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Monday, 15 July 2013

Planes, trains, buses and boats. Public transportation disasters and the public health perspective

It has been a difficult week.  Canadian hearts reach out to Lac-Mégantic and the expected fifty deaths and toll on the community.  The tragedy highlighted by the challenge in even finding human remains will be remembered as one of the largest death tolls, but more devastatingly for its impact on one community in terms of residents and infrastructure.

Within the week we have also heard of six deaths and dozens injured in a derailment in France, their worst in 25 years.

The crash of a 777 on approach to San Francisco only left 3 deaths, while a crash following take off in Anchorage killed all ten on board.

Eighteen deaths following a bus crash in Moscow, nine dead in Spain when a bus ran off the road.

While the seas have been more friendly recently, the fate of the bridge crew in the fatal sinking of a BC ferries ship was determined, no doubt forcing the remaining passengers into reliving the harrowing experience.

July 30 - the past week has seen a speeding passenger train derail killing at least 79 in Spain, two Swiss trains colliding with dozens injured and death toll small but not totalled,  an Italian bus plunging into a ravine with at least 38 dead, and a school bus crash in India killing at least 9 students. 

Behind all this terrible news, must be the question “Is our public transportation systems becoming riskier or safer?”

Interprovincial, marine and international transportation falls to the Canadian Transportation Safety Board which deserves commendation for well presented statistical information at http://www.tsb.gc.ca/eng/stats/index.asp 

Rail fatalities are dominated by persons on tracks, and followed by collisions with vehicles at crossings. Trends are slightly downward in many of the outcomes followed, and are absolute numbers providing added assurance. 

Aviation also demonstrates a slight downward trend in incidents, but consistent mortality statistics.

Marine incidents are on a steeper downward trend, with fatalities trending slightly downward.

Bus related incidents are not as easily accessible.  Overall motor vehicle indicents and fatalaties are accessible at the less user friendly Transport Canada and have been consistently trending downward over the past few decades.  Bus related date are not segregated

The overall trend towards safer public transportation in Canada may be general cause for celebration, but for the deaths that do occur, including the community of Lac-Mégantic, no reassurance will be convincing sufficient.  

It is the fate of public health that good news will be hidden by the shroud of the failures. 

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