The photographer, Xabier Martinez, told The Associated Press that he also spoke to two injured train passengers who said they felt a strong vibration before the derailing.
The accident occurred near the train station in Santiago de Compostela, 60 miles south of El Ferrol, the final destination. Rescue workers were also seen in the television images caring for people still inside some of the wagons.
Television footage showed one wagon pointing upwards into the air with one of its ends twisted and disfigured. Another carriage that had been severed in two could be seen lying on a road near the track.
The train, which belongs to the state-owned Renfe company, had started its journey in Madrid. Although it was not an AVE high speed train, it was a relatively luxurious version that uses the same track as Spain’s fastest expresses.
It was Spain’s deadliest train accident in decades. In 1944, a train traveling from Madrid to Galicia crashed and killed 78 people. Another accident in 1972 left 77 dead on a track to southwestern Seville, according to Spanish news agency Europa Press.
Officials at the Interior Ministry and the Adif rail infrastructure authority did not immediately answer telephone calls or return messages seeking comment. Officials with Renfe also did not immediately return messages seeking comment.
King Juan Carlos and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a native of Galicia, both offered their condolences. Rajoy announced he would visit the site Thursday.