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Caltrain hits car on tracks at Churchill Avenue

Original post made on Jun 15, 2017

Caltrain struck a black Toyota Corolla on the tracks at Churchill Avenue near Alma Street this afternoon, the agency reported via Twitter. No injuries were reported.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, June 15, 2017, 2:04 PM

Comments (65)

11 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2017 at 3:12 pm

This happened not so long ago too! I think this is a particularly bad crossing design with the bikes and the pedestrians.


12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 15, 2017 at 3:39 pm

It says the car stalled- how is that her fault? What was she supposed to do?

I agree that it is a dangerous intersection, especially for foreigners


23 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 15, 2017 at 3:41 pm

How many train vs car collisions have there been in Palo Alto over the last few years? Does anyone have the complete list? Is it just me, or is this happening a lot more frequently now than 10 years ago (pre-iphone era)?


31 people like this
Posted by Maria
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 15, 2017 at 4:21 pm

Thank god they were able to bail out. In a panic it's hard to think clearly.


43 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 15, 2017 at 4:33 pm

@Maria - I agree panicking is bad. That's why you should never ever stop on the train tracks. Stop before the tracks, not on top of the tracks. Think clearly before you wind up in a panic situation.


60 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto2
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:02 pm

I was on that train.
My comment was deleted (disappeared).

I want drivers to stop thinking about themselves and think about the people on the train for a change. We all got tossed when the train slammed on the brakes. We were all late for our work/appointments. When you try to beat the train, you put everyone on that train (hundreds of people) at risk.

It is against the law to cross the tracks unless the path is clear and it is safe to do so. There is no excuse for a train being on the tracks when a train is approaching. Why is so hard to obey the law ?


21 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto2
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:03 pm

typo
SB : There is no excuse for a CAR being on the tracks when a train is approaching.


7 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:10 pm

> how many train hits vehicle incidents?

Not that many, actually, at least here in Palo Alto, with only four crossings.

More interesting questions might be:

# how many drivers were from out-of-town
# how many cars involved sustained system failure rendering vehicle "stalled"?
# how many drivers with stalled vehicles called 911?
# how many drivers suffered fatal injuries from these incidents?

Most of the time the vehicles are cleared, the trains start up again and all is forgotten. Word has it that incident reports are written, and presumably given to CalTrain, and hopefully archived--but there is little on the CalTrain web-site that indicates what their retention period is for these reports.

One would like to believe that there is some sort of review of these incident reports--but those sorts of reviews never seem to appear on CalTrain's web-site. Presumably, a person could ask for copies of these reports via a Public Records Request to review these reports, but it doesn't seem that the various newspapers or TV stations have ever shown much interest in trying to read through these reports to see if there are any patterns in these incidents--such as the same operating crews involved, or some practices that all crews use that might lead to these incidents.

Of course--having a vehicle collision detection system, or even cameras monitoring Palo Altos's at-grade crossings would make a world of difference. Palo Alto has recently indicated that it would take as much as year to continue "testing" a camera system that might have helped avoid this incident if it were in place now.

The Positive Train Control system which probably would not have been able to avert this sort of incident has not yet, after many years of mucking about, been properly installed. CalTrain is now mired in the courts with the original vendor--even though CalTrain management claims that another vendor has been contracted to finish the work. This comment is being added to this post to cast doubt on CalTrain's ability to do the right thing at the right time--regardless of the top dog's $550K salary (including benefits).

It's a real shame that is little professionalism on the part of the numerous elected officials that make the so-called Board that is supposed to show oversight for this financial black hole. They could, from time-to-time, request that this data be added to CalTrain's web-site so that the public could better understand why these incidents occur.


19 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Maybe we should try painting "KEEP CLEAR" on the pavement at the tracks, like we have in front of firehouse driveways.

The rails themselves are so unobtrusive as to be easily dismissed. The little white sign that says "Do Not Stop On Tracks" does not seem to be working for everybody. Would a skull and crossbones get more drivers' attention? In flashing LEDs?

(Congratulations to this car's occupants on successfully abandoning ship. Most mistakes are not deadly until they are compounded.)


26 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:28 pm

From my driving experience cars seldom stall unless they are not moving.

Stick shifts stall when trying to start from a standstill particularly when being driven by a novice stick driver.

Cars should not come to a halt (also known as stopping) on tracks.

