Six people were killed and 15 others injured when a Metro North train collided with a four-wheel drive vehicle across the tracks in Westchester, causing a massive explosion and fire that left rush hour passengers inside, sources said.
The Harlem Lane train was heading towards Hawthorne Station when a woman in a black Jeep Cherokee tried to cross the tracks and was bulldozed.
The sources said that the collision hit the third electrified railway that penetrated the main car and caused an explosion that tore through the passenger compartment, killing five of the victims. The jeep driver also died.
“Nobody’s seen anything like this here before,” a law enforcement source told The Post. There were people with severed limbs. It was a terrible sight. “
Other train car passengers heard the explosion and feared for their lives.
Passenger Devon Champaign, 23, of Brookfield, Connecticut, said: “I was horrified – the collapse and the flames. I thought I was going to die for a minute. It was the scariest moment of my life.”
The fatal chain of events began when a cross fender arm fell off the back of Cherokee Street in Commerce Street, a witness said.
Instead of backing up, the driver – who had been stopped in traffic due to a previous car accident – continued crossing the bars, having first stepped out to check for damage to her SUV.
“I am pointing to her and yelling for her to back off and reverse, and I think the clock is ticking here,” said Richard Hope, who was driving behind her. “But she got back in her car and started driving on the tracks.”
The jeep did not turn away – and crashed by train.
“The second time she drove, the train hit her,” said Hope. “Maybe she thought she had enough time to get to the other side of the tracks.”
Passengers on the train said they felt a jolt on the collision.
Fred Bonocore, 45, of Ridgefield, Connecticut, said, “I was so shocked and came forward a little bit. Then things went quietly.”
When the 60-foot segment of the third railroad penetrated the train, the locomotive continued hundreds of feet, pulling the jeep.
“We heard a huge explosion at the front of the train,” Bonocur said. “It was like, Kabu!”
Other passengers tried to reach the passengers in the first vehicle.
“They got trapped there by the fire,” said passenger Jimmy Wallace, 44, of Ridgefield, Connecticut. “A few of us in my car tried to break the glass so we could cross, but to no avail.”
Some of the passengers began to panic as the cabin caught fire.
“It’s clear that people are getting more and more anxious when we started opening the emergency doors and windows,” Bonocur said.
“I cut my hand a little bit after I broke some emergency glass and opened the emergency door, then we all started getting off the train.”
When the passengers fled from Hell, they witnessed the devastation around them.
Jimmy Wallace, 44, said: “I saw quite a few passengers with severe injuries. One fractured a leg and another fractured a rib. But at least they have their lives. That’s a blessing in this kind of ‘situation’.
The front of the train was left charred and smoke. “The front car looks like an empty husk now, so burned out so fragile,” Bonocur said.
In addition to the six deaths, about a dozen people in critical condition have been transferred to Westchester Medical Center, according to authorities.
A total of 650 passengers were on the train when the collision occurred.
Dozens of passengers were taken to a mobile command center set up in the Valhalla gymnasium.
The tragedy, which occurred after a series of North Metro diversions in the past two years, was the deadliest accident in the system’s history.
In December 2013, four people were killed when a Metro-North train derailed when an engineer missed the Bronx.
In May 2013, a train derailed in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and collided with another train, injuring 73 passengers.
New York Senator Charles Schumer issued a statement Tuesday evening mourning the victims.
“Our hearts are with those who have lost,” the statement read. “We pray for the injured, and we turn our hats on the first courageous responders who came to the scene of the tragic accident very quickly.”
Westchester County Sheriff Rob Astorino added, “Seeing the third rail coming from the bottom of the train and passing through that first car is unimaginable. The flames and dense smoke were so bad that people were trying to get off as fast as possible. I imagine there was a lot more. From panic. Everything was so burnt. It was a burning scene. “
Schumer said he spoke to MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast and made sure that a full and thorough investigation was underway.
Members of the National Transportation Safety Board were on their way to the scene on Tuesday evening to begin their investigation of the accident.
The MTA said people who have loved ones affected by the Valhalla accident should not call 1-800-METRO-Info. There is also a Family Aid Center at Mount Pleasant Town Hall.
North Metro riders should expect delays and congestion tomorrow on the Harlem Line. Customers can take a shuttle bus to the North White Plains, then take a train there. There will be no train service in Valhalla or Hawthorne.
The railroad will honor tickets on the New Haven and Hudson Lines tomorrow.