News


Train hits car in Palo Alto, kills out-of-town driver

Driver's husband escaped from Charleston Road train crossing in time

A woman was killed on the Caltrain tracks Friday afternoon when the car she was driving was struck by a train shortly after 5 p.m. at the Charleston Road crossing.

The driver, a woman in her 60s from Indiana, was heading eastbound on Charleston when her Nissan Altima was struck by a northbound Express train, Caltrain spokesman Mark Simon said.

Caltrain service was suspended in both directions just after 5 p.m. Caltrain was working with the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority late Friday afternoon to provide a "bus bridge" between the San Antonio station in Mountain View and the California Avenue station in Palo Alto.

Rescue trains were also deployed to carry passengers whose regular train service was suspended. Caltrain officials expected delays of up to 90 minutes.

The train came to a halt after the collision near East Meadow Drive, Caltrain spokesperson Tasha Bartholomew said. The woman and her husband were both in the car. The husband, who is also in his 60s and who was sitting in the passenger seat, exited the car and appeared physically unharmed.

"We think he got out just in time," Simon said.

Simon said the victim and her husband were visiting family in Palo Alto.

Simon said the car was crossing the tracks during peak traffic. It appeared to get stuck behind the backed-up traffic and remained on the tracks when Train #369 struck. He said the northbound Express train was on its way from Mountain View and was rolling at full speed -- 79 mph -- when the collision occurred.

Caltrain officials said there were between 300 and 400 passengers on the train. None appeared to be injured, Simon said.

Palo Alto and transit police, firefighters and paramedics arrived at the scene immediately after the crash and closed Charleston Road to traffic near the train tracks.

The struck car remained near the tracks more than an hour after the crash, its front end completely mangled.

Deanna Slocum, who lives near the crash scene, said she saw the train traveling at full speed and then heard a loud crash. She immediately knew the train had hit a car.

"I heard the sound of brakes as the train was trying to slow down and then I heard screams," Slocum said.

The driver was pronounced dead at the scene, Simon said. The coroner arrived about an hour after the crash as residents and passersby stood outside the caution tape and looked on.

The incident was Caltrain's sixth fatality of the year.

Comments

Posted by Mark, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 15, 2011 at 5:48 pm

Drove by...yellow tarp over car and Firefighters standing by. Not a good sign.


Posted by Roger B, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:12 pm

KCBS reported this as a fatal accident...


Posted by Bikes2work, a resident of Santa Rita (Los Altos)
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm

It is never a good sign when I hear a helicopter hovering all the way home.


Posted by Christina, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:15 pm

The car is completely compressed. Can't even tell the make of the car. Scary. Prayers go to the family...


Posted by Dmitry Mazin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:22 pm

I drove by this car while it was still uncovered. It was smashed quite seriously. The car was an Audi, I'm pretty sure.


Posted by doug smith, a resident of Professorville
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Just wondering why there are so many helicopters, and also there is a police baracade on alma near PAMF. Traffic is backed up on Embaracadero and also on Alma.


Posted by Long time GMCA, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:24 pm

Could the hovering newschopper be any more intrusive or obnoxious?
What do they want to see? Was this accidental? (having, many years ago, absentmindedly halted for the red light on the tracks myself, having the gates start to go down, and being frantic in the less than 30 seconds one has to clear the tracks before impact, until I could drive off the tracks--never ever stop on RR tracks!)


Posted by Rebecca, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:27 pm

Does anyone know why the car was on the tracks or if there was a gate malfuntion?


Posted by GM Resident, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:29 pm

Can someone who saw the car post the color?


Posted by Stanford Resident, a resident of Stanford
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm

GM Resident, I think it was a gray car.


Posted by Megan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:32 pm

I drove by while the car was still uncovered. It looked like a mustang to me. The passengers were already gone. There was a yellow powder substance everywhere. Perhaps it had been on fire? The car took down the railroad crossing. It literally cut it in half. The police woman was talking to a policeman and wiping tears from her eyes. The car was completely mangled. I have an up close photo of the car from my iPhone. So sad. :(


Posted by Megan, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:34 pm

The color looked champagne to me.


Posted by Tuttle, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm

I second the 'helicopter obnoxious' comment.


Posted by member, a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:35 pm

the article says it was a light-colored sedan


Posted by Train Neighbor, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:39 pm

pic: Web Link


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm

another pic: Web Link


Posted by TripleB, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm

How horribly, horribly tragic.


Posted by Jena, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:55 pm

I can't imagine how the husband (passenger) must feel right now. So sad.
And enough with the helicopter- it's 2 hours past the accident...


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm

How very sad.


Posted by commuter, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 15, 2011 at 6:57 pm

This intersection would be a lot safer if the city moved the Alma Street traffic light (for eastbound traffic) to be west of the train tracks. Currently, the traffic light is east of the train tracks, but there is only enough space for one car to stop between the tracks and Alma Street. In heavy traffic, a second car (especially if following too closely) might not see the tracks until they are right on top of them. Then backing up off the tracks might not be safe because of following cars. This is not the first time that a car has been hit at this crossing. From watching traffic there, I think a lot of people are confused about where they are supposed to stop.


Posted by member, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:00 pm

Third the obnoxious ambulance chasing newschopper.

Does anyone know why she couldn't move once the crossing signal went off? -- this usually triggers the lights on Charleston to turn green, allowing anyone close to the tracks to quickly move through the intersection before turning red again. Did the cars in front of her just ignore the quick Green light? So so sad.


Posted by Train Neighbor, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:06 pm

If she was driving west on Charleston towards El Camino, she may have been stopped by a backup on Charleston.

If she was driving East toward Middlefield, she may have been trapped by cars on Alma that didn't clear intersection.

I've seen both occur and the cars got off tracks just in time.

NEVER CROSS TRACKS UNLESS YOU CAN CLEAR TO THE OTHER SIDE!!!!


Posted by GM Mama, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I am very sad to hear of this tragic event. Since the people in the car came to Palo Alto to visit family, then some members of our community must be in deep grief right now. My condolences to this family.

I have lived near this train intersection for decades. The suggestion made by "commuter" from College Terrace is the best I have ever heard for preventing car/train collisions from occurring there. Relocate the stoplight so that it stops traffic before the tracks, not on the far side of the tracks. This would be less confusing for drivers, especially people who are unfamiliar with the intersection.

And yes, could someone please ask the news helicopters to leave?


Posted by GMCA-resident, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm

I live about 2 blocks from the tracks, and after about an hour of the helicopter just standing still came out to see what happened. My guess is they stopped on the track after person in front stopped at the light. Sometimes if you are a smaller car and an SUV is right in front of you they block the view of the traffic light. You can think they are moving because it is green and follow them, but only realize it is red once you are at the top of the tracks. I've done that occasionally and once you realize the mistake it is too late to back up, since a car is occupying the spot behind you.

Some more thought needs to go into how that intersection is set up. Putting the light on the other side might make some sense.


Posted by TripleB, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Why is a train at full speed when there's a car on the tracks?


Posted by Local Resident, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:19 pm

Prayers for the woman and her family - especially her husband who experienced the whole tragic incident. Personally, I drive this route every day and can't understand how someone would get stuck.

Don't know where the helicopter is from, but it's amazing that it can hover that long.


Posted by local resident, a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:22 pm

To College Terrace Resident -
You are right. I hope you will take your comment to CalTrain or City of Palo Alto.


Posted by ConcernedPArez, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:33 pm

I have seen cars stuck on the tracks many, many times during peak traffic. This is my greatest fear, too, that one day I will get stuck on them and not be able to escape. The poor, poor lady. She didn't live here and probably didn't expect or know that she would get stuck. I grieve for this family, especially her husband who may have witnessed his own wife's death. Just terrible...


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:43 pm

> Why is a train at full speed when there's a car on the tracks?

It's hard to believe that someone would ask this question .. but they have.

The gates at Charleston/Alma are timed to start going down about 20 seconds before a train actually reaches the intersection. This is not a lot of time, but if people follow the rules (meaning using common sense), then they would never go onto a track and stop. There is only about 25 feet of "buffer" between the tracks and Alma. If someone does end up on the tracks when the gates start going down, there are times that there is no place for the car to go. The traffic is heavy at this time of day going North->South. If there is a car in this "buffer" that can't make an immediate right turn, then the car(s) behind it have no place to go (as the left lane is also likely hold one (or more) car(s).

