Caltrain collision leaves one dead in Palo Alto

Victim identified as 60-year-old Santa Clara man

A Santa Clara man died Friday night, Dec. 23, after a train on the Caltrain right-of-way struck his vehicle at Charleston Road in Palo Alto, Caltrain officials said.

The Santa Clara County Office of Medical Examiner-Coroner identified the victim as John Joseph, 60.

The vehicle was hit south of the California Avenue station by a northbound train at approximately 5:57 p.m., Caltrain said. The investigation is ongoing, but "early reports indicate that this was an intentional act," Public Relations Specialist Will Reisman wrote in an email.

The Palo Alto Police Department said in a message just before 7 p.m. that the grade crossings over the tracks at Charleston and Meadow Drive were closed and advised drivers to avoid the area to lessen traffic congestion. (See map of traffic conditions here.)

Caltrain officials said just before 8 p.m. that the tracks had been cleared in both directions, but delays were persisting, up to an hour and 45 minutes.

Reisman said that "residual setbacks" would continue "into the near future."

The incident is under investigation by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office Transit Police Bureau, as they have primary jurisdiction over the railway, police said.


Any person who is feeling depressed, troubled or suicidal can call 1-800-784-2433 to speak with a crisis counselor. People in Santa Clara County can call 1-855-278-4204. Spanish speakers can call 1-888-628-9454.

People can reach trained counselors at Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

Links below provide more resources where one can receive help:

Resources: How to help those in crisis

Guest opinion: How to help those in crisis

Q&A about mental health: Local experts offer their advice, guidance


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17 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 23, 2016 at 8:27 pm

Very scary if this man intentionally parked his car in front of the train. This could easily have caused a lot of injuries to pedestrians or other car drivers in the area and also to people on the train.

4 people like this
Posted by Sadaf
a resident of Green Acres
on Dec 23, 2016 at 11:15 pm

Very sad news. God Bless him and his family!!

Question: Palo Alto has ongoing train guards at each post... what were they doing when this happened? Was the man parked intentionally trying to commit suicide or did he get stuck on the tracks? This is sad news.

4 people like this
Posted by Sve
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 23, 2016 at 11:16 pm

[Post removed.]

24 people like this
Posted by Resident near the site
a resident of Ventura
on Dec 23, 2016 at 11:32 pm

I think the guards at the crossings have limited powers -- all they can do is call for help if they see a problem and at that point there just isn't enough time. I don't think they were planned to have the ability to move a car off the tracks.

I really feel sorry for those guards because there isn't all that much they can do. If there was someone on duty at the time that would have been pretty traumatic.

14 people like this
Posted by Sarah1000
a resident of Los Altos
on Dec 23, 2016 at 11:58 pm

El Camino Hospital in Mountain View offers a special program called OATS for older adults who are struggling with mental health issues including major depression. Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Jimi
a resident of another community
on Dec 24, 2016 at 3:54 am

Thankful that Caltrain will soon get much needed Bond funding from California High Speed Rail for safety upgrades at intersections. Helpful to traffic; and pedestrians crossing will do so safely after construction. These upgrades will save lives ! Too many kids going to and from school and motorists stuck in traffic have died at these junctions.

I like to follow Ca High Speed Rail here:

Web Link

6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2016 at 9:12 am

There has been talk for years about a suicide barrier on the GG Bridge and from what has been in the news this week, it looks like at long last it will happen.

Suicides from a bridge are tragic, as they are at any venue or even within the home, but when a suicide occurs on a Caltrain crossing or from a station platform, the situation is multiplied because of the disruption to service on the trains as well as closing a couple of important crossings.

Of course this is a sad situation for the family particularly at this time of year. My sympathies to the family and also to those like the train driver and other vehicles as well as pedestrians and perhaps the crossing guard who witnessed this event and will never forget it.

But talking about help for possible suicides is good and should be done, it has to be said that making suicide prevention on our tracks has to be thought of in terms of the disruption to others' daily lives.

This disruption occurred at commute time on the last working day before Christmas. It is a time when people are looking forward to getting home or to a venue so that they can enjoy the season. It is of course sad that there are many people who find this time of year particularly difficult for various reasons and I don't want to sound insensitive to them. However, whenever someone feels the need to do something to disrupt others it has to be prevented. From protests that close down bridges, on ramps or highways, to shootings on highways or disruption to a flight or train service, people seem to want to disrupt the lives of others.

Compassion is all well and good and prevention is very important. But something major must be done to stop people deliberately or even accidentally getting caught on the Caltrain tracks by a train. If money can be found for a suicide barrier on the GG Bridge, for the sake of many things, money should be found to get these at grade crossings above or below grade as a matter of urgency.

8 people like this
Posted by Midtown Mom
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2016 at 10:05 am

Sad, so very sad... does anyone know what resources are provide to support those driving the train? That is a traumatic event and I am sure they need support too.

2 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 24, 2016 at 11:04 am

I'm sure that Caltrain provides counseling for their employees. Does anyone know what is available for paying customers on the train other than using their private medical insurance?

4 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann'Palo Alto a Weekly staff writer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2016 at 11:16 am

Dear Midtown Mom,

Caltrain provides counseling and support for train staff who are in need after such incidents.


