As 'Track Watch' funds ends, incidents spark worry | December 10, 2010 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - December 10, 2010

As 'Track Watch' funds ends, incidents spark worry

Volunteers, officials call for 'long-term, pro-active' patrol of Caltrain crossings

by Chris Kenrick

Three recent emergencies at the Caltrain tracks have sparked official worries that the "contagion period" for five Palo Alto student suicides in the past 19 months has not passed.

As city funding for hired security at the tracks is due to expire at the end of December, officials are looking for ways to keep "track watchers" on site at least through the end of the school year next year.

"We've had at least three incidents, two of which required police to take someone off the tracks," city recreation manager Rob de Geus told members of the City-School Liaison Committee Wednesday morning.

"The consensus is that (security) ought to be extended another six months, at least until the end of the school year, so the question is, 'How do we fund it?'"

De Geus did not answer directly when asked whether track watchers had headed off the recent emergencies, saying each incident was different.

In one case, a staff member for the grief-counseling organization Kara was driving by a Caltrain crossing and noticed something amiss, he said. She circled back and called police, resulting in a 20-year-old being removed from the tracks area, he said.

The incident occurred at 7 p.m. one evening, after dark but before security guards were due to arrive at 8 p.m., he said.

Besides the paid guards, a dwindling number of parent volunteers are attempting to maintain a presence at the tracks. "We're trying to surround and support those volunteers," de Geus said.

"It's a handful of folks. That's what they do, and they're passionate about it. We're asking the community to better support them."

Track Watch volunteer Marielena Mendoza said parents try to provide coverage as much as possible when paid guards are not on duty.

Track Watch organizer Caroline Camhy Rothstein said the group has shrunk to about four "core volunteers," including former Palo Alto school board member Ray Bacchetti.

"There will not be adequate coverage when the city's funding runs out at the end of December," she said. "The paid guards have helped to prevent two incidents in recent months. We need them."

Rothstein lauded community initiatives to support teens, such as the 22-member Project Safety Net coalition. But the tracks have become a magnet for a wide spectrum of troubled people, she said.

"The problem is no longer just a teen issue," she said in an e-mail to the Weekly.

"People with troubles continue to be attracted to the tracks. ... It is a bit like the Golden Gate Bridge: We need to be very proactive for a long time."

Rothstein said the crossing areas could be more "self policing" if the city would clear-cut the trees along Alma Street.

She also asked that drivers take a look down the tracks as they pass, and be prepared to call for help if necessary. She can be contacted at

Parents and neighbors took matters into their own hands in the fall of 2009 after short-term police monitoring of the rail crossings failed to prevent subsequent suicides.

Following the fourth death that October, they initiated "Palo Alto Track Watch," organizing volunteers to maintain a physical presence at the tracks during hours trains are running.

In November 2009, the paid security guards were hired by the Palo Alto Police Department to bolster the citizen patrols. That funding, currently set to expire at the end of this month, was the subject of de Geus's remarks Wednesday.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be e-mailed at


Posted by Resident, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 11, 2010 at 10:15 am

Does anybody know if folks can still make donations to support this program? Used to be that you could mail check to
Barbara Teixeira c/o
Safety Net Fund
Palo Alto Police Dept. -
275 Forest Ave. Palo Alto, CA 94301

The web link for online donations is here: Web Link

Really hate to see this coverage end. Many thanks to those who have given in the past to support it, and to the city who has been so helpful at trying to keep these folks here.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 11, 2010 at 11:57 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Tracck Watcher, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 11, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Yes, people can still donate money. That will be the only way to keep the guards going. There have been a lot of call calls. They have been stopped by drivers who were crossing, guards, or police. One of these times we might not be so lucky. Please do not hesitate to call if you see a person not moving along and hanging out at the tracks. It is better to call and be wrong than not call if be right. People do not longer volunteer because they think that the problem has been solve or because their children already graduated from Gunn, but the problems continue, even kids who have graduated have been saved, and the one in January 20010 could not be saved. We are not out of danger yet. The problem continues. Just yesterday the police came to guard the tracks because there was a child at high risk. The trains were stopped. Thank you PAPD you did a great job responding to the emergency.

Posted by I forgot, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 11, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I forgot to say that in order to self guard the tracks we need lights along the tracks. We track watchers, have been asking for them since November 2009, also emergency phones could be place on both signs. I see that one was put at Greer Park by the city. How come we cannot do this at the tracks. If we had these emergency phones, people who are having problems could call and get help. This will be the last chance for them to get help, if not guard or volunteer is around. It cost money but it will save lives.

Posted by Really?, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2010 at 12:53 pm

If these "three incidents" really occurred, why weren't they reported in the local media?

Posted by the media does not report suicide attempts, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 11, 2010 at 3:51 pm

The media does not report suicide attempts because they are afraid of encouraging copy cats. For the same reason, the media generally does not report actual suicides that take place in private.

Posted by Track Watcher, a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 11, 2010 at 4:19 pm

They were not report it because there could be even more copycats or contagion. We are trying to be careful we do not make things worst. Besides those three, there was also another men who was taken out of the tracks and train had to be stopped. That was about two months ago. These are really happening you can ask PAUSD. They are the ones who take the calls.

Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 11, 2010 at 4:45 pm

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by HPA, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 12, 2010 at 2:32 pm

If you want to get a first hand sense of what is going on, you can always invest in a scanner radio. Using this radio you can hear all calls into the police. Of course, doing this is very time consuming, but perhaps if someone is really concerned (and needs independent verification) this is the only first hand source of information that can be obtained without having to trust the source. The City may also keep records in a way that protects people's privacy, but you could try asking them. No one involved in TrackWatch has any interest in making this stuff up. We all want to get to the point where this is no longer a problem ASAP, but it just isn't happening as quickly as we thought.

Posted by West Meadow Dr resident, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Dec 13, 2010 at 11:02 am

Is it possible to have some applied to motion sensor lighting to the track area between Meadow and Charleston?

Posted by Becky Sanders, a resident of Ventura
on Dec 13, 2010 at 12:28 pm

I am aware of the recent incidents on the tracks involving the paid guards plus a good Samaritan who saw suspicious activity and intervened and saved a life. Why am I aware? Because I got involved with Project Safety Net. If anyone wants to be informed and be a part of the solution, I suggest he/she get involved with Track Watch or Project Safety Net or donate money to their useful works. Once you connect with other concerned parents, youth and community and civic leaders, there is so much useful information to be had and shared, and then opportunities for action as well. Getting involved-- if you have the time and the passion, is the way to go. A few hours here and there will make a huge difference in this community.

Posted by HPA, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Dear West Meadow Dr Resident, the City is not only limited in terms of funds but also in terms of knowledge and skills. If you have the skills and/or financial resources to make something like what you suggested work, please contact the City through Project Safety Net. CalTrain is very inflexible about allowing anything on or near the tracks, but if you have the skills and ability, it makes sense to try.

Posted by BoE is Failing Us, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2010 at 4:29 pm

And the BoE voted to wait another entire year before changing final exams to pre-Winter Break, which other schools in the area have done and cuts down on stress for students. For the next two Winter Breaks, students will have NO RELAXING break due to finals looming over their heads. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Let's please stay rational, here, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2010 at 4:44 pm

BoE: There is nothing--nothing--that indicates moving finals would make this issue better--or worse--you could argue it either way, and either way you'd be out of line. There are plenty of places in this forum to constructively have the winter break debate, this is not one of them.

Posted by Stress = Depression, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Dec 13, 2010 at 6:54 pm

My child is learning college material in electives and regular lanes. And the teachers have pride in that. How stressful is that for these children? (yes, they are still children, not adults in college). When parents say "college is easy after PAUSD", doesn't the BoE realize that students are being pushed too hard academically? Elementary school children don't learn middle school level material.

Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 13, 2010 at 8:39 pm

So are residents happy that their hard-won tax dollars are paying for this? Are there concerns kids will just go to other tracks? It's pretty sad that the volunteers dwindled for an issue that seems to be so important to so many.

Posted by Misha, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2010 at 10:33 pm

If you value our kids, get involved. Donate funds to Trackwatch (Web Link) or spend a few hours at the tracks with the angels who have been tireless in their devotion to the safety of our kids.

Keep your eyes open and be on the look out wherever you are and particularly if you are near the tracks. Don't hesitate to reach out and offer help, directly or indirectly. People who are troubled are drowning, unable to help themselves. Seek help for them, save a life, and spare another family such sorrow.

Find out what you can do to help. There is no more pressing issue that faces up than to keep our children alive and well!

Posted by Misha, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 13, 2010 at 10:37 pm

And much gratitude to Rob de Geus and the City of Palo Alto for courage and persistence supporting the well-being of our youth.

Posted by OnceAgain, a resident of College Terrace
on Dec 14, 2010 at 7:42 am

PA schools are way "over the top" on stress. My daughter refused to take calculus in high school and I commend her for that. She's taking it in college and ENJOYING IT. Why are kids being pushed so hard? My daughter was naturally self-regulating, but other kids fall for the hype and the pressure, and suffer as a result. Relax, Palo Alto!

Posted by HPA, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 14, 2010 at 10:34 am

A big thank you to the City of Palo Alto for extending the funding for the paid guards. If anyone is interested in helping volunteers to cover those hours not covered by the paid guards, please write to

Posted by Anne, a resident of Midtown
on Dec 14, 2010 at 4:13 pm

Does anyone know if the city or police department is monitoring the paid security? I bike thru the East Meadow intersection twice a day and often don't see the security guard anywhere. The car is parked there, but no guard. This morning the train came while I was waiting to cross Alma. The guard was sitting where he could not really see the tracks and never looked up from what he was reading. I realize that the guards cannot be there full time, but are they checking the tracks before each train when they are posted?

Posted by HPA, a resident of Barron Park
on Dec 20, 2010 at 12:20 pm

The paid guards do not work all day every day. They have rotating shifts when they are not on duty. If you see a guard that is being inattentive you can/should e-mail the City of Palo Alto - Rob De Gues. You can also write to Please indicate the date and time that you saw the inattentive guard. Thanks

Posted by heather, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 29, 2012 at 11:51 pm

im glad we have a new security at alma and charlston the old was always slept in his car the new security guard has been there for almost 3 month he is a great one i always watch to see what he does when the train is coming he stands up to make sure the track is clear and safe i bring him hot coco once in a while and tell him thank you for watch are trsckshe is there from 6pm to 1am to make sure all is safe his name is david thank you david and thank you val security for hireing a security that knows what he is doing we gaurds at the track for a long time if it was not for the guards we would have more death's

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