Caltrain begins improvements aimed at preventing deaths by suicides | News | Palo Alto Online |


Caltrain begins improvements aimed at preventing deaths by suicides

Vegetation will be removed, fencing installed on the rail corridor in Palo Alto

Caltrain began removing vegetation Tuesday along the rail corridor in Palo Alto as part of a suicide prevention program approved in August.

Caltrain also started installing fencing in the area to reduce access to rail tracks, according to Caltrain officials.

The vegetation removal and the fencing are part of an approved Aug. 24 memorandum of understanding between the city and Caltrain geared toward a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention on Caltrain tracks, agency officials said.

A thermal infrared camera pilot program slated for mid-September is also part of the improvements.

Caltrain crews during the next two months will be installing new 8-foot welded wire fencing between Oregon Expressway and San Francisquito Creek on the east side of the corridor. The project will cost an estimated $420,000 and will be paid for by Caltrain.

Caltrain will also install an additional 18 inches of three-cable angled winglets on top of existing fencing on the east side of the corridor between San Antonio and San Francisquito Creek to make the fences more difficult to climb. Palo Alto will pay $108,000 for the installation and another $168,000 for vegetation removal.

The vegetation removal and fencing projects should be completed by the end of October, Caltrain officials said.

An intrusion detection system that uses thermal infrared cameras to detect objects via heat sensors more than a mile away will be installed at the Meadow Avenue crossing in mid-September for a 60-day evaluation period.

There will be no cost to the city during the system's trial period.

— Bay City News Service

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50 people like this
Posted by concerned neighbor
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 9:28 am

Removing vegetation will increase the noise level for neighboring communities, dust pollution and it is not taking into account the bare prison look that the corridor will take when the vegetation gets taken out. That is not the answer.

44 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 2, 2015 at 9:52 am

Almost all of the Peninsula train suicides have occurred at grade crossings and station platforms. Clearing vegetation does nothing to change this. I'm not convinced the security cameras will help, but at least Palo Alto isn't paying for it during the trial period.

Ultimately none of these measures address the root cause of these suicides: mental health.

11 people like this
Posted by Break down the silos.
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2015 at 10:41 am

Caltrain will do anything to avoid grade separation. Though it is very expensive, it is what is needed to increase train capacity without disrupting all other transportation modes as the region grows. I'm enormously frustrated with our regional transit agencies. They do a terrible job with the resources they have--mostly because they are territorial. It's time to break down the agency silos and FORCE real multi-modal planning and budgeting.

If this is not on the table, I will vote against any transit agency tax. (And I am a former transit money supporter.) The stubborn budget and job protectiveness of these bureaucracies has soured my support for them. I no longer believe they can deliver a comprehensive, functional, regional network as they are currently organized. Multiple agency consolidation and reorg is required.

10 people like this
Posted by Another parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 2, 2015 at 10:45 am

None of these measures will help with addressing mental health, they are intended to make the means harder by impeding impulsive acts, a known way to reduce suicide esp with males. It won't solve the problem of mental health, but it could give the gift of time (and life) to those working on the problem.

I wish I felt as confident about what is being done. Making a really, really big effort (and show) of patching a few holes in a boat is never going to be as good as finding and patching them all. Our district should be doing everything they can, and I don't see that.

25 people like this
Posted by cur mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 2, 2015 at 11:00 am

BART should have ringed the Bay when it was first conceived.

9 people like this
Posted by Noel
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 2, 2015 at 11:07 am

To some extent, the recent suicide epidemic is a fixation on death by train, similar to many suicides associated with the Golden Gate Bridge. My understanding of the literature on this subject is that, if we can break this fixation, we can reduce total suicides by all methods. We may be able to do this by attaching people catchers on the front of every train. Though it is probably impossible to design a people catcher that will prevent all deaths from a moving train and definitely impossible to design one that won't cause serious injury, we may greatly reduce suicide by train attempts, especially by young students, if they believe there is a very real probability they will survive and experience long term injury, pain and likely disability.

Unfortunately, as others have pointed out, building taller fences and cutting back vegetation will likely have little or no impact. If they save even one life, they are worth it, but I think we need and entirely new approach.

10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2015 at 11:23 am

I can't help feeling that this is a waste of money and resources.