However, this particular intersection/crossing is difficult because when pedestrians are crossing Alma the turning traffic from Churchill has to give way, but if a train comes along the backup may have to halt on the tracks.

There is only one space for one stopped car. Out of towners (e.g. people from Italy) will not know that there is only space for one car beyond the tracks.

Therefore, it is imperative to do something about this. The stop sign and light should be west of the tracks. There should be no right on red. There should be no pedestrians crossing Alma south side of Churchill, all pedestrians should cross north side (Paly side) of Churchill.

Not sure what to do about the bikes. :(


112 people like this
Posted by Kim
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:49 pm

Dear Palo Alto Staff Writer,
Please get the facts straight before posting a story. My husband was the track officer who ordered these people out of their car twice when it stalled and they were understandably panicking. They refused to get out of their car stating that they did not want to leave their belongings/passports. My husband, then, yanked them out of the car right before the train hit. Just setting the record straight. Thank God no one was injured.


15 people like this
Posted by Sarah
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:58 pm

All RR crossings along Alma are a disaster waiting to happen. I'm very familiar with the crossings, having lived in the area for 40+ years, but I still get a little anxious when crossing during heavy traffic, especially when traveling from west to east. I wish there was a way to expedite grade separation; it should have happened years ago.


11 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 15, 2017 at 6:26 pm

If the only priority was safety, we could have the arms come down several minutes in advance of the train instead of just seconds. This would give everybody plenty of time to react and get out of the way. It would make a mess out of traffic, though, and I suspect we would hear more complaints about that than we do about the collisions.


26 people like this
Posted by A likely cover story
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:19 pm

Riiiight, the old "it just stalled" excuse from a driver who carelessly endangered their own life in addition that of their passengers and lives of innocent bystanders both on and off the train by violating one or both of CVC 22451 (do not stop closer than 15 feet from tracks) and CVC 22526(d) (do not cross tracks unless there is room to safely get your entire vehicle completely across).

It's nearly impossible for a car to mysteriously "stall" on the tracks (or get hit by a train) without violating these common-sense laws. Since enforcement of them is so rare, drivers chronically violate them daily with little worry of citation. This is an ideal application for automated enforcement cameras. Drivers will very quickly learn to behave lawfully around RR crossings with an ever-present guarantee of an expensive citation arriving in the mail.


17 people like this
Posted by Juan
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:29 pm

It's time to tunnel the tracks underground, from downtown Mountain View until the county line. Make San Antonio, California Ave and Palo Alto stations underground, similar to BART in San Francisco. Until that is done, more cars will be hit, sometimes in fatal accidents. Yes, you can point to the vehicle code / relevant laws all day, but as history has shown, people don't know how to drive around train tracks. Nothing short of a worldwide education campaign will change that.


7 people like this
Posted by BadTracks
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:30 pm

How awful. Visitors to our area almost losing their lives on this poorly designed and historically dangerous crossing! Thank heavens they had the good sense to ditch the car and save their lives. Tourists beware when driving around here, and don't rely on locals to care about you either.


7 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:36 pm

I've timed it at Meadow and Charleston and you have about 30 seconds from when the bells start ringing and lights start flashing. That's actually a long time to be staring at a locomotive headlight getting bigger and bigger.

And it's a long time for the engineer to be wondering if the tracks will be cleared. Would be interesting to know at what point they apply the brakes. Maybe after 15 seconds of no car movement? From the photos it's clear this collision did not happen at full speed.


3 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jun 15, 2017 at 7:38 pm

@Donald

I think that's the most sensible idea I've heard yet. I don't think people quite understand the unnecessary danger of these kinds of crossings, it's sheer luck there hasn't been a major derailment on Caltrain in recent years.


14 people like this
Posted by Terracen
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 15, 2017 at 8:33 pm

Glad to hear everyone (including folks on the train) is OK. It could have gone terribly bad.

After reading the article, I was wondering why the safety officer wasn't mentioned at all.

@Kim
Congratulations to your husband! I now understand why and how a trained personnel can help in these kind of situations.

I also wonder if there is a system that the security officers can notify the trains in these kind of circumstances. Perhaps it is already in place. Maybe it helped the train slow down this time.


15 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow Dad
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 16, 2017 at 7:35 am

I have resigned myself to the fact that Palo Alto will NEVER actually fix these 3 horrific train crossings, but these 3 intersections are so poorly signed and designed that, unless you are fluent with how they work, then they are confusing to drivers only after they get into a bad position.

