Unifor pledges to assist Ottawa in bus crash investigation

6 killed, 30 injured after double-decker bus crashes into passenger train

A VIA Rail passenger train and a double-decker city transit bus collided on the outskirts of Ottawa on Wednesday, killing six people on the bus and injuring 30 others, emergency officials said.

Unifor, the union which represents 2,100 workers at Via Rail, said it’s mourning the loss of life and is committed to helping the Transportation Safety Board in its investigation.

“We will do whatever we can do to assist in the investigation,” said Unifor national president Jerry Dias in an official statement. “It’s our goal to have a safe, well-functioning and accessible network of railways across the country.”

Representing VIA Rail’s onboard service, station customer service and maintenance staff, Dias said, “I want to express our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of passengers who were killed in this morning’s awful crash. Our thoughts are also with those who were injured in this terrible accident.”

What happened

The front of the red double-decker bus was sheared off and the engine of the VIA Rail train derailed, but the train cars remained upright with little noticeable damage.

"Paramedics had to declare five persons deceased on scene, nothing could be done. And of the 31 that were transported, we've just been advised that one was deceased in hospital, for a total of six deaths at this point," Anthony DiMonte, chief of Ottawa.

He said 11 of the people taken to hospital had been in critical condition.

Ambulances and fire trucks swarmed the scene in the rural west end of Canada's capital city as emergency workers helped train passengers disembark past the wreckage of the bus. Five bodies appeared to be wrapped in yellow tarps beside the train track. One had a purse and a backpack next to it.

One passenger on the bus said the driver did not seem to notice the oncoming train or that the track-level signals were flashing. He said some passengers tried to warn the driver before the collision.

"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," Gregory Mech, a passenger on the top level of the double-decker bus, told CBC Television.

"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."

Ottawa emergency officials said the collision occurred at 8:48 a.m. VIA Rail, which operates national rail passenger service in Canada, said there were no major injuries reported on the train.

Passengers on the train, which was heading to Toronto, said they felt a small impact.

"All I felt was a bump, and I saw a bit of smoke. I thought we were going off the track ... I was afraid we were going to flip over," passenger Robert Gencarelli told reporters on the scene.

He said he was startled when he got off the train and saw how badly the bus was damaged.

"That hit home."

Another train passenger, who did not give his name, said he saw the bus rolling toward the train tracks and knew the collision was about to happen.

"I saw it before it happened. I was expecting something. There was a big bang. ... The bus was rolling. It didn't stop."

The crash occurred at a level crossing surrounded by corn fields.

A reunification center was set up for families and friends looking for passengers on the bus and train, the City of Ottawa said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was "deeply saddened" to hear about the collision, which came just months after a runaway freight train crash and explosion killed 50 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

"Our thoughts and prayers are (with) the families of those involved," Harper said on Twitter.

Canada's two big railroads - Canadian National Railway Co and Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd - are reviewing safety standards after the July 6 Lac-Megantic crash that destroyed the center of the small Quebec town.

— with files from Reuters

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