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Time to sunset grade crossings

Original post made by Walter_E_Wallis on Nov 9, 2008

This past week, the toll in lives and in disruption in commerce have shown that railroad grade crossings are incompatible with high speed rail traffic. Cities and railroads have proved that the will to voluntarily eliminate grade crossings is not there, so it is time to [I hate to say this] mandate, at state level, a date after which grade crossings are allowed in urban areas only if trains slow to 5 miles per hour at each crossing. Los Angeles has seen evidence that not only auto passengers suffer in a crossing accident. Cities will then have to decide whether any crossing is needed, then work with the railroad to develop an under or overpass, or divert existing crossing traffic to other routes. Who knows? Perhaps a route free of grade crossings will allow "conventional" rail service to approach the speed of BART at far less cost than that boondogle.

Comments (21)

Posted by Grade Separation?, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 9, 2008 at 6:43 am

Walter I agree, but there is a huge problem which you haven't addressed. Grade separation required a lot more land, that land would have to be taken by "eminent domain". I believe PA passed some kind of regulation severely restricting the taking of property by eminent domain. At both Charleston and East Meadow there is no way an under or over pass could be built without taking the adjacent houses by eminent domain.

Somehow all this has to be worked out when the bullet train is built but that is many years away. Meanwhile, property is more important than human life in PA.


Posted by HSR, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 9, 2008 at 8:09 am

Now that the high speed rail proposition has passed and that will follow the Caltrain line, they should be creating grade-separated crossings (bridges or tunnels) throughout the line.


Posted by sidney, a resident of Ohlone School
on Nov 9, 2008 at 8:17 am



Most of these fatalities are suicides.
Just equip the trains with cattle grates and keep them moving, the coroner can pick up the pieces later.

No reason to delay productive people from getting to work.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 9, 2008 at 3:24 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Just close the crossings and let nature take its course. Name another municipal feature worth the death toll of grade crossings.
I worked in heavy industry in the days before OSHA. As one who has taken lives in the past, I cannot be as cavalier about any death except one as punishment for crimes.


Posted by John, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 9, 2008 at 4:14 pm

Walter,

We could shut down all car traffic in Palo Alto, and save even more lives. Should we?

It is not being cavalier to suggest that any modern means of moving vehicles will cost lives. Those who want to kill themselves will step in front of a train, elevated or not. It is the cost of doing business. Why should hundreds of millions of dollars be spent to stop a handfull of intentional deaths each year? Where would those dollars come from? Schools? Libraries? Police? Fire?


Posted by Rick, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 9, 2008 at 10:11 pm

The new rail, pedestrian,underpass in N.Palo Alto cost about $5 million.
This type of underpass (tunnel) could be built to accommadate cars (not trucks) for about this cost. It could be one lane with traffic lights. It could be depressed under Alma (at Charleston or E.Meadow)and Alma elevated some. With only one lane in the middle of Charleston or E.Meadow these may not need widening. With no truck traffic on these streets one lane here should be adequate.

I suspect it will never happen here as new ideas aren't allowed unless there is a profit for the leaders/developers.

Also figuring out the traffic light situation may be to complicated for traffic engineers here. ie the traffic light situation at Charleston/Natoma? and Foothill Expressway.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2008 at 2:27 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Remember "Bloody Bayshore"? What do you suppose the traffic toll would be if we had not eliminated all the auto grade crossings?
Just close Charleston, Meadow, Churchill and Alma and life will go on.


Posted by Grade Separation?, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 10, 2008 at 6:54 am

"one lane here should be adequate." but probably won't comply with State mandated rules regarding construction of over or under passes.


Posted by Clem, a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2008 at 8:47 am

There were three incidents in the past week.

(1) The pickup truck that got hit in San Mateo was a suicide, where the guy drove around fully functioning gates and parked himself in front of the train. This was reported in the press as "Caltrain kills motorist".

(2) The car that got hit in Blossom Hill was crossing Union Pacific tracks at an unprotected private crossing, with only a stop sign and a crossbuck. Where that happened, there are only six Caltrains per weekday and none on weekends.

(3) The person who got hit in Mountain View was lying on the track in an area well away from where passengers should be.

Only (2) would be avoided by grade separation. The other two people were suicidal or drunk, and that problem isn't solved by pouring concrete.

In any case, Proposition 1A will take care of this problem. It's no longer as many years away as people think: money is usually why stuff takes forever, and the money has now started to flow.


Posted by Jay Tulock, a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2008 at 8:56 am

Clem--

Grade crossings are $40 million each average. Even the full buildout most pessimistic estimates of HSR won't cover this for their route. 1A won't even begin to solve this. The Central Valley alone will require $15 billion for grade seps. 1A is a down payment on a debt the likes of which this state has never imagined. Nice job voting on a huge debt that is a down payment on unknown tens of billions, oh voters.


Posted by Think-A-:Little, a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 10, 2008 at 9:49 am

> In any case, Proposition 1A will take care of this problem.

When pigs fly!

Not even close!

The HSR will sooner or later require closer to $40B. It will be so expensive, that it is possible that grade separations will not be possible until 20-30 years after the system starts to operate.

