OTTAWA -- Passengers aboard a double-decker city bus screamed "Stop! Stop!" as the driver plowed through a flashing level crossing and into a passing Via Rail train Wednesday morning, killing six people and injuring many more.
The horrific collision sheared off the front of the bus and knocked the Via locomotive and one of four passenger cars off the tracks.
Six people died, one of them the bus driver, and several area hospitals were flooded with more than 30 patients, including eight who were still listed in critical condition late Wednesday.
"People started screaming, 'Stop! Stop!' because they could see the train coming down the track," said Carleton University student Tanner Trepanier, who was in the upper level of the new, double-decker OC Transpo bus.
Both levels of the front end of the bus, extending back to the driver's seat, were ripped off by the impact.
"There was a lot of screaming, but then people were actually relatively calm, considering the situation," Trepanier said of the aftermath.
Alex Begin, on his way to his job in downtown Ottawa, was midway back on the lower level of the bus and said the driver hit the brakes only after passengers started yelling warnings.
"Oh yeah, we went right through the (safety) barrier," said Begin, who was at a loss to explain the driver's apparent lapse of concentration.
The head of the transit union local confirmed the driver was among the dead.
"It looks like a bomb went off, almost," Craig Watson of the Amalgamated Transit Union told the CBC after visiting the scene.
In an email Wednesday night, Watson identified the driver killed in the crash as Dave Woodard.
Peyman Shamsi, a friend of Woodard who had started with OC Transpo 10 years ago, said he was "one of the nicest guys" at the bus company. "I'm surprised, because he was a safe driver.
Woodard, who leaves a wife and teenage stepdaughter, was in his mid-40s, Shamsi said. His wife had celebrated her birthday on Tuesday,
A number of people gathered on the tracks near the crash site Wednesday evening for a candlelight vigil.
The bus was on a dedicated transit line that runs parallel to a busy commuter artery just east of a suburban Via Rail station, about 10 kilometres west of Parliament Hill.
Witnesses on the ground said the northbound bus simply didn't stop despite flashing lights and lowered safety barriers warning of the westbound train, which had already stopped commuter traffic nearby.
"Boom! It went into the train like that," said Pascal Lolgis, who watched the bus smash through a safety barrier. "He just didn't stop. He just kept going like that. Then he got hit."
Another witness, Mark Cogan, also said the safety barrier was down.
"I just thought maybe there's a side way around or something, but instantly he just... he smoked the train," said Cogan. "He went through the guardrail and just hammered the train and then it was just mayhem."
A broken safety barrier was visible under the bus carriage.
The Via locomotive and one of four passenger cars came to rest askew on the tracks, but Via officials said there were no injuries among the more than 100 passengers aboard.
The company suspended its Ottawa-Toronto service as a result of the crash.
The Transport Safety Board urged Transport Canada in 2001 to implement new regulations that would set clear safety standards for all grade crossings and set out responsibilities related to crossings for railway companies, public road authorities and private road owners.
In March, the safety board said it was "ever mindful of the protracted time this project has taken."
-- The Canadian Press