In an effort to address Palo Alto's recent teen suicide cluster, the city is stepping up its efforts to limit access to the train tracks, city officials announced on Monday, June 8. At the same time, it is working to restructure Project Safety Net, the community collaborative that works on suicide prevention and youth well-being, officials also announced.
The four-mile right-of-way through the city has become the locus for more than two-thirds of the teen suicides along the rail line since 2009, city officials noted.
"We are actively seeking to do everything possible to limit access to the tracks, and on an accelerated schedule," City Manager James Keene stated in the announcement.
"While the city does not regulate or have authority over the right-of-way along the rail corridor, we are pushing to go beyond what might typically be done to limit access to the right-of-way. We are in the midst of a suicide cluster, and that demands we look at every means-restriction alternative that might be possible," he said.
Palo Alto and Caltrain officials have been meeting to develop a three-pronged approach to reducing entry to the rail corridor. Research shows that limited access is an important part of a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention, he said.
The city has asked Caltrain to fence both sides of the corridor and to consider additional safety measures such as higher or improved fencing.
Caltrain has proposed 8-foot-tall, welded-wire fencing from Oregon Expressway to San Francisquito Creek on the east side of the right-of-way, along Alma Street. The new fence would cost approximately $420,000. Work could start as early as the beginning of August, pending the removal of bushes and shrubs by the city, he said.
From San Antonio to Oregon Expressway, the corridor's east side already has 8-foot-tall fencing.
Shrubs and bushes have been removed along the west side of the tracks between Meadow Drive and Charleston Road and 1,000 feet north of Charleston, he noted.
The fencing is a top priority along the entire Palo Alto corridor, Keene added.
"We have also asked Caltrain to evaluate and fill in gaps on the west side where existing fencing is inadequate, he said.
Much of the west side of the tracks is lined by private property, including homes that have their own fences.
Caltrain and the city have also agreed to a pilot program that uses thermal infrared cameras to detect heat and other cameras and sensors at the Meadow Drive crossing. The cameras can distinguish between humans and other objects.
An automatic warning would go to Palo Alto dispatchers as well as Caltrain, which would directly contact the trains' conductors or engineers. The city hopes to have the pilot program running by the end of the summer, he said.
Palo Alto has contracted with a security firm to provide guards to watch over railroad intersections. The guards are currently stationed at Churchill Avenue, Meadow Drive and Charleston Road crossings, and the California Avenue Caltrain station. The services cost $40,500 per month. The contract will expire on June 30, and it is likely that a new contract will be more expensive, he said.
The city is also working to restructure Project Safety Net, the community collaborative formed in 2009, which created a community-based mental health plan for youth well-being.
The loose collaboration of personnel from the city, school district, nonprofits and mental-health agencies has been plagued by leadership gaps and insufficient resources, the announcement stated. The city council's Policy and Services Committee will consider staff recommendations on June 9 to develop a coordinated, structured program for Project Safety Net, which would include a director, executive board, improved data collection resources and an increasing role for youth.