This accident happened shortly after sunrise, and investigators say it's possible the sun may have been in the driver's eyes - blocking her view of the oncoming commuter train.
The mangled remains of this Toyota Corolla portray the terrible impact between a Caltrain and car just before seven Thursday morning. It happened in South San Jose, just before the Blossom Hill station. The train had left Gilroy and was headed northbound with 100 passengers aboard. The driver was passing over a private road crossing onto Monterey Highway.
"It's pure speculation, but the sun was very low at that point. We believe it was right in her eyes. We don't think she saw the train," said San Jose Police Sgt. Mike Sullivan.
The car was knocked off the tracks. Emergency personnel extricated the 28-year old female driver, and she was taken to Valley Medical Center in critical condition. No passengers were hurt. And many didn't even realize what happened at first.
"I thought it was just some huge rock or something," said Norma Carvalho, Caltrain passenger.
"It's like we ran over like tree limbs. That's what it sounded like, you could hear something underneath the train," said Susan Goff, Caltrain passenger.
"Did you feel train screech or try to brake?" asked ABC7's Teresa Garcia.
"No," said Tracy Drummond, Caltrain passenger.
"Did you hear an air horn blow at all?" asked Garcia.
"I don't recall," said Drummond.
Caltrain says per policy the conductor did sound the air horn 1,500 feet before the crossing. Passengers told us the electricity was out on the train, but investigators say that didn't contribute to the accident.
"They had an electrical issue on the onboard lighting for the train, just the interior lighting of the train. They checked it out in Gilroy. The train was completely safe," said San Jose Police Sgt. Mike Sullivan.
Caltrain facilitated bus bridges to transport passengers to its Diridon train station from the accident scene and for commuters stuck at stations in Gilroy, San Martin, and Morgan Hill. This is the second Caltrain collision with a car within a week. A man was killed in San Mateo last week when a train struck his truck on the tracks -- another grave reminder.
"We want people to be extra cautious; and we can't reiterate that at any grade crossing, people need to pay attention," said San Mateo Co. Sheriff's Office Transit Police Det. Victor Lopez
Caltrain says there are no signals or crossing arms at private crossings, like where this accident happened, so drivers need to be extra-cautious. Ironically today, Caltrain is launching a $250-million project to limit car and pedestrian access to tracks to improve safety.