A crowded rush-hour commuter train ran a stop signal and sideswiped an oncoming train Friday, tearing open a car in a cascade of sparks.
Both engineers and a passenger were killed, and at least 160 others were hurt.
“The car looked like somebody took a can opener and opened the side,” said Dr. Robert Lahita, medical director of Hudson County Emergency Medical Service.
The wreck involved two NJ Transit trains: one westbound with about 100 passengers, the other eastbound with 650 aboard, heading for Hoboken, just across the river from New York City. Many commuters change at Hoboken for subway trains and ferries into the city.
The eastbound train, pushed from behind by a locomotive, went through a stop signal at 8:40 a.m., the transit agency said.
Bob Morris, 44, of Secaucus said he heard the emergency brakes being applied, and a horn - then he was sent sprawling.
“People on top of people, laying everywhere,” Morris said.
NJ Transit said it was not immediately known whether human error or mechanical failure was to blame.
“We’re trying to ascertain now just exactly what happened, whether it was a signal problem or we basically had an equipment problem or” a human error, said Robert Randall, vice president and general manager of rail operations.
Two of the trains’ four “black boxes” - devices that record train operations - have been recovered.