An Amtrak passenger train collided with a compact sports utility vehicle on Tuesday, killing all six people inside the car.
None of the 70 passengers or crew members aboard the Oakland-bound train was injured, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said.
Shortly after 2 pm, the driver of a Chevrolet Tracker stopped on the tracks before the railroad crossing arms came down, said Steve Mayotte, chief of the Stanislaus Consolidated Fire Protection District. She attempted to back up and then drive forward to escape the approaching train, he said.
"When the driver attempted to back up, she hit the railroad arm and she decided at the last minute to try and get across the tracks, and she did not make it," Mayotte said.
One person was thrown from the car. The others remained inside and were pronounced dead at the scene, Mayotte said. The car was dragged more than half a mile (a kilometer) down the track after the collision and became wrapped around the front of the train.
The car was driven by a female driver with five young passengers, said California Highway Patrol spokesman Tom Killian. The other passengers included two young boys in car seats, another young boy estimated to be between 6 and 8-years old and two teenage girls, Killian said.
The four-car train was traveling from Bakersfield to Oakland when it collided with the vehicle about nine miles (14 1/2 kilometers) northeast of Modesto. The train's speed was not immediately known, Graham said.
The passengers boarded another train headed to Modesto, where Amtrak arranged to have buses take them to their destinations, she said.
California had the second highest number of deaths at highway-rail crossings in 2006, with 36, according to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety organization based in Alexandria, Virginia.
Texas led all states with 42 fatalities.