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Woman killed in south Palo Alto train crash

Original post made on Jun 28, 2007

One person is dead following a Caltrain accident in south Palo Alto in which an older model Toyota Camry was hit at the railroad crossing at West Meadow Drive and Alma Street. More details as they become available. Photo by Marjan Sadoughi.

Read the full story here Web Link

Comments (55)

Posted by Sad neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 28, 2007 at 6:10 pm

I am so sorry to see the train stopped behind my home with a car completely wedged under the front cab. The train pushed it half a mile down the tracks.

We've lived on the R X R tracks for 15 years and have witnessed way too many of these preventable tragedies.

The only good to come of this is to remind ourselves to NEVER stop on the tracks or any intersection when there is NO room to pull forward on the other side. The rail crossings at Alma St. are especially dangerous as evening traffic backs up in the intersection and keeps cross traffic from getting off the tracks when trains come.

Please also share this with any young drivers you know.

Posted by Chris
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 28, 2007 at 6:41 pm

If Palo Alto had been willing to spend money on Railroad underpasses, like (much poorer) cities north of here like San Carlos, these things wouldn't happen....but here in the "special" town, we don't have money to spend on plain old infrastructure...we spend on trendy bicycle tunnels that aren't used by anyone, but sound oh so progressive and cool.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2007 at 6:46 pm

To Sad,

Sorry that you had to witness another train/car incident. But what if this was a suicide? Unfortunately, if someone is intent on suicide, it seems no amount of safety devices can prevent it.

Not to be harsh, but most people on Caltrain just wish the driver had done it off-peak hours.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 28, 2007 at 7:00 pm

There needs to be a priority placed on eliminating grade crossings everywhere in California.The cost of that BART extension to the airport would have gone a long way toward eliminating most of the Bay Area grade crossings.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 7:06 pm

I have to admit that when the crossing guard comes down, the train passes by so soon afterward -- if someone panics or gets confused, there is no time to take evasive action.

Posted by Sad Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 28, 2007 at 7:14 pm

To Anon-
That is why it is imperative to EDUCATE everyone about train safety.
Increasing the time before a train comes, or adding a few grade separations may help, but aren't the key take-away. Many communities across the nation do NOT have grade-separated RR crossings (I've waited for quite a few freight trains in the Midwest).

The Key lesson is to drive carefully ALL THE TIME with FULL attention, and always with an exit strategy. (I almost was hit bicycling home today from a driver running a stop sign)

Posted by A Neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 28, 2007 at 7:16 pm

I'm so sorry yet another accident has occurred at East Meadow and the train tracks. As dangerous as our grade crossings are we will never see grade separation in Palo Alto. Grade separation requires land, and land must be taken by eminent domain - this will never happen in Palo Alto. Didn't we vote against eminent domain?

Posted by concerned
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2007 at 7:39 pm

What is "grade separation"

Posted by concerned
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2007 at 7:52 pm

Re: grade separation

Ah, the power of google!

Posted by Sad neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 28, 2007 at 8:02 pm

Just talked with a RR employee- she was a 22 year old young mother (thankfully no kids in her car)

Posted by barron park resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 28, 2007 at 10:00 pm

it's true the train comes roaring thru seconds after the arms come down. not sure why they don't give drivers more grace period. it's also true that if peninsula voters had paid the extra penny of sales tax, we'd have BART, which is always separated. i used to ride the train every day to work in sunnyvale from my home in SF, and i loved it, but i have to say, i don't know if it's worth the price of shuffling a few people up and down the peninsula in the name of political correctness. i say we tear up the tracks and make one long green space and bike trail. the increase in property values, decrease in noxious gases, elimination of negative environmental impact would more than make up for it.

Posted by A Neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:07 pm

Concerned: "Grade separation" is when the train tracks are on a different level than the roadway; i.e. the roadway would go either over or under the train tracks, which will need more land.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:15 pm

Rail travel is a must for future public transit and in this busy Bay area, it must be improved and updated, but with safety in mind. I suggest looking at other countries, Japan and Europe, where high speed trains cross roads much more often than here and I believe with less accidents. They have managed to make their crossings much safer and we must follow their example and do what they do. Yes, it will cost money. But I would rather spend money on crossing safety rather than some of the iffy things Palo Alto seems intent on spending money on. Green Commission, huh. How about a transit safety commission?

