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Caltrain plans signal-safety upgrades at Palo Alto

Original post made on Apr 4, 2013

Two of Palo Alto's most important Caltrain crossings could receive safety improvements to train-approach warning systems as part of a $1.8 million project. The Peninsula Joint Powers Board (JBP) will vote on awarding a contract for the improvements this morning.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, April 4, 2013, 9:50 AM

Comments (23)

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Posted by FrankF
a resident of Ventura
on Apr 4, 2013 at 10:17 am

FrankF is a registered user.

Good - but we need grade separation. There is nothing that will make us as safe as not having cars, pedestrians and trains in the same space.

One question of this is how will making the lights red for longer affect traffic? Have you ever been stuck on Charleston or East / West Meadow during rush hour?

Grade Separation - this is what we need.

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Posted by mcal
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 10:35 am

The fix is grade separation. To do that without destroying homes and other property will be tough, but we have to face up to this. Think of what we want: electric trains, grade separation, more commuter service.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 4, 2013 at 10:39 am

If the lights are red longer then there needs to be more space for bikes and pedestrians to wait at Churchill. There is very little space for all the students who are not in cars to wait and the longer the wait plus the increase in the school population will mean more danger for those waiting - not for being hit by a train, but by being hit by a vehicle including a bicycle.

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Posted by mutti
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 4, 2013 at 10:53 am

So now we have longer reds at East Meadow, and that crazy little light at whatever-will-replace-Miki's. Alma intersection is just getting worse and worse.

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Posted by John Galt
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 4, 2013 at 11:02 am

IMHO, what we need are heads screwed on and minimal attention to driving. The rest of the nation seems to be AOK with crossing gates and lights, often only flashing lights. Crossings in PA give the impression that 3 yr olds are allowed drivers licenses.

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Posted by KP
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 11:24 am

Just another waste of money by CalTrain!!
You can't stop someone from doing something they want to do with more lights, gates, sounds, etc.!
Any cars that are hit, seem not to be very knowledgable about train tracks. Common sense (and big signs) tell you not to stop on the tracks. Two cars can make it through with ease right now the way the signals are set.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 4, 2013 at 11:26 am

A quick “google” did not produce a link to the staff report cited in the article, so exactly what this $1.8M is supposed to buy, in terms of “safety”, is not clear.

There are always questions about Caltrain safety that never seem to get answered, however.

For instance:

o) Which agency (Caltrain, County, JPA Members) is actually responsible for insuring that Caltrain operations are safe?

o) Who (what agency) is responsible for the signal timings at each crossing?

o) The article claims that the signal timings at the Alma/East Charleston crossing were “off”. So, relative to these signal timings--

1) What was the basis for the timings that were supposed to be “on”.
2) Who (what agency) is/was responsible for determining these timings?
3) Who (what agency) is supposed to insure that these timings are accurate?
4) Are the worksheets used for these determinations available to the public for review?

o) Will Caltrain publish the metrics for increased the increased safety goals at the designated crossings in Palo Alto?

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Posted by Waste not, want not
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 4, 2013 at 4:21 pm

It seems that no matter what CalTrans does, people continue to stop on the tracks, or walk on the tracks, or commit suicide by train.

What more can they do that won't work. It is just a waste of money and time. There simply is not a remedy for stupid, or for people hell-bent on dying.

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Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Wayne, start with CPUC and FRA.

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Posted by Suicide by train, but keep train
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 4, 2013 at 9:36 pm

People are stupid sometimes, and we should NOT hold up everyone re: the train. The train comes in, people come off and on.
Then it should get going.
It should be rather easy.
Some folks want to die via train...that Really Can't Fix that.
Suicide by train, but keep the train.

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Posted by Ernie
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 4, 2013 at 9:38 pm

more bells, longer lights, what ever caltrain has planned will seem trivial and insignificant to a real solution to these problems: grade separations. yes, they are expensive, very expensive, but they work so much better than what's being proposed.

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Posted by Thomas Paine IV
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Apr 5, 2013 at 9:00 am

Just think what happens when Cal Train adds 4-6 more trains per hour in each direction after electrification.

Is it worth it? Maybe not. The big brains at Google spent non-trivial time and resources looking at how to get their employees to work faster. They found that unless you lived within a very short walk of a Cal Train station, it was far faster and much easier to use point to point buses. That is why every morning a fleet of buses depart from various locations in SF heading for the Googleplex in Mountain View. Cal Train believes their own fiction that adding train frequency via electrification will increase ridership when the facts clearly point otherwise. It would have been far cheaper for Google to just give employees free Cal Train passes instead of creating their own bus system.

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Posted by Truedy
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2013 at 10:30 am

What wonderful news! People do not stop on the tracks on purpose -- they get caught on the tracks because there is not enough time or space to clear them. In lieu of creating more space with a grade change, giving people more time to clear the tracks makes a lot of sense. Those of us who drive across the tracks daily know that there is only enough room for one car on the other side of the tracks, so we know to make sure the car in front of us makes the green light before we cross the tracks. One needs to be paying close attention at these crossings with a signal light and train crossing being so close together, not to mention watching for bikers and pedestrians. No one in their right mind should put two controlled intersections so close together, especially when one is a train crossing.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 5, 2013 at 10:38 am

Google buses only work because they have large numbers of employees commuting from a few neighborhoods in San Francisco to one big campus in Mountain View. Few companies other companies can make this work. Why aren't Stanford or HP doing it, for example? Also, the Google buses aren't that much faster. The big benefit is that they can provide a corporate work environment on the bus, so the company gets 2 additional hours of work per day out of their employees. When each bus holds 80 employees who make $100+/hour, that adds up quickly.

