Palo Alto prepares to boost fencing, add sensors on rail tracks | News | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto prepares to boost fencing, add sensors on rail tracks

Community meeting to discuss changes set for July 27

With Palo Alto preparing to install cameras and boost fencing around the rail tracks, city officials are inviting the community to a meeting later this month to discuss these changes.

The project, which is being jointly undertaken by the city and Caltrain, aims to limit access to the Caltrain corridor in response to a recent cluster of teen deaths by suicide on the tracks. In his June 29 update to the City Council, City Manager James Keene said he is proceeding on an accelerated schedule with the hope of getting most of the fencing work done before the middle of summer.

Caltrain will be replacing what he called an "old, substandard and missing fencing" along the west side of the northern segment of the train corridor, between Oregon Expressway and the San Francisquito Creek.

The agency will also be installing an 8-foot wire-mesh fencing with an 18-inch anti-climb winglet on the east side. The city will be picking up the cost of adding the winglet to the top of the fence.

Palo Alto officials will also be working to improve the southern segment of the Caltrain corridor, between Oregon Expressway and San Antonio Road. The corridor already has an 8-foot fence, which the city plans to extend. The project will cost about $268,000, which includes about $168,000 for vegetation removal and $100,000 for fencing extension.

In addition, the city will be installing an "intrusion camera system" that uses thermal infrared cameras and sensors capable of distinguishing between people and objects on the corridor. The cameras will be installed near the East Meadow Drive grade crossing.

The effort to improve fencing, generally known as "means restriction" is part of the city's broader effort to address suicide prevention. The city recently extended its contract with TrackWatch, a program in which security guards monitor the tracks, and is working with mental health agencies and other community partners to increase staffing for Project Safety Net, a collaborative that promotes youth well-being.

City officials plan to discuss the changes on the rail tracks at a July 27 community meeting, where they will be joined by Caltrain and school district representatives. The meeting will be held from 6:30-8 p.m. at the El Palo Alto Room in the Mitchell Park Community Center, at 3700 Middlefield Road.

More information is available at

Related content:

Caltrain cautious about Palo Alto officials requests

Palo Alto urges safety improvements along Caltrain corridor

New measures to limit access to train tracks could start in August

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8 people like this
Posted by not enough
a resident of Southgate
on Jul 16, 2015 at 11:06 am

What about the portion of Caltrain between the Cal Ave and University Ave stations? My understanding was that the most recent teen Caltrain suicide took place near the Churchill crossing.

13 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2015 at 1:17 pm

KP is a registered user.

Why do we have to KEEP adding more fences and security to these tracks!!??!
I am sorry but nothing has stopped anyone yet. Where there is a will, there is a way. This is just a waste of time, money, and effort.
I know this may rub some people the wrong way, (especially those close to any previous incidents - and I am sorry for their losses) but sometimes the truth and reality hurt.
People are supposed to be responsible for themselves. I am not my brothers' keeper.

9 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2015 at 1:20 pm

KP is a registered user.

PS. I have lost a close friend to suicide on the tracks over in Hayward a few years I am not trying to be totally rude, just real. She was going to do SOMETHING no matter what, and no one was going to change it or stop her.

5 people like this
Posted by Tom
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2015 at 1:55 pm

To KP (and others who feel similarly) - You suffered a tragedy, and no one can have anything but the deepest sympathy for you and the family of your friend. But consider that in large measure we know only about the tragedies, those who were not going to be stopped. We don't know about those who were stopped, who saw the obstacles and stopped themselves, retreated, perhaps (hopefully) seeking help. Perhaps some of these additional measures will increase the number of these, so those who carry out their attempts become fewer and fewer. It's a hope.

7 people like this
Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jul 16, 2015 at 2:22 pm

KP is a registered user.

@Tom - Okay, good point... but there is still the fact that we keep putting more into what is already in place. Those yellow gates mean absolutely nothing, but they cost a pretty penny to install. There was already the people/sidewalk gate that comes down with the car gate...why wasn't that enough?

There should be more money put into FREE counseling services for friends and family that have concerns about someone as well as free counseling for those who need it. Discrete counseling for free. So if you have someone you are concerned about, you can get help and understanding on how to get them help. There are a lot of people who see something going on, but have no idea what to do and don't necessarily want to talk to parents, but need an adult's guidance.

6 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Jul 16, 2015 at 4:51 pm

Thank you to PSN, the City of Palo Alto and Caltrain for working together to implement meaningful means restriction. It's a great step in the right direction. Yes, KP, means restriction is only one piece of the suicide prevention puzzle. There are some 24/7 free, anonymous online support services. For example, you can text to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 to start a conversation with a trained counselor. There is also a site called that sets a user up with a trained "active listener" who the user can continue to connect with in future visits to the site. I have personally contacted both organizations to verify their services and have gotten positive feedback from the many Instagram users who access these sites. (7cupsoftea offers international help. They were able to assist an Instragram user in Indonesia who contacted me looking for help.) I know these are not "ideal" but they are of benefit.

6 people like this
Posted by Traveller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 16, 2015 at 5:03 pm

I was recently in Europe and although I didn't ride any trains, I spent time driving and walking around areas where there were both commuter and long distance trains.

These are my observations.

