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3 die, dozens hurt when train derails in Burlington; Route originated in Niagara Falls

A Canadian Via Rail passenger train derailed southwest of Toronto on Sunday, killing three railroad employees and injuring dozens of passengers, officials said.

Via Rail spokeswoman Michelle Lamarche said the three people killed were all engineers riding in the cab at the front of the train when it derailed in Burlington. A fourth Via worker in the locomotive was injured, she said.

Lamarche said no passengers died, but 45 were injured. She said 75 people were aboard the train traveling from Niagara Falls to Toronto when the train left the tracks at about 3:30 p.m., within view of a residential area near Aldershot station.

The locomotive crashed on its side into a small trackside building, and at least two passenger cars behind it jackknifed off the tracks. All six cars derailed, a Via official said.

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

Three passengers were airlifted to a hospital, one with a heart attack, another with a broken leg and the third with a back injury. Forty-two other passengers suffered less-serious injuries and were either treated at the scene or taken to local hospitals. Some 30 passengers were well enough to continue on to Toronto's Union Station by bus.

Deanna Villela, of Welland, said she felt a slight bump before the train jumped off the tracks, sending people and luggage flying. The crash lasted about 10 seconds but felt like "forever," she said.

Another passenger told the Hamilton Spectator there was "sheer panic" on the train.

"It felt like we hit some bumps in the road, and then the train jumped, and it kept jumping, and it tipped over to the side," Hannah Lemke, 22, told the newspaper. "Everything went flying, people were screaming. It felt like forever. I'm sure it was only a couple of seconds."

Burlington Mayor Rick Goldring said the crash caused minor damage to nearby buildings.

"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."

Transportation Safety Board investigators were on the scene Sunday. A key piece of evidence will be the train's data recorder. Weather was not believed to be a factor, as it was clear and dry at the time of the crash. It was not immediately known how fast the train was traveling.

Malcolm Andrews, a Via Rail spokesman, defended the safety of rail travel in Canada.

"There have been very few [deaths]," he said. "I have been here for 35 years, and this is extremely rare. Canada has one of the safest records of any railway in the world.

In February 1986 in Alberta, a Via Rail passenger train collided with a CN freight train west of the community of Hinton, killing 23 people and injuring 71. The crash was blamed on human error.

Last July, a Via Rail train traveling from Oshawa, Ont., to Windsor, Ont., derailed after it hit a pickup. The driver of the pickup was seriously hurt and six train passengers went to the hospital with minor injuries.