Posted by DT
a resident of another community
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:19 pm

Where do you propose building BART - right down the middle of Highway 101? Or, maybe use the same tracks as Caltrains.

Posted by Isako
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 28, 2007 at 11:22 pm

In Japan, there are more busy train schedule and more rails. To reduce gabsent-minded walk/drive onto railh, timing to close front arm is much earlier than further one.
Also stopping car on the rail is always illegal. Those will reduce accidents. Canft we do the same thing in here?

FYI, Every car has to stop once and confirm safety with own eyes before crossing rail by law.

Posted by Former Midtown resident
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:02 am

I lived just a few blocks from the RR crossing where the accident occurred, back in the 1980s. It was a dangerous crossing then; I remember seeing people stopped ON the tracks so many times. It was always a troublesome intersection back then, especially during commute times. Have Palo Alto voters really voted down eminent domain?!?! It's a beautiful little city, but the safety of its' citizens (and think of all the children who cross at Alma/Meadow on their way to school!) should come first. This tragedy could possibly have been prevented.

My daughter was on the train right behind the one that hit the car, and she called me while she waited three hours on the train before Caltrain finally evacuated everyone not going far north and sent them off to find their own way home. That being said, perhaps Caltrain also needs to slow down a little - and put into place some sort of plan for emergency situations such as these for their riders as well.

Posted by sympatehtic neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:15 am

sadly, i heard the impact of the fatal crash and i have to say, there has to some way to minimize these train deaths. it has become a disturbing reality that practically every year, a Palo Alto high school student jumps in front of the train, or someone's car gets stuck on the tracks. it's just plain UNSAFE! i think it would be a good idea if we could find a way to fund an underpass to increase our public's safety.
it's just a sad reailty that this keeps happening and i pray we don't have to suffer another loss as a community.

Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2007 at 1:51 am

I love the suggestions of Isako -- having the nearer crossing guard come down sooner seems simple enough to do right away.

Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2007 at 7:14 am

Why do most of these fatal crashes on the tracks seem to occur more often in PA than anywhere else btw. SF & SJ? I think more suicide is more often the cause. I will say there needs to be better safety signage at crossings. Unfortunately, there will be some drivers and peds. who just don't heed the warnings. A train cannot stop on a dime folks!

Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2007 at 7:28 am

just yesterday afternoon I saw someone just in front of me stop on that very track, so I left plenty of space for the driver to back up in case the train started to come.

Now i wish I had gotten out and, frankly, lectured the driver. I DID "lecture" both my sons,one about to start driving lessons, about the danger in ever, ever stopping on RR tracks.

From now on, I will get out of the car and talk to drivers. It will irritate people, but I don't care. I see it at least once per must stop.

Posted by GH
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 29, 2007 at 7:29 am

I see a number of comments about underpasses... I don't see how this is possible in this location. An underpass needs a lot of space and it's just not available. (Underpasses will not prevent students who choose to step in front of a train from being killed.)

In regards to BART, Caltrain uses the existing Southern Pacific train tracks and those track are a different gauge than BART. If there is not enough space for grade separation... there is certainly not enough space for additional BART tracks.

It's my understanding that the gates go down when the train passes over a certain portion of the track. This was the mini-bullet train which I understand goes faster than the other trains. I'm really wondering if there is enough time given from the time the gates drop to when the train arrives.

I think the best way of preventing this is education. Standing still on a train track at anytime is dangerous. It's always unfortunate to hear when someone is killed doing it. We can only hope that more people are educated when they read about such unfortunate incidents.

Posted by TrainCommuter
a resident of Portola Valley
on Jun 29, 2007 at 7:42 am

There are more than "a few" people commuting by Caltrain up and down the Peninsula.

When I am in the front car watching out the window approaching the East Meadow crossing, I see many cars crossing seconds before we arrive. I think that the crossing arms need to come down sooner and the lights even sooner than that, especially for the higher speed trains. And Isako's two-arm suggestion sounds promising.

Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2007 at 7:57 am

The Eastbound light should turn green to allow any standing car to get out of the way. The other arm, to stop drive around, perhaps should be replaced with a center divider or otherwise sensored to prevent closing on a car. Ultimately, an overpass is the answer.

