Caltrain crossings set for safety improvements

Construction at four Palo Alto crossings scheduled to begin next week at Charleston Road

Caltrain crossings at four Palo Alto locations will soon be equipped with wider sidewalks, new fences, guardrails and increased signage as part of an effort to boost safety for riders, drivers and pedestrians near the Caltrain corridor.

The project is scheduled to begin next week at the Charleston Road crossing and will later extend to the crossings at East Meadow Drive, Churchill Avenue and Alma Street.

The improvements are part of a $5.8 million effort by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to improve safety at the crossings. The project includes similar improvements at two Caltrain crossings in Sunnyvale and two in Mountain View.

Construction on the Palo Alto crossings will be performed Sunday (starting Jan. 2) through Thursday between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. and will only occur at two intersections at a time, according to the VTA.

Palo Alto officials warn residents to expect single-lane closures in each direction during construction, which is expected to take about three months at each crossing. Work will only occur at two intersections at a time, the city announced.

According to the city's tentative construction schedule, construction at Charleston Road will take place from Jan. 2 to March 13; at East Meadow Drive from Jan. 16 to March 27; at Churchill Avene from March 6 to May 15; and at Alma Street from April 3 to June 12.

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Like this comment
Posted by Sheldon Kay
a resident of Menlo Park
on Dec 29, 2010 at 10:50 am

What a waste of $. Just put it to eliminating the crossing. Which will eventually be done anyway.

Like this comment
Posted by Better way to spend the $
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 29, 2010 at 11:33 am

It will be better if Caltrain would spend the money and putting lights along the tracks so we can see better if there are people inside, and also paid the guards so they can be there for longer time. At least till the spot cools off. Well at least there will be people there for three months so there will be no suicides during those times.

Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 29, 2010 at 11:54 am

I have great sympathy for both the VTA and Caltrains; they obviously feel under tremendous pressure to improve safety. However, this will not help the mental attitude of the kids who have willfully put their lives in danger at the crossings.

The only permanent safety measure is "grade separation."

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on Dec 29, 2010 at 12:04 pm

YIMBY is a registered user.

Is it time to consider cameras at grade crossings? Turns out that the Blue Line, a light rail transit line in LA, is installing MORE of them. From "Blue Line keeps grim distinction"
By Daisy Nguyen, The Associated Press, 12/26/10, LA Daily News:
"Since opening in 1990, the line has been linked to 101 fatalities - 23 of them suicides - an 875 collisions involving trains clashing with motorists and pedestrians as they pass through some of the densest and poorest neighborhoods in the region.

The numbers are the highest among the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's five rail lines and have prompted the agency over the years to install more cameras, safety gates and other warning devices."
Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2010 at 1:53 pm

This is a no-win for Caltrain. They get criticized for wasting money if they try to improve safety, they get criticized for not improving safety if they don't.

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of University South
on Dec 30, 2010 at 9:15 pm

I agree that cameras will probably be the future of crossing protections. However, what will make most sense is if the cameras use visual content analysis (automated detection) to determine if someone is trespassing. VCA is more sophisticated than simple motion detection (the latter being triggered by almost anything, like the wind or moving train) can see a video of one VCA system here: Web Link

The image in my head that a network of cameras at crossings would be monitored by a central office. If someone trespasses into the rail area, an automated alert is sent to the monitoring office, calling attention to that camera. The monitoring office can then call the police. In addition, there would be a voice annunciator system at the railroad camera which would provide a prompt, such as "Please vacate the train tracks!" or allow the camera operator to otherwise assertively guide the trespasser out of the area.

Like this comment
Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 30, 2010 at 9:25 pm

That would probably not be very effective if someone were to jump the fence just before a train came by now would it?

Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of University South
on Dec 30, 2010 at 10:31 pm

True, but would a security guard, alarms, sidewalks or signage provide protection from someone doing that either? Cameras with threat detection would probably be most effective for those walking the tracks who haven't decided on making a suicide attempt but is considering it. Stopping these individuals while they are still on the track may allow law enforcement to put them under a psychiatric hold to make them undergo evaluation and treatment. Such cameras could also help identify patterns of dangerous behavior such as people crossing when the stop arms are down to further improve the design of the area.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2010 at 10:51 am

The Weekly article's list of safety improvements didn't seem all that exciting (in terms of enhanced safety), but there is another list on the City's web-site:

Web Link

The project will make crossings safer for pedestrians, bicycles and automobiles. The safety improvements include: widening of sidewalks, installing new concrete curbs, additional guardrail, and metal fences, warning tactile panels, concrete crossing panels, new automatic/manual pedestrian gates, flashers, vehicle gates and modifying striping/signage.

The idea of cameras, at least a couple for experimentation, is an idea long overdue. And so is collision avoidance radar, which would help engineers know that a car was on the tracks within a couple of miles.

It's not clear how any of these improvements will reduce the number of people committing suicide-by-train, however.

Like this comment
Posted by BP Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 3, 2011 at 10:43 am

CalTrain, and the City of Palo Alto, should be experimenting with cameras, motion detectors, lights, as well as continuing to find ways improve fencing. If they do not have the manpower or expertise to deal with cameras, motion detectors or other technical solutions, then they should seek out community volunteers. Palo Alto has plenty of engineers and computer scientist whose skills and abilities far exceed that of City or CalTrain employees. They could ask for individual help, or better yet, they could ask some local companies to lend the City some employees to work on the problem. If the City and CalTrain would only ask, I am sure they would find a long list of qualified people who would be honored to help.

I don't think the planned improvements are going to help very much. They are not specifically designed to deter train related deaths. They may even make it harder for the guards/police to monitor by limiting access.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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