News

Palo Alto to install cameras along Caltrain tracks

Technology is part of city's effort to detect trespassers, deter suicide

Palo Alto will start installing cameras at four rail crossings this week as part of its transition from human guards stationed at the tracks to computer screens monitored from a remote site.

The cameras, which comprise a $1.5-million integrated video system, are being added as part of the city's effort to detect and deter people on the tracks. The council approved the camera contract with the firm G4S Secure Integration last June.

The system will include four cameras on a single pole at three rail crossings: Churchill Avenue, Meadow Drive and Charleston Road. At the Palo Alto Avenue crossing, there will be two cameras on two separate poles, according to an announcement from the city. Each camera will have thermal capability; the ability to pan, tilt and zoom; and the capacity to view objects up to 1,000 feet down the corridor in variable light and weather conditions, according to the city.

They will also be equipped with "artificial intelligence to automatically detect certain behaviors and create alerts to law enforcement," according to the announcement. Off-site monitors from G4S will also be watching the live feed from a remote location and will have the ability to make live voice announcements and provide direction to people on the tracks, according to the city.

The new cameras represent a significant transformation for Palo Alto's track-monitoring program, which the city launched in November 2009 in response to a cluster of teenage suicides at the tracks. The TrackWatch program initially relied on citizen volunteers; the city later hired security guards to watch the tracks.

The council approved the switch to cameras after a 2016 pilot program at the East Meadow crossing led staff to conclude that cameras are more effective than humans, particularly at night. Staff from the Community Services Department reported last year that the long-distance cameras, combined with detection algorithms provided "significantly longer viewing distance" and lower "fatigue and stress" levels for those monitoring.

"While it may or may not be true that a 'human presence' at the tracks would provide a deterrent to someone contemplating suicide, it is absolutely clear that the IDS ("intrusion detection system) provides a more effective means of notifying law enforcement and Caltrain, especially in darkness," the report stated.

The technology will also help the city reduce its costs for track monitoring. Palo Alto has been spending $1.7 million annually for the security guards. After the camera system is installed, the annual cost for monitoring and maintenance will be $325,000, according to the city's announcement. After installation, there will be a transition period of a few months in which both the guards and the cameras will be in operation, the announcement states.

Along with new cameras, the city plans to install additional signage to inform people that the area is under surveillance. The council is also considering a more long-term and expensive strategy: separating the tracks from the streets at the four grade crossings.

The council plans to select a grade-separation alternative by the end of this year. Planning staff is currently in the process of winnowing down the list of alternatives from 34 to 16 and is scheduled to present its latest analysis to the council's Rail Committee on Wednesday morning.

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Comments

3 people like this
Posted by bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 20, 2018 at 3:49 pm

" Palo Alto has been spending $1.7 million annually for the security guards. "
Wow.


3 people like this
Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Mar 20, 2018 at 4:03 pm

I wonder if there are any cases where the volunteer or paid guards actually intervened in a case that might have lead to an injury or death? (I know this is the case on the GG Bridge)

Would be a good addition to the reporting to know.


5 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 20, 2018 at 4:23 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Didn't the city decide this last June when the contract for the cameras was much less? I'm confused.

City banks on cameras to help deter suicides on Caltrain tracks
New surveillance system would replace human guards along Palo Alto's 4-mile track segment
Web Link


16 people like this
Posted by Jean
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 20, 2018 at 8:21 pm

Does this mean security guards will no longer be needed? I hope that is not the case. Not only do I think their presence benefits distraught individuals who are thinking of suicide, but also, I have seen guards help hapless drivers off the tracks to avoid oncoming trains.


15 people like this
Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 21, 2018 at 2:59 am

Here are more jobs being axed by technology in the Silicon Valley.

@Jean, stop with the common sense! It's not a language understood in Silicon Valley.


11 people like this
Posted by David T
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2018 at 9:37 am

A person on the scene will deter a suicide more effectively than a remote monitoring system that may or may not successfully detect suspicious behavior in someone getting upthe courage or waiting for the next train to come by. Perhaps public safety will learn about incipient suicides with higher detection rates, but given response times to an alert, will be less able to prevent them.

I predict another suicide cluster within a few years. They are sporadic, is it could be within months..


3 people like this
Posted by Means Restriction
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 21, 2018 at 10:46 am

I agree completely with David T. How do we go about holding the city liable for this short-sighted decision? One life saved is easily worth $1.7m for a city that has its priorities wrong.


4 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 21, 2018 at 11:04 am

Posted by David T, a resident of Midtown

>> A person on the scene will deter a suicide more effectively than a remote monitoring system

Do we know that? Has it been studied?

