A passenger train has derailed and overturned in Philadelphia, killing at least six people and leaving a horrific scene of mangled metal and broken glass.


Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter said the death toll could rise from the derailment on the busy northeast US rail corridor as some of the 243 people on the train had not been accounted for.

Emergency personnel said 65 people were hurt after Tuesday night’s (Wednesday AEST) accident on the train heading from Washington to New York. Others walked away from the crash with light injuries.

The train’s seven train cars, including the engine car, were crushed, turned over on their side or upside down in the late evening disaster.

One was unrecognisable as a train car, as it lay on the ground in a ruined mass of metal.

As night fell, rescuers with torches gingerly scoured through the remains.

“It is an absolute disastrous mess,” Nutter told reporters. “I have never seen anything like this in my life.”

Officials declined to speculate on the cause of the incident, though some experts suggested the crash may have been caused due to a track defect or wheel failure.

Witnesses said the front of Amtrak Train 188 shook as it went into a turn, and the six cars behind it then went off the rails.

An estimated 243 people, including five crew members, were aboard the train when it crashed.

Nutter warned the casualty and injury estimates were only preliminary, hinting at the potential for a higher toll.

He also would not confirm whether all those aboard the train had been accounted for.

Hydraulic tools had to be used to remove passengers from some of the most badly damaged train cars, firefighters said.

“I’ve never seen anything so devastating. They are in pretty bad shape,” said Fire Commissioner Derrick Sawyer, referring to the train cars.

“You can see they completely, completely derailed from the track, destroyed completely and they’ve been overturned completely.”

Passengers recalled the chaos of the derailment.

Former US Congressman Patrick Murphy of Pennsylvania, who was on the train, said he was sitting on a bench in the cafe car when the train began to topple.

“It went to my right, then to my left. Everyone who was on the left side of the car, where I was sitting, just got thrown completely over to the right side.”

Murphy said the train seemed to be going around 100-110km/h when it suddenly derailed and rolled. Passengers had to kick out a window to escape.

Another passenger, Jeremy Wladis, 51, was on the last car of the train when he felt the jolt. He said he saw “phones, laptops, everything flying,” the Philadelphia Inquirer newspaper reported.

“There were women launched up in the luggage rack,” he said. “I don’t even know how they got there.”

The US Department of Homeland Security, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and along with Amtrak were involved in investigating the causes of the crash.