Posted by Anon.
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 29, 2007 at 7:59 am

Safey measures are great, esp. when they save lives.
But all this talk about safety seems a little strange when
it would appear that the person killed in this case willingly
obliged. That seems to be the question to begin with.
Was this a suicide? Work from there. If that is the case,
then we can only make things safe for those seeking safety.
Otherwise, it doesn't really apply.

Posted by ellen
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2007 at 8:43 am

I agree about the crossing arms coming down. I commute across the train tracks every day and observe far too many people trying to "rush" across the tracks. I think having the crossing arm come down early will prevent those tragedies that are the result of poor judgement combined with poor timing and an attempt to "beat the clock".

Posted by Anon
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 29, 2007 at 8:57 am

An overpass takes space and I'm sure residents wouldn't want a high structure blocking views in their neighborhood. A double gate is great, but people can still get stuck in between them or run through them. (Just do a Google search for "train crossing accident japan".)

The best way of preventing these kinds of accidents is better eduacation through the enforcement of traffic regulations. It's unnerving to see people slowing down for stop signs instead of coming to a complete stop. This type of behavior only encourages people not to follow other traffic regulations... such as not pulling forward onto a train track until there is space to completely clear it.

Posted by Julian S
a resident of University South
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:16 am

Chris: I use the bike underpass at Homer every day. I ride my bike to Caltrain. While I agree the underpass was expensive, I for one use it daily, and I see more and more people using it.

For those like "barron park resident" who feel we don't need Caltrain, I feel very strongly about this. As population pressure rises, we should and will depend more and more on public transport. We are fortunate to live in a valley where it's possible to move people fairly close to their place of work. Seattle, for example, is not so fortunate.

We should build taller buildings closer to the tracks and turn the saved space into green space (or even back into orchards), the way Singapore has done. Silicon Valley has been developed without any regard to planning and we are paying the price with sprawl and traffic.

Posted by Safety First
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:38 am

It is very simple, DO NOT STOP ON THE TRACKS!!!!

The red lights and warning bells activate THEN the arms begin their descent. It is shocking to see how many drivers hit the gas to accelerate ONTO the tracks to try and beat the lowering of the train traffic arms. The intersections on the west side of the tracks have the lights timed so traffic on Alma has to stop BEFORE the light turns green to get cars away from the tracks.

If the arms come down any sooner, drivers get impatient and drive around the traffic arms. They simply do not care that it is a traffic violation to do so; apparently whatever is going on in their litlle world is infinitely more important than paying attention to the law and, ultimately, their own safety. Just look at every railroad crossing in Palo Alto where there are signs posted "Do Not Stop On The Tracks" Why does the painfully obvious require a warning sign?

In any altercation between the train and a car, THE TRAIN WILL ALWAYS WIN! This is a common sense issue.

In the mid-west there are very few traffic arms that cross the road, only lights and bells to warn of an oncoming train. California has so many safety devices in place and still drivers blatantly disregard them.

Have respect for the train. Obey the law. Pay attention.

Posted by Gordito
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:49 am

Eminent domain, grade separations, and the like won't solve anything. We just need smarter people. Moderately dangerous things such as the train, sharp corners, and a moist sponge only threaten imbeciles. Those people are bound to be naturally selected. So, if you feel you're not one of them, please spend your time building flying cars and perfecting cold fusion rather than whining about grade separations.

Posted by gordon
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2007 at 10:05 am

this is tragic. we may never know what happened in the mind of that driver, but it doesn't excuse the laughable public transit situation in the Bay Area.

having just visited NYC, and witnessed a public transit system that actually works, the Bay Area is looking a little behind the times -- not that the NYC subway system is new. it's older than BART by far, and so much more usable.

in fact, we all noticed that everyone looked healthier and in better shape in New York. we attributed it to the fact that everybody walked and took the subway.

Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 29, 2007 at 10:10 am

It's sad that someone dies, but at the same time, it's not that sad when someone drives off a cliff speeding, shoots themself, or OD's on some fad drug.

