CANTON, Mass. -- A runaway freight car rammed into an MBTA train yesterday evening, tossing rush-hour commuters from their seats and leaving 150 passengers and crew with injuries, most of them minor.
An alert engineer halted the passenger train before impact, preventing what could have been far more serious injuries, officials said. The crash occurred about a half-mile north of the Canton Junction (Mass.) station.
"We knew we were coming into Canton Junction, and suddenly the train stopped," said Tony Phillips, a 42-year-old passenger who works for a Boston advertising firm and lives in Stoughton. "All the sudden, there was a bang, a huge explosion. People were screaming, 'Oh, my God, what happened?"'
Everyone on the train who was standing fell to the floor, Phillips said.
Dozens of emergency workers from around the region carried passengers and crew members away from the tracks on stretchers, rushing them to area hospitals. Nearby residents saw passengers walking through the adjacent woods with head injuries, some with severe bleeding, looking dazed. Although none of the injuries was life-threatening, the large number of cuts, bruises, and neck and back injuries forced emergency workers to use buses when they ran out of ambulance space.
"The lady in front of me was thrown forward pretty hard, and she broke her nose and had a serious cut to her face," said Terrence Jackson, 43, a passenger from Brockton. "Everybody did their part. I helped the woman in front of me. The passengers that were less injured or weren't injured helped people that were hurt."
MBTA Train 917 left Boston's South Station for Stoughton at 4:40 p.m. with 300 passengers.
Sometime before 5:20, a freight car loaded with building materials that had been parked at a nearby lumber yard, a few miles from the Canton Junction station, came loose. It rumbled some 3 miles, said Acting MBTA Police Chief Paul MacMillan.
"It was rolling by itself," MacMillan said. "It didn't have an engine on it."
CSX Transportation owns the freight car, but company spokesman Gary Sease said he does not yet know how it came loose from what he called a "customer location."
"We are cooperating fully with authorities to determine what happened," Sease said.
Joe Pesaturo, an MBTA spokesman, said the car was parked at Cohenno Inc. a lumber yard in Stoughton.
Bradford F. Cohenno, listed in corporate records as the company president, did not return messages left at his home and office last night.
Last night, police had sealed off the railroad tracks around the lumber yard. A police officer said that the area was part of an investigation and that all the workers had left.
The MBTA train was able to stop before impact with the freight car and avoid derailing because of a signal on the tracks, tripped off by the runaway car, that sent a warning to the engineer's cabin in the form of a white light, Pesaturo said.
The engineer was being treated at a hospital for serious injuries, but is expected to recover, said Richard A. Davey, general counsel for the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad Company, which runs commuter service for the MBTA. Davey would not identify the engineer.
"We think he did everything that he should have under the circumstances," Davey said.
The crash disrupted commuter service on the Providence/Stoughton line. Service on 10 Amtrak trains was delayed for two hours or more, said Amtrak spokesman Marc Magliari.
Jackson, the Brockton passenger, said he normally takes the Middleborough/Lakeville line into work, but overslept yesterday and took a later train from the Stoughton station.
"That's what you get for sleeping late," he said.Noah Bierman of the Globe staff and Globe correspondents John Guilfoil and Jillian Jorgensen contributed to this report.