It happened so fast that Kim Goldman had barely settled in for her ride from Philadelphia to Washington.
Amtrak Train 89 was cruising south along a row of refineries near the Delaware border, some of its 341 passengers dozing, others nursing cups of coffee. Until a boom, a wall of fire, and yellow smoke stirred terror just before 8 a.m. Sunday.
Barely 20 minutes after departing Philadelphia, the Georgia-bound train struck an Amtrak maintenance vehicle in Chester and derailed, killing two people, injuring 37 others, and creating a scene of confusion and fear less than a year after another Philadelphia-area Amtrak crash that killed eight people and injured hundreds.
"I was scared that we were going to turn over," said Goldman, 26, a fund-raiser for Defenders of Wildlife in Washington. Scared, in part, because her car - the one right behind the engine - filled with smoke after the crash around 7:50 a.m."Someone's coffee flew and hit me," said Keith Kelly, 46, of Brooklyn, in the next car behind hers. "People were screaming. There were also children crying."
Another passenger described "a crash and then a wall of fire outside the window."
The chaos, they said, arrived with hardly any warning.
"The engineer honked the horn, then two seconds later we felt the impact," said Kelly. "We saw flames on the right side of the train. I could feel the car shimmying."
"I woke up when I heard screaming and yelling," said Ileene Cho, 21, who had been asleep after a long night of work as a pastry chef in New York.
In the moments after the crash, some people were so terrified that they jumped off the train - only to be coaxed back inside by Amtrak conductors, who restored and maintained calm while emergency vehicles rushed to the scene.
Most of the wounded were treated at Crozer-Chester Medical Center. Sixteen were released within hours. No one was in serious condition and no passengers were among the dead.
It was not immediately clear how fast the train was traveling upon impact. Investigators did not explain how or why a maintenance vehicle could be in the path of a train on Amtrak's high-traffic Northeast Corridor. Both people who died were Amtrak workers on or near the vehicle struck by the train.
Sirens roused neighbors from nearby rowhouses and blue-collar twin homes. Throngs of police, emergency medical crews and firefighters from this and other nearby industrial towns south of Philadelphia International Airport rushed to the scene near Sixth and Booth Streets. The crash happened in Delaware County, near the Pennsylvania border with Delaware.
The crash was, for the most part, beyond earshot of the squat single homes, twins and tiny rowhouses tucked into patches of industrial land south of Chester. The houses are hemmed in by a web of rails, a massive refinery complex owned by Monroe Energy, and a stretch of light-industrial businesses including a junkyard.
The derailed engine, whose windshields were smashed, came to a halt near rows of adjacent track where apparently empty freight cars were parked by a refinery operator. Those cars are routinely stored and then put into service from that location, said Nichole Stock, a resident whose second-floor window provided a clear view of the scene.
The morning was so blustery and cold that her home roared with creaking wood and rattling window panes, so she did not hear a crash outside.
It wasn't until Stock heard the blare of emergency vehicles that she realized anything had happened.
"The wind was so loud. A lot of wind - and a whole lot of sirens," said Stock, 32. She hopped out of bed and spent the next few hours watching from her bedroom window.
Emergency vehicles rushed onto a patch of berm alongside the stalled train. A short time later, passengers stepped away from the scene, and in most cases with no assistance, Stock said.
"Most of them walked off with their luggage," said Stock, whose home on Pennsylvania Avenue has an unobstructed view of the tracks in Trainer, the town just south of Chester where the Amtrak train came to a rest.
From there, passengers walked to nearby Trainer United Methodist Church on Ninth Street, where they wrapped themselves in Red Cross blankets and gathered their senses.
Uninjured passengers waited there for buses to Wilmington or 30th Street Station in Philadelphia, or they made other arrangements to reach their destinations.
Bardha Ajeti, 26, a World Bank consultant, had spent 48 exhausting hours traveling from Kosovo, in Southeastern Europe, and onto the train from New York, where the Amtrak Palmetto began its southbound journey. But rather than take a bus to another station, she opted to wait for her boyfriend to drive from Washington to pick her up at the church and take her back to the nation's capital.
"I don't want to get on another train," she said.
Staff writers Caitlin McCabe and Jill Castellano contributed to this article.