There have been several suicides on BART recently, don't know if they are calling it a cluster. BART tracks tend to have much less easier access and the stations have cctv. From the reports I hear the suicides happen at stations. With the bullet trains on Caltrain and the grade crossings providing easy access to pedestrians and even the possibility of terrorist car bombs stopping on tracks, I doubt that this will be a deterrent.

8 people like this
Posted by Gunn Father
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 2, 2015 at 11:51 am

Well better late than never ... any counter measure , be it mental health related, less homework, more flexibility from teachers (Still Gunn Teachers not on Schoology ! ) , more sleep, better train barriers --- all good.
Not a simple problem, there are no simple solutions .

10 people like this
Posted by Gethin
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2015 at 12:56 pm

Gethin is a registered user.

Any attempt, large or small, to try and prevent teen suicide by train is worth trying. Its impossible to know what might influence someone in their last moments. Mental health is the core issue but many approaches are going to be needed to help people who are suicidal.

34 people like this
Posted by Eeewww
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2015 at 12:57 pm

This is no solution at all, just more uglification of Palo Alto.

30 people like this
Posted by savethetrees
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 2, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Ironically, as I drove on Alma this week, I thought how fortunate we were to have a tree lined separation from the railroad tracks. How very sad that this will be gone; not only the beauty of trees, but the noise and pollution barrier. Does this need to be a clearcut? Cannot the trees be pruned up, so there is the desired visibility lower down?

30 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2015 at 3:45 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Useless waste of money because Palo Alto and Caltrain are being guilted into "doing something" -- anything about teen suicides. Nevermind that there is absolutely ZERO evidence that these suicides have anything whatsoever to do with inadequate fencing or suicidal people scaling the existing fencing. The fact is that regardless of the half million dollar a year expensive "rent-a-cop" security guards that Palo Alto is paying to hang around grade crossings, it is impossible to stop a despondent or suicidal person from stepping out in front of an oncoming train from either any of the existing at-grade crossings or from a station platform. That sound you hear is money being flushed down the toilet in service of making Palo Alto citizens and electeds feel as though they are doing "something" about teen suicides.

As we have seen on both BART and Caltrain and many other metros around the world -- suicides are impossible to prevent, as long as there are open platforms from which to step in front of oncoming trains from.

10 people like this
Posted by Another parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 2, 2015 at 4:47 pm

"That sound you hear is money being flushed down the toilet in service of making Palo Alto citizens and electeds feel as though they are doing "something" about teen suicides."

Most people in this district don't have the spine to stand up and name all the many ways we have been flushing, much less do something about it (rather than sitting in the spinless cowardice of platitudes and administrative fluff of resume-building but useless efforts by others). This at least is something uncontroversial that might save a life just by giving some people pause. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. I appreciate this effort, and it may even also help against other kinds of mischief.

1 person likes this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2015 at 5:04 pm

I went to the public meeting. I spoke up about what a waste of money this is. The camera is an interesting concept to try, other than that, those so disposed will continue to use the access points. They trot out experts who say limiting means prevents suicides of spontaneity, but these experts have no clue that limiting access to 95% of access points is like having a chain with 95% of its links intact.

2 people like this
Posted by Paly mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 2, 2015 at 9:17 pm

Vegetation is being removed in order to install fencing not to remove screening from Alma. Here is what is posted on the city website:

"Vegetation removal needed to install the new fencing will be done by Caltrain’s vendor with new fencing to be installed as quickly as possible following the removal. The City’s landscape architect and arborists are working closely with the vendor to ensure as much vegetation screening as possible is maintained." Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Sep 3, 2015 at 12:39 am

Palo Alto could have chosen to eliminate all grade crossings, instead of some of them.

Palo Alto is a lot richer now than it was 50-80 years ago when the other grade crossings were eliminated, so it is funny to hear all these "poor me" stories from Palo Altans.

13 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 3, 2015 at 10:42 am

Once again Palo Alto as a city refuses to face reality.

Suicides have nothing to do with trains, or train fixation, or whatever. The suicides are brought about by the insane overload of kids with more, more, MORE HOMEWORK!

The school system has only one drive kids like sled dogs, whipping and screaming at them, to get higher scores, which means higher property values and more funding. Concerned parents are helpless, ignored by stone-faced school officials.

These kids aren't treated as kids, or even as humans. They are viewed merely as another piece of hardware that the school district can run faster, faster, faster to increase numbers.

