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I-Team Exclusive: Veteran Engineer, Conductor Tell Of Horrifying Moments When Wrecks Happen

By Walt Hunter

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A CBS 3 I-Team investigation reveals the dangers when cars and people wind up in the path of trains along SEPTA's Regional Rail Lines.

Eyewitness News Reporter Walt Hunter spoke exclusively with a veteran engineer and conductor who tell of the horrifying moments when wrecks happen.

"It's devastating," SEPTA Engineer Fred Topel, who has nearly 40 years on the rails, explains, "Your heart stops, you can't believe they are there."

"It's very traumatic," explained SEPTA conductor Ed Lyons, who, like Topel has decades of service on SEPTA trains. "You feel the train go into emergency, you know it can't be good."

Seven times Topel and Lyons have witnessed the sad aftermath of train collisions, Lyons, as conductor, always the first to arrive at the scene and check for possible survivors.

"I'm the first one at the car," Lyons explains, "It's a horrible situation."

SEPTA officials say between April, 2012 and April, 2014, 26 people were struck by Regional rail trains, 14 fatally injured.

"A 7-car express train will be over a million pounds of steel riding on steel," explains Septa Deputy General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel, "It's just not worth taking a chance."

CBS 3 cameras found a number of pedestrians ducking under and walking around lowered crossing gates in Ambler, Montgomery County.

Riding in the lead car along the Media-Elwyn line, Hunter found a number of people crossing the tracks in front of the train, including one man walking along the adjoining track as the train approached.

"People who wear earplugs are the worst, you get close, and you can't believe they're not moving," explained engineer Topel.

"Finally, by the grace of God, most of them do move."

In a move designed to promote safety, SEPTA employees will be at all 120 stations system-wide during much of the day Wednesday, passing out safety materials, hoping to remind and alert riders and neighbors to just how dangerous crossing and walking on the rails can be.

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