OTTAWA—City buses in the nation’s capital halted Thursday morning in sombre tribute to the six people killed when an OC Transpo bus collided with a Via Rail passenger train one year ago.
Bus drivers who could safely do so pulled over and turned off their engines for a moment of silence at 8:47 a.m. EDT—the exact time that Transpo bus 8017 slammed into the Via locomotive last Sept. 18.
Flags on city buildings were lowered to half-mast for the day in remembrance.
Transit, city and union officials say the tragedy took a toll on the entire city.
The bus route number, 76, has since been officially retired. But Craig Watson, president of Amalgamated Transit Union local 279, says the catastrophe is still fresh in the minds of city bus drivers, as it is for the surviving passengers and the friends and loved ones of those who died.
“I don’t think a single driver goes by there without remembering what happened and the tragedy of six people’s lives cut short,” said Watson.
“The whole city, really, took a deep reflection on everything because so many young people were lost in this,” he added.
“I think it caused everybody to sort of stop and think that little bit more about what’s important in life.”
The Transportation Safety Board says its investigation into the crash is in the initial report-writing phase.
It’s not known when a final report will be issued, although the agency said it will provide an update next week.
Driver Dave Woodard, was killed when the train sheared off much of the front of the double-decker bus after it went through a rail crossing gate.
Passengers Connor Boyd, Kyle Nash, Michael Bleakney, Karen Krzyzewski and Rob More were also killed.
Boyd and Nash were students at Carleton University and Krzyzewski was a Carleton graduate. The school also held a memorial.
“Our thoughts go to their families and friends at this time, as well as to all others who lost their lives or were injured in the accident,” university president and vice-chancellor Roseann O’Reilly Runte said in a statement Wednesday.
“We thank everyone who supported members of our community over the past year.”
Since the tragedy, the city has removed brush and anything else that might have obstructed the view at the west-end crossing where the accident happened, said John Manconi, OC Transpo’s general manager.
Within a month of the crash, the speed limit on the approach road in both directions was reduced and new warning signs have been erected.
“OC Transpo also conducted a review of its operating procedures relating to railway crossings,” Manconi said in a statement.
Via Rail has personnel at the crossing every day, monitoring traffic and using signs to slow approaching vehicles and guide trains into and out of the nearby station.
A team of peer supporters was expected to be at city bus garages to help grieving colleagues as they recall the events of last year.
Local 279 vice-president Sharon Bow has been in direct contact with Woodard’s widow and teenaged daughter since the tragedy and in particular in the days leading up to the anniversary, said Watson.
“We wanted to make sure that the family is OK with what we’re doing just to make sure that it wouldn’t upset them in any way,” he said.
The fatal collision focused attention on the more than 40,000 provincially and federally regulated public and private level railway crossings throughout the country.
After the accident, the Ottawa area was plagued for months by signal and gate malfunctions at a number of crossings, including the fatal site.
However, investigators have said there were no malfunctions there on the day of the crash. They say the crossing gate was fully horizontal and warning lights flashed for 25 seconds before the collision.