The city is probably criminally liable at this point for not having addressed the signage leading into these and it baffles me that we haven't seen any progress on this.

Not only are visitors to the area at risk, but with increased traffic issues, I see locals purposefully getting a second car into the track spot because they expect the short green light to get them through vis-a-vis waiting for yet another Palo Alto slowdown.


13 people like this
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:19 am

The crossing is dangerous but sometimes drivers are at fault. As I was waiting to turn left on Alma on this crossing a car came behind me on the tracks. The right spot was empty. The guard stationed there came running and told him to move to the empty spot. He refused and refused, until miraculously the light came green I started turning and the crossing arms came down , warning ringing that the train was coming and the stubborn and stupid driver escaped on time towards Churchill. How is this related to a dangerous crossing? No, this was a dangerous driver!

But, for those who do not know the crossing the fact that a light can turn green on east Churchill and they see it on west Churchill assuming that they are able to go and then are confronted with the same light turning red and there is nowhere to go if there is already a car in the only space available between the tracks and Alma, that is very confusing on not predictable. Equally (this happened to me) I am the first car in front of the tracks, light is green, I proceed because that one space after the tracks is empty and when I'm on still halfway a speeding car comes on my right and moves to the space and I can't go ahead-I'm half on the tracks and the right spot is now occupied. Ready to jump out of my car if a train is coming I'm luck the light turned green.

Why is it so difficult to put the lights before the train tracks on east Churchill an have a coordinated light on west Churchill/Alma? The present system is very dangerous and unnecessarily so.


11 people like this
Posted by Russell
a resident of another community
on Jun 16, 2017 at 10:52 am

When I lived in Palo Alto my parents came to visit in 2011. They almost died on these same tracks. It can be confusing for those from out of town who are elderly (or not). The fact that these incidents keep happening demonstrates that there is a systematic design problem. My guess it will take a death, a lawsuit and an enormous payout by the city for them to act on this. The same goes for some of the crosswalks on El Camino. For a county of such wealth, you think safety would be the number one priority. Penny-wise and pound-foolish. Shame on you.
Also, yes it's true locals make stupid decisions with regard to these crossings, but that's not the purpose of my comments. This, Arastradero and others are extremely poorly designed. If you cannot fix them then put a traffic officer on the crossings to guide cars. Either pay now or pay later....


12 people like this
Posted by Ed
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 16, 2017 at 11:26 am

When crossing the Caltrain tracks, one must wait until there is room for at least one car on the other side of those rails. Don't move until you're positive that there is a space there. Once you begin crossing, never stop until you are completely across. There will always be pedestrians and bikes moving across the cross streets that will block cars from moving, so always expect such blocking. Many people who do not live around here probably do not understand the mortal danger they are in when they approach those tracks. Better signage might help---but it has to include symbols and not just words so that non-English speakers will understand clearly. I cross the tracks daily on Ravenswood in Menlo Park, and I have seen some amazingly stupid drivers crossing. The champion was the guy who made a U-turn right on the tracks!!
Kim--your husband was a real hero for getting those Italians out of the car before the crash!
Local newspaper editors: please write up these Caltrain horror=stories so that people can learn from them. Follow-up articles are needed along with frequent articles about what not to do when crossing RR tracks.





15 people like this
Posted by anon
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 16, 2017 at 11:34 am

I grew up in Southgate (60's-90's) and we never had problems like this. I don't think it's a dangerous crossing I honestly think people just don't pay attention and think they can beat the train. Or more likely they're busy talking on their phone, playing with ipad or talking too much rather than being aware of the road itself. If you are behind the wheel DRIVE.

I think it's time people take responsibility for their actions and stop assuming that more signs are needed. We don't need regulation we need intelligent drivers.

However, in this instance - being out of town drivers could well have been a contributing factor. I am just very happy they are all safe and sound...and thank you to the guard for helping them.

Please wake up people, put your cell phones down and return to watching the traffic and situation around you.


11 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 16, 2017 at 11:43 am

"When crossing the Caltrain tracks, one must wait until there is room for at least one car on the other side of those rails. Don't move until you're positive that there is a space there. Once you begin crossing, never stop until you are completely across. "

Yes but when I have done this, an aggressive driver has sped up and cut in front of me, momentarily causing me to be stuck on the tracks looking like an idiot who doesn't know not to stop on the tracks.

This has happened several times.

