News


Caltrain collides with truck, halting service

Driver hospitalized after Palo Alto incident

A collision between a Caltrain train and a pickup truck halted all train service in south Palo Alto for about an hour late Monday afternoon.

The driver of the vehicle was transported by an ambulance to a local hospital, though early reports indicate that there were no life-threatening injuries.

The collision occurred shortly after 6 p.m. near East Meadow Drive when northbound train 381 hit the truck at the grade crossing. Crossing gates were also damaged in the collision, according to Caltrain, though the agency announced at 7:25 p.m. that they are expected to be in working order shortly.

Trains stopped in both directions, causing delays for passengers, but the scene had been cleared for single-track travel by around 6:50 p.m. and all trains had been cleared to move at 7:30 p.m.

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Comments

22 people like this
Posted by Ashwinee Khaladkar
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 19, 2016 at 6:45 pm

Although we do not yet why the truck was on the train tracks at busy commute hour, I feel such an incident is a good enough reason to do grade separation.


6 people like this
Posted by BP Residents
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 19, 2016 at 7:02 pm

People will insist on driving onto the tracks when there is not an open space on the far side so they can fully clear the tracks. Good thing nobody was killed!


7 people like this
Posted by Wherewerethegueards
a resident of University South
on Sep 19, 2016 at 7:12 pm

My question is. What was the security guard at that intersection doing? This should never have happened


22 people like this
Posted by Midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2016 at 7:17 pm

How many have to die before we do grade separation? How many folks have died at the Oregon Express crossing?


19 people like this
Posted by Brian
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2016 at 7:32 pm

[Post removed.]


7 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 19, 2016 at 8:00 pm

@Brian

I'm sorry, what exactly did those Caltrain passengers do to deserve having their lives put at risk like this?


18 people like this
Posted by SPEngineer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 19, 2016 at 8:05 pm

[Post removed.]


14 people like this
Posted by BeatLight
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Sep 19, 2016 at 8:43 pm

Not saying that this is what happened with the truck driver .. but I see cars racing to beat the "arm" on a daily basis. As soon as the arm starts coming down and red lights flash, at least 3-4 cars speed up to get past it.


16 people like this
Posted by Erin
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 19, 2016 at 8:46 pm

Brian: This type of accident has happened before between Caltrains and cars at the Caltrain crossings.
When people do not have the foresight of thinking possible train is crossing ... and they are not thinking of train tracks, and simply are following the car in front of them during bumper to bumper rush hour traffic, sometimes they get caught standing over the tracks (completely unintentionally).

Then as minutes tick by, traffic fails to move, and then suddenly the gates come down, and within minutes the train is barreling down the tracks.

There have been similar incidents where other people have lost their lives. Invariably happens during rush hour traffic when traffic is at a standstill, or is moving incredibly slowly.

Lets be a bit more empathetic... shall we?


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2016 at 8:46 pm

In what direction was the truck driver heading when he or she got in the way of the train? The city has installed a few signs in recent years, but the railroad crossing is still not that easy to see if you are turning on to Meadow from Alma, especially if you run a red light to make a right turn like many California drivers like to do.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 19, 2016 at 8:48 pm

BTW - there was a tractor trailer overturned on I-280 at about the same time as the Caltrain collision, so traffic of all kinds on the peninsula was real mess during this afternoon's rush hour. Web Link


12 people like this
Posted by 9 houses down from the crossing
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 19, 2016 at 8:53 pm

The trains have an inordinate accident and fatality record given how infrequently they pass through the intersection, compared to the thousands of cars that pass through every day without incident.

This despite crossing gates, bells, lights and shattering the air with MULTIPLE BLASTS of their horns every time they pass.

Trains are a centuries-old technology with inadequate braking for their mass. They would never be allowed to operate if they were invented today.


22 people like this
Posted by Eileen
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 19, 2016 at 8:54 pm

SPEngineer, not everyone has lived near tracks their entire lives. I don't believe this is a case of trying to beat the train tracks. If we did a retrospective study of Caltrain/car collisions at the sites where accidents MOST occur (deaths included), I bet invariably we will find that the data points will support

1. happens during rush hour traffic (when you are not speeding - as so much as in halting, erratic, stop=and-go traffic)
2. people who are not familiar with those set of tracks and how frequently caltrains come by (i.e. transplant, out of towner, not from Palo Alto etc)
3. I'm willing to wager... the accidents occur at sites where there is HEAVY traffic and nonstop cars moving along - during rush hour traffic

Doubtful it's a case of beating the gate, train or testing one's fate


9 people like this
Posted by Nearby mom
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 19, 2016 at 9:00 pm

We live near the tracks. The trains are dangerous as well as making crosstown traffic absolutely ridiculous in combination with rampant development adding cars. And the train horns are horrible for the neighborhood, damage pedestrians' hearing and don't make anyone safer it seems.

