Driver follows GPS, gets stuck on Caltrain tracks

Toyota takes wrong turn onto tracks from Meadow in Palo Alto, Caltrain spokesperson says

A woman driving a Toyota Corolla got stuck on the Caltrain tracks near East Meadow Drive in Palo Alto Wednesday night when she made a wrong turn onto the tracks, Caltrain spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew said.

The woman was apparently following directions on a GPS device when she inadvertently turned onto the tracks at approximately 9:40 p.m., Bartholomew said. When the woman realized her error -- about 20 to 25 feet down the train right-of-way -- she attempted to turn the car around, at which point the frame of the car got stuck on the tracks, Bartholomew said. The driver flagged down passersby and asked them to call 911, she said.

About six or seven police cars responded to the call, according to one eyewitness.

Trains were single-tracked around the Corolla until a tow truck could remove it from the tracks. Bartholomew said it took about an hour to free the car because the first tow truck called to the scene wasn't able to remove it, so a second truck had to be called.

The incident caused two trains to be delayed by about 10 minutes, but the car was not damaged and the woman was not hurt, Bartholomew said. Bartholomew added that the woman was not cited because there were no drugs or alcohol involved and she was "very cooperative."


Posted by close those streets, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm

If drivers can't figure out how to drive near the train tracks, we should just close those streets (Charleston, Meadow, Alma). Drivers can still use any of the grade separated railroad crossings (San Antonio, Oregon, Embarcadero, University). Build some inexpensive bridges over the train tracks for pedestrians and bicyclists.

A car driving down the tracks head-on into a train could have been a real disaster.

Posted by More silliness, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 22, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Totally agree, in addition to closing major traffic arteries we should also ban cars completely. It seems like people can't figure out how to drive them anywhere in general. We should also ban all GPS units because people can't seem to follow directions properly.

In other news, if people can't figure out how to visit Yosemite without endangering themselves we should close down the park immediately too.

Posted by Love silliness, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2011 at 3:44 pm

I thought I lived in a well educated community, but I think our IQ
as a whole just went down 30 points.

We don't need a bridge, we just need people to think on their own sometimes.

Posted by tenpeople, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Ten people have ten ideas,hundred people have hundred ideas in a town like pa(no one is less intelligent than anyone else,everyone has some sort of great title).No wonder we have a pa process.

Posted by More silliness, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:04 pm

"Build an inexpensive bridge..."

Ha! Have you ever heard of an inexpensive bridge?

The design study for the Newell Road Bridge is supposed to cost $360,000 (source: Web Link). They haven't even figured out how much a new 75 foot long bridge will cost but I'm betting it's going to cost close to a million bucks.

Meanwhile, the new Bay Bridge is costing $5.4 Billion to build and all the parts are made in china.

Real cheap!

Posted by expensive, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:17 pm

Ten years ago,you can say that,not any more.

Now the average property price in major cities of china reaches $360,000,especially in Shanghai. The price of clothes/meat are even higher than here.If chinese company buys bay bridge parts for their own use, I bet it will cost probably more than what US companies pays. It is the cheap thought and greed of us corporation that send us and jobs there.

Posted by pedestrian in traffic, a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:39 pm

So, she didn't see the obvious signs of a railway crossing and turned into it....because....the GPS told her so, and she, poor thing can't resist the GPS's call and by chance didn't engender a big disaster.
Great, great that the car wasn't damaged.....And the woman wasn't cited?
Because she didn't drive recklessly?

From mindless drivers
And soft spoken GPS'
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

Posted by close those streets, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Clearly, the current road crossings are not working. We have to do something. The railroad is not going away. Closing Charleston and Meadow and building a pedestrian bridge will cost a small percentage of a full grade separations for cars. We can probably get by with just one pedestrian bridge since the 2 streets aren't that far apart.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:51 pm

These tracks are really confusing in the dark to those unfamiliar with the area. I have been confused in the dark crossing Castro and I know the area! It isn't matter of reading the signs, it is a matter of too many signs and distractions getting in the way of safety.

