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Three Via employees dead after train derails west of Toronto

Emergency crews attend the scene where a VIA train was derailed with passengers on board in Burlington, Ont.

Nathan Denette/Nathan Denette/CP

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 Via employees and left three passengers with severe injuries.

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.

Ms. Villela was among 75 passengers travelling on train No. 92 from Niagara Falls, Ont., to Toronto along the busy rail corridor 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.

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The locomotive and one passenger car flipped onto their sides and crashed into a small trackside building. At least two passengers car behind it were driven off the tracks into a L-shape. All six cars derailed, a Via official said.

The three dead were Via engineers — one a trainee — who were riding in the locomotive. A fourth Via worker in locomotive was also injured.

Amid the twisted metal and debris emergency crews scrambled to pull passengers to safety. Some passengers were carried away on boards and stretchers while others, looking dazed and battered, were led out of the wreckage by emergency workers.

"There's no question it's very tragic. We're a relatively small company, we're a family, we know everyone by name," Via chief operating officer John Marginson said at the scene.

"We certainly feel for the families of the colleagues that we lost."

Mr. Marginson called the wreckage a "very powerful scene to say the least."

"It's very premature to speculate ... but obviously something went very wrong," he said.

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"Night has fallen upon us here so the investigation is going to take some time."

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.

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 very serious people in the derailment were moved to the Hamilton-area hospitals, the Hamilton General and the Children's Hospital in Hamilton."

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Of the 75 passengers some 30 of them were well enough to continue on to Toronto's Union Station by bus.

Transportation Safety Board investigators were on the scene Sunday. A key piece of evidence will be the train's equivalent of a black box which recorded the event. Weather was not believed to be the cause, as it was clear and dry at the time of the crash.

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.

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," Ms. 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 turned back at Burlington.

Via is asking people seeking information about passengers on the train to call 1-888-842-6141.

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