Friends 'horrified' by train derailment deaths

Two veteran engineers from Toronto and a new employee from eastern Ontario were killed in the weekend's deadly train derailment, Via Rail confirmed Monday.
Patrick Robinson, 40, of Cornwall, Ont., was one of the three Via employees killed in Sunday's deadly derailment. (Facebook)

Two veteran engineers from Toronto and a new employee from eastern Ontario were killed in the weekend's deadly train derailment, Via Rail confirmed Monday.

The three victims were riding in the locomotive of Via Rail train No. 92 when it derailed near Burlington, Ont., on Sunday afternoon.

Via has since released the names of the victims: Ken Simmonds, 56, of Toronto; Peter Snarr, 52, also of Toronto; and Patrick Robinson, 40, of Cornwall, Ont.

Simmonds and Snarr had each been working as locomotive engineers for more than 30 years. Robinson was travelling with them as part of what Via said was his "familiarization program."

Marc Laliberté, the train company’s president and chief executive officer, said the derailment and the tragic deaths were "a heart-rending situation" for the people at Via.

"Our sincerest condolences go out to the family members of our employees who died in the line of duty yesterday, and our thoughts and prayers to those passengers who were injured," Laliberté said in a statement released Monday.

Trainee leaves behind two children

CBC News has learned that Robinson leaves behind two children – a son, 10, and a daughter, 12.

Eric Vernier says he was horrified to learn that his friend, Patrick Robinson, had been killed in the Via train derailment in Burlington, Ont. (CBC)

Surviving friend Eric Vernier told CBC News that Robinson had previously worked for many years as an engineer, but had just started working for Via in October.

"He wanted to go to Via to be at the top of the chain. You couldn’t go any further after that," Vernier said. "It was the top and that’s where he wanted to be. He wanted to give his kids a great life, a much better life."

Vernier said he was "horrified" to learn about his friend’s death: "It’s just not right. He’s 40 years old. This should have never happened."

Crash sent passengers 'flying'

Passengers who survived the derailment said the trouble on the tracks came without much warning.

Faisal Abid, who was riding in the first car, said the train was running smoothly one second and beginning to tilt the next.

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"When the train started to tip over to its right, just people started flying towards you and a lot of people hit the windows and some people went through the emergency glass," Abid told CBC Radio’s Metro Morning.

He was sitting on the right-side of the train and was left unscathed in the crash. But people in other parts of the same car went flying, some landing behind him.

"Because I was on the right side, I didn’t actually go flying anywhere but I did have some people land on me," Abid recalled.

The chaos continued when the train came to rest, he said.

"Once we started to orient ourselves to the ground — like, I was standing on the window — we started looking around," Abid said.  "There was a lot of people crying — there was a little girl crying, her arm was broken — and there was blood everywhere."

Passengers felt ‘bump’

In an email to CBC News, Katherine Hillen said she was in the second train car and "felt a big bump and the ride became very rough."

Hillen said the train car "started to rock" and turned on its side. She saw gravel coming up to the window and said she feared for her life.

"I thought I was going to die and I hoped it wouldn’t hurt too much," Hillen recalled.

Farther back in the third car, Hannah Lemke said she could see that the most seriously injured people had been in the two front cars.

"I think it was the first two cars that really had it the worst," Lemke told CBC News on Sunday night, hours after the crash.

Lemke said that when she and her fellow passengers were exiting the third car, she looked into the cars ahead and couldn’t see anyone moving.

"As I peeked into the second car, you know, there was no movement — people were not moving in there," she said. "And I, at that point, did not know what to do. I obviously knew help was on the way. People were just very focused on getting to safety."

Lemke said the derailment followed "a little bump in the rails," quickly becoming something much worse.

"Things started flying, people were screaming in sheer horror," she said. "It was terrifying.  It was probably the scariest moment of my life."