You have to gauge the momentum and make sure you're moving fast enough also to prevent aggressive (and dangerous) drives from doing that.


7 people like this
Posted by bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 16, 2017 at 11:46 am

About 10 days ago, a car took a wrong turn and drove into the track -- and got stuck due to loss of traction. The driver told me he is just following the GPS.


20 people like this
Posted by Palo Altan
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 16, 2017 at 11:55 am

There is no cure for stupid. I doubt the car stalled. And there is no reason to spend mounds of money on "safety" of the tracks when the issue is the poor judgement of drivers.

I was on Churchill as the car in front of me drove on to the tracks. So I left space in front of my car; sure enough, a few seconds later, the track lights and sounds began and the car backed up off the tracks. The driver went merrily on her way, likely unfazed, probably likely to repeat the behavior.

Part of the issue is stupidity, but the other part could be that in other parts of this country (midwest) there are tracks for cargo trains which give plenty of warning time prior to the rare train crossing (several minutes prior to the train arriving, which wouldn't work here, because people would be tempted to cross, knowing it will take the train a long time to arrive).

With the number of people dying each year of other causes beyond their control, money should be spent there instead.

Number of deaths for leading causes of death:
Heart disease: 614,348
Cancer: 591,699
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 147,101
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 136,053
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 133,103
Alzheimer's disease: 93,541
Diabetes: 76,488
Influenza and Pneumonia: 55,227
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome and nephrosis: 48,146
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 42,773


2 people like this
Posted by bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 16, 2017 at 11:59 am

@member

Yes, I have seen this many, many times on my bike. Aggressive drivers will fill up the gap belonging to other cars in 1 second, will fill the gap between cars, will think it is a good idea to cut in a group of bikes, will think is a even better idea to be the 2nd or 3rd car waiting between track and Alma cross, and at a point I saw a guy left his car on the track and shout to others who did not let him do so.
There has never been shortage of this kind of guys in Palo Alto. Taking risks, even senselessly, is strongly encouraged in the Valley.


8 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 16, 2017 at 12:04 pm

We drove south on Alma last night heading to Sunnyvale and were amazed that at every other RR intersection, there were cars jutting into Alma's right lane right before the RR gates and causing everyone else to swerve trying to avoid their rear ends.

Some bright transportation just might want to ensure there's enough room for the cars in front of the RR gates to keep them out of the through lanes?? Just a thought.


30 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2017 at 12:08 pm

Cheap solution to end most of these train vs car collisions:
1. move the traffic lights to at least 50 feet in front of the train tracks instead of the crazy location behind the train tracks like we have now
2. ban right turns on red lights to or from Alma near any of these train crossings (whether or not there is a train coming)

That's it.

Yes, some stupid drivers will still run the red lights and get killed, but that happens at all red lights, not just train crossings.


3 people like this
Posted by Cedric de La Beaujardiere
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 16, 2017 at 12:51 pm

Cedric de La Beaujardiere is a registered user.

@member, next time someone cuts in front of you like that take a picture of their car and license plate and call 911 to report them.


1 person likes this
Posted by ndn
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2017 at 12:53 pm

Ed's solution is no solution if someone behaves the way I described another driver did. I quote myself "Equally (this happened to me) I am the first car in front of the tracks, light is green, I proceed because that one space after the tracks is empty and when I'm on still halfway a speeding car comes on my right and moves to the space and I can't go ahead-I'm half on the tracks and the right spot is now occupied."
Another solution must be found but I'm not sure if it is the city, county or state who is responsible for the crossing. Maybe a combination of jurisdictions.


7 people like this
Posted by Marlene G.
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Jun 16, 2017 at 2:38 pm

Solution: A big huge sign that says: "DO NOT STOP ON THE RAIL ROAD NO MATTER WHAT" written in several languages.


16 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2017 at 2:55 pm

The problem as I see it is not the locals, we know there's space for only one car. Trouble is that out of towners don't know how close Alma is to the tracks and are taken by surprise as they cross to see a major intersection straight after the tracks.

The only safe design would be the red lights to be west of the gates and no right turn on red.


6 people like this
Posted by Chris
a resident of University South
on Jun 16, 2017 at 8:23 pm

How is it that Palo Alto was able to put in 2 underpasses in the 1930's and another one over 50 years ago and yet NONE since then?