To make matters worse, this is effectively a "blind corner", since there is a hedge that comes right up to the sidewalk, making it impossible to see to the right. Trains going North->South are easy enough to spot, but not in the other direction.

Trains are moving along at full speed at this intersection. The next station down is "The Crossings" (San Antonio) and downtown Mountain View is next. If the train isn't scheduled to stop at San Antonio, then it will be moving along at whatever speed it is travelling at. In the case of a South-North train, it's next stop is California Avenue.

Trains don't "stop on a dime", so people need to keep that in mind when thinking about stopping on train tracks, so whatever reason.

People tend to panic at times like these, and often aren't thinking clearly when they see a train bearing down on themselves.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:47 pm

Skelators comment needs to be removed. How incredibly insensitive.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:48 pm

Thank you, editors for removing the comment.


Posted by palo alto since 1960, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:51 pm

Thank you "Bob" for responding to a post that I also found absurd. People should never drive onto tracks until they are sure they can go all the way over and off the tracks.....not to be cruel, but if not paying attention on the road leads to accidents, like this one....
Why do people keep trying to blame the trains/conductors/caltrain???


Posted by robit noops, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:55 pm

Was stuck on alma for a while detouring traffic because of this accident. Agree, sad for family. Why was this person stopped on the train tracks, this was an err due to lack of common sense driving. NEVER stop on a train track, and if you can't move, get out of the car. Senseless loss of a life.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm

<< Why is a train at full speed when there's a car on the tracks? >>

I hope you're not serious.

The concise answer is, trains require a very long distance to decelerate and stop. The train was going 79 mph and even if there had been sufficient time for the operator to spot the car, react and apply the brakes, it is doubtful the operator would have been able to stop the train in time to avoid the collision. Even if the operator had gotten the train's speed down to, say, 10 mph, the collision would still have been devastating.


Posted by I'm Wondering, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I am wondering if this accident has anything to do with the improvements that were recently done at the site. For one thing the sound the arms make when they are going down is softer, not as loud as it used to be. This is good for the people who live close by, but it is not good for people who do not realize that they are stopped on the tracks. Of course Cal train people are going to say that everything works fine.


Posted by Longterm_paloalto_resident, a resident of Southgate
on Apr 15, 2011 at 8:20 pm

We've lived close to Charleston for a long time and something seems dreadfully wrong with the design of the train tracks. The train tracks are too close to high traffic streets, and there isn't enough safety room in case the train crossing gets congested. Once again we have a tragic accident- I think its time Caltrain does a design review, i.e. compare their safety design with the best-in-class train designs elsewhere in the world.


Posted by Commander McBragg, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2011 at 8:27 pm

It is the back of the car that was completely mangled, not the front. It looks like they had almost cleared the tracks. I think if the light was red before they got to the tracks, they would have been stopped by the crossing arms. Maybe they didn't notice the red and got trapped by the arms. My guess is that they thought they had cleared the tracks, until they saw the train coming right at them. I don't know why they have the yellow tarp over the right rear seat.

Obviously a very sad, a shocking tragedy for those involved.


Posted by commuter, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 15, 2011 at 8:31 pm

The train tracks have been here longer than Alma or Charleston. The train tracks have probably been here longer than any paved streets in Palo Alto. Developers surely did not think Alma Street would ever get so busy when they first paved it next to the train tracks.

This may be a good time to reduce the speed and traffic volume on Alma Street, which is essentially an expressway through a residential neighborhood. Reducing the traffic on Alma will have the added benefit of improving the quality of life of the residents along Alma Street (miles of homes and apartments and even a church), which has probably been miserable for years.

Cars that want to go fast can use El Camino Real or 101, both of which are designated state highways. Also Foothill Expressway, which is designed to be a real expressway, unlike Alma Street.


Posted by BPneighbor, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 8:39 pm

When I saw it was a car accident, I suspected it would be an out-of-towner. This intersection is confusing to visitors and should be reviewed for improvements. This highlights the need to go over this with my parents for those times when they visit. I can see how a car could get stuck. So very sad.


Posted by MD, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 15, 2011 at 8:44 pm

While I'm sorry for any loss of life, the bottom line is don't stop on the tracks-- you know, like the sign says?

I'm really tired of people blaming caltrain. Either obey the posted warnings or deal with the laws if physics.


Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Something needs to be done NOW to make this intersection safer. I t is extremely dangerous when there is heavy traffic and frequent fast trains. There is a slope and drivers cannot see how much room there is on the other side of the tracks. Cars can get trapped & unable to reverse & people have only seconds to exit their car safely. A horrible accident like this should never ever happen.
My sincere condolences to this family and their friends.


Posted by Paloaltomommy, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 15, 2011 at 8:50 pm

It makes me really mad. The whole area is so congested. And so confusing for local residents.. let alone outsiders. So sad. so sad.


Posted by JG, a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:06 pm

To commuter: according to the Palo Alto historian, the train tracks have been there just about 150 years.


Posted by BPneighbor, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:10 pm

I think comments of Don't Stop on The Tracks are simplistic and insensitive, and don't belong here.


Posted by former-resident, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm

this is absolutely horrible and so sad to hear about. I am very familiar with this intersection and the similarly dangerous configuration of the other rail crossings like East Meadow and Churchill. On all these intersections the city needs to move the stopping line point and red light signals to the west side of the tracks.

Grade separated crossings are always preferable to this type of condition but until the Caltrain line is fully grade separated it's critical that the city traffic engineers do whatever they can to reduce the risks created by the current configuration. Moving the traffic stopping point to the west side of the tracks is comparatively a very simple and inexpensive solution. I am surprised it had not been done years ago.


Posted by Way neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:34 pm

I agree with Midtown neighbor and Commuter, that this intersection needs some serious safety review. I believe Cal Train had the best of intentions with the new pedestrian crossings, and maybe I'm just missing something, but I don't really get how the two gates can actually help pedestrian/bike traffic or safety. And now there is no safety exit for drivers, who for whatever reason, get caught on the tracks.

I have observed some near misses lately at that intersection. Others tonight talked of other accidents they knew of, though I don't know if they occurred before or after the new 'improvements'

I could see how an out of town driver could easily become confused at that intersection.

My heart goes out to the family of this sad accident.


Posted by GIVE US THE UNDERPASS~, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:43 pm

The question in my mind is still the same as when Salina Raymond was hit and killed at the East Meadow crossing...and Damon at Charleston crossing....and others who are no longer with us......
Why can't an underpass be built at these crossings in our town?? There was one built years ago to acommidate the North side of town at Embarcadero Road...The city needs to look SERIOUSLY into the only two other busy crossings to make our streets safer for us all...
The intersection of Page Mill Road and Alma was blocked off and the Oregon underpass built.
I think the crossing at East Meadow should be blocked off and the neighborhood returned to a quieter and safer neighborhood.
Don't reply to this post as "Where is the $ coming from ? "...
IF there is ever a way that we CANNOT obtain the needed finances for this project,it is going to be a cold day in h... No matter who you are or how rich OR poor you are, you are not immune to accidents in our city.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:46 pm

> I think comments of Don't Stop on The Tracks are simplistic
> and insensitive, and don't belong here.

Maybe if more people were aware of what can happen when a train hits a vehicle wouldn't need much discussion--

Web Link


Posted by Henry, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2011 at 9:49 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Long time GMCA, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 10:20 pm

lots of good input here tonight. So sad for the lady who was killed and her family. Yes, someone not familiar with the crossing could easily be caught as she was, and I was, with a lucky outcome in my case.

I often cross Rengstorff going east at the tracks--the signal eastbound says "STOP HERE ON RED" and it is well before the tracks, with room to allow vehicles turning off and on to Rengstorff space to make the signal. Still not mistake proof but much better than the three crossings in Palo Alto at Churchill, Meadow, and Charleston.

I agree--put the signal traveling eastbound BEFORE the RR crossing.

Condolences to the husband and family.


Posted by Keep it in mind, a resident of Fairmeadow School
on Apr 15, 2011 at 10:27 pm

So sorry for the victims and their family.