>> I predict another suicide cluster within a few years. They are sporadic, is it could be within months..

Keep predicting the future and eventually you will be right. :-(


Posted by Means Restriction, a resident of Palo Alto High School

>> I agree completely with David T. How do we go about holding the city liable for this short-sighted decision? One life saved is easily worth $1.7m for a city that has its priorities wrong.

But, how do we know which strategy ultimately works best long-term?


5 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 21, 2018 at 11:20 am

The seniors are vulnerable right now bc the college decisions are coming now. Please keep the human guards through spring.


Like this comment
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 21, 2018 at 11:35 am

Correct me if I am wrong. How many fetal incidents happened under the eyes of the human watching guards? I think the number had increased instead of decreasing.


Like this comment
Posted by jvpadojino
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 21, 2018 at 11:35 am

jvpadojino is a registered user.

@Online Name The story published in 2017 (Web Link) was for a $1.4M contract plus some contingency costs of less than $150K, however the city press release issued this week (Web Link) may have rounded up the cost to $1.5M.


Like this comment
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 21, 2018 at 11:40 am

Online Name is a registered user.

And how much will the new contingency costs be this time? I still want to know why there was such a long delay between last year and now.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mordant deWitte
a resident of Mayfield
on Mar 21, 2018 at 11:59 am

"But, how do we know which strategy ultimately works best long-term?"

Count the tombstones.


Like this comment
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2018 at 12:51 pm

>>" Palo Alto has been spending $1.7 million annually for the security guards. "
>Wow.

You think that's a wow? If you use the savings in not paying guards to build the trench people want, with a zero interest loan on an optimistically $3 billion trench, it'll take 2140 years to pay off a zero-interest loan.


Like this comment
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2018 at 12:54 pm

>I wonder if there are any cases where the volunteer or paid guards actually intervened in a case that might have lead to an injury or death? (I know this is the case on the GG Bridge)

I know of one case where a friend's son committed suicide north of the E. Meadow crossing at night. The guard on duty at E. Meadow never saw him - he accessed the railroad via property on Park Street, probably to avoid the guard.


Like this comment
Posted by Roger
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 21, 2018 at 2:48 pm

I hate to say it but I think it’s a fact we have to realize.
Whether it’s a crossing guard, a camera, a police car, a pedestrian barrier the ones attempting suicide will find a way to be on the tracks. The reason is simple, IT WORKS. 100% of attempted suicide by train in Palo Alto have been successful.
Possible soulution, slow the trains down, but then that would inconvenience all the passengers.
As for technology replacing jobs, how can anyone not take pity on those poor guards,sitting out by the tracks in all weathers,and the only upside would be stopping someone from throwing themselves in front of a train.
How would you like to be the one on duty when the train hits the kid.
I say thank god for the technology.


4 people like this
Posted by relentlesscactus
a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2018 at 4:23 pm

>Possible soulution, slow the trains down

That doesn't help. You can be killed by a train going 5mph, it would just be a slower death, or could just lead to a horrific maiming.


2 people like this
Posted by Jordan 1970
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 22, 2018 at 5:58 am

"The seniors are vulnerable right now bc the college decisions are coming now. Please keep the human guards through spring."

How many suicides have the guards actually prevented? Does the city even keep records? If so, that should not be hard to document.

I suspect no such records are kept.


Like this comment
Posted by G4S
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2018 at 8:29 am

G4S is a registered user.

Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 26, 2018 at 9:12 am

Any company can be related to disaster if you play 5 degrees of separation.


2 people like this
Posted by Roger Overnaut
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 26, 2018 at 12:41 pm

"I say thank god for the technology."

So we can all watch?


4 people like this
Posted by Another Mom
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 26, 2018 at 1:55 pm

Just to reiterate, many seniors are VERY stressed right now. Please keep the guards until summer, PLEASE.

FYI, 2Bs are getting kids rejected from even 2nd tier UCs. It is a bloodbath right now.


2 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 26, 2018 at 2:26 pm

We can all watch the county expressway traffic cameras Web Link , half inoperative. Looking closely at the poles around our railroad crossings, already appears to be several wide angle cameras installed, no pan-tilt-zoom yet. I'd think about window shades if I lived nearby.


Like this comment
Posted by Mom
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 26, 2018 at 4:02 pm

It is impossible to know how many suicides it has prevented. You don't know who thought about it then thought against it because of the guard. Keep the guard for the rest of the year.


Like this comment
Posted by Jordan 1970
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 26, 2018 at 9:08 pm

It's not impossible to keep track of how many times the paid guards have intervened.

I suspect such records are not even kept.


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

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