A 28-year-old man who died when a Via Rail train struck the van he was driving in Richmond last summer likely did not expect a train to be at the crossing, the federal transportation watchdog says.

The man was driving his usual route home from work on Barnsdale Road around 12:15 p.m. on June 30 when the crash happened. His vehicle was destroyed and two employees on the train were injured.

The Transportation Safety Board’s report on the crash, released Wednesday, said when a driver becomes familiar with a particular level crossing and has never, or seldom, encountered an approaching train there, the driver will tend not to expect to encounter a train.

“Since the driver in this occurrence was familiar with the crossing and had likely seldom encountered any trains there, he would likely have formed the expectation that there would not be a train at the crossing,” the TSB report says.

“When drivers receive information contrary to their expectations, their performance tends to be slow or inappropriate.”

The man was driving a company van when the crash happened. His employer, Westboro Utilities, had allowed workers to leave early for the Canada Day holiday.

The report found the crossing met regulatory requirements with regard to visibility, sightlines and crossing warning time. The engineer operating the train followed all relevant rules, including sounding the locomotive horn and bell.

But a TSB simulation showed that once the crossing gates were fully down, they blended into the background, and that bright daylight diminished the visibility of the gate lights.

“Consequently, the crossing gates and gate lights were not conspicuous from a distance, nor were they designed to be.”

The angle of the crossing, combined with dense and limited visibility from the vehicle cab, meant the driver could not see the train, the report says.

It also said that a driver not expecting a train would likely shift their focus to a ‘Stop ahead’ sign beyond the crossing, ahead of an intersection with Eagleson Road.

“This focus away from the crossing would tend to increase driver reaction time to crossing warnings of an approaching train. The driver’s delayed reaction in this occurrence was consistent with such an expectation,” the report says.

The driver’s attempt to steer around the lowered crossing gates suggests he was unaware of how close the train was to the crossing, and may have been trying to avoid a collision, the report says.

The TSB said it’s important that drivers, especially those familiar with a given rail crossing, look at all visual cues with the expectation that they may encounter a train.

You can read the full TSB report here.