As city funding for hired security at the tracks is due to expire at the end of December, officials are looking for ways to keep "track watchers" on site at least through the end of the school year next year.
"We've had at least three incidents, two of which required police to take someone off the tracks," city recreation manager Rob de Geus told members of the City-School Liaison Committee Wednesday morning.
"The consensus is that (security) ought to be extended another six months, at least until the end of the school year, so the question is, 'How do we fund it?'"
De Geus did not answer directly when asked whether track watchers had headed off the recent emergencies, saying each incident was different.
In one case, a staff member for the grief-counseling organization Kara was driving by a Caltrain crossing and noticed something amiss, he said. She circled back and called police, resulting in a 20-year-old being removed from the tracks area, he said.
The incident occurred at 7 p.m. one evening, after dark but before security guards were due to arrive at 8 p.m., he said.
Besides the paid guards, a dwindling number of parent volunteers are attempting to maintain a presence at the tracks. "We're trying to surround and support those volunteers," de Geus said.
"It's a handful of folks. That's what they do, and they're passionate about it. We're asking the community to better support them."
Track Watch volunteer Marielena Mendoza said parents try to provide coverage as much as possible when paid guards are not on duty.
Track Watch organizer Caroline Camhy Rothstein said the group has shrunk to about four "core volunteers," including former Palo Alto school board member Ray Bacchetti.
"There will not be adequate coverage when the city's funding runs out at the end of December," she said. "The paid guards have helped to prevent two incidents in recent months. We need them."
Rothstein lauded community initiatives to support teens, such as the 22-member Project Safety Net coalition. But the tracks have become a magnet for a wide spectrum of troubled people, she said.
"The problem is no longer just a teen issue," she said in an e-mail to the Weekly.
"People with troubles continue to be attracted to the tracks. ... It is a bit like the Golden Gate Bridge: We need to be very proactive for a long time."
Rothstein said the crossing areas could be more "self policing" if the city would clear-cut the trees along Alma Street.
She also asked that drivers take a look down the tracks as they pass, and be prepared to call for help if necessary. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parents and neighbors took matters into their own hands in the fall of 2009 after short-term police monitoring of the rail crossings failed to prevent subsequent suicides.
Following the fourth death that October, they initiated "Palo Alto Track Watch," organizing volunteers to maintain a physical presence at the tracks during hours trains are running.
In November 2009, the paid security guards were hired by the Palo Alto Police Department to bolster the citizen patrols. That funding, currently set to expire at the end of this month, was the subject of de Geus's remarks Wednesday.