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Lighting at West Meadow tracks gets go-ahead

Original post made on Dec 11, 2009

New lighting is being installed to illuminate the West Meadow train crossing in Palo Alto, an effort to dissuade people from taking their lives on the tracks, according to city and Caltrain officials.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, December 11, 2009, 9:00 AM

Comments (28)

Posted by Trac Watche, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2009 at 9:52 am

Finally is paying off, all the hours of watching the tracks late at night, and attending meetings to improve things at the tracks. I think the lightning is going to make a big difference even for security guard and the track watchers because now we will not be looking in the dark and hoping that no one is hiding by the bushes, which are a lot. Bushes should be all trim so there is no place to hide. Trees can stay but they should be trim too. I asked the community to continue working together so we can improve things for our children.

Posted by Stop Caltrain, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 11, 2009 at 10:13 am

Stopping Caltrain from running on the tracks will reduce suicides to zero. We shouldn't address the problem of why there are suicides--it is easier to scapegoat Caltrain

Posted by David, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 11, 2009 at 10:22 am

Thank you Caltrain and the City of Palo Alto for the lighting!

Posted by David, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 11, 2009 at 10:32 am

I understand that a train going 5 miles per hour can still be lethal. However, a train going 5 miles per hour can stop in a lot less than the one-half mile it takes to stop when it's going 70 miles per hour. If you can stop the train before it reaches the person, a train going zero miles per hour is guaranteed not to be lethal.

Does anyone know how long a distance it would take for a train going 5 miles per hour to stop? How about going 10 miles per hour?

From a recent NPR radio program, I understand that using the emergency braking system is perceived by Christine Dunn of Caltrain to be a big deal for train officials. I would think that stopping when only going 5 miles per hour wouldn't require the use of the train's emergency braking system.

I understand from one of the track watchers that a freight train going on the same tracks at night did slow down to a safer speed (I don't know whether that was a new freight policy for our area or was done for other reasons).

We don't allow automobile drivers to go 35 miles per hour through school zones, let alone 70 miles per hour, we make it a law that they go much slower.

We're asking that Caltrain give their train engineers a chance to avoid a catastrophy that will affect those engineers for the rest of their lives (see this article that Caltrain references from its web site: Web Link).

Posted by David, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 11, 2009 at 10:44 am

Dear "Stop Caltrain",

Autos are not prohibited from driving through school zones, but they are prohibited from driving fast through school zones.

The petitioners are requesting that the train slow down through this vulnerable zone.

The analogy is that school safety is a combination of crossing guards, parent/child safety education, and slower drivers.

Because of our current suicide cluster, we have track watchers playing the role of crossing guards and a lot of available parent/child suicide education (see the Gunn Connections newsletter for all the opportunities made available by KARA and Noreen Likins). The petitioners are asking that Caltrain help with the third part of this prevention program.

Posted by Stop Caltrain, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 11, 2009 at 10:56 am

Caltrain addressed the issue of slowing the trains down to 5 MPH and showed that it was not feasible--it would cause system wide delays from the beginning of the day.
Comparing cars to trains is apples and oranges comparison--cars share the road with pedestrians and there are speed limits.
My point was that the reason for the suicides is not being addressed, rather people are pointing fingers at Caltrain and making unreasonable demands of them. Is a students life more important than an adult? how may suicides have their been on Caltrain tracks in the last few years? Should the train travel everywhere at 5 MPH?

Posted by near-neighbor, a resident of Ventura
on Dec 11, 2009 at 11:22 am

slower trains would help, but only if they see something suspicious in time--why not install a wireless security cam that could be accessed by the crew?

this could also be used by volunteers when the security costs become unsustainable. there are higher-risk times of day, I imagine, and it only needs to be checked when a train is actually coming through.

it would help if the guards' car did not block the bike lane/sidewalk, adding to the normal hazards of this crossing! what are side streets for?!

Posted by West Meadow Dr resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 11, 2009 at 11:22 am

Thank you for providing lighting. This will help a lot. During track watch I didn't realize how dark either side was until I stood at the gate and looked down the track..