A possible solution would be to make developers pay a surcharge or tax to fund trenching the trains for grade separation.


7 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 19, 2016 at 9:10 pm

SPEngineer all drivers make mistakes including you. Perfectly good drivers in Palo Alto rush hour traffic can easily get trapped, faked out or cut off and trapped by other drivers. Not to mention suicidal teenagers and other pedestrians. I suppose you don't care about them either.

The trains are a menace and should be replaced by buses.


9 people like this
Posted by Bike commuter
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 19, 2016 at 10:01 pm

Bike commuter is a registered user.

Hope the driver will be OK.

I live near this intersection (actually WEST Meadow at Park Bl.) and there have been TOO many cars hit by trains here. Most of the time the trains hit cars that are trapped due to traffic congestion preventing them from clearing the intersection in time.

I would think that we have the technology to manage the train gates and Alma traffic signals to keep cars off tracks unless there is room on the other side.


16 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2016 at 12:25 am

Marie is a registered user.

I read on next door that the truck crossed the track on a green light not realizing the car in front of him was disabled and would not move. The track watcher did nothing. This could have happened to anyone. I'm so glad he was not badly hurt.


8 people like this
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2016 at 12:41 am

WilliamR is a registered user.

@ Bike Commuter--

The last time something like this happened, it was suggested that the eastbound traffic signal be moved to the west side of the tracks, so that Alma and the tracks was one intersection. Cars would either stop on the west side of the tracks, or go through on the green light, and there would be no waiting between Alma and the tracks. A train coming would automatically cycle the light to yellow and red at the same time the crossing arms and lights were activated.


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2016 at 7:49 am

I think that when these accidents occur, they are usually by out of town drivers unfamiliar with the tracks. Add GPS instructions to the mix and the confusion could be worse.

I have a lot of sympathy for out of towners trying to negotiate these third world type crossings with 21st century traffic conditions.


3 people like this
Posted by Reader
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2016 at 7:55 am

[Post removed.]


9 people like this
Posted by Jeff
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 20, 2016 at 9:01 am

@WilliamR - Agree with you 100%. That light should be moved to the west side of the tracks, so that a red light means you cannot even get onto the tracks to begin with. We should not ever see a car parked (or disabled as in this case) in the small space between the tracks and Alma.

I'd also like to add that at both Meadow and Charleston crossings, the tracks are higher than than the road grade, which means that unless you are in a high-riding vehicle, you can't see that there's room for only one car on the east side of the track. It's very easy for folks unfamiliar with the layout to inadvertently get themselves stuck in a bad place.


20 people like this
Posted by Commonsense
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 20, 2016 at 9:18 am

Here's a thought: gates go down, stop. Child crosses road, stop. Red light at intersection, stop. The train did nothing wrong. It's been there far longer than any of us. Too loud? Move. Stop blaming the railroad. Exercise caution and take responsibility.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 20, 2016 at 9:20 am

Palo Alto had decided to hire more security guys instead of grade upgrade due to its cost. Security guy should be alert when lights changed and responded quickly to avoid all of this. More training is to be needed.


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 20, 2016 at 10:37 am

We are in favor of improving safety by moving the eastbound traffic lights to in front of the train tracks. City traffic engineers stated that design was possible and not especially expensive, but nothing ever happened after that. Yes, right turns on red lights would be prohibited, but I think rights on red should be banned at all intersections near train tracks.

However, does anyone know if that would have effected this collision? Was the truck heading eastbound or approaching the tracks from a different direction (eg turning from Alma)?


7 people like this
Posted by cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 20, 2016 at 10:51 am

Go look at eastbound Rengstorff crossing.

Signals should control both RR tracks and Alma intersection in EB direction. I too made the error of being trapped on the tracks at rush hour. Once. Most only make that error ONCE. Hopefully you will be lucky as I was.

Have lived here for 40 years, knew there were commuter tracks nearby, bought my house anyhow. Stop whining--CalTrain has already lowered the volume on the whistles, horns, etc.
Like the people who buy homes near military airfields and then whine about fighter jet noise. Gimme a break.


3 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on Sep 20, 2016 at 11:25 am

Glad to hear no one was killed. The intersection will remain inherently dangerous until the train is removed or put fully underground. We have the opportunity to create a beautiful bike/pedestrian path, a quieter neighborhood, and a safer corridor. HSR funds could more than cover the costs under even the most bloated of estimates. It's a no-brainer.