This is not the case of the track being unsafe, or the signals not coming down soon enough, etc. The train's not going to fast; she's have died at 50MPH too. This is someone who did something stupid. The lights flash on the signals, THEN they go down. If your close to the signal, you can pass through it, if not you can slow down. They're timed using the same algorithms that apply to yellow lights. This woman ran the wrong red light. Simple as that.

Quit whining about overpasses and "what about the children" and lets make every hard object soft and every environment sterile. There are a lot of dangers in life and you can't sterilize every one of them. For those that can't be stopped, there are rules. This woman would have lived had she followed them.

It's like the woman a few years back who stopped in front of a fire station at a red light. The area in front of the station had white paint all over the ground that said "DO NOT STOP" and signs that reflected the same. When the fire engine slammed into her car on a call, she sued! She's no different from the people who are nagging about overpasses. Don't ever leave your house if you don't want to get hurt. Or just follow the traffic laws.

Posted by another mother here
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 29, 2007 at 10:29 am

Julian- I love Seattle..I rode the short Monorail there in the early 1960's durring the World Fair and thought by now that Monorail transportation would be used all over the United States by now...(wrong)...
I grew up in a house here in Palo Alto that had Southern Pacific as it's closest neighbor...Was fun to watch all the freight trains and passenger trains come by. Little did myself and some of my neighborhood friends of the same age know or suspect then, but we were all being exposed to the fumes from the billows of smoke from those very same trains. I can name off others that are now using an inhalant and other breathing devices (myself included) which we suspect came from the years and years of second hand train smoke. A few of my old neighborhood friends already have died due to respiratory troubles. No one thought of trying to prove Southern Pacific resposible as a plaintiff, especially since they are non existant now (Progress. Thankfully, no more dirty soot from modern train transportation).
Progress being made, let's seal off East Meadow at Alma like they did there at Page Mill and Alma. Put in a bike overpass for the school kids ( remember Salina?) and others. Return the neighborhood there into a safer place. I would love to see a bike trail parallel the tracks. Palo Alto needs a safer bike path than the one on Bryant Street. The City Council pushes for us to bike to work, school, but the bike lanes in this town are (in my opinion) unsafe.

Posted by Don't risk your life
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2007 at 10:29 am

I agree, Safety First. Thanks for the straight talk. While I would encourage people to have *compassion* on the person who died (we don't know what was going on in her mind), the bottom line is that trains WILL always win. People need to realize they're not invincible.

Posted by Concerned
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2007 at 10:47 am

I did a little 2006 there were about 15 fatalities on the tracks. Many of those happened in the PA-RWC area. IIRC that 6 were suicides.

Posted by Joe G
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 11:36 am

"Eminent domain, grade separations, and the like won't solve anything. We just need smarter people."

"Unfortunately, if someone is intent on suicide, it seems no amount of safety devices can prevent it."

It's comments like this that show why there is no political will to make our transit system safer. If you are concerned, please speak out.

Response to first comment: Grade separations and proper fencing saves lives. Period. They may be people you don't think deserve to live, because they made an error in judgment, but I do. It's a value judgment. This short commuter railroad costs 15 lives a year, right in our backyards, and in my value system, that's too much. Talk to a train engineer that has watched as their train kills someone, it's a very personal experience with death. Then make your flippant comment to them about needing "smarter people".

Response to second comment: Suicide barriers (i.e. simple fencing, grade separations) DO save lives. Studies show that simple cheap barriers prevent many despondent people from committing suicide, they very often turn around if it's a little harder. People are NOT "determined" to commit suicide, it is an impulsive act, and making it a little harder DOES save many lives. This has come up relating to the Golden Gate Bridge, which is why they are working on a bridge suicide barrier.

Also, short of grade separation, 4-way crossing gates (vs. 2-way) prevent cars from driving around gates. This is an immediate, federally recommended and cheap solution to save lives. And if 4-way gates are installed, the regulations say it's so safe, trains don't have to blow their noisy horns through the intersections any more.

Caltrain has plans for grade separations up and down the whole Peninsula. Crossings that can't support them can be closed. Also, simple fencing would have saved the life of a young kid killed a few months ago in Burlingame, accidentally walking into a train because the track had no fencing.

We need to publicly support a relatively small amount of funding to save lives right in our backyards.

