Train trouble: A passenger on an evacuated Via train shares her experience
- August 17, 2009 5:15 PM |
- By Your Voice
Submitted by Robyn Burns
About/Bio: I work for the afternoon Radio One program at CBC Ottawa.
My take: It was nearing 8 p.m. ET when the lights shut off and the air conditioning stopped. The train lurched to a standstill. I leaned over to pick up my phone to call my mom, back in Victoria. I had just said hello when a Via Rail employee burst into our car, panic-stricken. He asked a man in front of me whether he remembered the procedure he'd shown him for opening the doors manually. He said yes and they both ran off. I told my mom something was wrong and had to call her back.
I grabbed my purse, which was tucked away in the pocket in the seat front of me but left my bag in the overhead compartment. My laptop was in my bag and on it held all of my travels to Europe and India over the last year (I hadn't backed it up).
I pushed my way forward and stood waiting for the doors to be opened. Another female employee blew by me, pushing us out of her way, and I asked when the doors would be opened. She didn't respond. A young family with two kids stood in front of me; a woman calmly typing on her BlackBerry stood beside me. My knees just about buckled as the smoke was getting worse. I felt trapped.
The doors opened and no one pushed. Everyone calmly exited the train. It was a ways to the ground and I was helped down by a fellow passenger and a male employee. I looked to my left and black smoke funneled out the side of the engine car. I walked to the back of the train and turned around again; flames were now bursting out the side.
I called my mom back. After I hung up from her I called my executive producer here at CBC Ottawa and made sure our news team hopped on the story.
I kept walking away from the train towards Smiths Falls, which had been the last station we'd rolled through 15 minutes prior. I didn't know whether the train was going to be fully engulfed by flames or whether it would blow up. So I just kept walking away until a Via Rail employee yelled at us (without a megaphone, as it was broken) to come back closer to the train.
There was no word as to what would be happening. So we stood and waited and watched the front car burn. It was now dark and the flames glowed red.
I contacted my boyfriend who was waiting at the train station for me and said that someone at the Ottawa station mentioned that there would be buses to pick us up at the closest access point.
Swatting mosquitoes off, we mingled with each other and shared food and water; the humidity was getting to us.
Again no Via Rail liaison confirmed how we were going to be getting home. So we continue to wait between the tracks as we were trapped between brush and a bog.
The volunteer fire crews battled back the flames and subdued the fire. Some people were handed flashlights, there were only a few to go around. I was one of the lucky few. As the Via employees passed them out, they said "Make sure we get these back."
I still have that flashlight.
We were guided beside the train by the fire crews who passed out water and bug spray to us in our single-file line up.
Once we passed the burnt-out engine car, we walked inside the tracks. Elderly and young passengers were loaded into trucks designed to move on the tracks. Most of us just kept walking.
A volunteer firefighter walking beside us, lighting the way, told us that he had been eating ice cream with his daughter when he got the call. I have to commend those men and women; they were absolutely fantastic.
A good 200 of us continued to walk between the tracks. They had said it was going to be a 1.6 km walk. It was more like four.
After an hour of slowly walking towards the flashing emergency vehicles ahead that waited for us on the access road, the trucks on rails rolled back to us and picked us up.
When we arrived at the waiting cavalcades of waiting OC Transpo buses, there was a woman waiting with Kleenex and hand sanitizer for us ladies who needed the natural washroom of the woods.
We loaded the bus and waited. Everyone chatted and remained very upbeat.
When I finally arrived at the Ottawa station, a Via Rail employee explained that we could return in the morning and that we would have to go through a very regulated process that required identification and knowledge of what articles were in our bags in order for us to retrieve them.
There was none of that when I returned at 7:20 a.m. to pick up my luggage. I just walked in and walked out.
Now all I have to show for what I experienced are a few bug bites and a Via Rail Trauma Kit flashlight.
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