By THE CANADIAN PRESS
BURLINGTON, Ont. — A slight bump followed by people and luggage flying through the air is how one passenger is describing a train derailment Sunday west of Toronto that killed three engineers and injured 45 passengers.
The time between the train leaving the tracks and the crash was only about 10 seconds, but it felt like “forever,” said Deanna Villela of Welland, Ont.
Villela was among 75 passengers travelling on train No. 92 from Niagara Falls, Ont., to Toronto when the train left the tracks around 3:30 p.m. Area residents described a chaotic scene of emergency vehicles, sirens blaring and helicopters buzzing overhead the normally busy rail corridor.
The locomotive and one passenger car flipped onto their sides and crashed into a small trackside building. Another two passenger cars were forced off the tracks into a L-shape. All six cars derailed.
The three dead Via engineers — one a trainee — were riding in the cab of the locomotive. A fourth Via worker was also injured.
Amid the twisted metal and debris emergency crews scrambled to pull passengers to safety. Some were carried away on boards and stretchers while others, looking dazed and battered, were led out of the wreckage by emergency workers.
“It was scary,” said Catherine, who was among some 30 passengers were weren’t injured and arrived at Toronto’s Union Station by shuttle bus.
“The cars in front of us were fully off the tracks — ours was half off the tracks at the end. It was hard to get out, there was no ground,” said the woman, who declined to give her last name.
“They (people) were OK in our car. The car in front us, they were hurt.”
Via’s chief operating officer called the derailment “tragic.”
“We’re a relatively small company, we’re a family, we know everyone by name,” John Marginson said at the scene.
“We certainly feel for the families of the colleagues that we lost.”
Marginson called the wreckage a “very powerful scene to say the least.”
Three passengers were airlifted to hospital, one with a heart attack, another with a broken leg and the third with a back injury.
Reports say one of the passengers airlifted was a woman in her 70s.
“We got three adults and one child and the child has been discharged, said Jennifer Kramer, spokeswoman for Hamilton Health Sciences.
“Two of the patients came by air ambulance… Right now they are serious but stable condition.”
Forty-two other passengers also suffered less-serious injuries and were either treated at the scene or sent to local hospitals.
“We’ve seen 20 people, the vast majority of them were adults. We have had some discharged already,” said Mario Joannette, spokesman for Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital in Burlington.
“The people we’ve seen for the most part had injuries that were minor to serious.”
The Transportation Safety Board was expected to have at least six investigators at the scene, said spokesman Chris Krepski.
“The first phase that we’re in right now is the data-gathering phase where we gather as much information as possible from all the different sources,” said Krepski, who added it’s too early to speculate on the cause.
“They are gathering information as to what the train was doing just prior to the accident.”
A key piece of evidence will be the train’s equivalent of a black box, which recorded the event.
The train came off the tracks at Plains Road and King Road near Aldershot station. It was not immediately known how fast the train was travelling, and conditions were clear and dry at the time.
When Matt Kernaghan heard about the crash, he immediately guessed where it had happened, saying he’s seen the aftermath of two previous derailments there.
“A lot of trains come through here, so yeah, maybe it’s just the frequency of trains that causes the derailments,” he said.
“It’ll be on my mind when I ride the train from now on that it can derail at any minute,” he said, adding he still thinks the train is safer than driving.
Dorthy Beattie, who lives near the crash site, said she started hearing helicopters overhead around 3:30 p.m.
“I knew there was something amiss but I didn’t know what and I honestly did not hear it derailing,” Beattie said.
“So I had a little walk out just to have a look and it’s like a World War Three zone around here.”
Highway 403 was shut down in the area and GO Transit said its commuter trains were being turned back at Burlington for an “extended period.”
The rail corridor carries both freight and passenger trains and bustles with rush-hour commuter traffic during the weekday.
Via is asking people seeking information about passengers on the train to call 1-888-842-6141.
— With files from Romina Maurino and Keith Leslie