US authorities are investigating a rail crash in which a New York commuter train ploughed into a car stuck on the track.
Six people were killed and 15 were injured – seven of them seriously – in the collision, which happened during the evening rush hour on Tuesday. The dead were five passengers and the driver of the car.
Hundreds were on board the train as it headed through the city’s wealthy northern suburbs.
New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo visited the scene and said: “You have people who started out today to go about their business, and aren’t going to be making it home tonight. And it’s a painful reminder to all of us how precious life is.”
The collision at the level crossing sparked an explosion and fire. A rail from the track tore through the train’s first carriage.
“It appears that the gasoline tank on the car burst and that started the fire,” Cuomo said, adding that the fire consumed the car and the front train carriage.
Passengers described frightening scenes as the train was evacuated.
“The smoke was orange coming off the train, it was still on fire at that point. The front car was billowing heavy smoke out of the windows and doors,” said Jared Woodard, an employee of BGC Financial in New York, who was on the train travelling home to Chappaqua.
“I saw a car engulfed in fire. I saw the train also had a fire that was quickly moving through it. And I saw people trying to get off that train. And I saw the people at the front of the train that needed immediate medical assistance,” said paramedic Angelo Ortiz.
Hundreds of passengers from the eight-car train were taken to a nearby rock-climbing gym for shelter, authorities said.
The driver of the car – a woman – was reportedly seen briefly trying to push it off the track, before getting back into the car just before the collision.
It is not known how the car came to be stalled on the railway line.
The train had left Grand Central Terminal in midtown Manhattan at 5.44pm local time, and was headed north to Wassaic in southeast New York state.
The Harlem Line is part of the Metro-North Railroad commuter rail service, which runs five lines.
Thousands of commuters faced a snarled journey to work on Wednesday morning in the aftermath of the accident.
Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Aaron Donovan said roughly 45,000 riders take the Harlem Line on an average weekday, about 14,000 of whom board north of where the crash occurred and would be directly affected. Parts of the line remained closed on Wednesday, according to the MTA.
Tuesday’s crash is the latest in a string of accidents involving Metro-North trains in recent years, which have drawn strong criticism.
One derailed near the northern edge of New York City on December 1, 2013, killing four and injuring 70. It was travelling nearly three times over the speed limit for the section of track where it crashed, investigators said.
The National Transportation Safety Board released a report late last year that identified common safety issues with the railroad following inquiries into five accidents.