It says something about the decline in values over the last century. Palo Alto, California! and the US are certainly much richer than they were in the Depression.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 16, 2017 at 8:51 pm

@Chris - Money for grade separations has been available from time to time over the years. Every time the city tried to do something, the projects were shut down by NIMBYs.


1 person likes this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 16, 2017 at 9:04 pm

> Money for grade separations has been available from time to time
> over the years. Every time the city tried to do something, the projects
> were shut down by NIMBYs

Not clear that there ever was any money for these grade separations, but where there was ever any talk about looking into these sorts of projects, the residents around those crossings did manage to shut down the efforts to create those projects.


25 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 12:06 am

Why are trains allowed to operate in populated areas with Victorian era braking capabilities? No wonder we have a problem. Can anyone imagine allowing automobiles to operate in populated areas with the antique braking systems (and distances) of the 1920?


13 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2017 at 12:12 am

@Ahem - the proposed electric trains are supposed to have much better braking distances. The city of Atherton is suing Caltrain to block the electric trains, so expect delays and higher costs and less safety until the lawsuit is resolved.


23 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 12:45 am

@Resident,

Saying the "the proposed electric trains are "supposed" to have much better braking distances" is meaningless. All trains should be able to operate safely and avoid a collision in any circumstance that they are likely to encounter.

Will the proposed electrified train have brakes that allow them avoid colliding with a stalled car and driving it another 70 feet down the tracks?

Why aren't all trains operating in populated areas required to have adequate brakes? Or put another way, why are trains allowed to operated at speeds that are unsafe given their antiquated braking capabilities?

It is not Atherton's fault that Caltrain is operating vehicles with unsafe brakes.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 7:39 am

With all the reports of Caltrain hitting cars that have happened all along the Caltrain route in recent times, sometimes in Morgan Hill, sometimes up the Peninsula, and all points inbetween, it is amazing that there is no state investigation into practices that make this such a common occurrance.

Is it the fault of signage, or grade crossing design, or what? I'm not talking about this particular incident, but the fact that there are so many collisions that they should not be ignored. Something is wrong with a system where this is happening so often. Somebody, somewhere ought to be looking into this.


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 17, 2017 at 9:31 am

Seems to me there have been many more train vs car incidents since the invention of iphone. Maybe my memory is fading, but I can recall only 1 or 2 collisions during 1970-2000. Over the last 10 years, there seems to be several every year. The US government regulates train crossings and I'm sure that Caltrain meets all the regulations. Some people say that Caltrain blows their horn too much or too loud at crossings, but if collisions are becoming this frequent, who can blame them? Perhaps the regulations need to be re-written for the iphone generation of car drivers?


5 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 9:37 am

Sorry res (with a small r). I would suggest it is more likely to be to do with more traffic volume on our roads altogether which means more vehicles using these poorly designed crossings (poorly designed for the volume of traffic) as well as people depending on GPS direction aids. A paper map showed better distance between a crossing and an intersection. A GPS device can make distances look very different.

Nobody is going to blatantly stop on a crossing, but it happens so often that I think the increase in traffic volume has a lot to with the overall congestion at grade crossings. They don't make any sense on busy suburban tracks and roads.


15 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto2
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2017 at 9:48 am

@member
"Yes but when I have done this, an aggressive driver has sped up and cut in front of me, momentarily causing me to be stuck on the tracks looking like an idiot who doesn't know not to stop on the tracks. This has happened several times. "

So the problem is the aggressive car drivers. Not the train.


14 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto2
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2017 at 9:54 am

@Ahem
"Why are trains allowed to operate in populated areas with Victorian era braking capabilities? No wonder we have a problem. Can anyone imagine allowing automobiles to operate in populated areas with the antique braking systems (and distances) of the 1920?"

You clearly have never been on a train with hundreds of fellow riders when the conductor slams on the brakes to stop. Having picked myself up off the floor of the train after two such events, I assure you that the train's brakes are quite effective. It is time to stop blaming the train and look to why the car driver's personal convenience and/or carelessness resulted in the car being where it should not have been and put everyone on that train at risk.


14 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto2
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2017 at 10:07 am

People need to understand that Caltrain is a heavily used commuter service carrying almost 20 Million people a year and about 60,000 people a week ! These car collisions are usually a one or two passenger automobile whose driver was distracted, confused, aggressive or just doing something stupid. Regardless, their action was completely illegal and they should be cited for their action.