Posted by Old Palo Alto, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 22, 2011 at 4:55 pm

Hey Joe Simitian, get on passing a no GPS while driving law. Add that to your long list of accomplishments.

Posted by why, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 22, 2011 at 6:17 pm

There are so many crossings in this country,why did it happen to pa drivers so often? why us?

Posted by really, a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 22, 2011 at 6:57 pm

Yep, time to turn Arastradero-Charleston into bikes and pedestrians only! Think of the safety we would have and then no more traffic jams the way it is now.

Posted by Steve, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 22, 2011 at 9:32 pm

If someone can't LOOK where they are going and can't tell the difference between train tracks and Alma, then they shouldn't be driving. It isn't the fault of the crossing -- it's the driver.

Posted by Mayhem, like me, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 23, 2011 at 8:33 am

Ha ha ha ha ha. I got another one!

Posted by Mayhem, like me, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Jul 23, 2011 at 8:34 am


Posted by BiG Al, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2011 at 8:54 am

This story really closely captures how many people in our society rely more and more on their cellphones and less and less on their common sense.

Posted by anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm

What? Are you all perfect? Never made a wrong turn? Never got lost? Never had an embarrassing moment in your life? This poor person made a HUMAN ERROR at a set of poorly engineered crossings notorious for confusing drivers - sometimes with deadly results! All you can do is cackle and jeer and parade your snide little remarks on here. Sorry no "LOL"s here.. Just disgust. This isn't the improv and your stand-up jokes are inappropriate.

Posted by Up and Under, a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Unfortunately accidents happen at rail intersections, this one at nite. After so many accidents and incidents why isn't rail underpass being built at E. Meadow.

Posted by carefuldriving, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 23, 2011 at 2:31 pm

I feel sad today,a friend family of mine were killed. I remember the little girl when i took her and my daughter to dinner,i remember her mom was always in a hurry helping schools as a pta president,it is so so sad.

Posted by disbelief, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 23, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Really? She turned ONTO or next to the train tracks because her GPS told her to do that?! I find this difficult to believe.
-or did it instruct her to turn onto Alma, really?
-or was she really not paying attention to her driving.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2011 at 10:51 pm

I'm wondering what the point is. Is the driver trying to blame the GPS for something?
If so, I guess that is pretty typical of people these days and their desire to always blame mistakes one someone or something else. A person should not be driving if
they do not feel they can handle their car in any normal circumstance.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2011 at 10:56 pm

I'd also like to know if this person is a Palo Alto resident, or local area resident?

There are some places that really irk me in this city, but the railroad crossings have never been one of them.

The quickest one I can think of is the northbound lane offramp to Embarcadero that heads to the airport/baylands/dump/park ... OR the main Post Office in Palo Alto heading towards Home Depot/IKEA. How on Earth people are supposed to make that transfer across 3 lanes of traffic to turn is beyond me. I hate that intersection and it should have been fixed a long time ago.

Posted by Anon., a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 23, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Well least she was not looking at a map and had the map up in front of her face so she could not see what was going on?

Is it fair to infer that since she was driving a Toyota Corolla that she is not a Palo Alto resident.

Start giving out tickets to people who do not know how to drive PLEASE. I see them virtually every time I go out in my car anywhere. We have to be tolerant and try to be helpful too, but there are too many people who do not get the whole idea behind driving, they are either incompetent at the task or think they are playing a video game.

Posted by Alphonso, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 24, 2011 at 7:12 am

How is this different than going the wrong way on a freeway? - give her a ticket for not paying attention.

Posted by Paid Guard, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2011 at 6:15 pm

I am wonder were was the paid guard. He is suppossed to start at 8:15 pm. He could had called 9:11, but obviously he was not there and that is why the lady had to flag someone. Hmmm?

Posted by classic, a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 25, 2011 at 12:15 am

Classic case of women driving...I can't even begin to imagine how hard I would laugh if I had the pleasure of viewing the comedy of a woman accidentally driving 25 feet down train tracks and then getting stuck.

