sorrow and the hurt came flooding back and the realization that the anniversary of her son’s loss was less than a week away.

Trooper that she is, Davy attended the meeting and left with a platform created for her by the Minister of Transport to get the message out.  The matter of rail crossing safety was not on the agenda said the Minister – and added that “it is now”.

Denise Davy rests a little easier knowing that fences like this at places where rail lines were once easily crossed might eventually get put up across the province.

Raitt is planning something for the week of April 28th – Rail Safety week in Canada.  The rail car disaster in Lac Megantic is the high-profile event – but Denise Davy now has a platform she can work from.  She said after the Roundtable: “ I know change can’t come right away and the fact that I was given a platform to speak to such high level officials who are in a position to make change was a huge step forward.”

“The main thing” said Davy is “to watch where it goes from here. I am going to plan something for April 28 and told everyone in the room I would be open to working with any of them to do something on that date.”

Before Denise gets to April 28 – she first has to deal with March 27th.

Background links:

Single citizen get rail crossing safety improved.

Rail crossing deaths brought to attention of council.

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