Collision-avoidance radar on trains, as well as other technologies (like surveillance cameras) might reduce the accidents at the grade separations--but people committing suicide-by-train will just find another way to get onto the tracks.

It would be a lot cheaper to intall the "quad" gates that have been in the works for a while, and perhaps some cameras on accident prone crossings, and see what happens.


Posted by Clem, a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2008 at 10:44 am

Jay, the current HSR proposal has $4.2 billion (2008) earmarked for construction on the peninsula. That doesn't include the downtown SF extension, which is funded by the Transbay authority.

Thank-a-little, HSR will never operate without grade separations. HSR is coming. Ergo grade separations are coming. My point was HSR would take care of the grade separation problem, not the suicide problem-- sorry I wasn't clear.


Posted by No Grade Crossings, a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2008 at 2:44 pm

>(1) The pickup truck that got hit in San Mateo was a suicide, where the guy drove around fully functioning gates and parked himself in front of the train. This was reported in the press as "Caltrain kills motorist".

You never hear about BART hitting a truck and keeping 30,000 people from getting to work on time. I'm not saying the guy wouldn't have killed himself, but without an easy way onto the tracks the hit rates will go down. People jump in front of BART trains, but it's much more rare.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2008 at 3:55 pm

I think it is true what No Grade Crossings says.

BART, like most subway systems in the world, have very few suicides compared to Caltrain which is odd since it would appear to be extremely easy to just under a BART train as would the New York Subway, the Paris Metro or the London Underground. These services do have suicides, but perhaps the only way to commit suicide under the train is at a station and you need a ticket to get there may have something to do with it.

Likewise, in Europe where there are more miles of urban track than there are in similar areas here, have a great deal less fatalities. The fact that the grade crossings have joint barriers and the track is almost impossible to walk on to, and bridges, etc. all appear to have suicide barriers, may have a lot to do with it.

Every time there is an accident on Caltrain, not only does the victim suffer, but the community suffers greatly. I remember in particular the great suffering at Paly when two separate boys in two separate years of the same class, took their own lives and the school heard the incessant clanging of bells for hours during class until trains could run again. The fact that it was one of their own and that they could walk to look at the scene between classes, was really upsetting. Apart from the suffering, there is the considerable inconvenience to passengers of delays as well as the obvious suffering of the engineer who is always helpless to prevent the inevitable.

Making the tracks safer would be a step in the right direction but unfortunately, the solution is more than just money.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 10, 2008 at 3:56 pm

I think it is true what No Grade Crossings says.

BART, like most subway systems in the world, have very few suicides compared to Caltrain which is odd since it would appear to be extremely easy to just under a BART train as would the New York Subway, the Paris Metro or the London Underground. These services do have suicides, but perhaps the only way to commit suicide under the train is at a station and you need a ticket to get there may have something to do with it.

Likewise, in Europe where there are more miles of urban track than there are in similar areas here, have a great deal less fatalities. The fact that the grade crossings have joint barriers and the track is almost impossible to walk on to, and bridges, etc. all appear to have suicide barriers, may have a lot to do with it.

Every time there is an accident on Caltrain, not only does the victim suffer, but the community suffers greatly. I remember in particular the great suffering at Paly when two separate boys in two separate years of the same class, took their own lives and the school heard the incessant clanging of bells for hours during class until trains could run again. The fact that it was one of their own and that they could walk to look at the scene between classes, was really upsetting. Apart from the suffering, there is the considerable inconvenience to passengers of delays as well as the obvious suffering of the engineer who is always helpless to prevent the inevitable.

Making the tracks safer would be a step in the right direction but unfortunately, the solution is more than just money.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 10, 2008 at 5:26 pm

Separated crossings cost money. Bush left us flat broke and going broker.



Posted by tj, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 10, 2008 at 5:34 pm



By this logic the Golden Gate Bridge should be put in a tunnel because people jump off.

We now have non lethal systems that could be put at the front of the train, they cause excruciating pain when directed at a human or animal target, they get out of the way fast, once word gets around the dead enders would get help, or go some where else, doesn't Washington have assisted suicide suicide now?


Posted by Another Victim of Bush Derangement Syndrome, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 10, 2008 at 6:03 pm

> Bush left us flat broke and going broker.

Bush has nothing to do with this. Public education left you intellectually broke, and going broker, however.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Nov 11, 2008 at 7:59 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Replacing grade crossings is expensive, maintaining grade crossings is expensive, closing grade crossings is cheap. I could close Palo Alto's 4 for a kilobuck a crossing. I have applied myself to the suicide question at other times in this venue.


Posted by Rick, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 11, 2008 at 10:03 pm

About HSR:

I would estimate it could easily cost $30 Billion to built it from San Jose to San Francisco.
BART to San Jose is estimated to cost $6 Billion and it is about 16 miles. Much along a abandoned train track line.

The only practical way for HSR to get from S.J. to S.F is to go in the baylands where a minimum of over/underpasses would be required. The hugh power lines are built in the baylands and so what is the fuss over HSR there?




Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 14, 2008 at 11:46 pm

Another one today.
Web Link


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