Thanks for the info on OATS.

11 people like this
Posted by Sue Dremann, Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 24, 2016 at 11:19 am

To the community:

This time of year can be very difficult for some people. They need our awareness and support. Please reach out to someone who seems alone or has been struggling.

To anyone who is hurting, please know that you are loved. There are many people who want to help you. Please contact the resources at the bottom of the story.

7 people like this
Posted by Nick
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Dec 24, 2016 at 12:30 pm

we have to stop the death train. I hope they slow it down to 25 mph through populated areas and crossings or close 2/3 rd of the crossings to traffic.

18 people like this
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 24, 2016 at 9:12 pm

@Nick: the train is used by over 65,000 people each day. Proper grade separation is the answer, not further dividing our communities. Thankfully it's what we just voted for in Santa Clara County, so let's hope it can happen soon.

6 people like this
Posted by Max
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 25, 2016 at 1:14 am

As a train fanatic I would like to say that slowing the trains would be a horrible idea as many people use the train to get to work ontime and if it were to be slowed, it would than not compete with cars, thus killing the railroad. Also, almost all of the route has grade crossings, as they start in just after the South San Francisco station and end just after the Sunnyvale station, (in the direction of San José).

7 people like this
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 25, 2016 at 11:02 am

A train going 25 mph can be just as deadly as one going 65 mph (the speed of a baby bullet).

15 people like this
Posted by Bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 25, 2016 at 12:16 pm

There is very little the track guard can do. I have seen the guard attempting to talk some overly aggressive drivers from stopping on the track and got screamed off. It is very hard for them to tell if is another aggressive driver or real suicidal one. In Palo Alto there is no shortage of overly aggressive drivers.
This crash set a really bad example: the impacted car was pushed so far away and it knocked down part of the home fences. It would have been awful with pedestrians present. Underground Caltrain makes sense again.

3 people like this
Posted by Max
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 25, 2016 at 3:15 pm

Dear ODB,
The maximum allowed speed on the Peninsula Corridor is 79 miles per hour, which is achevied by almost all of Caltrain's services, including local stops.

11 people like this
Posted by Native Palo Altan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 25, 2016 at 3:51 pm

The train guards are only PR.

This death is certainly tragic, mostly because it was unnecessary and preventable. Palo Alto and it's surrounding cities are difficult places in which to live. At every turn, there is someone else who makes one's success seem minimal although it isn't. We are small fish in a big pond. And it's crazy expensive here.

Number of deaths for leading causes of death:
Heart disease: 614,348
Cancer: 591,699
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 147,101
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 136,053
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 133,103
Alzheimer's disease: 93,541
Diabetes: 76,488
Influenza and Pneumonia: 55,227
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 48,146
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 42,773

5 people like this
Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 27, 2016 at 1:39 pm

@ Native Palo Allan,
Death by train happens all over, not just in our privileged community. An acquaintance was a locomotive operator on the Burlington Northern in the Midwest. He'd hit cattle, automobiles, trucks, at ungated crossings with no warning signals. This is a long freight train at high speeds. He said worst is when it was NOT intentional and he could see the terror.

5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2016 at 4:14 pm

Another Caltrain death of a pedestrian today, this time in Burlingame. The media reports say this is the third death in a week on Caltrain.

This is just not acceptable whatever way we look at it.

Posted by Saddest Days
a resident of Evergreen Park

on Dec 27, 2016 at 5:37 pm

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3 people like this
Posted by Eric
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 27, 2016 at 9:14 pm

This is a tragedy, condolences to family and friends.

Fully grade separated prevent this kind of incident, accidental or deliberate, because cars simply can not get onto the tracks. Better security fences can also be installed along fully grade separated tracks to significantly deter persons walking onto the tracks. Nothing is 100% effective, but grade separated train tracks on the Peninsula have been long over due. I can't recall similar incidents along the BART tracks, which by the way, are fully separated from all other traffic.

6 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 27, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Grade separating the entire Caltrain line will cost hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars. If your goal really is suicide prevention, then improving local mental health programs can achieve a lot more for a lot less money.

8 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 27, 2016 at 10:39 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@resident - so for 1/100th the price of a useless HSR route to Los Angeles, we could grade separate the entire Caltrain line? Let's redirect the money ASAP.

10 people like this
Posted by Native Palo Altan
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 27, 2016 at 11:07 pm

@Cur Mudgeon: Cancer and heart disease take many more lives each year and the money should be spent there instead of a billion dollars on preventing people from using the tracks for suicide. If not the tracks, jumping off a highway overpass is the next easy option, and a student did that two years ago. Or, spend the money on mental health.

Like this comment
Posted by Zayda
a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 28, 2016 at 12:08 am

One simple and obvious operational question...
Does the crossing guard have direct radio communication with the train operator?
And if not, WHY NOT?

7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 28, 2016 at 4:10 pm

This caltrain accident off my house broke into my fence . I have a small kid at home. So insecure and so scary. What is city doing to prevent any such events. Where is Caltrain security guards, how did the car got into tracks - we are 4 house from Charleston Ave crossing. Noone from city helping us with claiming the repair of fence make it secured. This is our city Palo Alto.

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