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Caltrain kicks off track-vigilance campaign

Original post made on Jan 12, 2013

After numerous suicides and train-pedestrian accidents, Caltrain is kicking off a year-long campaign to enlist passengers in keeping an eye on the tracks.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, January 11, 2013, 4:10 PM

Comments (9)

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2013 at 8:26 am

I always wondered why they put the electronic signs at the stations. Every other system uses them to give information to passengers about the time til the next train and which station it stops at. Caltrain uses them to tell passengers to keep safe!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2013 at 9:13 am

That was a bit snarky, sorry.

As much as I like Caltrain's attempt at safety, I can't see it would make any difference. The tracks are just so easily accessible, both at stations and along the tracks. On top of that, the grade crossings are relatively old fashioned compared to what we see in other areas of the world. Some may say that we are almost inviting suicide minded people by making it so easy for them.

I would much rather see physical improvements such as glass barriers and hire wires.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 12, 2013 at 9:14 am

I would also prefer to see better signage at the stations telling where the next train will stop. As someone who occasionally uses Caltrain, I have only faith that the train will stop at the station I am expecting it to stop. More signs would be very useful.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm

This idea does not seem to be well thought out. For starters, the track is on private property, and is clearly posted: “No Trespassing!”. So, the only access to the tracks that the public can legally claim would be the at-grade crossings, and selected pedestrian crossings at train stations.

Moreover, this “program” will cost virtually nothing to implement—with the predictable results that there will be little/no measurable increase in safety of people that are affected by this railroad who are not passengers.

It’s generally conceded that the majority of the deaths caused by the trains are suicides. People jump in front of moving trains and are killed. Occasionally there are collisions involving vehicles—caused by motorists who stop on the tracks—for whatever reason. The only way to stop the suicides at the station platforms is provide separation barriers between the platforms and the tracks. This solution is not cheap, and fraught with problems. However, it is a possible solution that would reduce deaths at the stations.

Clearly, grade separations would “design out” the possibility of train/vehicle collisions. But there will be some number of people intent on killing themselves who will be inclined to use the train—rather than some other means to do the deed. Observant people will call 911 to report someone sitting on the tracks—with, or with out, a Caltrain “program” in place, such as this one.

There is the on-going problem of crime on the station platforms—which occurs more frequently than Caltrain wants to admit. Again, people with cell phones and the willingness to call 911 to report on-going crime will be more effective than anything Caltrain has proposed. Additionally, there is the need for using “technology” to provide increased safety at the at-grade intersections, as well as on the station platforms and parking lots. Video cameras, and telephones connected to either a Caltrain safety office, or the local 911 operator (or both) should be added to every station so that people without cell phones can contact the police, or Caltrain safety employees, when some sort problem, or dangerous situation presents itself.

In addition to muggings/personal attacks that occur from time-to-time on the station platforms, we now have the problem of “terrorism” to complicate our lives. In this case, unattended packages, and personal items (like backpacks) can contain bombs (such as were used in the Madrid Train Station Bombing) as well as bombs carried by people intent on becoming suicide-murders ( as as was the in case London Subway Attack). Being able to alert the local police/Caltrain would seem to be obvious. There are enough cell phones in people’s pockets these days that it’s very unlikely that someone will not call 911. However, Caltrain does not seem to have learned much from the tragedies in Madrid and London.

At-grade intersections should be outfitted with vision systems, which are monitored by both Caltrain employees, as well as software. It really is not that difficult for modern vision systems to identify a non-moving vehicle on a train crossing—alerting both a dispatcher, and the engineers on any trains in the vicinity of those crossings.

Lastly, collision avoidance radars should be installed on every train, and at-grade crossing. It is difficult to understand why this sort of technology has not been utilized, in some way. While this technology will not detect people on the tracks, there is no reason not to believe that vehicles on the track can not be detected in time to alert on-coming trains, so that they can stop before colliding with these vehicles.

Caltrain’s multi-jurisdictional government “ownership” allows Caltrain management to avoid all of the scrutiny of a private-sector management team. There is virtually no one on the Caltrain Board of Directors that has any idea how to run a railroad—so they generally rubberstamp whatever comes up for their approval. This meaningless “safety program” is another example of the agency throwing up some “smoke and mirrors”—without providing anything of substance to the residents and businesses of the three-country Caltrain service area.

And in passing—let’s not forget that the compensation of the Transit District’s CEO's compensation at/about $600K a year (salary/benefits/employment costs) helps to explain why there isn’t a lot of money left in the kitty for technology to increase public safety.

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Posted by Jay Tulock
a resident of another community
on Jan 13, 2013 at 2:14 am

Triple Dip Scanlon.

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Posted by Larry
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

I wonder if would be possible to put radar-triggered air bags on the front of the train engines in an attempt to reduce the lethality of impact. I realize it would not save every life, but I would think it would reduce the suicide attempt rate if people knew that jumping in front of a train was not always fatal. That message alone might save lives.

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Posted by Jay Tulock
a resident of another community
on Jan 14, 2013 at 1:43 am

An airbag? That expands on impact to increase to acceleration on the object of collision? Brilliant.

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Posted by Floyd
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 14, 2013 at 6:14 pm

Remember cowcatchers? Naw, you're too young,

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Posted by Boing!
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 15, 2013 at 10:50 am

Huge wedge shaped airbag, pre-inflated. The victim might or might not survive the bounce off the bag, but it might improve their chances.
Just a few failed attempts and folk might start going back to the GG bridge

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

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