Six college students on board the bus were killed and 17 were injured, eight of them very seriously. The bus driver, Nadine Oliveira, 53, has been on trial since Monday for homicide and involuntary injury in Marseille, whose court has a pole specializing in collective accidents.
“The barriers were closed, the bus arrives a fraction of a second later. I see him push the barrier, twist it, I tell myself that he is going to step back, to notice it except that I see him advancing weakly”, described to the helm Marilyn Vandeville, 40, who was at the controls of the train that hit the school bus at a level crossing on December 14, 2017.
“He never stopped, he continued at a slow pace, I stayed on this image”, she added, describing her “feeling of helplessness”. “Barriers closed or open, it was the same thing, the shock was inevitable”, underlined the young woman, long chestnut hair and green jacket.
A feeling shared by the instructor driver who was at his side in the cabin that day: “I perceive this bus on the right and I see it pushing the barrier but very slowly”, testified Thierry Madeira, 56 years old. This slowness “struck me”, he added.
“We were helpless, we did what we had to do,” noted this tall bald man, dressed in a white t-shirt, who expresses himself with modesty. “The brakes (of the train) come into action and we have to wait”.
“When I saw that the bus was pushing the barrier, I said to myself what is he doing, I did not think, I activated the emergency brake and I whistled”, had explained at the bar just before Mrs. Vandeville.
“I whistled for a long time hoping that the bus would accelerate and clear the way, all of this is happening very quickly”, added the driver, then in training, who was driving for the third time on this TER line linking Villefranche-de- Conflent to Perpignan.
– “This bus had to leave” –
To the question, crucial to determine the responsibility of the driver of the bus, to know if the barriers of the level crossing were lowered: “I am categorical and affirmative, the barrier was lowered”, hammered Ms. Vandeville. At that moment, Nadine Oliveira, head down, turns her head completely away.
The technical expertise carried out during the investigation concluded that the bus driver, who was used to this route but had never been confronted with the passage of a train, forced “the closed half-barrier of the said level crossing while that a regional express train was coming”.
“Our conclusion is that the level crossing was normally closed when the train arrived,” confirmed the two independent railway experts responsible for a report on the operation of the train and the level crossing.
Marilyn Vandeville remained in the cockpit until impact: “I had this bus and it had to go”.
Thierry Madeira hoped until the end that the collision would not happen: “the barrier continues to twist”, with Marilyn, we understand “that the bus is not going to stop”, he remembered with emotion . “We shouted at the same time”.
Just before impact, he threw himself into the airlock next to the cabin, to protect himself.
“I remember the exact place where I hit. For me, I saw a silhouette and the rest of the bus was empty”, also remembered, without fail, Marilyn Vandeville.
“With the sirens, the helicopter, we understood that the bus was full of children”, added the driver, herself a mother of two children, who says “not to celebrate Christmas as before”.
“We never forget anything, we live with it,” continued the young woman, still an SNCF driver, who was “long haunted” by the slight delay in the train that day.