Rock Island train 420 was inbound when it struck the car at the crossing grade near Central and 167th in south suburban Oak Forest around 4 p.m. The impact jolted the seven-car train, knocking the front car off the tracks as it dragged the crumpled car for a quarter mile.
Authorities say two women in their 80s inside the vehicle were killed and eight passengers were taken to area hospitals for bumps and bruises. The others were checked out at the scene before cooling buses arrived to shelter them from the heat.
"It's probably one of the worst hits I've seen down the tracks with a car for a long time," said Chief Terry Lipinski, Oak Forest Fire Department. "Some of the people were pretty hot. We had to walk them the quarter mile back down here, we had the ambulances taking care of them, and it took about 45 minutes to get the buses here."
Noelle Cislo was one of the 89 passengers on board.
"All's I could think was, 'please don't tip over,' because you could see the front car - I was in the second one - you could see the front car was tilted to the side a little bit," Cislo told ABC7.
Cislo snapped some photos of the scene which clearly show what little remains of the car.
"It was flat like a pancake...it was very hard to tell it was a car," she said.
"It got a little frantic in there with everybody, but once we stopped, everybody wanted to get off...I just told everybody, try to stay calm...really, from there, everything went great. Metra got us off," said Tom Clifton, Metra passenger. Clifton was on the lead car.
Passengers were eventually taken to a nearby station to continue on their way. But the incident shut down the inbound Rock Island line during the busy afternoon rush.
"There is some damage to the track. So the track that the train is on right now will have to be repaired. It'll have to be inspected," said Judy Pardonnet, Metra spokesperson.
Exactly why the car was on the track is still being investigated.
One passenger told ABC7 that the intersection at 167th and Central has two sets of lights and cars can easily get stuck in traffic in between.
"What we'll do is download the event recorder, which is similar to the black box on an airplane. We'll look at everything. We'll look at the signals. We'll look at the gates," said Pardonnet.
Metra was running both inbound and outbound trains on one track Thursday night. Officials said there could be delays during the Friday morning commute. For the latest train information visit metrarail.com.