Debt and Safety

                Disasters rarely happen in my city. Here, we read in the paper and listen to the news about devastation experienced by people in other parts of the country and the world: lethal floods, storms, shootings, accidents . . . We are generally protected by geography, economic stability, and a culture of reserve. But a few days ago, a city bus on a local transitway collided with a passenger train that intersected it. Six people died, and ten went to hospital in critical condition. Ours is a small enough city that when disaster strikes, there are likely to be only a few degrees of separation between any individual and “ground zero”. My daughter has a friend whose aunt died in the crash. A friend of mine works at the college attended by one of the young men who died in the collision. “We feel as though we were all on that bus,” writes Olivier Cullen in a letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen September 20. “We are all in shock.  We are all a little lost.”
The investigation into the cause of the accident will be a long one. There is talk of mechanical failure and challenges to visibility. There is talk of the safety of level rail crossings in an area with rapid population growth. For at least ten years, that intersection has been on the municipal radar. Our mayor of 2002 identified it as a “very, very severe public safety issue” (Curry). One year earlier, a senior coordinator of technical services from CN (Canadian National Railway Company – which was in charge at the time) wrote a letter to the city that “flatly rejected the idea of level crossings. They’d be acceptable for a maximum of two years while under- or overpasses were built . . . And the Transitway crossing of the track was simply out of the question . . .” (Reevely). Projected costs of constructing an underpass, originally $40 million, shot up to $111 million, “and the city and CN sat down to reconsider the problem” (Reevely). Time has ushered in a new mayor and a different railway company (Via Rail), and the concerns of politicians and technicians of years gone by have been put on the back burner. Until now.
In large-scale terms, I am reminded of the Lac Mégantic disaster, almost certainly brought on by cost-cutting measures. (A Debt Owed to thePeople of Lac Mégantic) In personal terms, I am reminded of the rotting tree in our backyard that we knew was dangerous, but that we left standing for far too long because it was expensive to deal with it. (Debt and Denial) Whether it’s a matter of personal, corporate, or government finances, safety is too often compromised when money is tight.
There are many motivating factors when it comes to getting out of debt, saving emergency funds, and investing in the future. One is certainly that with financial strength, individuals, companies, and governments can absorb the costs of keeping things safe. We’re less inclined to put necessary expenses on the back burner. We’re less likely to rationalize a “very, very severe public safety issue.”

Curry, Bill. “The Globe and Mail.” The Globe and Mail. Phillip Crawley, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www.
theglobeandmail. com/news/national/crash-follows-calls-for-safer-rail-level-crossings/article14396344/>.
Reevely, David. “Ottawa Citizen.” Canwest, 20 Sept. 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2013. <http://www. build level crossing where train still mystery/8935347/story.html>.


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