Train tracks are much more inaccessible than here. Very few grade crossings particularly in suburban areas. Those I saw were completely gated so that when the gates were open for road traffic, they blocked access to the tracks. The tracks were very difficult for a pedestrian to access. Fences were tall, with barb wire and angled to make climbing difficult if not impossible.

Pedestrian and road bridges over tracks had tall sides so that the tracks could not be seen by anyone on the bridge. The tall sides had non climbing paint to prevent climbers. I also saw nets hanging from bridges to prevent jumpers.

There were also similar types of barriers blocking anyone from jumping from highway bridges onto the road below.

In other words, someone would have to try very hard to gain access to the tracks. We are a long way from this here even with the proposed improvements.

2 people like this
Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 18, 2015 at 4:17 am

None of you have any idea about how many suicides these barriers may have
stopped. What would it look like to someone who was thinking about committing
suicide to be seen and stopped, and then have their life changed for the worse
and be known to have mental illness or whatever we are calling it at the moment.

I think the barriers may well have stopped some suicides ... but the problem is
that it does nothing to find out or solve the problem.

Do we get a list of people who commit suicide in other ways? If someone takes
a bottle of pills and does themself in, is that reported in the news? I am not
sure it does.

We are basically STRONGLY sweeping this problem under the carpet, making it
it more difficult for anyone to kill themselves by train. What else is there to do,
this is the best available action.

But, it sure would be nice if we knew more about why people are doing this,
even if it does have to be a case by case level. Suicide is one of the higher
causes of death. Why is that?

7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 18, 2015 at 6:57 am

It's doubtful that cameras and sensors will make the tracks safer. It doesn't take all that long to be hit by a train.

Grade separation would make the tracks much more inaccessible and safer.

8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jul 18, 2015 at 12:23 pm

When I told my partner who regularly bikes to the train for his daily commute about this plan, he said, "You're kidding, right? Don't they know that most of the suicides happen IN the stations? What are they doing about that?"

8 people like this
Posted by Larry Cohn
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 19, 2015 at 11:35 pm

When I went to Paly many years ago, suicide by train was unheard of. It never happened. No guards, no signs, no fences, no cameras, no hotlines. Same schools, same tracks, same trains, same grade crossings.

We didn't have families who equate a grade of "B" with a grade of "F", and not everyone was presumed to be Harvard bound. This was way before Palo Alto became an enclave of Silicon Valley wealth. At the time there was no Silicon Valley per se.

Something is broken in Palo Alto and it's not the trains, the lack of fences guards, cameras, etc. You don't hear about suicide clusters in San Bruno, Sunnyvale, Belmont, etc. Why is that?

People do have to take responsibility for their own actions.

3 people like this
Posted by grateful
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 20, 2015 at 9:50 am

@Larry Cohn,
I "liked" your post, but only because of the first sentence.

Some families pressuring some kids is not new, and it's not especially major now compared to when I was a kid and parent-child relationships were far less close. My own parent was expected to support his parents and siblings even while supporting his own family and coming from a background of poverty. I don't know many kids today subject to those kinds of expectations.

I don't think the word "Harvard" has ever come up in our household. "Stanford" has, coming from a child, at which point we talked about "Stanford duck" syndrome, and how the educational approach is a poor match for said child. Same child has been depressed because of school.

Kids do feel a lot of stress because of the grading system we have, they are constantly judged and judged and judged for a steady stream of tasks imposed on them that often have very little to do with real world skills. Boys whose executive function is known to develop later than girls' and for whom sitting at a desk all day being a performing monkey for others without clear purpose are especially hard hit.

The track systems are also just probably a good idea for a variety of reasons, and it's about time. Restricting access to the means can help. It's also true that it should not take the place of solving why people get to that point or helping people avoid crises. Thanks to Sarah1000 for her efforts on behalf of our community.

Like this comment
Posted by Neil Shea
a resident of University South
on Jul 20, 2015 at 2:13 pm

Neil Shea is a registered user.

Today at 9am my wife and I witnessed a motorist become confused and freeze on the Caltrain northbound track after the gates came down. Fortunately she did get out of the car, and the express train was on the southbound track, but our hearts stopped -- it was almost a disaster. Thank god children were not in that car, and she had the presence of mind to get out. (What should we have done? Get out of our car and run to their car to try to rescue them only to maybe die ourselves?)

It raised the larger question for us of why a successful, built up area like Palo Alto still has these at-grade crossings at all?

Other towns on Caltrain and throughout the US and the world have solved this, have grade separated their tracks. Why is it that we are 'frozen' on the tracks?

We're letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Our purity is that the tracks must never be raised even 1" from their current level. We're waiting for $1-2 Billion is going to float down from heaven to build some fancy tunnel through all our creeks. Instead for affordable cost now we could raise the tracks a few feet, depress the road a few feet, get cross-town traffic flowing smoothly and safely, seal off the tracks from pedestrians, and be done with it.

I know KP and others may say that anyone who is stupid enough to freeze on the tracks deserves to die with a Darwin Award. But just for our own sake, let's build the crossings so we don't have to witness near deaths and we can drive cross-town during rush hour.

2 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 20, 2015 at 2:39 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@grateful - but is it even possible to meaningfully restrict access while still having at grade car/bike/pedestrian crossings. And as Online Name points out, there have been several non-student suicides this year on the peninsula that have taken place at train stations. Would this money be better spent on mental health programs than potentially ineffective barriers?

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