Caltrain is already at capacity during commute hours. Passengers are packed into the aisles and sitting on the floor. Adding more trains is guaranteed to increase ridership, because the demand is already proving itself.

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Posted by Grade separation
a resident of South of Midtown
on Apr 5, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Grade separation. Grade separation. Grade separation. These are not sleepy little crossings in podunk rural towns. They are school routes that carry children on foot and on bikes and tens of thousands of car trips every day. Churchill @10,000 cars/day -- Charleston @ 18,000 cars/day, East Meadow @ 10,000/day). We NEED grade separation!

The death toll mounts every year.

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Posted by Former now in Mtn Vw
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm

So if we NEED grade separations so desperately, and CAHSR is the ONLY identified potential funding source for Grade Separations, why are our local cities still suing the CAHSR? Grade Separations will require making either the street right of way or the Caltrain right of way wider. Although eminent domain is required by law to offer "fair market" compensation, many folks wind up in court (increasing costs to the rest of us) over any public acquisition of private property. Safety money spent now may very well save lives over the next decade, since without a breakthrough, it will be at least that long before CAHSR could have grade separations under construction. Since that is an entire generation of PAUSD students, we need to move ahead with what we can do now. Otherwise, budget $40M each location, and have at it.

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Posted by local funding
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 5, 2013 at 4:04 pm

There are some grade separation projects going on in San Mateo County right now. These were funded by a special county sales tax. Might be hard to swing this in Santa Clara County, since VTA is spending all its money on BART right now. Should residents push the city for a local bond to pay for grade separations?

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Posted by live close to train
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 5, 2013 at 4:38 pm

I live close to Churchill and Alma. So perhaps this is a bit self-serving however....
Please do not discount the very very very loud train whistle - some train conductors just lean cause the train whistle to blow for an extended time. Between the train crossing bell and the long extended train whistle - the noise is so very loud grandkids wake up from naps while inside my home!
Can't understand why having any louder noise is necessary.
Thank you

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Posted by Former now in Mtn Vw
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 5, 2013 at 5:58 pm

I guess all kids are different. Mine lived at Meadow and Park, across Park from tracks for the first six and three years of their lives respectively, and never had any napping problems. Both of us parents worked, so weekday naps were mostly at infant care, but weekends still ran both freight and Caltrain, even twenty years ago.

$40M each for four PA crossings, (Charleston, Meadow, Churchill, Alma @ San Francisquito Cr) -- $160 million minimum, 70,000 Palo Altans = roughly $2500 per person in Const Only, how about 2.5x or so for bond financing, and another $500 or so per person to design them. Since my wife was in grad school for part of the time, $40,000 or so for the family would have been out of well out of reach.

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Posted by Alex
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 5, 2013 at 8:30 pm

Grade separations are the best solution, no doubt about it.

However, thinking that CAHSR is the savior and will provide grade separations on the Peninsula is most likely wishful thinking. With the electrification of Caltrain, if HSR ever makes it to the Peninsula in the years to come, the Peninsula segment will probably be the absolute last segment of that blundering waste of money aka CAHSR to be built. By then, they will have even less than the pittance of funding they have now to build any grade separations, and the 'solution' will be to add even more trains to the existing tracks and call it good. So long as their trains don't travel faster then 125 MPH, then according to federal law, grade separations are not required.

CAHSR will most likely cause even more problems, with respect to train noise and related auto and pedestrian congestion and safety, then they will ever solve. That is partly why so many towns and individuals are so opposed to the CAHSR plan.

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Posted by TOO Pricey
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 6, 2013 at 9:26 pm

It is TOO pricey, just keep what we have.
Adults know what to do and keep any kids in hand,
And think about other safety ideas.
I love safety, but we must do it without such high price.
Grade separation will be TOO MUCH MONEY.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 8, 2013 at 11:38 am

Assuming $40M for a grade separation, which would be paid for with a bond issue--it would take about 36 years to pay off the bond at an interest rate of less than 4%, and paying off $2M a year.

There are any number of revenue sources that could be tapped in order to pay off the bond.

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Posted by Omar Chatty
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2013 at 10:48 am

We need BART up the Peninsula to replace Caltrain for one intraregional, true, arterial rail backbone system, for safety, access to the Bay Area Universities, airports, downtowns, shopping and other employment centers--easily and two-way around the Bay redundancy, especially in cases of a Bay Area rail system incident, like this morning's BART tube problem, like Caltrain accident or maintenance delays. Remember that we in Santa Clara County voted and are already paying for BART. Replacing Caltrain with BART up the Peninsula will save transit $ (especially north from Millbrae 15 miles where BART is already electrified) and docks at the upcoming TransBay Terminal and future SJ Train Station expansion. It seems to me to be an intelligent plan.

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

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