Six people died after a double-decker bus in Canada’s capital city Ottawa crashed through a railway crossing into a moving train moments after passengers yelled at the bus driver to stop.
Five people died at the site of the crash, which occurred about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) south of downtown at about 8:48 a.m. today, said Anthony Di Monte, chief of Ottawa’s paramedic service. A sixth died in the hospital and 34 people were injured, Di Monte said at a press conference, adding he didn’t know how many of the 10 seriously injured passengers remained in critical condition.
“From what I can tell, the bus driver did not notice that these train track’s signal lights were on and the gates were down,” Greg Mech, a passenger on the upper level of the bus, said on CBC television. “People screamed on the bus shortly before the crash because he was not stopping.”
The Transportation Safety Board, a government agency that investigates crashes, doesn’t know if the gates were up or down, said Glen Pilon, a lead investigator, at the media conference.
Politicians including Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued statements of condolences. Jim Watson, Ottawa’s mayor, said at a separate press conference the city’s police and coroner will investigate the incident.
“Our focus as a city today is to care for those families who have lost a loved one, as well as to ensure we provide the best possible care for those who have been injured,” he said.
The VIA Rail passenger train was traveling southwest to Toronto. None of the more than 100 passengers on the train was injured, the rail company said in a statement, adding it will cooperate with any investigation.
John Manconi, general manager of local transit authority OC Transpo, said at a press conference he doesn’t how many people were on the bus, which seats 82 passengers.
“We are deeply saddened by this collision,” Marc Laliberte, Via Rail’s chief executive officer, said in the statement. Passengers heading between Ottawa and Toronto will be taken by bus and significant delays are expected, the company said in the statement.
The bus’s front was sheared off, revealing a mass of twisted metal. The VIA Rail locomotive remained upright after jumping the tracks.
“People started screaming, ’Stop! Stop!’ because they could see the train coming down the track,” Tanner Trepanier, a Carleton University student, who was also in the upper level of the bus, told the Canadian Press news agency.
VIA Rail is responsible for maintaining railway crossings, Ottawa city manager Kent Kirkpatrick said at the news conference. The company contracts the work out to servicing company RailTerm, he said.
According to its website, Dorval, Quebec-based RailTerm services 14 railways and 4,500 miles of track in North America.
When RailTerm’s team got to the site, they found the crossing gate ripped off and lying on the ground, said Francois Prenovost, a co-founder and partner at the company.
“The bus ran into the gate. Why? The investigation will say,” Prenovost said by phone from Montreal. Each crossing is monitored and recorded, he said. The data appears to show the gates were down, and RailTerm has given that information to VIA Rail, he said.
RailTerm has monitored VIA’s crossings since 1999 and their work is regulated and tested by Transport Canada, said Prenovost.
Ottawa officials set up a meeting point for families at a nearby recreation center, according to the municipal website. Injured passengers were taken to six different city hospitals.
Dr. James Worthington, senior vice-president of medical affairs at The Ottawa Hospital, said a “disaster code” was implemented to mobilize resources to deal with the casualties.
“We had our plan fully mobilized within 30 minutes,” Worthington told CTV News.