But folks, if, for whatever reason, you find yourself stuck on the tracks and between the crossing arms, do one of two things. Either bale and leave the car there, or just floor it and crash through the gates. Your car is not worth your life.. I know it often comes down to a split-second decision, but "escaping" should come naturally... as it appears to have with the husband.
My heart goes out to him.


Posted by Mo, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Raise Caltrain track like it was done in San Carlos or time to put underground BART extention down the Penninsula. And please stop the high speedrail project...a waste of tax money and bad for our neighborhood


Posted by Joe, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Completely agree with Mo


Posted by jo, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 15, 2011 at 11:25 pm

One would think that local commuting would be much easier because we have so many out-of-town visitors (more visitor directions, maps etc)..but no- its actually more confusing because we have layers of urban infrastructure and development (train/roads/crossings) that have simply been band-aided together. Poor planning. Bad risk assessment. Uncoordinated city, traffic, train-- sad, tragic event. Really breaks your heart. My condolences to all.


Posted by I cross daily, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 15, 2011 at 11:50 pm

The couple were visitors from out of State.

The problem with that intersection is the limit line on Charleston at Alma. Prior to the City resurfacing Charleston two vehicles could stack comfortably at Alma between Alma and the train tracks.

After the resurfacing the limit line on Charleston at Alma was pushed back towards the train tracks some two or three feet which now makes it impossible for two vehicles to stack between Alma and the train tracks. Many times I've seen two vehicles crossing the tracks, stacking at the limit line at Alma, and the rear of the second vehicle is still over the tracks.

The solution is to move the limit line towards Alma some 2 or 3 feet as it was before the resurfacing and allow for two vehicles to stack comfortably between Alma and the train tracks. Or move the limit line closer to the train tracks and allow for only one car between the train tracks and Alma. Then, place a large sign by the crossing gate saying only space for one vehicle to wait if signal light at Alma turns red and vehicles must stop.




Posted by local, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2011 at 12:44 am

Heading west, there is that elevation difference, and a left turn just past the tracks. I've lived here for decades, but still get caught by surprise sometimes when someone in front stops short because of a sudden stop/turn at that intersection just past where the road dips. They may not have known they would have trouble clearing the intersection until it was too late.

My heart goes out to the family.


Posted by saleha, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 16, 2011 at 12:47 am

I've been crossing that train track for 15 years going to work every single day, I also come back for lunch every day (as I work that close) and I've never had a problem stopping when the railroad bars come down, even in rush hours. I think that maybe what happened is that because they were out of town they were confused and got stuck somehow. What a sad situation and they only had 20 seconds once they were stuck there to react. I can only imagine the husband tried to tell his wife to get out, but maybe she froze and he exited at the last minute. So sad. Interesting note, whenever I see a school bus at that crossing, even when you are free to go as a driver, the bus stops (probably looks both ways)before crossing the railway tracks. Perhaps, we, as citizens of Palo Alto, should be more aware of that crossing. After all, this town is now more busy with cars and other high tech companies which bring more traffic to this area, which maybe this Palo Alto was not built for that traffic, so then maybe changes need to be made. Just saying. I for one, as a mother to an 18 month old boy will stop and look both ways before I go over the crossing, and if there is a rush hour,then hold on people I am going to wait before going over those tracks. God bless the woman that lost her life.


Posted by I cross twice daily, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 16, 2011 at 1:11 am

I would corroborate that resurfacing Charleston was not a very well-thought-out undertaking. I was once stuck with my car's trunk in the train's path as well. Thankfully, there was no train at the time. It was a rude "surprise", as before, for as long as I can remember, there was enough space for two cars between Alma and the train tracks.

One more thing. Before resurfacing, there was almost never a congestion on Charleston. After resurfacing and effective elimination of one traffic lane in each direction, there are congestions on every working day between 5 and 6 p.m., sometimes stretching all the way between El Camino and Alma.

During these periods, one can easily lose 10-15 minutes crawling along a stretch of the road that used to take only 2-3 minutes to traverse. This makes drivers nervous and impatient, which could be a contributing factor to the extreme bumper-to-bumper "compression" of the traffic, leading to the entrapment as the one today.

This is truly a tragedy ... My sincere condolences to the relatives and friends of the deceased.


Posted by Raulduke187@gmail.com, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 16, 2011 at 3:33 am

The city is revenue retrieving. The new gate is essentially a barricade for vehicles. I would not be able to bear the feeling of my best friend leaving earth in front of me, my lady. All so Palo Alto could attempt to drain $277 from a few pedestrians. Went to the scene, poor ladies little tea packet is there and her bloody shoe is there and her chapstick. It can not be blamed on the driver, the two week old "improvements" are the cause. In an emergency you have no place to go because of the new gates designed to draw in fines. Go to the site. It will say "caltrain safety improvements" no one wants to play hard ball with Caltrain?



How many various casualties will it take for us to play hardball with the city and Caltrain? Does anybody even know how many have died because of this unscrupulous corporation and it's shady "$277 gate" that prevented the traffic from flowing?

Why is everyone so shook?

What if it was your only best friend and your little wife.


Posted by Raulduke187@gmail.com, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 16, 2011 at 3:34 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Raulduke574@gmAil.com, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 16, 2011 at 3:44 am

I felt so sad when I saw that little tent over the car just to help her out of it. She had no where to go because of the new "Caltrain safety improvements"
I hope the man has just a little of his heart left. As she reaches the
Gates may some angels help lead the way.


Posted by Poor family, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 16, 2011 at 6:04 am

My kids are sick of my telling them all the time to never, ever let yourself get stuck on the train tracks, and how to look ahead to avoid it. They will hear a renewed barrage, trying to at least pull some good out of this tragedy. One of them is driving, one of them will in a couple years.

It seems someone lets themselves get trapped at least once per year around here.

Poor, poor family and friends of this couple. I am glad the husband had the wherewithal to get out in time, I just wish the woman had, also.


Posted by Clara, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2011 at 6:49 am

I was stuck in traffic for almost an hour trying to get across and back over the
tracks. Notable to me was I didn't see ONE traffic control cop between San Antonio and Oregon. Where were they? With this kind of
tradegy more could have happened.


Posted by michael james, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2011 at 7:21 am

the new "fine creation gates" are an obstacle our children go into the traffic lane to get around

caltrain wont do proper improvements until the cost of "Iron Death" exceeds the cost of real safety improvements.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2011 at 7:23 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Time to close the grade crossings in Palo Alto. San Antonio, Page Mill and University can handle the increased traffic. Closing grade crossings is cheap. Just extend the existing fences.


Posted by cross train traffic, a resident of Southgate
on Apr 16, 2011 at 8:32 am

another thing is the amount of cars crossing railroad tracks in palo Alto, the is no another city in the Peninsula with a comparable amount of traffic crossing the rail line like Palo Alto does in is only 4 intersection. The commute cross rail is horrendous. Palo Alto has many jobs and people come here to work. it is like a mini San Francisco SOMA's main streets in terms of Traffic inside the city limits.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:00 am

What a horrible tragedy. The whole intersection is very tricky for a visitor to the area. Locals are aware that there is room for 1 car between the tracks an Alma street, and are also aware that the train signal causes the traffic light to signal. I can see how in a moment of panic when you're stuck on the track with the bells ringing, it's easy to freeze up or do the wrong thing. The new arrangement of metal gates on the sidewalk remove any opportunity for a driver to use the sidewalk or curb as an escape route, and creates the perception of ring trapped. I think we should remove all of new barriers until we understand their true impact. In my opinion, a more open intersection is a safer one.


Posted by another BP neighbor, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:01 am

BP neighbor highlights a good point... when I have house guests from out-of-state I try to remember to point out some of our road rules that are contradictory - especially to those in the Midwest. I now should add track safety to the discussion.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:02 am

For all of the "planning" that has gone into the "Charleston/Arastradero Transportation Corridor" the City of Palo Alto has never seriously considered how an underpass would effect the safety, and flow of traffic, at the Alma/Charleston intersection.

The City, and one of the Neighborhood Associations, went to great efforts to run Rickey's Hyatt out of town, but very little effort has been expended trying provide data as to what the costs, and safety increases, would be for an underpass at this location.

With the HSR threatening to ruin much of this part of town, the City can now hide behind the uncertainty of this massive boondoggle to avoid doing any real work on this problem.


