One man died and about a dozen others were injured when a passenger train smashed into a truck and derailed in the southern Australian state of Victoria, authorities said.

The accident happened on Saturday when the rear trailer of a truck attempting to drive across a level crossing in the Melbourne suburb of Dandenong South was struck by the passenger train, police investigators have been told.

"There was this massive sonic, the factory was shaking. You could just hear the train derailing and going through the gravel," said Angelo Galluccio, a local business owner.

"I just couldn't believe what had happened. I've never seen anything like it, you only see it on the movies," he told The Age newspaper.

Television images of the crash showed crumpled train carriages lying smashed into each other across the tracks after one carriage tipped over and three others derailed on impact.

"You couldn't even recognise the front of the train," Ian Atkinson, who rushed to the scene from his workplace, told the ABC.

Terrible tragedy

Emergency workers freed the train driver after more than an hour and he is reportedly in a critical condition with injuries to the lower half of his body. The driver of the truck did not require hospital treatment and the bulk of the dozen or so injured passengers received mostly minor injuries.

Police said the man who died, thought to be aged in his 30s, was found in the rubble but could not be saved.

"Emergency workers located a man in cardiac arrest near the train cabin. Despite attempts by paramedics to treat the man, he died at the scene," they said in a statement.

Authorities said only about 30 people were on the train at the time of the accident and the impact would have been much worse had it not been on the weekend.

"Obviously what we have seen here today is a terrible tragedy," said Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu. "It's extraordinary that no more lives have been lost."

Source: Agencies