The train is an example of public transit that works! 60 Million people a year us it. It is time for Palo Alto to stop whining about how hard it is for a car driver to safely navigate something so obvious a train crossing and avoid something so large, loud, and visible as a train.

some statistice from Web Link

Fiscal Year 2016
Total Passengers : 19,233,427, Average Weekday : 60,219

Fiscal Year 2015
Total Passengers : 18,544,667, Average Weekday : 58,367

The problem is the cars and their drivers NOT the train.




6 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto2
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2017 at 10:12 am

Typo:
Should be: Caltrain is a heavily used commuter service carrying almost 20 Million people a year and about 60,000 people a DAY


4 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 11:43 am

> All trains should be able to operate safely and avoid a collision in
> any circumstance that they are likely to encounter.

This doesn't make any sense at all. Anyone watching the crossings here in Palo Alto can see how reckless many drivers are when the signals begin to operate and the crossing arms start to go down.

Take the case of the crossing at Alma and East/West Charleston. There is a hedgerow along the property line so that the trains traveling from the south can not see the cars traveling from the west to the east. If a car were to drive onto the tracks from West Charleston and stall on the tracks after the signal arms were activated, a train moving to the north would not be able to stop in time to avoid a collision.

This in fact happened in 2011 at this very intersection:
Web Link

With the bullet trains moving along at 50-60 mph, they can not stop on a dime.

Blaming the trains' brakes, or train operations doesn't allow for drivers who make mistakes when crossing the tracks.

CalTrain could provide the public with the stopping distances for each crossing when the trains are moving at the likely speed for each of those crossings. That kind of information might be useful for people wondering what the stopping distances might be.


3 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 11:48 am

@PaloAlto2--

Posting this data is inappropriate in this thread.

We are talking about crossing design, relative to the safety of both trains and vehicles.


11 people like this
Posted by PaloAlto2
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 17, 2017 at 12:17 pm

Joe,

welcome to the thread.

I was on the train and our discussion here is about the danger posed not just to the drivers, as most Palo Altan's will argue, but also to the thousands of passengers on the train. The locals driving personal vehicles carelessly are always trying to put the blame on crossing design, or mistakes by the driver...everything except where the blame squarely rests : ON THE CAR DRIVER.

It is very simple. It is against the law to enter a train crossing at AT ANY TIME unless you can safely cross and clear the crossing. If the driver cannot determine that it is safe to do so, then it is against the law for the car driver to proceed. PERIOD.

The local crossing design posse, needs to recognize that the train moves on a fixed path and on a known schedule carrying tens of thousands of people a day. There is no reason for a single car to be in its path for any reason.

If folks want to get their personal vehicle across the tracks without concern for the train then take San Antonio or Oregon Expy, where the taxpayers have already provided you an overpass or underpass. But for gosh sakes, STAY OFF THE TRACKS!!!


2 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 12:50 pm

@PaloAlto2--

The posting to which I was objecting was simply another political post about the low use of this behemoth that now going to waste $2B-$3B of taxpayer money for carrying such a small number of people.

BTW--I posted earlier, so this is not my first post on this thread.

Had you read my earlier post--it was my suggestion that collision avoidance and visions systems are long overdue for this 77-mile "railroad". Even then, as evidenced by the link provided to the 2011 accident at Alma/Charleston, trains can not stop on a dime.

Your comment about drivers being at fault is generally true, but given the number of train/vehicle collisions around the country, one wonders if vehicles do, in fact, stall on railroad tracks. As pointed out in my previous postings, given the length of time it takes to investigate these sorts of accidents, the news media more often than not pays little attention to who was a fault. One exception worthy of note is that the engineer in charge of the Amtrak train that derailed in the Philadelphia area killing eight people:

Web Link

In those cases, the Engineer is at fault. Can't remember of any of the not-very-frequent CalTrain/vehicle accidents being the fault of the Engineers, but without reviewing the incident reports, most of us don't know what the investigators found out.

> There is no reason for a single car to be in its path for any reason.

Nor, one might surmise from your claims--airplanes shouldn't crash, buildings should not catch on fire, and so on. You really are not living in the real world making such claims. Hopefully, those in charge are not going to be responsive to this kind of illogical thinking.

Your claim that the trains are operating on a fixed schedule is only true if they they leave the originating station on schedule. Tracks sometimes require emergency repairs, vehicle accidents occur, people end their lives by jumping in front trains, etc. Trains are often canceled for one reason or another. It just makes no sense to not recognize these realities.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 5:05 pm

@PaloAlto2

Somehow blaming locals for not understanding the complexities of these crossings is a little unfair. For the most part, whenever these collisions occur they are out of town drivers.