Posted by Where are the traffic cops?, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:07 am

Clara wrote
"Notable to me was I didn't see ONE traffic control cop between San Antonio and Oregon. Where were they?"

Get used to it. The traffic cops (aka cops on motorcycles) are the ones that are on the chopping block again because of the budget. I talked to a policeman last week who said they only have a handfull of traffic cops now and if they are cut they will have none. Keene, please do not make cuts to our already tiny police force!


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:16 am

> "Notable to me was I didn't see ONE traffic control cop
> between San Antonio and Oregon. Where were they?"

Were they needed? The traffic was heavy in the south-bound direction, but very light going north at 6PM. East/west traffic on Charleston was stopped the whole time. It might have been helpful to have some signs dropped off by the police indicating a traffic stoppage at Charleston/Alma at Middlefield and El Camino--so that motorists would be able to pick about east/west road. However, the City of Palo Alto doesn't seem to provide that sort of service.

Having annunciator signs up and down Alma that would provide details about traffic flow impediments on Alma would be useful at times like this. Unfortunately, Caltrain officials, or city officials, or country officials don't seem to think so.


Posted by Tim, a resident of University South
on Apr 16, 2011 at 10:06 am

Time to elevate the tracks all the way down the peninsula.


Posted by DK, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 16, 2011 at 10:22 am

I agree about the changes recently made that are supposed to corral pedestrians. They are quite ridiculous and I think actually more dangerous. When there are a lot of kids in the morning, it is actually harder to get across and through the one gate. It does make it more difficult to have another "escape route" should it be needed. And the sound is definitely quieter. I am in my mid-40's and when the windows are up in the car and I have the radio going. I don't even hear the signal! And I have been surprised by the gates going down as I am crossing because I haven't heard the signal.

My condolences to the the family and friends of this victim.


Posted by robit noops, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 16, 2011 at 10:43 am

Nothing needs to be done to the tracks. No elevation, tunnels, lines, blah blah. Don't stop your car on train tracks period.


Posted by Jo Ann, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 16, 2011 at 10:46 am

Less than a minute warning at RR crossings is as absurd as the few seconds we get for traffic light changes.

Changing the timing should be pretty simple. Easier and cheaper than building over-passes, under-passes, etc.


Posted by I cross daily, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2011 at 11:13 am

Way neighbor says: "this intersection needs some serious safety review."

Yes, the City will form a citizen's commission and hire consultants at a cost of $150,000 and nothing will be done!!!

Just push the limit line on Charleston 3 feet closer to Alma where it was before the City resurfaced Charleston and there will be enough room to stack two vehicles between the limit line and the CalTrain tracks. Right now the rear end of the second vehicle sticks out over the train tracks.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2011 at 11:48 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Just close the crossing!!!
People will still get from one side to the other, just by different routes. If we wait until under or overcrossings are funded we will wait a very long time. Just close the crossings and then figure out what to do. Close the crossings!!!!


Posted by Pups, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 16, 2011 at 11:50 am

OK - Caltrain obviously hasn't figured out how to make these intersections safe. Now what will happen once bullet trains run through those intersections?
In Europe they would NEVER go through residential neighborhoods and here we can see why....


Posted by Commander McBragg, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2011 at 12:19 pm

Now I'm thinking that what happened was the car that got hit got trapped behind the lead car at the intersection just as the light was turning red. The light turns green when the train comes and the car in front clears out, usually. Maybe they thought they could make the yellow but the lead car stopped short (I hate that). They thought they had enough room anyway... they wouldn't plan it so that cars could get trapped with the rear sticking out over the tracks, would they?


Posted by commuter, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2011 at 12:22 pm

Pups - There already are "bullet trains" running on the Caltrain tracks.

If you are talking about HSR, they are promising to build grade separations at all road crossings (like what BART does). If people want grade separations, start supporting HSR. No one else is offering up the money to do this. Holding them to their grade separations promise should be pretty easy.


Posted by cocoew, a resident of Greater Miranda
on Apr 16, 2011 at 12:53 pm

was a sad morbid scene, having just arrived seeing a train stopped on tracks but the gate still open on meadow. THEN you hear sirens and expect you know what. but it was a CAR that was crashed. unusual, and unusual you would happen upon that. a sign of the tecxhnical civilizations spiritual moral bankruptcy. fear yourself, not ''other'' races ,beliefs, etc.


Posted by Commuter, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm

It is ironic that some people suggest closing the crossings. From my perspective, the problem is that there aren't enough of them, and those that are still there are being made progressively narrower.

The conscious policy conducted by the cities such as Palo Alto and Menlo Park over the previous decade was to push the east-west traffic out to other cities. I heard statements amounting to that from "the horse's mouth" at the Charleston resurfacing "citizens feedback" meeting. Sure, it made some neighborhoods quieter and cleaner. Yet it is also resulting in the paralysis of the surface traffic during rush hours.

I find this policy quite short-sighted. The game is now over for sleepy communities that used to flourish on collecting taxes from homeowners, who in turn extracted money from home equity loans. The cities now need to compete on being business-friendly and thus commuter-friendly.

The answer is more of, wider, safer crossings, not less of, narrower, and "circularly entrapped" ones!


Posted by midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Closing all level crossings adjacent to Alma would save lives. San Antonio and Page Mill crossings with over- and underpasses are obviously safer in design. The Caltrain level crossings next to Alma are difficult to negotiate because SUVs, trucks, and other tall vehicles block sedan drivers' and bicyclists' lines of sight, such that the DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS and other signs can be hidden from view. Moving the traffic lights to the other side of the tracks might help some, but the safest solution is over- or underpasses. And the California high speed rail, if it ever happens, will just exacerbate this.


Posted by midtowner, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2011 at 2:36 pm

saleha wrote:

> whenever I see a school bus at that crossing, even when you are free to go as a driver, the bus stops (probably looks both ways)before crossing the railway tracks

That's because it is California state law for school buses to stop and look before crossing a level train track:

Web Link

If you ever see a school bus *not* stop before crossing the train track, you should note the bus's identifying information and call the police.


Posted by Derail Cal Train, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Caltrain kills more people than guns and other weapons on the Penninsula.

It wastes huge amounts of tax payer funds. Tax payers are subsidizing the cost of employment primarily in SF by funding caltrain.

It's time to stop the commuting madness; either pass the costs for safe transportation to businesses that diretly benefit from it or incent businesses to relocate to where their employees live or incent business to use work at home programs with technology that is available today. What a waste of society, scarce funds, and life that has come from bay area commuting.

One way or the other, Caltrain needs to go. It's a dinasour!


Posted by NanaM, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 16, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I live near the crossing, and knew by the sirens and helicopters that some terrible tragedy had happened, and now we know that a family has been plunged into deep loss and grief with the death of their visiting mother and most likely a grandmother. So sad.
The poem by John Donne comes to mind:
No Man is an Island

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as a manor of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

And still, no support for closing the crossings. Ah, me.


Posted by Roy, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 16, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Dear Derail,by your "logic" we should ban autos since they kill far more people on the Peninsula than either guns or Caltrain. We should also ban tax payer subsidies to auto travel such as local road maintenance and numerous other expenditures not covered by gas taxes and other fees.
I would venture to say that in the long run, Caltrain save lives (and we could still do better).


Posted by how about, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2011 at 6:57 pm

how about just moving the limit line before the barriers, so no one advances beyond the tracks until the light turns green. Fitting 1 car in front of the tracks is what causes the second car to get trapped. If no cars were allowed in front of the tracks when the light was red, nothing would get trapped on the tracks. Simple, cheap and no crossings need to be closed.


Posted by commuter, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 16, 2011 at 7:04 pm

I agree with Roy. Mr. Derail's math and or logic is seriously lacking. Car crashes kill hundreds of people every year in the Bay Area. More than 100 every year in Santa Clara County alone. Caltrain is incredibly safe in comparison. And road maintenance costs billions of dollars per year. Caltrain is also incredibly cheap in comparison.


Posted by Mr. "Derail", a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Roy, you miss the point.

make your saftey point to the kids of Palo Alto high schools who've had friends die because of your safe transportation. There should not be high speed trains travelling through residential areas.

kind of funny that you pick up on the car analogy. That is what the gun lobby says when anti-gun groups want to ban guns.