Joe G., Menlo Park

Posted by Jim
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:09 pm

BART originally was planned to circle the Bay. In other words, there would have been a line extending from present day end-of-line Fremont to San Jose and then from San Jose to San Francisco in addition to the present system. The people of Santa Clara and San Mateo elected to opt out of the BART system (by a vote I believe), reasoning that Caltrain was good enough. This decision was made the in the early 1960's. Maybe at the time Caltrain was good enough but in retrospect opting out of BART was one of the worst decisions in Bay Area transit history.

The only thing Caltrain has over BART is it's ability to run some express trains and that is indeed a nice feature. Okay you can eat and drink on Caltrain too! BART however has given people MUCH more frequent trains (15-20 minute headways from early morning to late night), a lot less noise and a MUCH safer system for passengers, pedestrians and automobile drivers alike. No grade crossings, period! For whatever reason BART doesn't even attract the suiciders very often. In the first 20 years of operation with several times the route miles and passenger boardings, BART had about 20 fatalities, mostly all suicides and only a very few due to accidents (passengers falling onto tracks, etc.). I've lived in the East Bay and on the Peninsula, have ridden extensively on both systems and would NEVER trade BART for Caltrain, even with those express trains.

We're pretty much stuck with Caltrain now though and the best we can do is live with it and try to make it better...and safer. The grade crossings are getting eliminated one by one but it will take billions to get rid of all of them. Fencing helps except people walk around the fences, cut the fences, get access to the rails at crossings, station platforms, etc. People really should pay more attention to the tracks and trains too. Every day I see pedestrians crossing tracks without looking (some with iPods blasting in their ears), walking in front of moving trains. At this particular crossing last night it sounds like this lady just went into panic mode when the gate came down on top of her car...and then tried to get across the tracks when it was too late. I know for a fact the gates go down nearly 20 seconds before the train comes, only less if the train stops in a station and then the gates sometimes come up until the train starts moving at slow speed.

If I decide to run across highway 101 and I get hit by a car, there is nobody responsible but myself. Oops excuse me lawyers for bringing up the subject of individual responsible. This was a tragic incident which will effect the woman's family, the train crew were helpless to stop their train and all the emergency personnel who responded. The passengers (myself included) were delayed for hours in the tieup. Just another day on Caltrain...and please excuse this rambling reponse.

Posted by Concerned, but realistic
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:11 pm

Last year 17 people died along the 81.4 miles of track of Caltrain. 9 of those were determined to be suicides. In spite of that safety record, Caltrain approved $7.4 million to improve grade crossings and add safety gates, and an additional $1.5 million to patch up holes in the fencing along the rail corridor. Safety and lifes lost are not being ignored. There are actions to improve safety. People need to obey traffic laws and follow common sense. Although she did pay the ultimate price for her mistake, she still broke the law and would she would have been charged if she had survived.

Posted by E. Berg
a resident of another community
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:47 pm

Every time I pass those train crossings, I think they're unsafe. There is little time to react and the lights are confusing (and often false alarms). If cars stop unexpectedly in front of you, you can easily end up stranded on the tracks with nowhere to go. Caltrain keeps saying these are suicides, but I think far too many are people panicking.

Posted by Mary
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 29, 2007 at 12:53 pm

Two things. Residents in Santa Clara County did not have the opportunity to vote on extending BART from San Francisco. San Mateo did - and turned it down.

Second: if you are the first car in back of the crossing gates, ALWAYS turn your wheels hard to the left or right. If someone hits you from behind, you will not go onto the tracks.

Posted by Educated and Concerned
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 29, 2007 at 1:12 pm

"If cars stop unexpectedly in front of you, you can easily end up stranded on the tracks with nowhere to go."

Here's what the California DMV Driver's Manual states as the rules and laws of the road...

Near railroad tracks:
The speed limit is 15 mph within 100 feet of a railroad crossing where you cannot see the tracks for 400 feet in both directions. You may drive faster than 15 mph if the crossing is controlled by gates, a warning signal, or a flagman.

