News

Vehicle strikes by trains up dramatically this year

Six incidents since Aug. 1, including one in Palo Alto

An increase in the number of vehicles hit by Caltrain commuter trains this year has transit police and at least one city police department working together to increase enforcement efforts, a Caltrain spokeswoman said Thursday.

Caltrains have hit six vehicles since Aug. 1, most recently on Wednesday night near Bayswater Avenue in Burlingame, Caltrain spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew said.

No vehicles were hit by the agency's trains in 2014, Bartholomew said.

"It's been unusually high this year," she said.

On Sept. 13, a train struck an unoccupied vehicle at the East Meadow Drive crossing in Palo Alto.

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.

On Aug. 4, a train hit a car near Mary and West Evelyn avenues in Sunnyvale. The driver, who was later cited on suspicion of drunk driving and other offenses in connection with multiple crashes, was pulled from the car by a San Mateo County sheriff before the car was struck by the train.

The only vehicle strike to kill someone this year, according to Bartholomew, happened on Feb. 23. A 30-year-old woman died on Ravenswood Avenue in Menlo Park when her car was struck by a train.

She was apparently boxed in by traffic as the gates came down, according to officials.

Caltrain officials are not sure why there's been such an increase, but police are taking action to prevent future crashes, she said.

"There's a few things that are happening in terms of enforcement and education," she said.

Transit police and Burlingame police have started working together to give out warnings, citations and educate people on safety around train tracks, she said.

Along with the incident Wednesday near Bayswater Avenue, two other strikes have happened in Burlingame at Broadway Avenue, according to Caltrain.

Bartholomew said Caltrain previously had a close relationship with a driver education program and agency officials are talking about bringing rail safety education back to local driving schools.

Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 9:08 am

This is a serious trend. I would like to know whether all these things were happening to locals who should have known better, or to visitors who were unfamiliar with the grade crossings as well as whether GPS was a contributing factor.

We had out of town guests staying with us during the summer who rented a car. One of the things we particularly pointed out to them was that these grade crossings are difficult to negotiate, particularly in heavy traffic. We pointed out that there was space for one car only between the Alma lights and the tracks. We pointed out that they had to be very careful even though the lights sequence was designed to allow vehicles to move off the tracks.

They thought we were being overly cautious in our warnings. After they had been driving a couple of times across the tracks (sometimes their route on the GPS took them across the tracks by surprise) they thanked us for the warning and realized that they could have had problems without the warning. They were long time drivers, but had never come across any type of grade crossings like the ones we had over Caltrain.


15 people like this
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Oct 9, 2015 at 10:52 am

This will only get worse until we get grade separations at all the crossings.


6 people like this
Posted by Melanie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 9, 2015 at 10:53 am

I have experienced numerous drivers recently stopping behind me on the tracks at Churchill when I am stopped at a red light going east. Driver education should be increased as well signage saying not to cross unless it is clear you can go entirely across. Many drivers seem clueless about this danger potential.


4 people like this
Posted by Jozie
a resident of Mountain View
on Oct 9, 2015 at 11:04 am

"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."

What the ...?? Is there an ICD-10 code for that--"Driving on railroad tracks while confused by GPS'??


10 people like this
Posted by Malthus told us so long ago
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm

More people => more drivers => more cars crossing tracks => more collisions.

Solution: decrease the population.

It's that simple.


7 people like this
Posted by @Malthus
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2015 at 1:32 pm

"Solution: decrease the population.

It's that simple."

By all means -- YOU FIRST.


