More than 30 people were injured in the morning crash as an OC Transpo Route 76 bus was heading for downtown Ottawa, travelling north along the Transitway, the dedicated road for city buses.
Shortly before 9 a.m. ET, the bus collided with Via Rail Train 51, which came from Montreal and was heading west to Toronto, at a rail crossing near Woodroffe Avenue and Fallowfield Road.
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The front end of the bus was sheared off in the collision and five people were pronounced dead at the scene, including the driver. One bus passenger died later in hospital from injuries.
The investigation into the cause of the crash could take months, according to the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.
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Crews managed to get the derailed train back onto the tracks overnight using heavy equipment. The bus, however, remained in place as investigators continued to comb the scene.
The northbound lanes of Woodroffe Avenue, which runs parallel to the Transitway, have reopened to traffic, police said Thursday morning. One lane of southbound traffic closest to the Transitway remains closed.
Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said Wednesday he has asked the city manager to gather any and all information about whether the intersection should have an underpass or an overpass.
This comes years after the city decided against an underpass at the crossing due to the $80-million price tag, CBC News reported Wednesday.
“The whole issue of whether there should be an underpass or an overpass, we’re gathering all of that information. It was before my time as mayor, but I’ve asked for the city manager to gather that information and provide it to the Transportation Safety Board," he said. "And what I indicated today publicly is that obviously any recommendations to improve safety that come out of this inquiry … we will do our utmost to adopt them.”
Several witnesses said the bus failed to stop at a rail crossing moments before the collision.
Greg Mech said he was riding in the top deck of the double-decker bus when it crashed "dead-on" into the train. He said some people saw the train and expected the bus to stop, but it didn't.
"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," said Mech.
"People screamed on the bus shortly before the crash because he was not stopping," Mech told CBC News.
Another witness, Mark Cogan, said the rail barrier was down.
"I just thought maybe there's a side way around or something but instantly he just … he smoked the train. He went through the guard rail and just hammered the train and then it was just mayhem."
Another bus passenger, Chad Mariage, said it was going the usual speed but said the driver braked just before the collision.
Mech said the aftermath was hard to witness.
"Because I was on the left side of the window, I could see that there were bodies on the train tracks. It was horrible. There's just no other way to explain it," he said.
Injured people were also taken to several area hospitals, including 10 in critical condition. Three people with injuries from the crash checked into hospitals themselves.
Some of the injured were sent home with minor scrapes and bruises, while others awaited surgery. There were no serious injuries among train passengers.
Watson called it the worst bus crash in the city's history.
"We've lost six of our neighbours," said Watson, who offered condolences to the families of the victims. "A void has been left in these lives that will be impossible to fill."
Police later confirmed the bus driver, 45-year-old David Woodard, a 10-year veteran of OC Transpo, was pronounced dead at the scene.
"One of my co-workers got up today, and he's not going to make it home to his family tonight and several people on his bus lost their lives as well," OC Transpo driver Shawn Pulley said Wednesday.
"Every day we're out on the bus and we try to give everyone a safe ride to and from work, and it didn't happen today."
Police said they have identified other victims but are not releasing any names until families have been properly notified.
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Ottawa police and the City of Ottawa encouraged people concerned about the condition of relatives or friends they believe were on the bus to contact 311 for more information.
More than 100 people attended a vigil Wednesday for the victims in Barrhaven, a community in south Ottawa. The bus involved in the crash begins its morning route in Barrhaven and many of those who attended the vigil told CBC News they felt it could have been them on the bus.
“It’s such a community,” one man said, adding when photos of the victims are released, he thinks he'll recognize some of them from being out and about in the community.
Hundreds of others flocked to a vigil at the scene of the accident. Visitors lit candles, lay flowers and sang songs to remember those who lost their lives.
TSB investigators are leading the investigation as they look at sight lines, warning systems, gates and the locomotive event recorder as well as other recording devices that might be available in conducting its investigation, said TSB chief operating officer Jean Laporte. OC Transpo general manager John Manconi said GPS data from the bus would also be made available.
Laporte added the investigation could take several months, but said the TSB would release information sooner if it could improve safety.
Ottawa police said since they began monitoring collisions in the area in 2002, that there have been no crashes at the intersection of the rail crossing and the Transitway.
Craig Watson, president of the union representing Ottawa city bus drivers, said members were reeling from the driver's death.
Watson said OC Transpo drivers have not had an issue with rail crossings in the past.
"Obviously we have that concern now," he told CBC News Network anchor Carol MacNeil.
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Via Rail said there were no major injuries reported on the train, but it suspended its Ottawa-Toronto service Wednesday.