On any other day, I would have caught a bus closer to home. But it was a cool, sunny September morning and I was running late, so I drove to Ottawa’s Fallowfield train station in order to save some time.
What started out as another boring trip to work, however, was soon anything but routine.
The moment I pressed the button to lock my vehicle, I heard a thunderous bang. As I turned in the direction of the noise, the horrific sound of metal grinding on metal erupted from just beyond a line of trees.
I could see a Via Rail train, just entering the station grounds, coming to a halt, its first passenger car wobbling back and forth uncontrollably behind the locomotive.
At first I thought it was a derailment, and my reporter’s instincts kicked in.
I grabbed my iPhone and began running toward the train tracks. As I approached the right side of the train, I saw the first passenger car resting off the tracks, but no passengers outside.
I yelled into the locomotive to see if anyone was there.
“I’m all right, I’m all right,” came a faint male voice from within. Fumbling with my phone, I called the Canadian Press newsroom to let them know a passenger train had derailed in Ottawa’s west end.
It was only when I went to the other side of the train to take photos that I realized it was damaged — and there was a double-decker city transit bus parked in the distance. That’s when my instincts moved into high gear.
Running toward the bus, I saw wreckage strewn everywhere, and dozens of people — many of them lying on the ground, covered in blood.
Witnesses parked on the nearby roadway were already trying to help the victims, as were several unhurt passengers from the bus. Others were trying to help injured passengers get off the bus.
Two young people, a man and a woman, struggled to drag a seemingly lifeless man in a green shirt and blood-soaked white pants away from the wreckage. Another man was face down on a heap of twisted metal and plastic.
It quickly became clear some of the passengers on the ground were beyond help.
It felt like just seconds before firefighters arrived on the scene, and then police. As I surveyed the wreckage, and took more pictures, the magnitude of the collision began to make itself clear.
The entire front of the bus had been sheared off. Sheet metal was dangling from the driver’s side. There was glass everywhere and the powerful smell of fuel.
In the bright sunshine, it was difficult viewing the cellphone’s screen to see the images I was capturing. But I knew I had to keep taking pictures.
It didn’t take long for a police officer to take notice.
“You want to tell me why you’re here taking pictures?” he asked.
“I’m a reporter,” I said, offering my credentials.
“OK, so you’ll have to get yourself off the accident scene,” he responded.
As I moved to the other side of the bus, a group of firefighters were kneeling over someone, one of them pulling frantically at the mangled front door of the bus, trying to gain access to the person trapped beneath.
Two women were crying, shaking as they watched the firemen trying to free the body.
One female passenger crumpled in tears in her husband’s arms as the two embraced. The terrified look on her face spoke volumes.
It wasn’t until later that it dawned on me that had I arrived at the terminal just 60 seconds earlier, I might well have been on the stricken bus. Then I began to wonder how it had happened in the first place.
Another bus, travelling in the opposite direction, was parked on the other side of the rail safety gate. Clearly, the driver had noticed the flashing red lights and stopped well short of the approaching train.
I will take the bus to work tomorrow. But I will take another route.