TOKYO -- A crowded commuter train derailed and plowed into an apartment building in western Japan today, turning passenger cars into twisted shards of metal. At least 37 people were killed and about 200 injured, officials said.
The seven-car commuter train was carrying 580 passengers when it jumped the tracks, wrecking an automobile in its path before slamming into a nine-story apartment complex. Two of the four derailed cars were flattened against the wall of the building, and hundreds of rescue workers and police swarmed the wreckage and tended to the injured.
The cause of the crash in an urban area near Amagasaki, about 250 miles west of Tokyo, was not immediately known, but survivors said excessive speed might have been a factor. Attention focused on the inexperienced, 23-year-old driver.
''There was a violent shaking, and the next moment I was thrown to the floor . . . and I landed on top of a pile of other people," passenger Tatsuya Akashi told national broadcaster NHK.
A Hyogo state police official said at least 37 people were killed. It was not clear how many of the dead were passengers and whether bystanders and apartment residents were among the victims.
The accident was one of the worst rail disasters in recent memory in Japan, which has one of the world's most complex and heavily traveled rail networks.
''There are many theories, but we don't know for sure what caused the accident," Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said.
The train operator, Japan Railway Co., apologized. ''Our most important task now is to rescue the passengers from the accident and we are doing our best," West Japan Railway Co. president Takeshi Kakiuchi said.
Survivors said the force of the derailment sent them tumbling through the inside of the cars. Photos taken by an NHK reporter aboard the train showed passengers piled on the floor and some clawing to escape from the shells of the cars.
Tsunemi Murakami, the railway's safety director, said it still was not certain how fast the train was going.
The driver's inexperience may have been a factor. He only had 11 months experience and had committed a previous overrun at a station in 2004, officials said.