Mon. Oct. 6, 2003. | Updated at 03:47 AM
   
 
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Oct. 5, 2003. 04:03 PM
Transportation Safety Board criticized for delays


OTTAWA (CP) For the second time in three years, key players in Canada's transportation industry have slammed the Transportation Safety Board for its stale reports on major accidents.

"With only a few exceptions, everyone complained about the length of time between an investigation and the availability of the occurrence report," says a summary of a survey of 125 experts.

"They felt that the information comes out too late to be really useful to individual organizations and the industry as a whole.

"Some deemed the timeliness to be totally unacceptable given that there is no communication during the report writing process until the release of the draft report."

The survey results were compiled in late February this year by Sage Research Corp., which was hired by the board to get feedback from industry experts. A copy was obtained after a request under the Access to Information Act.

The poll mirrors another survey of 127 players carried out in 2000 by Goldfarb Consultants.

"Recommendations on these reports when they are finally delivered are not regarded as useful due to the fact that they are either out of date or they have been implemented . . . already," said the earlier survey.

The board's most famously delayed report was on the Swissair crash of Sept. 2, 1998, which cost $56.8 million in special funding to investigate.

The final document was released March 27 this year more than 4 1/2 years after the disaster that killed 229 people.

But the board also has a massive backlog of other files. At the end of August, there were 154 active investigations, of which 74 were more than a year old.

The board's policy is to complete all but the most complex investigations within a year. But the average completion time is currently about one year and eight months.

"We recognize that timeliness is a factor," Terry Burtch, director-general of investigation operations, said in an interview.

Since delivery of the latest survey, the board has decided to spend $3.6 million and hire 13 more staff to eat away at the backlog, Burtch said.

Even so, that money will cut the average time to complete a report by three months by March 2005 to one year and five months, still a long way off from the target of one year.

The Sage survey suggested the board release interim reports on investigations which Burtch said the board has rejected and that it investigate more of the 4,000 incidents reported each year.

The board has become highly selective in what it will probe, restricting itself to about 90 incidents each year. Previously, hundreds of files were opened annually, including one on every accident in which someone was killed.

The board's new policy is to select only those accidents where ``there's a good likelihood that (the investigation) will be identifying safety deficiencies and things we can use to advance transportation safety," said Burtch.

"We will investigate those that we think will bear some fruit," said Maury Hill, manager of macroanalysis. "We certainly do a far more in-depth look these days."

Nevertheless, the board is reviewing how it chooses which accidents are worth the time and money, Burtch said.

The board, created in 1990, currently has 249 staff and an annual budget of $32.8 million.

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