Transit officials say a Calgary commuter train crash which occurred during the peak of the morning rush hour Tuesday could have been much worse.
The light-rail train was approaching the end of the line in the city's northwest, but failed to stop and crashed through the end of the track at more than 60 km/h. The driver, a woman in her early 60s, was trapped inside when the train derailed. She was taken to hospital where she was in serious condition, but stable.
Two passengers aboard the train were not hurt.
The lead car buckled when it plowed through a fence and left the tracks. The front windshield was shattered with a large round hole punched through it from part of a post that held up overhead powerlines as well as weights that were attached to provide tension to the wire.
"As strange as it may seem we've been extremely lucky here," said Calgary Transit's acting director Russell Davies. "There were no fatalities. It was quite fortunate.
"The weights could have been very, very dangerous and they did just miss the operator.
Davies said it appears that the car was accelerating before the crash and there's nothing to indicate the driver had any kind of medical episode.
"We have to look at a lot of things. We have to look at the condition of the vehicle, the condition of the track, signals, as well as the operator," he said. "We expect to have some findings fairly soon but there's nothing pointing a specific way just yet."
Davies said the investigation will be aided by cameras on the LRT platform, as well as cameras inside and outside the car itself.
There's also a black box similar to those on airplanes.
"The trains do have a black box ... and event recorder that tell us what kind of actions the operator is doing, as well as what the train was actually doing at that time."
The car, worth between $3.5 million and $4.5 million, was six or seven years old and is a writeoff, said Davies.
A crane was being sent to the site to remove the train, which was to be cut in half first.
Paramedics feared the worst when they arrived.
"On arrival, it was not clear to EMS how many patients or passengers may have been aboard the train given the time of morning — 7 a.m., of course, is at the height of rush hour traffic and commuter traffic with transit," said Emergency Medical Services spokesman Stuart Brideaux.
"Given the amount of damage to the cab of the LRT in the driver compartment, she did require extrication however fortunately we did have good access at the scene."
Calgary's light-rail transit has been running since 1981 and has expanded over the years to connect the northwest, northeast and south sectors of the city to the downtown core. Unlike subway systems in other major cities, nearly all of the 53 kilometres of track are above ground.
Davies said there have been accidents over the years involving pedestrians and vehicles, but this one is out of the ordinary.
"These kinds of issues happen very, very rarely," he said.
"I've never seen one of this kind of severity of our own equipment and involving our own staff."
— With files from Ken Trimble