MANSFIELD — An Amtrak train that may have been traveling more than 100 miles per hour late Sunday plowed into a vehicle that had inexplicably made it onto railroad tracks, in a crash that killed all three people inside.
The violent collision derailed the main engine of the Amtrak train, which travels at speeds of up to 125 miles per hour in the area where the crash occurred, and scattered debris along a little more than 2 miles of heavily wooded and swampy land between Gilbert and School streets, authorities said.
The train, which had left Providence and was heading to Boston, came to a stop behind the Old Country Store & Emporium on Otis Street, officials said.
Kenneth Sprague, deputy chief of the MBTA Transit Police, said the vehicle was pointed north when it was struck by the train, which was also moving north, but authorities do not know where it got on the tracks or whether it was moving. There is no grade crossing nearby.
Officials did not release any details about the victims, except to say they were two males and a female. Their bodies were removed from the vehicle and taken from the scene by the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, officials said.
Authorities also did not disclose any details about the vehicle, but said it was being towed to a secure location.
Mansfield Police Chief Ronald Sellon said there are multiple places where people can reach the tracks along the route.
In Mansfield, however, there is no public access to the railroad right-of-way, said MBTA spokesman Joe Pesaturo.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work that still needs to be undertaken, and there are even more facts of this incident that we simply do not know at this time,” said Mansfield Deputy Fire Chief Jim Puleo.
None of the 222 passengers aboard the train was hurt, and the train remained upright even after it derailed at approximately 11:55 p.m. Sunday, about 14 miles from its next stop, the Route 128 station in Westwood, said Craig Schulz, an Amtrak spokesman. He said the operator applied the brakes in a “full emergency capacity” when he saw the vehicle.
“The fact that the train traveled for a distance having lost contact with the rails is a testament to the safety aspects of the train itself,” Schulz said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
While officials collected evidence Monday, police blocked off a mile of road between the intersections of Gilbert and Otis streets in Mansfield and Richardson Avenue and North Worcester Street in Norton. They said the vehicle was found in an area between Elm and Gilbert streets in Mansfield.
The incident is being treated as a death investigation, said Gregg Miliote, a spokesman for Bristol District Attorney C. Samuel Sutter. The Federal Railroad Administration is also investigating.
“Our investigation will identify the root cause of the accident, and we will take all appropriate enforcement actions as necessary,” Michael England, an agency spokesman, said in an e-mail.
One Amtrak passenger — Amy Galante, 39, of Waltham — said she heard a horn and then “everything just started shaking.
“It sounded like a tree had fallen on the tracks and we were driving through the branches,” she said. “I was just bracing for impact.”
Galante later saw a tire wedged into the left side of the train, she said.
“We were told that the impact was actually 2 to 3 miles behind us from where we actually ended up stopping,” she said.
“It was probably 30 seconds to a minute that we were plowing through the debris.”
She credited Amtrak personnel for keeping people calm and providing updates and said she feels terrible for the victims.
“It was horrible,” Galante said.
Jay Acunzo, 28, of Cambridge, said he was traveling from New Haven to South Station with his wife. Some time after leaving Providence, he said, he felt a jolt and started hearing something like branches pounding against the train.
He overheard someone yelling “emergency” over a radio that an Amtrak official was carrying and smelled burning rubber. Officials told passengers that the train hit something and asked everyone to sit still for safety, he said.
Marie DiVito and her husband, Michael, were returning to Weymouth from Washington, D.C., with their 11-year-old daughter and her 10-year-old friend. She said she had gotten up to organize her luggage when she heard two big bangs.
“I thought something in the train broke,” DiVito said.
The cabin filled with smoke and then the train came to a stop and power went out, she said. An official informed passengers on a public address system that the train had struck something and then later announced that the train had struck a vehicle and the main engine derailed, DiVito said.
Officials said a train already en route from Providence would pick them up, but that plan was called off because there was so much debris along the tracks, DiVito said.
A commuter rail train from Boston later picked up the passengers, she said.
“My heart goes out to the family,” DiVito said. “There’s certainly a mystery as to why they were there. . . . There’s definitely no crossing anywhere near that site.”