'The mind has not forgotten': How survivors reckoned with the Barrhaven bus-train crash

It's been 10 years since six people were killed when an OC Transpo double-decker collided with a train in south Ottawa. Since then, the survivors have tried to heal as best as they can.

One drew pictures of the disaster, another worked her way back to riding the bus

From left to right, photos of a woman and then two men. The man in the photo is sitting cross-legged and is meditating.
From left to right, Shamsia Quraishi, Ajoy Bista and Chad Mariage were all on board an OC Transpo double-decker that collided with a train on Sept. 18, 2013, killing five passengers and the bus driver. Over the past decade, they've each dealt in their own way with the trauma of that day. (Submitted)

The immediate shock of the 2013 Barrhaven bus-train collision that killed six people registered with survivors in different ways.

One took a photo of first responders as they worked on a passenger pinned under the smashed double-decker's front doors. 

Another called up his supervisor, wondering how he'd get to work that day.

Over the next 10 years, survivors coped, or tried to, in a variety of ways. Common threads emerged, like realizing that other people found it hard to relate to what they lived through, or being unmoored by the sight of other disasters. 

Along with two backyard neighbours whose lives were permanently altered by the tragedy, three other passengers of bus 8017 also shared how they wrestled with the collision's emotional aftershocks.

Here's what they went through.

Ajoy Bista

Nine times out of 10, Ajoy Bista would sit on the bus's top deck, above the driver.

But on Sept. 18, 2013, he switched seats and ultimately settled in the sixth row — a decision that likely saved his life, but also led to some complicated feelings.

"I had a deep sense of guilt for years. I still do to an extent," said Bista. "Had I not changed my seat, I would have been one among the deceased. I felt sad that I survived and someone who took my seat died."

In the immediate aftermath, Bista rang up his director and asked if he should still try to make it to work. He was told no — "Are you kidding?" were the precise words — and that he should check himself for injuries and head home.

Bista would later develop a fixation on other disasters, watching online clips over and over. "Probably I was sort of relating to the trauma and stress of those people," he said. 

Gradually he learned to process the event in healthier ways, he said, and was thankful to get access to counselling through work.

It was a retreat in Montebello, Que., that helped him turn the corner. He'd already been practicing meditation, but at that getaway he learned new techniques that allowed him to work through his trauma.

"I could detect the emotions, I could see [them] coming," he said. "The meditation skills helped me sort of observe and let [them] pass."

Someone meditates in a yard on a warmer, sunny day.
Ajoy Bista meditates in his backyard in Barrhaven. He says meditation has helped him process the trauma of that day 10 years ago. (Submitted by Avni Bista)

Bista also made drawings of the crash. Once, he climbed aboard a bus, snapped a photo of the top deck, and then rushed out.

"I couldn't handle it," he said. "That took me a huge amount of courage to do that, just to test myself."

Bista still can't drive on the stretch of Woodroffe Avenue near the collision site without turning his head away. He said he still gets headaches just from the sight of red and white buses.   

If he has to go to the area, he preps himself ahead of time and remains cognizant of the quickening of his heartbeat.

"The mind hasn't forgotten," he said. 

A man poses for a photo at sunset in a wooded area.
Bista also moved neighbourhoods in Barrhaven to lessen his exposure to the train noise. Here he's pictured vacationing on Nova Scotia's Cabot Trail. (Submitted by Ajoy Bista)

Chad Mariage

After the crash, Chad Mariage climbed down what was left of the double-decker's stairs and did his best to avert his eyes.

"[I tried to] ignore the carnage to the left of me, where all the debris and things I will never unsee were," he wrote in an email to CBC.

Once off the bus, he and another commuter ran over to lift the doors off another injured passenger. First responders thankfully got there quickly to take over, he said. 

As Mariage walked away, he snapped a photo of the crumpled bus and the emergency crews hard at work outside it.

The outpouring of support from colleagues that followed helped him navigate his feelings.  

A man in a suit poses for a professional photo.
Chad Mariage says talking about the experience 'keeps details straight in my mind and helps me deal with the emotions of that day.' (Submitted by Chad Mariage)

Mariage said he was "blessed" not to be seriously injured and that, like other survivors, his thoughts and prayers went out to the families and friends of the victims. 

"What has helped me has been to talk about it whenever I am asked," he said. "It keeps details straight in my mind and helps me deal with the emotions of that day. 

"I know everyone deals with trauma differently, but this is a mechanism that has helped tremendously, along with the comfort in admitting that at times I was not OK — and that that was OK."

One drew pictures of the crash. Another worked her way up to getting back on a bus. Reporter Guy Quenville will bring us the story of two neighbours who lived through that painful day.

Shamsia Quraishi

Shamsia Quraishi said it took her two years after the collision to even realize she wasn't all right.

Quraishi had only moved to Ottawa from India about a year before the crash. She was one of the last passengers to board, she said, so she took a seat toward the back.  

After the collision, seeing an accident would send her into a state of panic. 

"I would get letters from the insurance saying, 'You need to go [see a therapist] and we'll cover therapy for you,'" she said. 

"Coming from India, where mental health is not as well understood, [my] first response was, 'OK, let's forget that this happened.'"

But Quraishi did eventually get therapy and was diagnosed with PTSD.

In 2017, with a friend and her husband at her side, she boarded a bus again from the Fallowfield bus stop — "a big step for me," she said.

"It took some concentrated effort to really overcome the aftermath, the impact of the accident," Quraishi said.

At the same time, "you're not going to completely erase it," she added.

A woman poses for a photo outside on a sunny day.
Every year, Shamsia Quraishi says, her husband tells her that the fact she survived the crash is the best gift he could ask for. His birthday falls on the day after the collision. (Submitted by Shamsia Quraishi)

Quraishi's husband's birthday falls on the day after the crash, which has resulted in one life-affirming ritual.

"'[After the collision he said] 'I'm so happy and so glad that you're safe, and this is the best birthday present ever,'" Quraishi recalled. 

"He says that every, every year, on Sept. 19." 

If you or someone you know needs mental health support, you can call the 24-hour Wellness Together Phone Counselling Hotline at 1-866-585-0445 or the 24-hour Mental Health Crisis Line at 1-888-737-4668.


Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Ottawa

Guy Quenneville is a reporter at CBC Ottawa. He can be reached at

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