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Six dead and more than 30 injured after major crash in Ottawa’s south end

Photo courtesy of Transportation Safety Board of Canada

AT LEAST SIX people were killed and more than 30 injured after an OC Transpo double-decker bus hit a VIA Rail train in Ottawa on Sept. 18.

The collision took place shortly before 9 a.m. at a level crossing east of Fallowfield Station in the south end of Ottawa. The OC Transpo bus Route 76, heading downtown, was travelling north when it collided with VIA Rail Train 51, which came from Montreal and was heading west to Toronto.

The front of the bus sustained significant damage and five people were killed on the scene, including the bus driver. One other person has also died in hospital from injuries. Thirty-one people were taken to hospitals around the city for their injuries, 10 of which were in critical condition. No one on the train was injured.

Three of the six deceased have been identified and the Ottawa Police Service is conducting formal notifications, according to Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau.

Mayor Jim Watson called the crash the worst in the city’s history.

“We lost six of our neighbours,” said Watson. “People who started off this bright and sunny day as we all did, heading from their homes and loved ones, going about their daily lives, and then this terrible tragedy struck, and in literally a moment, we lost six residents of our city.”

According to a witness on the scene, the bus hit the train head-on as if the driver didn’t see the train or the signal lights. Gregory Mech, who was sitting on the top level of the bus, said people on the bus started to scream right before the collision as they realized the driver was not stopping.

University of Ottawa law student Rob Gencarelli was 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,” he said. “I thought we were going to flip over.”

The bus driver has been identified as Dave Woodard. The local bus drivers’ union would not officially confirm the name of the driver but said he had been driving buses in the city for just under 10 years.

According to John Manconi, general manager of OC Transpo, the bus has an average standing load of 90 people, but it is unknown how many were on it at the time of the collision.

Bordeleau said the victim identification and family notification process is ongoing.

“The identification and notification process is difficult,” he said. “It takes time and out of respect for the victims’ and their families, it is important that we get this right.”

Transportation and Safety Board (TSB) investigators were at the scene of the collision and are leading an investigation into what caused it.

TSB chief operating officer Jean Laporte, who graduated from the U of O’s honours bachelor of commerce in 1984, said the investigation into the crash could take several months.

“Following notification of the accident, the TSB immediately deployed a team of investigators and specialists to the accident site,” he said. “We now have a total of 11 staff members on site.  We will be conducting a full and independent investigation into this tragedy. Our job is to determine what happened and why, with the aim of ensuring that this does not happen again.”

City manager Kent Kirkpatrick said the railway crossing at Fallowfield Road and Woodroffe Avenue was approved by CN in 2005.

“We’re documenting and photographing the wreckage and the accident site,” Laporte said. “We are assessing the crossing, its design, and the site lines. We will be checking the warning systems and the gates at the crossing to ensure they were functioning correctly. We will be retrieving, downloading, and examining the data from the locomotive event recorder, as well as from other recording devices that are available. The investigation is going to be very complex.”

The intersection was designed in 2004 when a safety assessment was completed and approved by railway authorities. Previously, there had been no accidents at the intersection since 2002. No data exists prior to that date.

“I’d like to hear a little bit more about why this happened,” said Gencarelli. “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.”

More to come.