11 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2016 at 12:15 pm

The "danger" at Caltrain grade crossings is due to motorists who either ignorantly or deliberately and carelessly and negligently violate 22526(d) (Web Link), which very sensibly and obviously states that:

"A driver of a vehicle shall not enter a railroad or rail transit crossing, notwithstanding any official traffic control device or signal indication to proceed, unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the railroad or rail transit crossing to accommodate the vehicle driven and any railway vehicle, including, but not limited to, a train, trolley, or city transit vehicle."

These violations and other grade crossing violations of the California Vehicle Code -- all of which mortally endanger not only the scofflaw impatient driver and their passengers, but also innocent bystanders both on and off the train) are exceedingly easy to avoid, thus making being "trapped" on crossings in the path of oncoming trains virtually imposdible. (Note that crossing gate arms are designed to easily break away, so no vehicle can actually be trapped by a lowered crossing arm in its path.)


11 people like this
Posted by Darwin
a resident of another community
on Sep 20, 2016 at 12:23 pm

Self-driving cars will eliminate this issue. No need for grade separation.


32 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 20, 2016 at 12:55 pm

No idea what the security guard could have been expected to do. From my understanding these guards are designed to deter children from standing in front of a train. I am not sure that guarding vehicles from stopping on the tracks for a red light is part of the job description. All a guard could possibly have done was to help someone out from a vehicle if necessary, without putting his own life at risk.


4 people like this
Posted by Tim Buck II
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 20, 2016 at 4:00 pm

"Self-driving cars will eliminate this issue. No need for grade separation."

Didn't a Tesla on autopilot commit suicide by ramming a truck a few months ago?

The solution is easy. Trains must stop at all grade crossings.


5 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 20, 2016 at 8:46 pm

The lights on Meadow will cycle green as the gates are coming down to clear out the cars on the western side of the tracks. The problem is if there is heavy traffic on Alma there might not be enough room to advance. Given the big rig accident on southbound 280, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the case. I was on a southbound train and was forced to get off at Palo Alto and it took over 30 minutes by car to get from University to Cal Avenue on El Camino.

We desperately need to grade separate all of the crossings in Palo Alto. My vote would be for a tunnel and reconnecting the street grid for the entire city.


4 people like this
Posted by GradeSeparation
a resident of JLS Middle School
on Sep 20, 2016 at 9:25 pm

Grade separation isn't cheap, especially at our tight intersections on Alma. I just read this: Web Link (is this still accurate?)

Summary:
For the 3 intersections (Charleston, Meadow, Churchill), the cost is $488 million for trenching the tracks, and $320 million for elevating the tracks. But since space is tight, elevating would require the city to acquire 65 parcels and 10 partial-parcels. (Or, if turning from Alma is eliminated, $270 million and 45 + 12 parcels).

This is for a 2% slope. A 1% grade is preferred by Caltrain. That would cost closer to $1.05 billion.


Like this comment
Posted by neighborA
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 20, 2016 at 10:59 pm

Agree with Erin that cars just keep following the one in front not realizing it could get stuck on track. If not familiar with area, I can s ee anyone making that mistake.
I think it's a traffic design fault. The red light on each direction crossing the tracks should be set BEFORE crossing only. And should interface with train crossing signals. Currently there is another traffic light after crossing the tract and before crossing traffic on another direction. It can prevent a car moving ahead. There is only 1 car length for these 2 lights. Any additional cars will be on the tracts.
I would say get rid of the front set of lights on each direction crossing, build sensors after the crossing in case of congestion and warn audiovisual ly the car coming onto the tracks.


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Sep 21, 2016 at 1:39 am

@GradeSeparation, some view $1 billion as merely a 300-foot stack of hundred dollar bills. It's more instructive to think of that amount as 1000 people working full-time for 10 years. Only then can we envision the disruption such a construction project will cause. Unless of course we could build the grade separation somewhere else and simply move it in over a long weekend.


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2016 at 8:31 am

KTVU reporting at Burlingame this morning where police are ticketing drivers who stop on tracks.

Cameras and live reports showing many cars doing this and drivers getting expensive tickets.


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2016 at 2:02 am

The trains have been there for over 150 years. That's plenty of time to address the problem. San Carlos has been fully grade separated for years, yet Palo Alto with its $2 million homes and Stanford brainpower can't get it together to do grade separation.

Short-term solution short of grade separation: put intersection cameras at the RR crossings. If a car is in the intersection without room on the other side as the law requires, it's a $500 ticket. That will either mitigate the problem or generate revenue and plenty of it.


Like this comment
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 23, 2016 at 2:13 am

I have read the HMM study and in my opinion it is ill conceived and seriously flawed. The City needs to hire a better engineering firm.

Making the trains stop is laughable. It takes a lot of time, distance and energy to stop and restart a train. By federal law trains have the right of way. Even if it were legally doable, it would wreak havoc with the train schedule, especially if numerous cities on the peninsula decided to do it.


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

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