Government is making way more money off of gas sales than even the oil companies. So, people who use cars are paying their way.

as for the College terrace communter, most likely you are wealthy and have the funds to pay the full cost of your commute. I'll bet you don't like to pay for freeways in LA, so why should they pay for your commute? if people like you lived where you worked, there would be less people on the roads and less need for inefficient public transporation, and lower gas consumption by those choosing cars.

In any event, the other point is to transfer the cost of safe transportation (regardless of type) to those that benefit from it - caltrain operation does not fall into that category.


Posted by JoAnn, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2011 at 8:14 pm

I was rear-ended here once by a woman who thought I was going to run the light, I suppose. She got stuck with half her minivan on the tracks. Fortunately, there was no train (and she didn't hit me hard enough to push me out into traffic). When the light changed, we crossed Alma and pulled over to examine the damage. I was furious because she had small children in the back of that van, but I didn't see any damage on my car and waved her away. Maybe I should have insisted on calling the police to raise her consciousness? But we all do this sort of mindless following in traffic like cattle in pens, don't we? Most of the time we're just lucky.

The way to keep people off the tracks is to lower the gate every time the light is red for Charleston. Prepare now for the screams from the people losing the ability to cross and turn right when traffic on Alma permits. It would back up traffic somewhat.

The pedestrian gates are pointless. Anyone who is deliberately trying to get hit by a train is going to get around them. If it's true that they prevent cars trapped on the tracks from escaping in an emergency, they should be removed.

Closing all the crossings is a really bad idea. Pedestrians, bicyclists and people like me on power chairs cannot just bop down to one end of town or the other to cross the tracks. I can't even use the California Ave. underpass because it's too steep and there's that narrow-passage barrier in the way. We do have to separate the trains from the rest of us, though. I say bury them and let normal life proceed at ground level.


Posted by Chuck, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 16, 2011 at 8:23 pm

It takes twenty or thirty seconds for a train to stop from full speed. To avoid a car it would have to begin braking before the engineer could tell whether there would be a car on the tracks when the train arrived at the intersection.

It's not just a common-sense rule not to enter an intersection unless you're sure you can get out the other side, and not to drive onto train tracks unless there's room for your car on the other side. It's the law everywhere I've driven. If Alma Street was backed up across the intersection it was because drivers were violating this law.


Posted by LN, a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I am so sorry for this couple and their family. It must have been terrifying. I'm sure it all happened faster than anyone could imagine.

I saw a young woman stall on the tracks at Churchill one morning, and fortunately she jumped out of the car and ran into the middle of Alma. The sound and sight of the train hitting her car was awful.

I don't agree, however, that underpasses/overpasses are the answer. Aside from the obvious expense, the land required for an underpass/overpass and entrances and exits would mean the demolition of dozens of homes, on both sides of the tracks. Years ago, the creation of Oregon Expressway - as benign as it seems today - was contentious for all and horrible for those whose houses were in the way. We will have more than enough of that if/when high speed rail goes through Palo Alto.





Posted by I cross daily, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 16, 2011 at 8:56 pm

A lot of people are blaming CalTrains but in actual fact it was the City of Palo Alto who moved the limit line on Charleston back towards the train tracks about 3 feet at Alma, when they resurfaced East Charleston. This makes it impossible for a second vehicle to clear the train tracks when the traffic signal at Alma turns red.


Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Apr 16, 2011 at 8:58 pm

After seeing so many times people got killed by the train, you learn how to avoid them. But for people from places like Indiana, they may know the rules of playing with death since they never experienced train going so fast in such a densely populated area. So they got killed.
I found Palo Alto is such confusing place that we have people like Steve Jobs, yet we got so many people killed by the train. Again and again, some heartless people will jump out to show how smart they are than the victim. And Caltrain and group like friend of the killer Caltrain will blame the victim for their weakness. How sick this city is and how sick those senseless people are!


Posted by narnia, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:30 pm

In Indiana there hundreds of unguarded and "un"armed railroad crossings, albeit for freight trains. It's the drivers who have the responsibility of stopping, looking and hearing and then proceed as is safe, and there are instances in which people are killed because they didn't follow the rules or they made a cognitive error (didn't see the train, for example) or a judgment error (thought they had ample time to get to the other side). Most of the time those are just accidents.

The proximate cause of this tragedy is the fact that the driver for whatever reason went over the tracks without making sure she had room the other side. Traffic is not a one dimension matter in which the only factor is important are railroad crossings- reasonable traffic speed both on Alma and the crossings streets has to be attained. To ask for a zombie like license to drive as if a guardian angel is at our private disposal and all we have to do is is proceed without any care, seems to me extreme. Sure, accidents happen, stuff in which there is no fault- there is only being human subject to one's own body
limitations. Whatever the city, Caltrain can do reasonably , within a criteria that takes into account the number of accidents (and there are very few) and cost, is welcoming. But for each step to better the crossing for inattentive or confused drivers, other drivers and pedestrians will pay in time and constrains to their lives so that we can all cross the tracks without stopping, listening and looking and making sure we have enough room the other side.
Reasonable?


Posted by Neighborhood mom, a resident of Gunn High School
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I agree that the new "pedestrian safety" structures have closed off any escape route for drivers who may have had a momentary lapse in judgment, without any evidence that this will actually improve pedestrian safety at the crossings.

Trains are old technology -- the fact that they can't stop in a reasonable amount of time, for example, is ridiculous -- a financial drain, unwanted (else they'd be able to pay for themselves) and disruptive to Peninsula communities. It is time to simply shut down the trains and put those taxpayer funds into modern green technologies.




Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Trains are not old technology. They would be greener if there was money to make them so. How is it green to force people to use cars on roads who do not pay for themselves or force car less and public transportation happy people to buy cars so that we would all inhale the lovely smell of congested, dangerous and time consuming commutes?

We shouldn't use this tragedy for political gain. This tragedy is not due to the existence of trains just as car accidents have to do with the existence of roads- the accidents are the making of humans.

If someone wishes to discuss Caltrain's role in transportation fine, but not on this thread.


Posted by DZ, a resident of Terman Middle School
on Apr 16, 2011 at 9:56 pm

If you ever been to Indiana, you will understand why there are ungarded crossings, there are no traffic!
Anyway, those kind of argument is useless. We need separate the grade. Build a under path or something like that. Caltrain should pay for it alone with tax payers. Donation from the train lovers are encouraged. Don't just be free loaders.


Posted by Richard, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 16, 2011 at 11:59 pm

I think the tragedy was caused by the defect of the road design on this site.
I have been living in this area for about 6 years. I pass the rail on this site 2+ times almost everyday. 6 years ago, when I fisrt drove east bound across this site, I got a big confusing that while I saw a red light, I stopped at the west side of the rail immediately. However, I was seeing the car on my left side still go ahead and trying to "violate" the red light on "purpose"! He drove just past the rail and stopped immediately. This even caused more confusing to me! I thought how can that driver put himself on the road of Alma!? Within a minute, while the lights become green and I moved forward, I finally realized that the stop line is actually on the other side of the rail! This caused my first time nervorsness. This is not my feeling alone. Another example is one day, I have my friend from other city sit on the passenger seat, I drove pass the same site,we happened encounter the same situation while we reached the rail. This time, while the yellow light became the red one, I did not stop on the west side of the rail,I ignored the red light and continued to drive across the rail.I knew the actual stop line is on the east side. But my friend was not familiar with this site, he started yelling to me, STOP! red light! This time he got scared. I got scared as well just because of his yelling! Because of the slope, the stop line on the road surface is not visible on the west side. On the other hand, even though there is no stop line on the west side, the landscape, the rail blocking bar, the RR marker close to the rail,etc. may give false impression to some drivers that is the red light is on, they should stop on the west side. However, there is no actual line. This caused the confusion. They do not know whether to go or not. This uncertainty places the drivers in a situation having to make quick decision! Or just hesitate in a nervous mood.
Another really scary example happened to me only couple of week ago. This the first time I ran into the situation that I followed a car east bound, passing the rail slowly on a green-to-yellow light. However the car in front of me hesitated with yellow light and stopped with the line. The rear part of my car was on the rail! My right side lane already has couple of cars stacked. The Alma street was extremely busy at that moment, I can't move my car anywhere. I got scared and got my mind ready to get out my car if the train comming. I kept on praying the car will not come within at least one minute! Fortunately, the lights became green
AND no traffic jam ahead of us on the East Charleston at that moment!
Otherwise, it would became the same case happened yesterday!
There is a big question here. Earlier, before this case, I have been so many time became the second car stacked on the same stop line without any security concerns. Why recently I ran into this?
I feel the very reason is that the space between the stop line and the rail has been shortened a few feets due to the road "improvement"(re-configuration). The follow-up car is at the high risk of its tail on rail! Actually, no matter how big the buffer is between the stop line and the rail, it does not help. Because the car lenth can vary, or the third car follows up, etc.
So, the defect is that the stop line must be moved back to the west side of the rail! Why not remove the uncertainty and the risk!







Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 2:00 am

What matters when crossing the tracks is that you must be sure that there are NO vehicles the other side of it. I have driven the intersection for 29 years and there is no confusion at all, independently of the light's color or the line on the ground if you proceed only when there are no cars the other side of the tracks. In any case the stop line on Alma is certainly not the problem. If the space was bigger between it and the tracks it would depend on the size of the vehicle how many vehicles fit as Richard says. You would never be sure if your vehicle would fit the space because you don't know exactly how long the vehicle already there is. So, the only way to guaranty that you are not going to be left on the tracks is to wait until the space is clear of any vehicle. That's common sense and there is no intersection defect other than expect drivers to use their common sense.
As for DZ's impression that there are no people in Indiana, I submit that the the 6.5 million Indians might disagree. I A friend's mother died in Indiana precisely because she and a train collided on an unguarded and "un"armed rail crossing.


Posted by Dr. D. Rail, a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2011 at 9:19 am

There is no net benefit to Palo Alto from Caltrain. It goes through residential areas, DZ is correct that the crossings are confusing, neighborhood mom is correct that it is old technology. It's not safe, it cuts the city in half, it creates havoc along Alma and the cross streets. There is no economically safe way to deal with it. The suggestion to put it under-ground was the best one yet. That would be incredibly expensive, but if it's worth it to the folks and business that benefit from it, they can pay for it. We don't allow speeding cars in school areas, we shouldn't allow a train going twice the speed of a car on El Camino right down the center of the city. The people who need to move between work and business are just passing through Palo Alto at a high speed to the detriment of the city. There is no reason for this. They can take buses on El Camino or drive 101 and 280 which do not cut through Palo Alto. Caltrain is not in Palo Alto's best interest and needs to go.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2011 at 9:35 am

> More than 100 (killed in car crashes) every year in
> Santa Clara County alone .. Caltrain is safer.

With tens of thousands of miles of highway, streets and roads, in Santa Clara County .. and the actual use of those highways in the billions of vehicle-miles traveled yearly .. compared to the 20-30 people killed on the Caltrain line yearly, which is about 77 miles long--Caltrain is by far the more dangerous to people in Santa Clara County, on a miles-traveled basis.

While no one has been killed while riding inside a Caltrain car (in motion, or standing still), the operation of the train, nonetheless, results in this high death rate to people.

Caltrain kills more people yearly, than any other train system in the US, on a per-mile basis.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 9:55 am

yes, let's give up El Camino-it cuts the city in two and it's not safe (there are numerous fatal accidents).
Let those who use it pay for it or else bike or walk to work. The railroad has been where it is for many a decade and cities build themselves around it for good reasons: it's a fast, efficient and low polluting means of transportation... and it's also very very safe and very economical and has a low subsidy when compared with cars (roads, parking lots, gas, time wasted in those jams, productivity wasteful, etc ?). It is irrational to say that trains are not in Palo Alto's best interest -what do you know, or is it that those who are obsessed with its demise represent Palo Alto?, or do they know how the train serves Palo alto? Or even (gasp at the absurdity of the argument) dream that it would be possible to stop Caltrain dead on its tracks just in Palo alto, just for Palo Alta or aren't we so very special that we can tell folks from San Jose to just go and clog 101 and spend 6 hours a day commuting in an unsafe traffic, just so that the us the folks of Palo Alto can cross Alma slightly faster (only slightly.....) and without bothering with common sense.

I don't want to pay for 101- haven't been on it in ages.....?


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 9:57 am

Bob, can you tell us where you got you absurd stats?


Posted by Narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 10:09 am

Stats are construed not as Bob says 77miles and 20 people killed (many because they did it on purpose) but 77 miles x number of trains in each direction each day x 360/365....
Make your sums if you are able to (I am not so sure) and you will see that the rate of accidental deaths by train are infinitesimal compared to other means of transport except planes.
If the pseudo stats presented by Bob are the way Caltrain haters think then there no hope for the education system in Palo Alto and we should perhaps rethink letting some people use our money to go to school.

The increased number of deaths caused by cars and the gigantic subsidies that car transportation entail are reason alone to promote train transportation.
Folks, when crossing the tracks exercise common sense and attention and proceed only when the intersection is clear ...


Posted by robit noops, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 10:20 am

Cal train is awesome. I use it to go to SF and SJ to avoid driving, gas, wear on my car. I dont know the stat on how many people travel by train a week but I consider it a huge benefit, I would never consider the bus an alternative. I live within a block of the tracks, and noise is minimal. The crossings are perfectly safe unless you purposely endanger yourself.

Sorry for the families loss.


Posted by room for improvement, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 11:19 am

robit noops - "The crossings are perfectly safe unless you purposely endanger yourself." Unfortunately, I have seen others endanger people unintentionally. The light turns green for a very short time, when a train is approaching, with the intent of letting the one few cars between the light and the train tracks go through. If someone is not entirely clear of the tracks, they may be expecting that the cars in front of them will proceed giving them room...

1. Best case, they know how these intersection work and don't create the dangerous situation - don't proceed without ample room. However, this can be an honest mistake if you are from out of town, especially if you are from a less densely populated area.

2. Cars going south on Alma run the red light and do not provide those precious moments for the cross traffic to clear the tracks. People driving down Alma during rush hour often push the limit and can cause a car to remain on the tracks.

3. Pedestrians cross on the green light, even though the light is a short one intended for a few cars only, resulting in cars not able to make the right turn and clear the way for the cars behind them.

4. Cars that should be getting out of the way, do not look in their rear view mirror, so despite the ability to move they are not aware of how they are contributing to a problem behind them.

If there were two sets of lights, one before the tracks, with only the one at the Alma intersection turning green for those brief moments, then these accidents would not happen. I have seen far too many near misses.

There are many double sets of lights, like Arastradero and Foothill Expressway, which were established to make the best use of lights for the traffic flow. The two Palo Alto lights, that are on Alma next to the tracks, were put in many many years ago, when traffic was much lighter. It is time to upgrade these intersections for the current flow of traffic.


Posted by pushy drivers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2011 at 11:32 am

I think the problem is that if you show any hesitation - like getting your bearings - about these level crossings, then pushy drivers immediately pressure you to go, go, go.
There are some intent on making the right hand turn, it's like they don't even consider they are also crossing train tracks (regardless of status of train coming or not, warning bells, crossing bars -
That new construction supposedly for pedestrian safety looks very costly - didn't ANYONE think to consider they closed off options for drivers stuck on the tracks to swerve around and get off the tracks?
I would think the principal priority is safety for cars on the tracks.
Maybe time for a crystal-clear stop sign before the tracks (I feel SURE I have seen this in past at other level crossings in other areas)
The problem remains of pushy drivers and tall, large vehicles pressuring drivers in front to go, go, go and conceivably become suddenly trapped based on what the car in front of THEM happens to do or not do.


Posted by Dr. D. Rail, a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2011 at 11:49 am

public obsession with trains and subsidized transportation is amazing. Bob's stats are most likely accurate - prove him wrong. Gas tax is huge and pays the expense for the road system. Raise that tax if you can show that it doesn't - it's a fair tax. the more you drive, the more you pay. Caltrain's primary benefit is to business' in SF -you are subsidizing their economic returns. Still, no one has shown any economic benefit to Palo Alto or any other community for that matter. If more people lived where they worked, or worked where they lived, then there would be less of a problem. Those of us who care about community don't want any vehicle travelling at an unsafe speed through the middle of it. I can't even remember anyone being killed on El Camino in Palo Alto - (although there must have been some). I need both hands and my feet to count Caltrain deaths in Palo Alto - many of whom were high school students.