At railroad or train crossings:

- Look in both directions and listen for trains. Many crossings have multiple tracks so be ready to stop before crossing, if necessary.
- Cross railroad tracks only at designated crossings and only when it is safe to do so.
- Expect a train on any track at any time traveling in either direction. If you need to stop after crossing the tracks, make sure your vehicle clears the tracks before you stop.
- Never stop on the railroad tracks. Remember that a train cannot stop quickly or swerve out of the way. If you are on the tracks, you risk injury or death.
- Watch for vehicles that must stop before crossing train tracks. These vehicles include buses, school buses, and trucks transporting hazardous loads.
- Remember that flashing red lights mean STOP! Stop at least 15 feet from the nearest track when the crossing devices are active or a person warns you a train is coming. Stop if you see a train coming or you hear the whistle, horn, or bell of an approaching train.
- Do not go around or under lowered crossing gates, even if you do not see a train. Wait for the gates to rise. If the gates are not working correctly, call the railroad emergency number posted near the crossing or notify the local police or California Highway Patrol.

Posted by sad neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 29, 2007 at 1:34 pm

I think PAUSD should use lesson plans from Operation Lifesaver: Web Link

Posted by Anon
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 29, 2007 at 2:11 pm

I agree... and maybe more drivers need to aware of DMV laws...

22526. (c) 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 or there is sufficient undercarriage clearance to cross the intersection without obstructing the through passage of a railway vehicle, including, but not limited to, a train, trolley, or city transit vehicle.

Posted by gordon
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2007 at 3:14 pm

all this nice talk about caltrain is making me feel all warm and fuzzy. what we don't actually have in the entire Bay Area is a transit system that works.

and no, we're not stuck with it.

our leaders need to actually do something about it other than riding their bikes from their homes to city hall.

i mean, it's great that our mayor does that, but her sometime commute doesn't reflect the commutes of the average Bay Area resident.

we need something that serves more people, and until then, caltrain will continue to serve a very limited number of people at a very great expense.

Posted by JustMe
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 29, 2007 at 3:25 pm

You can pass all the laws you want about how to behave around train tracks, but I doubt they will have much impact. I sincerely doubt that the young lady's last thoughts were "Gee, I am ilegally parked on the tracks."

I chatted with a Caltrain conductor this morning about the incident, and what I can make out is that she stopped for a light too fat forward, inattentiveness but not normally a fatal problem. As the train approached the crossing arm came down on top of her car, and she panicked and pulled forward trying to get it off. I can imagine that there was no room to pull backward because there was probably a car behind her. Once forward, she had little time to consider her options. She probably panicked while waiting for the car in front of her to pull forward and allow her off the tracks and did not think fast enough to pull into the other (oncoming) lane to get away. Remember, there would have been another crossing arm down over there. I think she had too little time, was too panicked, and didn't think fast enough to find a way out. I am sure she was terrified.

But lowering the arms sooner is not a good solution. If the arms are down too long without a train appearing it invited people to try to go around them, and they will, and they will start being the new casualties. Perhaps, where it can be done, moving the arms back away from the tracks would help, to allow more room around them. Underpasses might help, but that would be a LOT of underpasses and they are expensive, are you willing to fund those? Clearly, solutions would be welcome, but what are they?

Posted by A Neighbor
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 29, 2007 at 6:23 pm

If the arms are lowered too soon people will go round them. Also, if they are lowered earlier there will be even longer waits for both the baby bullet train and the regular slow train to go by. This long wait will cause traffic to back up on Charleston over El Camino Real.

Posted by Churchill, at Alma
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 29, 2007 at 6:40 pm

I lived on Churchill, at Alma, for fifteen years. Been a resident of Palo Alto, for 34. In our fifteen years of close proximity to the railroad tracks and crossings, we have seen just about every sort of foolish human behavior possible.

I am very sorry a woman lost her life yesterday. It saddens me what her family is going through, what her child has lost. It also saddens me what the engineer of that train must be going through. What the passengers, and even people who live along the railroad, may have seen. So many people affected; and in my mind, for so little reason.


If you break this down logically, you would realize that as Safety First said; the Train will always win. Next, think about the locations of these various crossings. Each crossing supports school traffic (there is at least one school on the same block of each of these crossings), cars, pedestrians and bicyclists. Each crossing has a safety arm. Each crossing has a loud warning tone or bell. Each crossing has flashing lights. We used to be able to hear the bells, we could see the lights flashing, and feel the rumble of the train, IN OUR HOUSE!

