"I saw the eyes of one of the passengers and it was horrible,'' he told reporters.

He said he hit the emergency brakes but could not stop the train. "When the driver realized he was in danger, he froze instead of driving forward to move the vehicle out of the way,'' he said.

The incident is one of the worst rail crashes in Israel's history. In June 2006, five people were killed and 75 were hurt in a collision between a train and a truck north of Tel Aviv.

In June 2005, a similar collision between a passenger train and a truck killed eight and injured nearly 200 close to Kiryat Malachi near the port of Ashdod in southern Israel.

Following that accident, Israel's transportation ministry set up a "train police" to monitor rail traffic.