Posted by Palo Alto concerned parent, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2009 at 11:26 am

I do agree with many of you who said that wee need to addresst he root of the problem, because addressing Cal train only will not solve the problem. However, we need to address Cal train first because this is the place our children are choosing to die. The next step will be even harder, but it is nothing that can't be done. We need to make a lot of changes at Gunn. Many of you thing that Gunn is not to blame either because you ignore many fact. If we do move to improve things at Gunn, our children will have a lot more support for next time something like this happened. These suicides took everyone by surprised and we (parents, Gunn and Call train) were not prepared to deal with it. School need to train our children, teachers, and school personnel what to do in this cases and practice it, just the way they practice fire earthquakes and lock down drills.
If you think about it: Gunn has x numbers of counselors who work daily at school to serve our students, and x number of counselors who work at Adolescent counseling, plus ONE school psychology, on the other hand Paly has x number of students, and few counselors, plus I imagined they also have x number of adolescent counselors, one school psychologist plus many teachers who have children assigned to them to be their counselors. What system do you think is going to work better to help our children in crisis like this? Obviously Paly. We have to change the system at Gunn. Gunn system is one that is used at Colleges, and our children are not college students yet. Hopefuly no one other sutudent dies before we do this urgent changes. Otherwise we will failed again

Posted by Blaming-The-Wrong-People, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2009 at 12:20 pm

Putting lights on the CalTrain crossing, or "making a law" that trains have to reduce their speed through Palo Alto to 5 mph (or less), isn't going to change the basic stats for teen suicide in the US:

Web Link

The rate of teenage suicide in the United States remains comparatively high in the 15 to 24 age group with 3,971 suicides in 2001 and over 132,000 suicide attempts in 2002, making it the third leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 24.[1] In the United Kingdom the suicide rate for males aged between 15 and 24 rose substantially between 1976 to 1991 (when it peaked at 15.8 deaths per 100,000 people), although it has been declining since. This compares with the rate of suicide among females in the same age group remaining largely static

While some people want to blame CalTrain, and do so by watching the tracks .. they should be watching the classrooms, and trying to find out what is pushing these kids over the line.

Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2009 at 12:21 pm

25 to 40 linear feet of square feet?

Posted by David, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 11, 2009 at 1:00 pm

I agree that this is a community problem. It happens that Caltrain is part of our community too. The petitioners are not blaming Caltrain, they're asking for Caltrain's help while other parts of our community are trying to address the root cause of the problem. How is this plea for help being misconstued as blame?

Has anyone seen Caltrain's analysis on the effect of a slow-down in Palo Alto? If so, can you post it here? I've heard Caltrain's conclusions, but I haven't see the data.

As a point of comparison, I've been riding Caltrain on and off for 24 years. They often change their schedule: adding/subtracting trains and stops (where the train comes to a complete stop and then lets off and on passengers). For years, each Caltrain slowed down to a crawl (was it 5 miles per hour?) at a risky curve near the Hayward Park station. They have special stops for Stanford football games and had special stops for Bay Meadows racing days. They often accommodate rail or crossing work that has lasted for days/months. None of these additions, subtractions or alterations has ground the entire system to a halt. The current statement from Caltrain about the effect of a slow down in Palo Alto gives the impression that they've never done this sort of juggling before.

Posted by Stop Caltrain, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 11, 2009 at 1:15 pm

But, David, once again you are comparing apples and oranges (each Caltrain slowed down to a crawl (was it 5 miles per hour?) at a risky curve near the Hayward Park station. They have special stops for Stanford football games and had special stops for Bay Meadows racing days.)--these are all events that are factored into the Caltrain schedule. You also did not address the issue of why only a slow down in Palo Alto--there have been suicides all along the Caltrain line. Are students more important than adults? are PA residents more important than residents of other communities?

Posted by Blaming-The-Wrong-People, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2009 at 1:20 pm

> How is this plea for help being misconstued as blame?

Well .. who has actually looked at the families and tried to determine why a child in each of these families killed himself? Or the classes and school environments of these kids? Anything common? The root cause is not how fast the train is going, or even if there is a train .. the root cause is in the homes of these kids and their school environment.

Without getting case studies on these individuals completed, and into the public record .. standing around trying to get the train to stop "going fast" is not even remotely solving this problem.

Let's suppose for the moment that that crossing was a kind of "Bermuda Triangle" that somehow had magic properties over kids. Well .. Ok .. maybe then CalTrain might be a source of mitigation of this problem. But that intersection is not the problem. On average, about 80 people a year kill themselves by jumping in front of the trains. Why? Why would they do that? And they all don't do it here in Palo Alto.

Oh .. and let's not forget that any train has a lot of kinetic energy that needs to be dissipated before the train will come to a stop. Even moving forward at the smallest speed is enough to kill someone if they get in front of the train.

And then there is the issue of teenage drivers--who are the source of the most traffic accidents (if memory serves). Any chance any of these deaths are also suicides? And if so .. how does stopping these suicides become a "community problem".

Sorry .. the claims that "all of us" are somehow responsible, but not the parents or the teachers of these kids, are really not well thought out.