Next, because I am curious, having seen so much foolish behavior on at the crossings...I have looked each way down the track when stopped waiting for a train to pass,and tried to judge just how long it takes for all those warnings to begin. Generally, the train appears to be a good 3/4 of a mile away, probably more, when I can first spot it. At this point, all warnings are already going off, and safety arms are already dropped.

There is ample time to get out of a car if it is stalled on the tracks. There is ample warning, before those arms drop, to get clear of the tracks. Even for the idiots who actually stop on the tracks waiting for the light to change which several locals do, knowing that the light changes out of turn to clear that intersection before the train actually crosses said intersection).

I have seen Paly Students, more times than I care to count, sitting on the tracks bumper to bumper with their friends in front of them...banking on the clearing of that intersection when the light changes. They put a lot of faith in technology! Shouldn't count on it as an absolute, I have seen that light change so that cars can go Eastbound on Churchill, only to be stopped because of some sort of backup on Alma, or on Churchill itself. If people were where they were supposed to be, no problem. If you are the fool taking the foolish chance, you are a sitting duck. Excuse me if you take exception to the appellation 'fool', but truthfully, what else can you be if you practice these reckless behaviors?

I was home when a motorist watched the northbound train go by, then decide she waited long enough, I suppose, and started to cross...the southbound train was coming...she was saved by a quick thinking motorist behind her. Her car wasn't so lucky. Dragged hundreds of feet, totaled. A mere week or so later, a similar accident happened at Alma and El Camino, that crossing into Menlo Park. Those North and Southbound cars that happen to cross at almost the same times, are moving it so very difficult to look both ways before crossing? I thought we all learned that little ditty at our mama's knee...

I have seen motorists of all ages, when the arms take a bit too much time to raise back up, scoot around in a zig zag to get to the other side. I have seen kids in bikes try to beat the train. We all know of stories of the kids who didn't.

If you get stuck on the tracks, your car breaks down or traffic isn't moving, GET THE HELL OUT!!! You DO have time if you move quickly...let the car go, it's only a hunk of metal! If your bike gets caught, DROP IT, IT'S ONLY A BICYCLE! If you drop your backpack, LEAVE IT...none of these material things are worth your life!

What happened yesterday, well it's my guess maybe it was a suicide, we sure get plenty of those too. Who knows for sure what happened to that poor woman...regardless, outside of a deliberate and willful act, train pedestrian/car accidents should be rare. Very, very rare. They are seldom the fault of faulty technology, they are almost never the fault of the railroad; they are usually the fault of human error and misjudgment. Trains are large noisy contraptions, they move fast, they have been here longer than most of the houses in this town...there has to be a point where they SHOULD BE RESPECTED for their power and the damage they can do to the people who think that their personal agenda's are somehow more important than the ultimate safety of everyone else involved at a train crossing.

There should also be respect for the fact that the land the tracks run on is owned by the railroad company, and people should not be trespassing by walking, running, biking or otherwise messing about the tracks.

Maybe, if instead of more signs, and more government solutions to protect the few, we spent more time educating our friends and family on the dangers of being in too much of a hurry, teach them of the realities of the various obstacles we face on the road, we would have less of these fatalities.

Maybe, we should teach others, and ourselves, ABOUT PERSONAL ACCOUNTABILITY. Not more signs. More awareness.

Posted by Circles resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 7:22 pm

> They put a lot of faith in technology!
> Shouldn't count on it as an absolute,
> I have seen that light change so that
> cars can go Eastbound on Churchill,
> only to be stopped because of some
> sort of backup on Alma, or on Churchill itself.

This is so true. Several times I have almost got stuck on the tracks because a pedestrain began crossing Alma. I am car #2, going E on Meadow or Charleston to get to the Circles. Car #1 is safely across the tracks, stopped at the light, and I am Car #2, safely behind the tracks. The light changes from red to green, and Car #1 starts. So I instinctively start moving forward, and the cross lights start flashing at that time, and the gates start lowering. Suddenly Car #1, which was actually turning right, brakes suddenly and stops, because a pedestrian, or a bicylist on the pedestrian path, is crossing Alma, and Car #1 realizes he has to wait for the pedestrian.