Posted by Geez, a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 25, 2011 at 7:23 am

I can't believe the "close the streets", "build a bridge", "where's the paid guard" comments. Good grief. Maybe we should all just be mandated to stay in our own homes with nannies to protect us from our own choices at all times.

Geez folks. Someone messed up..thankfully nothing horrid happened. Don't jump to dictator-nanny "solutions" to a non-problem! Adults make choices and have to live ( or not) with them!

Posted by close those streets, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 25, 2011 at 8:42 am

Nannies protect idiots from themselves. In this case, if that woman drove her car directly into an oncoming train (not unlikely), hundreds of innocent people were at risk. This is a public safety issue, not a nanny issue.

Posted by Pa resident, a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 25, 2011 at 4:41 pm

You guys! We are lucky (and so was she) that she could contact someone to prevent the trains from running into the car and detailing. A minute or two later- who knows what would have happened! The lighting in PA is dismal since nobody likes lights shining into their house. You guys never had the GPS telling you to turn right and realize it's a street to early because the streets are too close together? Sure you can sit on your high horse and go one about how she must not be a PA resident driving a Toyota. BMW and Audi drivers are so much better! Grow up and show some compassion. Be glad you weren't on the train that could have hit her car!

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 26, 2011 at 12:43 am

Dismal lighting? Drivers are supposed to use headlights at night, and not outdrive their headlights. Most potential obstructions have very good reflectors, excepting pedestrians and the occasional bicyclist. The most dismal lighting I encounter is oncoming traffic's misaligned headlights or hi beams. And there's plenty of glare from various poorly designed or badly placed road-side light fixtures.

The recent "improvements" at the railroad crossing can be distracting to drivers who haven't seen anything like them before.

Posted by lighting, a resident of Midtown
on Jul 26, 2011 at 8:28 am

I agree that better lighting can greatly improve the night-time safety at the railroad crossings. Any railroad crossing can be confusing to people who don't see them very often, especially at night. Better lighting can save lives in accidental cases like this, and probably also deter suicides. Are NIMBYs really fighting against this safety improvement?

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

There are plenty accidents & suicides in broad daylight. If not done carefully, more night-time lighting can make the scene even more confusing.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 26, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I assume that many of the posters here have never taken a wrong turning in an unfamiliar area, particularly at night.

GPS is very helpful but can be confusing. Likewise, all of our Eastbound railroad crossings are not apparent until immediately before reaching them, particularly at night, for a driver who is unfamiliar with the area.

Any good driver can take a wrong turning into a driveway or other space in the dark in an unfamiliar area.

Thankfully this driver and Caltrain were saved from another tragedy.

Posted by Geez, a resident of Meadow Park
on Jul 27, 2011 at 5:12 am

Dear "Close those streets"...well, golly, I think we should all be forced to stay home for the protection of others. That's is what NannyStates do. It is all for the "greater good".

I mean, every time I get in my car I am driving a lethal weapon. Every time I walk by an electrical outlet in a store, I could do something crazy and turn lethal. Every time I cross a street, I could do so at a bad time and cause a lethal car accident.

You are right, it is too dangerous to let us out of our houses, for the "greater good" we need to all just stay home.

I am just thankful that this woman is ok and nobody had an accident or got hurt, but for Pete's sake, we must have some kind of innate human nature reflex toward looking for a tyrant to "save" us from problems. I just hope we can get over it at some point in my lifetime ( unlikely..I am aging enough that I think it may just be our human nature to give up freedom in exchange for tyranny in the name of "safety".Very scary)

If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

September food and drink goings on
By Elena Kadvany | 0 comments | 1,476 views

College Freshmen: Avoiding the Pitfalls
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,270 views

Camp Glamp
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 1,146 views

It Depends... Disguising Real Characters in Fiction
By Nick Taylor | 0 comments | 424 views

Twenty-five years of wedded bliss
By Sally Torbey | 2 comments | 170 views