Posted by MeMe, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Slowing commute trains down to 5 mph does not take into account that freight trains run through P.A. at high speeds after midnight. All someone has to do is go to an unguarded, unlit section of track and wait for a freight train. Nothing will have been solved.

WRT installing cameras in the cab, who's going to be liable if the engineer doesn't see someone or if someone jumps in front of a train before the engineer has a chance to react and stop the train. Sorry, many of these proposed "solutions" don't strike me as effective or practical.

Commute and freight trains have been going through P.A. for 145 years -- almost a century and a half. Suicide by train was not a problem for 144 of those years. Nothing about the trains has changed.

Posted by MeMe, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2009 at 1:40 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by so true, a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Dec 11, 2009 at 1:44 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Gunn Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 11, 2009 at 9:10 pm

Don't just say Thank you Call Train and the city of Palo Alto, you also have to send your contributions so the guard continuous watching the tracks. The salary of the guard needs to be funded. If there is no money to pay the guard will be gone in not time. We residents of Palo Alto need to donate.

Posted by train rider, a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 11, 2009 at 9:18 pm

Stop Caltrain - you don't understand how the train schedule works. The special stops for Stanford games are only on weekends when the trains run only once an hour. And only a couple of trains make those special stops, not all trains all day long. Slowing the train during commute hours would require cancelling at least half of the trains, reducing capacity by half, and forcing thousands of train riders to drive instead. Those cars would contribute to traffic and accidents and more causalities than you are trying to stop. Ask one of your math students to show you the formulas. It should be straightforward (but too lengthy to type into this box).

Posted by Stop caltrain, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Dec 11, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Train rider-- you are addressing the wrong person-- it is David you should be talking to. I am against slowing caltrain. I was refuting his arguments.

Posted by Parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 12, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Add lights to the Charleston crossing also.

Posted by Practicalist, a resident of Meadow Park
on Dec 12, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Parent, do you know how much putting lights up costs?
Much more than you would expect.
A single light post costs about 50,000 to erect and costs 10,000 in electricty to operate per year.

[Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 12, 2009 at 5:28 pm

Not too sure about the costs, but I would rather see lighting at the crossings (all of them) rather than paying for ugly art in Mitchell Park, Childrens Theatre, Senior Games, Destination Palo Alto, need I go on?

Posted by TC, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 13, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Sure glad I don't live on Charleston near the train tracks and have to tolerate those bright lights shining into my bedroom at night.

Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 13, 2009 at 4:19 pm

If the lights are properly aimed to light up the tracks, then they should not spread light pollution to shine into the windows of nearby homes. Closing drapes or curtains at night or pulling blinds should help if necessary.

Posted by wecarepaloalto, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2009 at 11:04 am

I would like to ask the person who said "While some people want to blame CalTrain, and do so by watching the tracks" how he/she could possibly know why 70+ individuals have made the personal decision to monitor the tracks? Are you a mind reader? Why do you assume that all such people come out to "blame Caltrain"?

Let's not turn this posting board into a negative dumping ground.

Posted by Gunn parent, a resident of Gunn High School
on Dec 14, 2009 at 12:03 pm

I agree with wecarepalo alto. I am a parent who watches the tracks and I do not think Cal train is the one to blame for the recent suicides. I believe there is another reason that we ignore, but while we figure it out, the only thing to do is watch the tracks. There is a lot more then just cal train. At least we are sending a message to our teens that we care and love them.

Posted by the watcher, a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2009 at 2:14 am

Thanks to those who read my suggestion for lighting in the area. I posted the idea on 11/24/09. Perhaps the wheels to put up lighting were already in motion. However it's good to know action of a positive sort has been implemented. Thanks to the powers that be.

below my post:

Posted by the watcher, a resident of another community, on Nov 24, 2009 at 9:54 am
A suggestion: The lighting in this area is minimal. Perhaps a line of (5-10 or so) motion lights along either side of the tracks could be triggered to light up just prior to the train's approach. Then they would automatically turn off. If lights wer installed, any person standing along the tracks or in the area could be seen immediately. This may possibly detour the victim from harming his/her-self. (I parked and got out of my car one night just prior to the train approach, and noticed the lighting is minimal 20 feet west along the sidewalks, as well as north and south of the tracks, especially considering the current situation).

Such a lighting project would not be that costly to institute, and would give the train engineer and vehiclist waiting at the traffic lights a broader visual of what's ahead.

As a mother of a teen, I know that when one young person takes his/her life, a part of many of that victim's friends acquaintences and community's teen parents are also hurt and affected. Also, the train's personnel and passengers carry horrific feelings of grief and dispondency for days afterward.

Maybe my idea will be considered, or perhaps someone will come up with a similiar or better suicide prevention idea.

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