SIX people have died and 10 are seriously injured after a crowded commuter train slammed into a sport utility vehicle on the tracks at a suburban New York crossing and burst into flames.
The collision involving a Metro-North Railroad train and a Jeep Cherokee last night in Valhalla, about 20 miles north of New York City, sent hundreds of passengers scrambling to get to safety.
Authorities said the impact was so forceful the electrified third rail came up and pierced the train.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said that the SUV’s driver and five people aboard the train died in the incident.
Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino said the front part of the train was “completely charred and burned”.
Mr Astorino said: “I am amazed anyone got off that train alive. ... It must have been pure panic, with the flames, the third rail and the smoke.”
He added that 12 people were injured, 10 of them seriously.
Authorities said the SUV’s driver had gotten out of her vehicle momentarily after the crossing’s safety gates came down around her. She then got back in and was trying to drive forward when she was hit, they said.
The northbound Metro-North Railroad train left Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan at about 5.45pm and struck the SUV about 45 minutes later.
It is unclear how fast the train was going, but the maximum would be 60mph, a railroad official said.
The train shoved the SUV about 10 train car lengths. Smoke poured out of the scorched front rail car, its windows blackened.
“This is a truly ugly and brutal site,” Mr Cuomo said.
Witnesses said they saw the flames shooting from where the crash occurred, in a wooded area near a cemetery.
Ryan Cottrell, assistant director at a nearby rock climbing gym, said he had been looking out a window because of an earlier, unrelated car accident and saw the train hit the car, pushing it along.
“The flames erupted pretty quickly,” he said.
Passengers described a bump and said they smelled petrol from the vehicle.
About 650 passengers were aboard the train, including Justin Kaback, commuting home to Danbury, Connecticut.
He told ABC News: “I was trapped. You know there was people in front of me and behind me, and I was trapped in the middle of a car and it was getting very hot.
“All the air was turned off so there was no circulation, so it was definitely scary, especially when people are walking by on the outside and they said, ‘The train’s on fire. There’s a fire’.”
Passengers were moved to the rear of the train so they could get off. Buses picked them up and took them to other stations.
Officials did not comment on whether the railroad crossing gates were working properly. The National Transportation Safety Board said a team was being sent to investigate.
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“You have seven people who started out today to go about their business and aren’t going to be making it home tonight,” Mr Cuomo said at the crash site.