Locals are not the problem, we know the intricacies of the crossings. The problem is that out of towners have problem with the crossings. They are the ones making mistakes. In all the collisions I have noticed, it is always someone from out of town, often out of the area, who gets caught.


21 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 7:05 pm

Paloalto2,

First, let's get the numbers right. 60,219 is the average number of weekday rides. Since each user typically takes two rides per day (to and from) the actual number of users of the system is about half of the 60,219 figure or about 30,000.

To put his in perspective the peninsula has a population of 3,000,000+ people. Less than <1% of the peninsula's population are regular Caltrain users.

Caltrain is accessible to such a small fraction of the peninsula's population that it should hardly even qualify as "public transportation".


16 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 17, 2017 at 7:32 pm

Why don't trains follow the same rules of the road as cars, trucks, buses and bicycles? If trains are going to share the same space, shouldn't they follow the same rules?

If a car stalled or was trapped in an intersection and someone in another car t-boned it and drove it 70 feet down the road, it would be the moving car's fault. No excuses. The moving car ran into a stopped vehicle.


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 18, 2017 at 1:20 pm

I grew up in Palo Alto in the '60s and '70s and agree that these kinds of accidents practically never happened during that era.

These accidents could not happen if the crossings were properly grade separated, yet the City of Palo Alto has dragged its feet for decades without moving one inch closer to grade sep.

It's ironic how real-estate developers can get anything they want in Palo Alto in a red-hot hurry by spreading some wealth among elected officials, but when it comes to public safety and there isn't a deep-pocketed developer playing Santa Claus, handing out big checks to elected officials, city government becomes paralyzed.

"Why don't trains follow the same rules of the road as cars, trucks, buses and bicycles? If trains are going to share the same space, shouldn't they follow the same rules?"

You are clearly ignorant of the law. There is a whole body of federal law governing the operation of railroad trains. Trains always have the right of way -- always. They have no obligation to stop at a crossing until AFTER an accident has occurred. Blame drivers who violate the California vehicle code before you accuse Caltrain of having faulty brakes on its equipment or for not being in compliance with federal law.

With its vast inventory of $2 million homes and Stanford/Silicon-Valley brainpower, Palo Alto needs to get off the stick and get going with grade separation.


14 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2017 at 2:52 pm

@Leslie,

You are avoiding the issue.

I am very aware that railroads are regulated by antiquated 100 year old federal laws. Why does the railroad industry have its own special federal rules? Why don't the railroads follow the same basic common sense rules that govern the safe and efficient interactions of all other ground based vehicles?

Hint: snorab rebbor

If a bus slammed into the side of a car stopped in an intersection (a misdemeanor violation) it would still be the buses fault. It might even be considered criminal negligence, or worse.

Passenger rail is a dead-end technology. The federal rules that govern passenger rail's interaction with other ground based vehicles are as antiquated as the technology itself.


5 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jun 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm

"Why don't the railroads follow the same basic common sense rules that govern the safe and efficient interactions of all other ground based vehicles?"

Maybe its because they're not the same as other ground based vehicles? Just a thought


11 people like this
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2017 at 3:26 pm

The following two links offer data on the number of rail/vehicle and vehicle crashes in the US:

Number of rail/vehicle accidents a year:
Web Link

Vehicular Crash Stats for 2015:
Web Link

Rail: ~2,000/year
Vehicle: ~6,000,000/year

Probably pays to ponder the difference a little.


4 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 18, 2017 at 3:30 pm

"Why does the railroad industry have its own special federal rules?

"Passenger rail is a dead-end technology. The federal rules that govern passenger rail's interaction with other ground based vehicles are as antiquated as the technology itself."

Contact your elected officials in Washington and get the law changed. Good luck with that.

Say you change the law. A Caltrain engineer spots a vehicle stopped on the tracks and hits the emergency brake the instant he sees it, but the train physically cannot stop in time to avoid an accident; you know, that pesky law of momentum. Or, the vehicle gets off the track just in time to avoid an accident but you have a train full of passengers who were injured when the emergency brake was deployed, and for no reason because the vehicle eventually cleared the track.

So far you've accomplished nothing.