18 people like this
Posted by dennis
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 9, 2015 at 2:59 pm

Malthus is totally correct in his statement even though his solution is redundant due to the continuing influx of people into this area. If Caltrains is unsure of the reason, they are completely ignorant of what is a daily ordeal that all of us are aware of and is exactly what Malthus said; too many cars on roads and crossings that were not designed for this amount of traffic, too many people racing to get wherever they are going, speeding, tailgating, rushing through yellow lights. I have lived here since 1958, and I have never seen such mania on the roads, lack of even the most common of courtesy in lane changing, signaling intent when turning, and just a general disregard for other drivers. And thrown in the mix is the influx of great numbers of drivers from other countries that are not familiar with the "American" way of driving, particularly in California. Added are the cautious and elderly drivers that stop instead of merging and through off the increasing traffic load. As my sweaty hands clutch the steering wheel as I try disparately to stave off a panic attack my realization is that there is no solution apart from getting more people out of their cars (impossible since the American love affair with our autos) and into public transportation, increasing the policing of our streets, and widening existing roads like San Antonio to handle the traffic. It is all the elephant in the room that Caltrains seems to be ignorant of. God help us all!


6 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2015 at 4:55 pm

"By all means -- YOU [go] FIRST."

I'd evict shouters of tired old cliches first, to make room for smarter, creative types.

Malthus... and dennis both make good points. Our local population is overwhelming the local infrastructure, with no solution in sight except to relieve the population overload. People, including the newcomers, are not willing to pay for the necessary upgrades.


17 people like this
Posted by stretch
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2015 at 5:38 pm

The solution is (and this is something I've known since I started driving 50 years ago) DO NOT STOP ON THE RR TRACKS! Ever.


15 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 9, 2015 at 10:58 pm

On Churchill, i was behind a car that drove onto the tracks at a red light. I allowed space in front of me so the driver could back up. Sure enough, a train came and the driver backed up. I wonder if the driver even gave it a second thought.

It's the drivers who are at fault. No one else is to blame. I have seen many cars stop on the tracks.


1 person likes this
Posted by Commuter
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 9, 2015 at 11:33 pm

I just got off a train that came to an abrupt halt just as it was entering the Menlo Park station. Apparently they braked to avoid hitting either a car or bicycle. Why someone would stop on the tracks at 10:30 at night, I cannot understand.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 10, 2015 at 8:06 am

I think we all know that a vehicle shouldn't stop on the tracks. I think we all know that these tracks are there, but even so, some make mistakes.

I think it is even easier to make mistakes on those tracks for those who are visitors and unfamiliar, particularly in the dark, or in heavy traffic.

And expecting to put more signs up is not always going to help. There are places, like at Churchill, where there is a jungle of signs. The more signs there are the less likely a driver, particularly a visiting driver, is going to be able to read them all. There is already enough to look out for at many intersections, particularly Churchill. There are signs, there are bikes, there are pedestrians, there are turning cars, and I doubt very much if another sign will be seen by a driver who is anxiously watching traffic as they approach that intersection.

Not sure what will make a difference though.


3 people like this
Posted by An Engineer
a resident of Southgate
on Oct 10, 2015 at 1:04 pm

Why not glue red Botts Dotts and red reflectors across the roadbed a few inches from the rails? It's inexpensive, and hopefully enough people will get the message.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Oct 10, 2015 at 4:01 pm

I'm curious as to why there would be any opposition to complete grade separation, seeing as its going to happen eventually, one way or another...


3 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 10, 2015 at 4:34 pm

Opposition to grade separation comes largely from the same people who are opposed to high-speed rail.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 10, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 25, 2015 at 2:36 pm
"One thought is the put the trains underground, use the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station. And add a pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula."

Do it once and do it right.


1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 10, 2015 at 5:25 pm

"We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula."

$$$, Sir, $$$


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Oct 10, 2015 at 5:34 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Small minds = small results.

We need visionaries and leaders - not malcontents.


Posted by Reader
a resident of another community

on Oct 10, 2015 at 5:48 pm


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1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 10, 2015 at 6:13 pm

"Small minds = small results."

Very demonstrably true, but small minds do have a vote re the $$$.


5 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 11, 2015 at 6:02 am

Move the stop light and line on the east bound cross streets to the other side of the tracks.


3 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 11, 2015 at 11:16 am

@ Crescent Park Dad--

I think moving the traffic signals at Charleston, Meadow and Churchill to the west side of the tracks is a sensible idea, and I would like to see some kind of study on the effects and feasibility.


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

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