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Updated: Thu, 19 Sep 2013 06:22:22 GMT | By CBC News, cbc.ca

Via train, Ottawa bus crash: eyewitness accounts



People comfort each other following a bus and train collision in Ottawa's west end, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

People comfort each other following a bus and train collision in Ottawa's west end, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press

Witnesses to a crash in Ottawa involving an OC Transpo double-decker bus and Via Rail train bound for Toronto recall the moments leading up to the deadly incident, and its "horrible" aftermath.

Gregory Mech, a passenger on the top level of the double-decker bus:

He said the train crossing is located about 100 to 200 yards past a bend in the road.

"From what I can tell the bus driver did not notice that these train tracks' signal lights were on and the gates were down. People screamed on the bus shortly before the crash because he was not stopping."

He said some passengers on the bus suffered injuries to their legs, arms or head.

"The first thing I'd like to say is the bus design itself, is such that when you're on the second level there's only one way out.… Fortunately the downstairs, which was also at the front of the bus, was about 80-90 per cent intact and we were able to exit out the normal way just being a little careful for the first two or three steps.

"Because I was on the left side of the window, I could see that there were bodies on the train tracks. It was horrible. There's just no other way to explain it. Some people were upset and crying. People were mentally stressed out. People were just trying to figure out what happened.

"I'm doing OK. What comes to my head is a couple of things … why this happened and how we can avoid it in the future."

Mech said that officials may “need to look at rules: perhaps all bus drivers should stop at railway crossings the way school bus drivers do."

Mark Cogan, who witnessed the collision:

"The train is going through," Cogan said. "And I was just looking around, just watching things happen. And noticed that in the bus lane, the double-decker bus … I saw him, and he just kept going.

"I just thought maybe there's a side way around or something, but instantly, he just … he smoked the train. He went through the guard rail and just hammered the train, and then it was just mayhem."

David Hugill, a passenger who was aboard the train:

"I think it's not a big deal for folks who were on the train. But it can't be said for the bus, which looks like it's in pretty rough shape.

"It's horrible. What can I say? It was really undramatic on the train. It certainly didn't feel like it was an incident of that magnitude from where we were sitting.

"It was a little clip sound and then a rumble and then we were off the rails.

"No one really had a sense of what was happening."

Lianna Begg, a passenger on the Via train:

“It was very quick, very crazy.

“We were jolted and we felt the train go off the track. But within seconds from my seat I was also able to see the OC Transpo bus, so I knew instantly it was a collision.

“It was very nerve-rattling. We saw a lot of dust and debris. We weren’t sure if it was smoke. But a lot of it was just from the gravel that came up.

“We were just making sure that everyone on the train was OK as well.

“I knew it was a terrible accident from what I could see out the window.”

Robert Evraire, who was waiting to board the train at the next stop:

“I was looking down the track. The train was coming east to west. The next thing you know, I see the train coming, and the light disappeared on the train, and I just see the debris flying and there wasn’t much of a sound. Then the train started to slide to its right and black smoke was coming up.”

Evraire said from where he was standing, he couldn’t see whether the safety gates were down at the time of the crash, or whether the bus had been moving or stationary.

Emergency crews responded “pretty quick, within minutes,” he said. First police arrived, followed by ambulances.

Rob Gencarelli, who was a passenger seated at the rear of the train:

“All I felt was a bump, and then I saw smoke, and then we were going off the tracks. I thought we were going to flip over.

“People were just shocked because it happened so suddenly.”

“There was an announcement, and I think you’ve got to give credit to whoever was driving the train, the way he handled it.

"I'd like to hear a little bit more about why this happened. But I think we go to this whole debate about rail safety, and I'm just kind of amazed that right now, I'm in the midst of it."

Chris Krepski, Transportation Safety Board of Canada spokesman:

"There's a team of four investigators on the site who will begin to gather information about the accident.

"Obviously we'll let the first responders do their work. Once their work is complete we'll start to take a closer look at the accident scene, document the wreckage, take some photos of the wreckage. We'll also take a very close look at the crossing design, what the sight lines were at the crossing, whether or not any kind of warning or protection systems at the crossing were working. We'll also examine the data from the locomotive event recorder, similar to a black box on an aircraft, which documents what controls were being used at the time of the crash."

"They will be of course examining the wreckage but we'll also be interviewing witnesses."

Krepski said the investigation could take a year.

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