At least six people were killed and 12 others were injured Tuesday evening when a Metro-North commuter train struck a vehicle on the tracks north of New York City, according to officials.
The crash killed an SUV driver and five train passengers.
"This is a truly ugly and brutal sight," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters hours after the incident. "The third rail of the track came up from the explosion and went right through the (rail) car. It's a devastatingly ugly situation."
The third rail, which carries 750 volts of direct current, tore through the floor of the first car of the train, charring the carriage and sending billows of smoke into the air. Damage to the other seven cars was minimal.
"It's actually amazing that not more people were hurt on that train," Cuomo said.
The accident is the latest in a series that prompted the Federal Railroad Administration to issue a stinging report on Metro-North last March, saying the railroad let safety concerns slip while pushing to keep trains on time. Railroad executives pledged to make safety their top priority.
Metro-North Railroad spokesman Aaron Donovan said the northbound train struck a Jeep Cherokee at a railroad crossing in Valhalla on Tuesday evening.
The accident happened about 6:30 p.m. and involved a commuter train heading out of New York City on the Harlem Line, which runs north into Dutchess County.
The railroad track gates had come down on top of the SUV, which was stopped on the tracks, the Metro-North spokesman said. The driver got out to look at the rear of the vehicle, then she got back in and drove forward and was struck.
The train shoved the SUV about 10 train car lengths north, and the SUV and the front of the train caught fire, he said.
Passengers described a bump and said they smelled gasoline from the vehicle.
Justin Kaback was commuting home to Danbury, Connecticut.
"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," he told ABC News. "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."'
Stacey Eisner, who was at the rear of the train, told NBC News that she felt the train "jerk" and then a conductor walked through the train explaining what had happened. She said her train car was evacuated about 10 minutes later using ladders to get people out.
The rail passengers were moved to the rear of the train, which had left Grand Central Terminal about 45 minutes earlier.
Passengers got off from the rear of the train. About 400 of them were taken to a local rock climbing gym for shelter. Buses were sent to pick them up and take them to their destinations.
Service has been suspended for portions of the line.
Metro-North is the nation's second-busiest railroad, after the Long Island Rail Road. It was formed in 1983. It serves about 280,000 riders a day in New York and Connecticut.
Late last year, the National Transportation Safety Board issued rulings on five Metro-North accidents that occurred in New York and Connecticut in 2013 and 2014, repeatedly finding fault with the railroad while also noting that conditions have improved.
The accidents included one in December 2013, when Metro-North train derailed in the Bronx, killing four people and injuring 63 others — 11 of them critically — officials said. The NTSB said the engineer had fallen asleep at the controls because he had a severe, undiagnosed case of sleep apnea.
The NTSB detailed other accidents.
In Manhattan on March 10, 2014, a worker was killed by a train while trying to re-energize tracks that had been out of service for maintenance.
On July 28, 2013, 10 cars of a CSX freight train carrying trash derailed. No one was injured in an accident caused by deteriorated concrete ties and other problems compounded by deferred maintenance. Partial service was restored four days later, but full service did not return for more than a week.
A track foreman was fatally struck by a train in West Haven, Connecticut, on May 28, 2013, probably due to a mistake by a student rail traffic controller.
On May 17, 2013, a Metro-North passenger train struck a commuter train between Fairfield and Bridgeport, Connecticut, injuring at least 65 people and halting service on the line. The derailment and collision was caused by broken joint bars, which are used to join rails of different sizes.
Al Jazeera and wire services