Posted by SaveLives, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 17, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Web Link

Here is the link to another death by train/car collision in Palo Alto, this one at the West Meadow crossing, four years ago. When something like this happens, the driver in the front vehicle needs to pull into Alma a little further, jump out of their car, and jump up and down or motion to the others around, to slow down, so the person caught behind can hopefully be saved, by having enough room to move forward. A few feet can make the world of difference. This is not the solution, but needs to be done until a solution is found. We need to all be on the lookout for each other, and not be asleep at the wheel.


Posted by palo alto mom, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 17, 2011 at 1:15 pm

Keeping safe on the tracks is simple. Do not pull onto the tracks unless there is a FULL car length for your vehicle on the other side. Ignore the beeping behind you and stay safe!


Posted by commuter, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 17, 2011 at 1:36 pm

The simplest thing to do is stop before the tracks. You gain absolutely nothing by crossing the tracks if another car is stopped at a red light in front of you.


Posted by commuter, a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 17, 2011 at 1:38 pm

And Mr. D. Rail, your math is way off. Gas tax comes nowhere close to paying for building and maintaining public streets. The vast majority of this cost comes from personal income taxes and home property taxes.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 1:46 pm

Mr D. rail. I am sorry that the eduction system has not prepared you to make calculations knowing the relevant input and conclude that, indeed, my post proves my statement.. So here it is, just for you since you don't understand: fatalities on the tracks (including suicides, which are not accidents, but incidents): 23 per million miles app . Pretty safe. safer, just airplanes.
So again, just in case the rate is :0.0000234/mile.


Posted by robit noops, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Apr 17, 2011 at 1:59 pm

To Dr D Rail, accidents at El Camino and Stanford Ave all the time. Accident at El Camino and Churchill last month, fatality on Middlefield earlier this year, fatality on Willow road. Fatality on Park Blvd a few years ago. All were because of unsafe drivers. I don't recollect any of the railway accidents being the fault of unsafe train operators. We are fortunate to have a train system.


Posted by A Careful Driver, a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 17, 2011 at 2:29 pm

It happened to me when I just moved to Palo Alto in 2003. I picked up my kid from Paly and I was driving on Churchill. When I saw the green light, I drove forward. While I was in the middle of the train track, the traffic light changed to red and the car in front of me stopped. I found my car was stuck in the middle of the train track and could not move forward or backward since there was a car right behind me. It was a total surprise to me that I was in the middle of the train track and could not move my car at all. Fortunately, there was no train coming at that time. I told myself that I was driving forward when I saw the green light. If I knew I could be in that situation, I would never move forward even if it is green light. From then on, I always make sure that the space in the other side of the train track is clear before I move my car forward. I also found that usually the train would come after I have picked up my child from Paly. I felt lucky that the train did not come at that time when my car was in the middle of the train track. I had visited a place with a train crossing in Los Angeles. I remember that the design of the train crossing is different and something like what I had experienced would not happen there in LA because all of the cars would stop in red light far from the rain track than in Palo Alto. I would tell my out of town friends about the danger of the train track crossing in Palo Alto and my experience of that incident. I do believe the train crossings in Palo Alto are the most confusing train crossings in this country from my own driving experience. I always drive very carefully. Even so, I still had such a terrible experience as being stuck in the middle of the train track. I really don't think this kinds of accidents are 100% by the driver's fault based on my own experience in that Churchill train crossing incident especially for out of town visitors or new residents in Palo Alto. Too sad to hear this tragic news.


Posted by Dr. D. Rail, a resident of another community
on Apr 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm

one more try -
Caltrain would appear to cause more death than any other rail corridor in the country. no one has disproved this. it provides little to no economic value to PA. no one has showen that it does. No one has come up with a PA El Camino fatality-you have to go back a few years to even come up with 3 on any streets. I have no problem increasing the gas tax, so those who use it, pay for it. And worst of all, non of you lament the loss of young lives in PA, let alone a confused driver. Somehow you rationalize this because you think your train ride to SF everyday some how makes society better. That is a bad exchange. So quit worring about my education and come up with a reasonable solution.


Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm

My biggest concern since I first saw these new configurations at Charleston and Meadow crossings is that the potential for an accident at Churchill is now much higher. During the 20 minute or so high commute at Paly there can be as many as 50 bikes trying to cross Alma and the tracks and many trains at this time. There is no way that there is enough room for 50 bikes that have crossed Alma to wait if a train causes the barriers to go down before all the bikes are across both Alma and the tracks. Even with the mandatory all vehicles turn left during the morning commute time many cars still go straight across and the bikes should not be out of the bike lane.

I hope that the finished design at Churchill is taking into account the possibility of 50 bikes being held up by the crossing gates.


Posted by GMCA-resident, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 17, 2011 at 6:15 pm

>>I hope that the finished design at Churchill is taking
>>into account the possibility of 50 bikes being held
>>up by the crossing gates.

I also hope they fix the bike path behind Paly where you need to go down to the exit on Churchhill Rd to just get into the bike lane that crosses the tracks.


Posted by Larry Cohn, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm

<< Keeping safe on the tracks is simple. Do not pull onto the tracks unless there is a FULL car length for your vehicle on the other side. >>

This is not only simple logic, it is the law. California Vehicle Code Section 22526:

<< (d) A driver of a vehicle shall not enter a railroad or rail
transit crossing, notwithstanding any official traffic control device
or signal indication to proceed, unless there is sufficient space on
the other side of the railroad or rail transit crossing to
accommodate the vehicle driven and any railway vehicle, including,
but not limited to, a train, trolley, or city transit vehicle. >>

I'm surprised this point hadn't been made much earlier in the discussion (well, this is Palo Alto so maybe I shouldn't be).

<< Caltrain would appear to cause more death than any other rail corridor in the country >>

CalTrain in and of itself does not cause any fatalities provided people do not place themselves on the tracks in front of an oncoming train, whether by stopping their vehicle on the tracks or by (intentionally) placing themselves in front of a moving train. While people are in statistics mode, how many CalTrain fatalities had some cause other than people being on the tracks when they shouldn't have been? It's probably zero.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2011 at 9:33 pm

> Stats are construed not as Bob says 77miles and 20 people killed
> (many because they did it on purpose) but 77 miles x number
> of trains in each direction each day x 360/365....

True .. perhaps a little more time outlining the approach to coming up with these stats might prove helpful.

> Make your sums if you are able to (I am not so sure) and you
> will see that the rate of accidental deaths by train are
> infinitesimal compared to other means of transport except planes.

Trains and Caltrain are two different things. Sadly, this poster can't seem to keep from muddying the water every time the opportunity avails itself. The exact number of miles Caltrain travels yearly would require taking the schedule, and creating a spreadsheet that has all of the travel times, and the distances for that "run", and then add that up for the weekdays and weekends. While a little work, it's not that difficult.

As for the number of vehicle miles traveled in Santa Clara County for 2008, this information is on the DOT web-site. The DOT claims that there were about 7.8B vehicle miles traveled for that year. The CHP shows about 100 deaths from cars, including collisions with trains in Santa Clara County for 2008.

Caltrain does not post the deaths on its web-site, so someone would have to make the effort to ask them. However, we know that the death rate has been from 11-30 in the past several years. It's pretty clear that whatever the number of train-miles one computes from the Caltrain schedule, it will not be anywhere close to 7.8B miles.

We also have to add in the San Mateo county data, and somehow factor in a little of San Francisco data--or just decide to exclude it, since Caltrain doesn't run very far into SF.

> The increased number of deaths caused by cars and the gigantic
> subsidies that car transportation entail are reason alone to
> promote train transportation.

Not clear where this data is coming from, but generally car deaths have been going down over the years. Campaigns against drunk driving, harsh drunk driving laws, air bags, and other safety equipment have demonstrated the value of these methods in reducing vehicular accidents, and deaths for motorists, and their passengers.

In the future, we are going to see automated car navigation systems, and vehicular telemetrics, which will reduce the number of collisions, and ultimately, the number of deaths. Sadly, these technologies are not being driven by the state and federal legislatures nearly fast enough.


Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 17, 2011 at 11:42 pm

My heart goes out to the husband and family of the lady who died at the crossing.

Regarding the comments from "A careful driver';
I moved here about six years ago from Chicago, where I was accustomed to heavy traffic and street-level 'El' crossings in my neighborhood.

I found the crossings here confusing at first and, though I never got stuck on the tracks, I did find that I had to consciously 'program' my brain to wait until the space past the track was clear before I crossed.

Not everyone waits, however, and I did get rear-ended one morning by someone who did not wait and then could not stop in time because the surface surrounding the tracks is slippery when wet. Fortunately, nobody was hurt and the car was not damaged.
I do think having the signal lights before the tracks is a good idea.

I must also add that most Chicago drivers are generally better and more courteous, in my experience, than many Bay area drivers, not to mention more skilled at driving in the rain.


Posted by Larry Cohn, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 18, 2011 at 12:01 am

I count 86 northbound and southbound trains on the weekdays and 32 on the weekends (excluding Saturday-only trains). According to an old Southern Pacific timetable it is 46.9 miles by rail from San Francisco to San Jose. This works out to approximately 1.2 million miles per year and does not include the trains that continue on to Gilroy.

If you're going to compare train deaths to auto deaths, you should first determine how many train deaths and how many auto deaths have been intentional. How many train deaths were accidental vs. auto deaths? How many people died because they stepped in front of an oncoming train vs. people stepping into freeway traffic? Without taking those things into consideration the comparison is seriously flawed.


Posted by narnia, a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 18, 2011 at 7:47 am

As I said, my conclusions at the death rate for the San Francisco-San jose (I excluded the trains going to and from Gilroy) includes accidents and incidents. My numbers for these conclusions were overly generous and even so the death rate came to a very small number 0.0000234/mile. and as the saying goes you are entitled to your own opinions but not to your mathematics......


Posted by Palo Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 18, 2011 at 7:59 am

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. (Benjamin Disraeli)


Posted by pushy drivers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2011 at 9:25 am

@Paly mom
Hi, I visit Chicago occasionally - a very great city - and I have only been on the El in areas where it is elevated or underground. I know it is a wonderful system.
Where is it at street level (like our Caltrain in PA), as you mention? - or did you mean Metra?

Err...what is your opinion of our public transit: Caltrain, BART, rail line along CA coast (AMTRAK), busses in view of your experiences in Chicago? I am venturing to believe you can't believe how terrible our public transit is here. Compare costs, too.

Yeah, CA drivers are not the most courteous. It's better now with the economy being down and fewer cars on the highways, though.

I know two other states with much nicer drivers. I have also been repeatedly told by people that if you drive up I-5 and enter into Oregon, which I haven't done, it's like night and day, drivers are so much better up there!


Posted by Parent, a resident of Green Acres
on Apr 18, 2011 at 11:05 am

I know people are in a hurry but the time between the barriers coming down and the train is only 20-30 secs! This is ridiculous! We need to extend that time to at least 2 minutes. We can wait for that long at some traffic lights so why not for a train?

Also, the speed of the trains need to be slower at this and the E.Meadow crossing. These are busy intersections so there is no need for trains to go at 80mph here.

I am so sorry for such a tragic loss.





Posted by Lees, a resident of Meadow Park
on Apr 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm

My question is who was in front of her and why didn't they move up? Happens to me all the time here, rude people and very uncivilized behavior. Nobody in Palo Alto is courteous.


Posted by Too much ADD around, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Disagree with extending the time that the barriers go down to the time the train passes. If people wait too long for the train, they begin creeping onto the railroad tracks, thinking there is an error. There would be more casualties if there is too long of a wait.


Posted by Charlie, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 18, 2011 at 4:24 pm

To make these intersections safer, Caltrain needs to install flashing warning sign on the track to indicate that the intersection is not yet CLEAR without vehicles. This early signnalling shall give the driver enough time to stop and avoid accident like this one. It's very simple to do and will save lives, repair costs and trouble for everyone!


Posted by James, a resident of another community
on Apr 18, 2011 at 4:37 pm

I have worked in Palo Alto for over 20 years as a DRIVER. The one thing that I have seen in SEVERAL cities, (not only the Bay Area but around the country)... that contribute to various accidents involving INTERSECTIONS are people who follow the car ahead without considering that THEY MUST CLEAR the INTERSECTION before the light changes for cross traffic. In this case the cross traffic was a train which ALWAYS wins in a collision like this. The DMV in EVERY state in EVERY country should AUTOMATICALLY FLUNK anyone that fails to pass a series of questions relating to how to deal with INTERSECTIONS since they often produce some of the worst accidents (other than DUI's in head on collisions). I agree that we need to do what's possible to protect people from themselves, but you can't enforce common sense. The husband did the right thing getting out of the car, but for some reason the woman didn't. If we can mandate helmet laws or seat belt laws, then we can make it harder for people to get licenses so at least some of these tragedies can be prevented. If she couldn't move the car ... she should have sacrificed it instead of her life. This is sad and could have been prevented. This loss of life should not have happened.


Posted by Skelator, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Apr 18, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Oh, I guess I upset someones sensabilities by being incredulous about H-O-W H-A-R-D can it be to avoid being hit by a train on the tracks.

"Wake Up -Time to Drive"


Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm

@'pushy drivers'
Most of the Chicago 'el' stations are elevated or underground, but up on the Northwest side where I lived most recently, several of the Brown line stations (Rockwell, Kedzie, etc.) are at ground level. Most of these are in the middle of the block, not right by a traffic signal, and I do not remember ever feeling that I was at risk of being stuck on the tracks.

Having come from a city that has a reputation for bad traffic, horrid rush hours and brash behavior (especially the politicians!), I was really surprised to encounter the lack of road courtesy here.

In fact, when someone lets me merge or waits their turn, my first impulse is to look at the license plate to see if they are from another state.

I noticed this in other places as well; waiting to speak to my child's teacher at Parent's Night, for example, where many people just charge right in ahead of me while I politely wait my turn.

Of course, I have also met many, many lovely polite people here as well, but I was a bit shocked by the amount of rudeness I have experienced in the last five years.


Posted by Ex-Chicago, a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 18, 2011 at 7:37 pm

Pushy drivers:

The El runs on ground level through part of Cicero. There are crossing gates on the street like any other train tracks. It's the western end of the pink line on this map: Web Link

I've commuted by El, bus, car and commuter train in Chicago. All better than here, especially the transit. They just take public transportation more seriously there.


Posted by Paly Mom, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 18, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I agree with ex-Chicago, btw.
Public transportation is serious business in Chicago and generally works well.


Posted by pushy drivers, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 19, 2011 at 9:16 am

Thanks for the Chicago info.
Gee, I wish they would benchmark here with other regions that have successful public transit.


Posted by Skelator, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 19, 2011 at 10:41 am

Message to Drivers who get hit by Trains on train crossing: Open Eyes & no Nyquil while driving -nuff said.


Posted by manci, a resident of Woodside
on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:00 am

They had a rental car. You can get confused when you try to open the door if it is not your car (or even if it is and you are under pressure), or some doors can get locked.


Posted by Mike, a resident of another community
on May 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Sorry to get here late. I am a daily Caltrain rider of over 20yrs.,the 369 is my regular train home. Yes it is tragic that this woman lost life and even more so for her husband who must now live with this.

It surprises me the amount of myopic and some just plain ignorant comments posted here putting the blame squarely on Caltrain. How many of you owned homes or began driving before the railroad ran up and down the Peninsula? Zero would be the answer. Common sense and simple observation go a long way in preventing injury or death to ones self. If you are hit by a train either as a pedestrian or in a vehicle it's your OWN fault.

No doubt the condolences posted to the victim and family are heart felt and genuine I failed to notice any mention of condolence to the other victims of this tragedy. That would be the engineer and the rest of the train crew involved. My father was an engineer for the old Southern Pacific and was involved in a grade crossing fatality where a woman drove around the gates just as the train hit the crossing. In the seconds before impacting the car he saw the look of sheer terror in the eyes of the two young children as he ran over the top of them knowing they were dead. He had nightmares for years and his fireman ended up committing suicide seveal years later.


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