If these kids were employees, they could file a lawsuit for being forced to work 14 hours a day, and not being paid overtime.

Oh, and let's also talk about the teachers who constantly "suggest" that parents should give boys ADD drugs. No wonder ADD medication rates are skyrocketing. For the schools it's an obvious strategy: the more kids on ADD meds, the higher the test scores. Sure, those same kids will burnout Meth addicts later in life...a lifelong burden on parents and society...but hey, we don't care as long as they are better test takers now.

Drug addiction, bulimia, self-harm, and all those horrible teenage problems. Palo Alto is ground zero for all of them, all centered on the schools.

5 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 3, 2015 at 12:00 pm

@Parent and @AnotherParent - I agree. Though means restriction is a piece in the suicide prevention puzzle, a much larger piece is mental health. Our county (including Stanford/LPCH) still has zero inpatient mental health care for anyone under 18. A group of us having been speaking during the public comment section at 9 am at each Board of Supervisors Meeting. They meet every other Tuesday in downtown San Jose. If you feel moved to share your family's mental health story or how these suicides have impacted you, please join us. (Google SCC BOS meetings) The Board will take action if it believes that our community cares.

11 people like this
Posted by Another dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 3, 2015 at 4:27 pm

And no, the solution is not more inpatient beds, or more counseling. The solution is to stop hammering kids with insane levels of stress.

We don't need the kids to "learn how to cope with overload". We need the schools to stop overloading them.

Hard for people to see through the relentless denial and the dozens of counter-agurments that are thrown up, to distract us from reality.

3 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 3, 2015 at 10:09 pm

@Another dad- Please notice that I never said that inpatient care is THE solution. There are different contributing factors to each suicide so there needs to be different solutions. My son lives with major depressive disorder. Like all people with the disease, he has depressive episodes. During one particularly bad episode, he became suicidal and needed to be hospitalized so he could be safe while his medication was adjusted. No amount of stress-reduction at school would have impacted his suicidal thoughts. For other kids, stress-reduction would be hugely impactful. There are many pieces needed to solve the whole puzzle.

1 person likes this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm

The headline gave me visions of arming the crossing guards with epees.

1 person likes this
Posted by mike
a resident of another community
on Sep 4, 2015 at 10:08 am

After years of reading about these tragedies, I fell compelled to ask: why hasn't anyone compared the suicide rates of Palo Alto high to the rates in other local high schools, such as Gunn, Los Altos, Mountain View, Homestead, St. Francis, etc.? Is there some political reason to avoid what seems to be an obvious Palo Alto high school problem?

Like this comment
Posted by Lee
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 4, 2015 at 10:43 pm

I wonder has Caltrain been seeking cuommunity input about the removal of vegetation along the track? We are willing to do anything to prevent the tragedy from happening again, but removal of vegetation is not going to help, just like the saying goes: beat around the bush. It takes a half day to cut down the greenery, but takes decade to grow them back, it is foolish and upsetting.does Any body knows if it is too later to voice the concern?

Like this comment
Posted by Please
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 4, 2015 at 11:47 pm

@Mike: If you've been reading about these suicides for years, then you should know the majority of them have been Gunn, not Paly students. There have been many discussions and articles about teen suicide and comparable statistics nearby and nationwide.

Please actually research the information rather than coming here and posting as though you have some new idea. It's insulting to the entire community.

4 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Sep 5, 2015 at 9:41 am

MVLA (Mountain View and Los Altos High Schools) has a full-time psychologist (on staff, not on a temporary contract) plus seven therapeutic counselors (two of whom are funded by El Camino Hospital). Over 600 students were seen in the therapeutic program last year. Additionally, Los Altos was the first city in the County to have a 100% CIT-trained police force. "Suicide prevention" is not a concept in Los Altos; it's an action.

Like this comment
Posted by Mattie
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 5, 2015 at 5:15 pm

Soooooo ugly, and so unnecessary. If we need a fence (which we don't), we have funds to do it right and not make our city look terrible.

And this will do nothing about the suicide cluster, except us give us another counterproductive reason to talk about it.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 5, 2015 at 5:25 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"And this will do nothing about the suicide cluster,"

Actually it may well concentrate the suicides in the areas without fences - the Law of Unintended Consequences.

The urge to "Do Something" often prevails over common sense.

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