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Caltrain takes steps to prevent trains from hitting cars

Efforts include public education, increased law enforcement presence

In response to recent incidents in which vehicles have been hit by commuter trains, Caltrain is working to "develop and promote new strategies for encouraging safe behavior" around its rail corridor, according to an Oct. 14 statement from the transportation agency.

Caltrain has hit seven vehicles this year, according to the agency — three times in Burlingame (twice at Broadway Avenue and once at Bayswater Avenue).

A train struck an unoccupied vehicle at the East Meadow Drive crossing in Palo Alto on Sept. 13. According to Caltrain, the accident happened after the driver, following GPS instructions, turned onto the tracks instead of onto the upcoming street.

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

While the nature of these incidents make them difficult to prevent, Caltrain officials said, "What's clear is that more can be done to warn drivers as they approach the tracks to take extra precautions."

"We are responding to recent events by increasing the visibility of our law-enforcement presence at key crossings along our corridor and redoubling our outreach and education efforts to make drivers more aware of the extra caution needed when driving near active railroad tracks," Jim Hartnett, Caltrain's new executive director, stated in the press release.

"At the same time we are working with local cities to explore engineering and traffic management solutions," he said.

Caltrain is working with the City of Burlingame to add pavement striping at the Broadway Avenue crossing to "make clear to drivers the limits that should be observed on both sides of the tracks to avoid a collision with a train," according to the release. The agency is also working with Burlingame officials to explore improved signal timing for drivers waiting at the Rollins Road signal and improved pavement striping at the Bayswater Avenue crossing.

In the meantime, Caltrain is planning to increase the presence of law-enforcement officers during periods of heavy traffic congestion to warn drivers to stay off the tracks and to issue citations to people who disobey the law.

Caltrain officials said they are aware of the impact these incidents have on its riders, who are either stuck on trains or at stations while the agency restores service.

Caltrain is conducting a full review of its protocols immediate following an incident to ensure riders receive timely and accurate information. Recommendations for a more streamlined process, including greater communication in the trains and on the station platforms, are expected to roll out in the coming months.

On social media, Caltrain uses the #CaltrainSafe hashtag to offer tips on safe driving behaviors.

Caltrain is also working to address another communitywide issue: deaths by suicide.

According to the agency, there has been an increase in intentional fatalities on its tracks in 2015.

In addition to working with mental health agencies to raise awareness and conduct prevention efforts, in early September, Caltrain removed vegetation along the rail corridor in Palo Alto as part of a suicide-prevention program approved by the City Council in August. Caltrain will also install taller fencing in the area to reduce access to the tracks.

More information about Caltrain is available on Facebook and Twitter.

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