From the Ottawa Citizen 18 August 1992|
Train kills boy playing near railway tracks
Action is needed to stop children playing on train tracks, a coroner said after a boy was killed Monday by a train in Barrhaven.
Coroner Dr. Lucy Rabb said she wants an inquest into the death of seven-year-old Jason Burns.
"The police were saying there's a problem with children playing on the tracks in that area," Rabb said. "It's a real safety concern."
Jason died when he was struck by the protruding edge of a ladder on the side of a passing VIA Rail train. The accident occurred at 10:20 a.m. near a pedestrian underpass linking Dolan Drive and Antler Avenue in Barrhaven.
Nepean police said the boy was one of half a dozen children playing on the CN track embankment above the underpass. The train tracks cut through the residential section of Barrhaven.
Area residents, including several children, confirmed the railway embankment above the underpass attracts a lot of children.
"Whenever we go by we see kids playing in the tunnel (of the underpass) or on the top," said Wendy Stewart, 16, who was walking along a path leading to the underpass from Antler Avenue with her twin sister Janice when the accident occurred.
"You see kids up there all the time," said Richard Boyling, 13. "You see them putting pennies on the tracks or lying on the side of the hill (the embankment) throwing rocks at the train as it goes by. If you're a little kid you love train tracks."
Nepean police Sgt. Ralph Erfle said it appears the children were playing along the embankment near or on the tracks as the Toronto-bound train approached.
While the others scattered, Burns apparently hid in the grass on one side of the tracks. "He came out just as the train was passing and a ladder on the side of the train hit him," Erfle said. The ladder was welded on to the train car.
The train stopped about one kilometre down the track.
The Stewart sisters said they heard the children on the tracks and the train go by.
"We heard this scream and then these little kids came running towards us," Wendy said. "They were crying and screaming. They wanted to go home.
"We asked them what was wrong. One of the kids said, 'Our friend, the train hit him'."
The teenagers found Jason's body lying in the gravel by the edge of the tracks. Running off, they found two older men and told them what happened. While the men went to investigate and called for the police, the sisters told one boy who knew the dead child to get Jason's mother.
The death stunned the quiet neighborhood. As police cars and ambulance crews arrived and news of the accident spread, mothers came out and collected the younger children and took them home. Older children gathered to watch the police drape yellow plastic sheets over the child's body.
"I'm terrified," said a shaken Tiffany Smith, 14, a friend of Jason's older brother, Jamie, 13. "How can anything like this happen? My parents are always telling me not to go near the tracks."
The Burns family was devastated. A police psychologist was called to help the distraught parents and their other son.
"They're in shock," said neighbor Faye Ireland, who has known the family since they moved into the area three years ago.
"You can't believe this."
She described Jason as a "sunny, sunny boy. He had one of those sunny faces. He was always laughing."
Meanwhile, area residents hope something can be done to prevent another death.
Before the city built the underpass last year, resident Sue Taylor said, children regularly cut holes in a fence that blocked access to the railway embankment in order to cross between Draper Drive and Antler Avenue. The underpass was intended to discourage people from climbing over the embankment, said Nepean public works commissioner Clarke Bellinger.
Still, Rabb hopes some good will come out of an inquest, which she hopes to have approved in a few days.
"There's no way we can absolutely stop anybody (from getting on the tracks), but we certainly want to make it as difficult as we can.
"I want an inquest even if just to highlight the problem to parents."
Ottawa Citizen 1 September 1992
Inquest set in Barrhaven death
An inquest into the Aug. 17 train track death of Jason Burns has been set for Oct 29 and 30 at the provincial courthouse on Elgin Street
Burns, 7. of Draper Drive in Barrhaven, was among children playing on the CN Rail track that runs through Barrhaven when he was struck by a protruding ladder on a passing VIA Rail train.
Ottawa Citizen 31 October 1992
Extend Nepean rail fence, jury urges
City, CN argue over who should pay the $110,000 cost inquest hears
Seven-year-old Jason Burns was "just being a child, just having (Yin" when he was struck by a train and killed as he played hide-and-seek near the tracks, Coroner Lucy Rabb told a jury Friday.
"I'm sure he had been told a million-and-eight times by his parents not to play on the tracks," Rabb said.
"In his mind, he wasn't playing on the tracks. He was playing hide-and-seek and the tracks were an innovative path to the home-free zone."
The coroner's jury recommended that a 1.6-metre chain-link fence be built along both sides of the railway tracks between Jockvale and Greenbank roads in Barrhaven.
The cost of the fence, the jury said, should be shared "50-50" by Canadian National and the city of Nepean.
The jury also recommended that CN be responsible for keeping weeds that grow near the roadbed trimmed to a height of 12 inches.
The jury three women and two men ruled that the boy died accidentally about 10:15 a.m. on Aug. 17 when he was struck by the protruding handrail on the cab of the locomotive as the train sped past a pedestrian pathway near Dolan Drive.
Several witnesses told the jury that improving the fencing along the CN tracks that cut through Barrhaven would be a complicated and costly job.
But Rabb demurred. "My reaction is 'Horsefeathers,' " she said. .
"In the end, it's taxpayers' dollars that will pay the cost. Every day we wait for the fence to be built, another of Jason's friends may lose his life."
Wayne Newell, manager of capital works projects for the city of Nepean, said it would cost about $110,000 to extend the chain-link fence that now stands near the accident site so that it stretches all the way along the tracks between Jockvale and Greenbank.
A two-metre chain-link fence already extends about 30 metres on both sides of the track near the site of the accident.
But in earlier testimony, the jury heard that children can gain access to the tracks by crawling under the fence at certain points where it is not flush with the ground.
Nepean has rejected a proposal by Canadian National to pay $50,000 of the cost. Newell said the city's position is that all costs should be paid by CN.
Rabb urged a community group to raise money to get the fence started while government agencies sort out the funding.
"I would be happy to donate the first cheque to the Jason Burns Memorial Fence," she said.
Among other recommendations, the jury suggested that the Railway Safety Act be updated to include a section on chain-link fencing, and that a public awareness campaign on train safety be launched by the city and CN.
A Via Rail engineer testified at the hearing that he saw only "a flash of motion and color" before his train struck the young boy as he emerged from the long grass and weeds growing near the tracks where he'd been playing hide-and-seek.
Colin Churcher (Chief Railway Safety Inspector) rode with the engineer concerned some time later. His description of finding the boy's mother cradling her mutilated dead son was most disturbing.