06/12/2012 12:05 EDT | Updated 08/12/2012 05:12 EDT

Train engineer says fatal collision couldn't be avoided

A veteran train engineer says there is nothing his colleagues could have done to avoid slamming into a minivan at a railway crossing Sunday in Lakeshore, Ont.

Two little girls — ages six and three — died after a collision between a minivan driven by their father and a CP Railway freight train on Strong Road, just east of Windsor.

Their father and four-year-old brother were severely injured. Their 18-month-old sister sustained minor injuries.

Tom Sonier, who has been an engineer for 33 years, said that given the circumstances, the accident was all but unavoidable.

"There’s not much you can do. You don’t really have a chance to stop. It does take a long time for the train to stop," Sonier said.

The locomotive alone weighs 90,720 kilograms (200,000 pounds). It was likely hauling up to 30 rail cars, according to Sonier, who drives the same daily route during the week.

"Sometimes it would take [1.6 kms] to stop once you place a train into emergency stop," he said.

Sonier said visibility for an engineer is up to 12 kms. But timing is everything. If a vehicles enters a train's path too late, there's no time to stop.

"You don’t really realize if he’s going to cross in front of you; if he’s going to stop; or even how fast he’s going and it’s going to be a near miss," Sonier said.

The collision has shaken the engineer who was driving Sunday. It's also affected Sonier, who years ago was at the helm of a train that killed a person during a collision.

"As soon as you hear about it, you think about the crew on the train and the people that were injured and the fatalities," Sonier said. "When you pass the location for a long the memory is always there. You pass by it two or three times a week, year after year."

Sonier knows and has worked with the engineer involved in Sunday's incident. He has taken time off, Sonier said.

"The gentleman who was the locomotive engineer needs time to think about what happened before he comes to work," Sonier said. "He has grandchildren of his own probably around that age and he has to understand why it happened."