Published Wednesday, September 18, 2013 9:16AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, September 18, 2013 11:42AM EDT
Six people are dead and about 30 others are injured after a public transit bus and a Toronto-bound Via Rail train collided during Wednesday morning’s commute, officials say.
Officials say five people died at the scene and a sixth died after being taken to hospital.
In total, 31 people were taken to local hospitals, and at least 11 of those were reported in critical condition, including the person who died in hospital, officials said at a news conference.
Pictures from the scene of a fatal train crash in Ottawa on Sept. 18, 2013. WARNING: Some photos may disturb viewers.
Emergency responders are at the scene of a deadly train crash in Ottawa.
People gather after a public transit bus was hit by a Via Rail train in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (CTV Ottawa)
People gather at the scene of a collision involving a public transit bus and Via Rail train in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (@ohpinion8ted/Twitter)
Emergency personnel attend to injured people after a public transit bus was hit by a Via Rail train in Ottawa on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. (@johnhuaCTV/Twitter)
People who were aboard the double-decker OC Transpo bus said passengers repeatedly shouted at the driver to stop the bus moments before it collided with the passenger train at a level crossing on a dedicated transit road in the suburb of Barrhaven.
Tanner Trepaniere, a student who was sitting in the northbound bus’ upper level, said passengers could see the westbound train bearing down on them.
“People started screaming, ‘Stop, stop!’ because they could see the train coming down the track,” Trepaniere told The Canadian Press after the crash.
A woman told CTV News that the bus driver applied the brakes after people screamed, but by then it was too late.
Witnesses said the rail crossing’s safety barriers were lowered and its warning lights were functioning at the time of the horrific crash, which sheared off the front end of the bus.
The Transportation Safety Board of Canada and police are investigating to determine why the bus did not stop for the train.
The crash occurred north of the intersection of Fallowfield Road and Woodroffe Avenue, near Fallowfield Station, around 8:45 a.m. as people headed to work or school.
Pascal Lolgis, who witnessed the crash, said the Route 76 bus appeared to drive through a lowered crossing barrier.
“Boom! It went into the train like that,” Lolgis told The Canadian Press. “He didn’t stop. He must have lost his brakes. Or he had an … attack or whatever. He just didn’t stop. He just keep going like that. Then he get hit.”
Another witness, Mark Cogan, said the rail barrier was down.
“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,” Cogan said. “He went through the guard rail and just hammered the train and then it was just mayhem.”
Another witness told CTV Ottawa that he stopped for the train in a car on Woodroffe Avenue, which runs parallel to the dedicated transit line, and the rail crossing’s barriers were lowered when the collision occurred.
No serious injuries were reported aboard the train, which originated in Montreal. The train’s locomotive and at least one car derailed after hitting the bus.
Via passenger feared train would flip
Train passenger Rob Gencarelli said the train wasn’t travelling too fast when the crash occurred.
“I thought we were going to flip over,” Gencarelli, a university student, told reporters after passengers were removed from the train. “People were just shocked because it happened so suddenly.”
After the crash, train staff alerted passengers that there had been a collision.
Gencarelli said he credits the train’s conductor or conductors for keeping it upright.
“I think you have to give credit to whoever was driving the train,” he said. “It could have flipped.”
Train passengers later boarded buses to continue their journey to Toronto. Via Rail has shut down rail traffic on its Ottawa-Toronto corridor.
Ottawa opens emergency operations centre
Dozens of emergency workers are at the scene as part of a mass casualty response.
The City of Ottawa opened its emergency operations centre to handle the crisis, and flags at municipal buildings have been lowered in honour of the victims.
Immediately after the crash, witnesses took to Twitter to post photos and share their accounts of what happened.
“Train just derailed pulling into Fallowfield #ottawa #ottnews Nothing tipped as far as we can see,” tweeted @joeboughner.
Moments later, he wrote: “Train was slowing down approaching station, doesn’t look like anyone’s hurt. It’s a few hundred feet from the station.”
A short time later, the severity of the incident became clear.
“Sounds like it was more serious than it looked from here. Thoughts with those on board bus and train,” @joeboughner tweeted.
Within hours of the crash, several politicians and agencies offered their condolences to the victims and their families.
“My heart goes out to all the individuals and families who are affected,” said Premier Kathleen Wynne at a news conference in Toronto.
Wynne thanked first responders, and said the province will assist the City of Ottawa and federal government, if help is required.
Later, MPPs held a moment of silence at Queen’s Park.
The City of Toronto is also offering assistance, if needed.
Mayor Rob Ford tweeted: “My thoughts and prayers go out to the families affected by the tragic collision in Ottawa. We are ready to provide support as necessary.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was saddened to learn of the crash.
“Deeply saddened to hear about the bus-train collision in Ottawa this morning,” Harper tweeted. “Our thoughts & prayers are w/ the families of those involved.”
With files from The Canadian Press.