A northbound Caltrain train struck an unoccupied vehicle at the East Meadow Drive crossing in Palo Alto on Sunday night, crushing the car's front end, forcing the closure of the northbound track and stranding passengers inside the train for more than an hour. No one was reportedly injured.
According to Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackermann, there were more than 220 passengers onboard Northbound 449 when it collided with the vehicle at about 9:30 p.m.
Heather Kirske, a Redwood City resident who was in the front car of the train, said the impact felt as if "we hit some type of metal barrier, but not a wall." The train, she told the Weekly, did not slow down before the impact. Someone screamed "Hold on!" and passengers were shaken in their seats as the train hit the car and continued to push it along the tracks, making "horrible grinding sounds," Kirske wrote in an email.
She said the impact also caused sparks outside the train, which she saw out of her side window. She could also see the car, which at that point looked like "half car, half smooshed lump of metal." The back end of the car was completely intact, she said, while the front end was under the train. Even so, its front headlights were still visible, she said.
Kirske said she wasn't aware of any injuries on the train and could not imagine anything worse than minor whiplash. But the incident caused a scare.
"It was more of a traumatic event as the sound was incredibly loud and the scraping metal noises were horrifying, making us fear the train was going to de-rail," Kirske wrote.
Thirty minutes after the incident, emergency crews were at the scene determining whether the train could be moved, according to Caltrain. At about 10:20 p.m., Caltrain announced that a relief train was in route to pick up the passengers. The relief train reportedly arrived at about 10:45 p.m. and was scheduled to make all the regular stops, according to Caltrain.
The car was described by the authorities on the scene as "wedged beneath the train," Ackermann told the Weekly. While the northbound track remained closed, the southbound track was cleared for a single-tracking operation to allow other trains to proceed slowly through the incident scene, according to Caltrain.
Passengers boarding Caltrain at the downtown and California Avenue stations were advised to do so near the southbound tracks. The damaged train was removed off the main track and returned to the maintenance facility for repair, the agency announced.
According to Caltrain, the accident happened after the driver made a turn on to the tracks while following a GPS. She was reportedly following instructions to turn but turned onto the tracks instead of at the next street, Ackermann said.
"The vehicle then hi-railed onto the tracks and could not be turned off," Ackermann told the Weekly in an email.
As a result, the car ended up being parallel, rather than perpendicular, to the tracks, at the time it was struck. The driver managed to exit the vehicle before the train struck.