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Probe into fatal UK train crash
Train cars remain derailed Sunday morning west of London.
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A train crash west of London leaves several dead.
Great Britain

LONDON, England -- Investigators on Sunday were searching the wreckage of a train crash that killed seven people and injured dozens of others at a level crossing west of London.

The high-speed London-to-Plymouth train derailed after it hit a car on the crossing about 6:30 p.m. Saturday (1:30 p.m. ET) near Reading. The drivers of the car and train were among the dead, police said.

An off-duty police officer who happened to be in the area saw the car drive onto the crossing and remain there as automatic barriers blocking one lane on each side of the tracks fell, said Andy Trotter, deputy chief constable of the British Transport Police.

The officer called for the emergency services after seeing the train hit the vehicle. Trotter gave no details about why the car was believed to have stopped on the crossing.

"It is quite remarkable...if you look at the scene...which is a scene of some great devastation, that so many people managed to escape from such an awful event," Trotter told reporters.

"Crime officers...are now combing the site looking for evidence to find out what happened," Trotter said. He promised a "meticulous investigation" into the crash.

Rail analysts said the train would have been traveling at about 160 kilometers per hour (100 mph) as it approached the crossing just west of Reading.

More than 20 ambulances and 14 fire engines rushed to the scene near the hamlet of Ufton Nervet, about 58 kilometers (36 miles) west of London. All the trapped were freed by 11.30 p.m., the fire service said.

Firefighters and police with dogs continued searching the wreckage and surrounding fields until dawn Sunday to ensure there were no other casualties nearby, Trotter said.

Thames Valley Police said that at least eight carriages on the First Great Western train had been derailed and one was split in two by the force of the impact.

The train, bound for southwest England from London's Paddington station, was carrying about 300 passengers.

About 85 people were treated at two local hospitals for injuries, although many had only minor cuts and bruises, ambulance and hospital officials said.

BBC Radio reporter Jonny Saunders, who was on the train, told of the chaos in the crash.

"Suddenly there was this extraordinary stopping sensation. I immediately thought someone had pulled the emergency cord, but it carried on, carried on, and came to a juddering halt," he said.

"Suddenly all the lights went off, screaming, shouting, we were in the pitch black, then total chaos in the carriage for a few moments."

Local resident Tim Grundy described the wreckage as a scene of "absolute devastation."

He said one of the train's carriages looked "like a baguette which someone had twisted at both ends, destroying the middle."

There was no indication that infrastructure failure or railway staff were responsible for the crash, in a country where rail safety has been a political issue since a series of deadly crashes followed the industry's privatization in the 1990s.

CNN's Jim Boulden contributed to this report.

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