Rather than whining about the laws that govern railroad operation, try lighting a fire under Palo Alto city officials to get moving on grade sep. Either way, neither changing the laws that govern the railroads nor grade separation in Palo Alto is likely to happen in our lifetimes.

If you wrote them a big enough bribe check we'd have grade separation in no time.


19 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 19, 2017 at 12:05 am

Caltrain will never carry more than 1% of the Peninsula's population. Caltrain is fundamentally limited by its one-dimensional service area and the exorbitant cost of its infrastructure, and simply cannot compete with road based two-dimensional modes of transportation.

Southern Pacific, the smart money in the transportation business, figured this out 50 years ago and unloaded the dead-end passenger rail service on the dumb money in government.

The public intuitively understands being a passenger on a one-dimensional transportation system is fundamentally dis-empowering and has voted overwhelmingly with their feet. Self-piloted two-dimensional transportation is an empowering technology that opens up a new dimension in employment opportunities and a means to achieve social, economic, as well as physical mobility.

Simply put, if you want to improve your economic standing, a pickup truck is a much better investment than a Caltrain pass.


9 people like this
Posted by Gail
a resident of Green Acres
on Jun 19, 2017 at 4:50 pm

Where do the Caltrain riders get their sense of entitlement? The taxpayers, 99.9% of whom drive cars, are going to spend $1.5 billion to electrify Caltrian so 1% of the Peninsula's population can have a smoother ride, and all they do is complain and blame.

And why doesn't Palo Alto hurry up and spend another $250 million on the 1% of us so Caltrain won't have to upgrade its brakes to modern standards. We don't care how many people will have to have their homes confiscated or if the barriers will cause traffic jams, or if berms will divide the city.

We are saints because we ride the train, and everyone else is an evil car driving polluter, even if you are driving an electric car, so you should have to pay for our transportation.


2 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 19, 2017 at 8:26 pm

Gail:

There are a few reasonable people, myself among them, who believe Caltrain runs just fine as is without spending $1.5 billion on electrification. The dirty little secret is that the right-of-way is being electrified for Jerry Brown's white-elephant boondoggle, High-Speed Rail. Caltrain just happens to be a beneficiary of the HSR boondoggle. If it weren't for HSR we wouldn't even be discussing Caltrain electrification.

In its present unelectrified state, Caltrain keeps about 30,000 cars off the road each day, cars that would otherwise contribute to congestion and traffic jams. You can make up all the straw-man arguments you want about what percentage of the population it serves but they have little meaning.


1 person likes this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jun 19, 2017 at 8:41 pm

@Leslie

Repeating the same BS over and over won't make it any more true. Anyone with the brains for a basic Google search could find that electrification has been in the works for far longer than the current HSR project and is stated as a goal in plans from 2004 Web Link and priror, so unless you're willing to admit that Uncle Jerry is some kind of political savant running the long con from his first go as governor, you might as well knock it off.


3 people like this
Posted by Leslie
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 20, 2017 at 2:55 am

Caltrain electrification was a distant vision 13 years ago in 2004, with no political or economic backing. It wasn't until the "blended system" for HSR was conceived seven years later in 2011 that electrification gained any impetus, with newly-elected Jerry Brown making it his vanity project and Dianne Feinstein in Washington procuring HSR contracts for her husband's construction firm. Suddenly federal funds became available.

Without CA HSR, Caltrain electrification might still be languishing without funding and without political backing.


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 20, 2017 at 11:07 pm

Leslie said:

"In its present unelectrified state, Caltrain keeps about 30,000 cars off the road each day"

This statement is simply NOT true.

30,000 is the number of people regularly using Caltrain on weekdays, not the number of cars taken off the road. Most people who ride Caltrain also own cars and/or use cars, buses, shuttles or Uber.

The first thing many Caltrain riders do when they arrive at their station is walk to the parking lot, get in their car, and head off to pick up their spouse, children or groceries.

The US Department of Transportation breaks down car use as follows:

45% of daily trips are taken for shopping and errands.
27% of daily trips are social and recreational, such as visiting a friend.
15% of daily trips are taken for commuting (to work).

The vast majority of people on Caltrain are commuters, so Caltrian only replaces 15% of their driving. The other 85% if their transportation needs are typically satisfied by road based transportation.

On a weekday the number of cars taken off the road by Caltrain is 30,000 x 0.15 = 4,500 (about 0.15% of the 3,000,000+ cars on the peninsula).


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

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