By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
It’s been more than three years since Janice Hicks lost her son.
Jacob Hicks was struck by a CN freight train at the level crossing on Wilson Road on Feb. 13, 2012. He was on his way home from school and witnesses say he had ear buds in and was distracted by his cell phone.
Now, Hicks is looking for the city to return to its promise to install automatic pedestrian gates at the Wilson Road crossing.
“Automatic gates across the sidewalk would have made him stop, and made him realize there was a reason the gates were still down,” Hicks says of her son’s accident.
Following the accident, Transport Canada agreed that either an automatic crossing or a mini maze should be installed at the location.
However, it seems red tape and changing legislation have marred the process, leaving the Wilson Road crossing bare of any pedestrian safety measures.
Bill Grylls, manager of traffic, streetlighting and municipal parking, says currently, funding for such automatic gates would be split between the city, Transport Canada and CN, with the city and CN putting forward 25 per cent each and Transport Canada covering the remaining 50 per cent.
In a city report prepared in 2012, the cost of replacing the signal arms and light to include the additional pedestrian gates was estimated to run up to $350,000, making the city’s share approximately $87,000. At the time, a recommendation was carried to commit that amount from the city’s transportation reserve.
However, with new legislation slated to come forward, the funding model could change and it is unclear how CN or Transport Canada will move forward.
According to Grylls, CN is not committed to providing funding for the pedestrian gates, but instead will look to install a mini maze – essentially a set of opposing metal fences pedestrians will weave through before crossing the tracks.
CN did not return a request for comment from The Oshawa Express before press deadline.
However, Hicks says the maze still won’t prevent pedestrians from crossing when they aren’t supposed to.
“I don’t believe it is the best option to keep people safe,” she said.
However, the maze would amount to a fraction of the price of automatic gates, which has Hicks skeptical that it is only the money that is holding up the process, something that should not be a factor when it comes to pedestrian safety.
“The only reason I can see why you would choose automatic pedestrian gates is the financial aspect,” Hicks said. “What is too much for the life of a child?”
Councillor Doug Sanders agreed, stating the gates would be the best option.
“To make it a safe level crossing, I think that’s the aspect that everyone wants to make,” he said of the gates.
The committee referred the correspondence to staff who will now prepare a report to look into the different options for the crossing.
However, with the application process, the committee learned it could be two to three years before any action is taken.