Car#3 was breathing on my tail, and had I pulled forward, reversing back would have been impossible. Luckily, in my case, I was still behind the tracks, and stopped myself in time.

I think "JustMe, a resident of the Duveneck/St. Francis neighborhood" had the best explanation of what probably happenned. And I do think we need a system with less probability of accidents and fund it.

On Castro, they have a second set of lights before the tracks that are flashing red all the time, and turn green when the main light turns green. Isn't that a better option?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:17 pm

I often cross the train tracks while driving like most people in Palo Alto. I often have my car radio on and the windows closed, not loud music, but I rarely hear the warning bells until I have noticed the lights flashing and the arms moving. I know that the local residents would probably object, but I feel that those warning bells are either not loud enough or not the type of noise that can get through a closed car with normal radio noise. We need to do something so that those bells can be heard before the arms start moving. And, those arms need to stretch both sides to stop cars trying to weave round. It there was longer wait time after the arms come down and nothing was done to prevent it, I know cars would start weaving around them.

Posted by Churchill, at Alma
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 29, 2007 at 9:42 pm

Try sleeping or living your life on a daily basis with those bells clanging...the train traffic has tripled over the years and it's a fairly constant cacophony of noise.

Having lived on Churchill, and having crossed that crossing oh, about a million times (or so it seems), I can tell you the bells are plenty loud enough. I am an avid rock and roll fan, and I have the music quite loud in my car, and I have always heard the bells no matter how loud my sound system.

If you a driver concerned about your safety, lower your radio or roll down your windows as you approach any crossing. It is sound advice anyway, because if you can't hear the crossing bells, you probably can't hear a police car or ambulance behind you either!

It's not like the location of the crossings change without warning. We have four crossings, all are clearly marked, and we should all use common sense when approaching them!

Posted by localbiker
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jun 30, 2007 at 12:03 am

I have a few things to say about this. First, there is more than enough time to get clear, as stated above. I bike past the intersection everyday (although i never try to beat the train), and it takes quite a bit of time for the train to come after the arms are all the way down. If you can't hear them, use your eyes, there's one to your left, and one behind you, as well as 3 big bright lights come towards you.

Second, what the "witness" (from the car in front) reported is not possible. It is simply not possible for the car to be in the left lane, and have the arm come down on it. It would have to be either on the wrong side of the road (which is not the left lane as stated), or far enough back that only the southbound could have hit her (she was hit by the northbound train).

Now, don't get me wrong, im not saying that the accident didn't happen, im just saying that she was not stuck. If the car in front of her cleared the intersection, so could she. Other witnesses said that she did not even try to move or get out of the car. Personally, I think that this was a suicide.

Posted by Confused
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 1, 2007 at 3:43 pm

I went through that same intersection this weekend. I also don't understand the witness's account. The only long arm is the one that comes down BEFORE you cross the tracks. When the arm starts to come down, the light turns green allowing any car to clear the tracks. Once you cross the tracks, the arm on the other side is a short one so if you get caught on the track side of the longer arm it's always possible to move across the tracks.

The account of how this accident happened makes no sense. Does anyone know the real story?

Posted by another mother here
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2007 at 2:43 am

Yes, a willingness to help fund an under or overpass is a great idea....besides, with all of the current baby boomer population getting older, they would not have to worry about hearing the bells and whistles, therefore having a longer life expectancy of not getting hit by a train.......SERIOUSLY, I would support it. The traffic in Palo Alto is getting WAY out of control. I am waiting to hear about the traffic snarls on El Camino and Charleston as soon as all those new houses are completed (for one)..........And when is the last time you actually took a leisurly bike ride without having to keep looking over your shoulder for fear of getting creamed by a car?

Posted by More Assumptions
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 3, 2007 at 9:21 am

Since it's older car, any mechanical problems happened right before the tragedy? Not everyone will choose to jump out of the car in an emergency moment. Brain may stop due to panic or inexperiences.

Posted by ruby
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 26, 2008 at 6:11 pm

=[ i knew the person who died it wasnt fair she was always so happy i dnt understand why diz had to happend da way it did

r.i.p maria

Posted by LR
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2008 at 11:01 pm

Caltrain is at so thirdworld county level. Just as America is becoming. Time for it to go. But...

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