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Caltrain strikes unoccupied vehicle in Palo Alto

Original post made on Aug 17, 2019

A Caltrain struck an unoccupied vehicle in Palo Alto Friday night.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, August 17, 2019, 11:12 AM

Comments (12)

18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 17, 2019 at 11:21 am

Exactly why was the car parked on the train tracks to begin with? Aren't there big signs here telling drives not to ever stop on the train tracks for any reason?


8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2019 at 11:38 am

The article doesn't mention whether the car was crossing EB or WB but was unoccupied. Fortunately it seems the occupants saw the approaching train and were able to get out in time. I am pleased nobody was hurt but the train driver probably didn't know that the car was empty so will have suffered somewhat.

However, I suspect the driver was from out of town and didn't know the layout of Charleston and the train tracks. At 8.41 it must have been pretty much dark, adding to the lack of local knowledge.


11 people like this
Posted by Never Argue With A Train
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 17, 2019 at 3:23 pm

Driver either tried to rush through the gates & got caught between them or car stalled on tracks.

No one intentionally stops on the middle of the RR tracks when a train is coming.

It's potentially dangerous to do so.


5 people like this
Posted by Random Resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 17, 2019 at 6:19 pm

@Never Argue With A Train: I see people stop on the tracks frequently, almost always eastbound. Someone drives over the tracks to make a right turn (on red) onto Alma and a 2nd car follows them but stops on the tracks. Then a train comes, the light turns green to clear the crossing but bicyclists or pedestrians crossing Alma prevent the first car from turning right leaving the 2nd stranded.

People also don't seem to be able to judge where the front of their car is, and regularly have the front of the car too close to the tracks.

Quite some time ago there was a sign put up *before* the tracks saying "stop here on red" and diagonal striping was painted between the tracks and Alma to suggest perhaps you shouldn't be stopped there.


9 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 17, 2019 at 6:51 pm

Someone on Nextdoor says the car driver wanted to turn right from Charleston to Alma, but somehow turned onto the train tracks instead. After they bailed, the car got rear ended by the train. No information about how this happened, but this has happened before.


4 people like this
Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 8:41 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

I agree with Random Resident; I see this frequently (second car on tracks behind car waiting to turn right onto Alma) at the Churchill crossing. Sometimes the car on the tracks honks. Why haven't these crossings been adjusted to eliminate the single space across the tracks? All traffic should stop on the safe side, to eliminate or minimize these accidents.


3 people like this
Posted by AnotherRandomResident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 8:48 am

@RandomResident describes a very common occurrence:

“I see people stop on the tracks frequently, almost always eastbound. Someone drives over the tracks to make a right turn (on red) onto Alma and a 2nd car follows them but stops on the tracks. Then a train comes, the light turns green to clear the crossing but bicyclists or pedestrians crossing Alma prevent the first car from turning right leaving the 2nd stranded.”

This is very common where a second car gets trapped in this situation. I see it happen several times a week at the Charleston Street intersection with Alma. No car should advance onto the tracks UNTIL THE CAR AHEAD HAS CLEARED THRU THE INTERSECTION. This is common sense for most drivers, especially locals who know the history of these crossings. A sign stating such should be posted to alert visitors and remind others.


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Posted by AnotherRandomResident
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 18, 2019 at 8:54 am

“I see it happen several times a week at the Charleston Street intersection with Alma.”

Just to clarify. I see this happen but most cars make it thru before the gates close. However I have seen some hair-raisingly close calls. Thankfully have never witnessed an accident but have read about the many that have happened like this over the years. Some with tragic outcomes.


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2019 at 9:55 am

The problem, as I see it, was that there used to be enough space for two cars and "everyone" who used the crossings regularly knew it. It meant that there was space for right turns on red and it also meant, very importantly, that those who were waiting would always get across as the lights sequenced before a train came through and the whole light sequence thing would start over and the car waiting at the gate to cross would have a couple of extra minutes wait. This was changed to enough space for one car which happened to be crossing when the light started to change but all others had to stay behind the tracks and the gates. This also afforded the inability to turn right on red which caused the back up to be even longer.

The fundamental problem is a bad design. The fact that Alma and the tracks are so close that crossing traffic has two independent traffic flows, one vehicles and one trains. Obviously trains have to be treated differently than vehicles because of their long stopping distances.

When Alma and the tracks were designed to be so close, it never occurred to the designers that there would be so much traffic needing to cross both these routes.

The other big problem is that those unfamiliar with the town and the tracks are taken by surprise. GPS and darkness make these two crossings confusing. I myself have had to pay very great attention at Mary in Sunnyvale and Castro as well as Rengstorff in Mountain View, in the darkness. I know the track and Central Expressway are there, but the signage, the lights, the flashing red Caltrain lights, stop lights, turn lights on vehicles, the whole shebang make for such blight in the darkness that the amount of information being bombarded at the driver causes confusion and panic mode to set in. Throw into the mix a voice from the gps telling driver to turn now and all rationale is thrown to the wind. They turn onto the tracks. It happens time and time again.

The only real solution is to get rid of the grade crossings.


1 person likes this
Posted by bike commuter
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Aug 18, 2019 at 10:17 am


this happens about 3 times a year. once the stuck car was hit and turned into a giant fireball. if one does whatever told by the GPS (rather than using the common sense), this will keep on happening.

the second car on track is another common sense issue. maybe they just have a 9am scrum standup they cannot afford to miss.


1 person likes this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 18, 2019 at 5:28 pm

The problem is that the Train, or as I like to call it "Victorian Nellie" is Victorian. It does not belong in this time.
Sad !


12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 19, 2019 at 9:37 am

Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood

>> The problem is that the Train, or as I like to call it "Victorian Nellie" is Victorian. It does not belong in this time.
Sad !

What is sad is that you keep repeating this over and over, despite all the evidence to the contrary. The current train setup is equivalent to a 2-3 lane freeway now, and, the right-of-way, if fully modernized and utilized, could carry 6X-8X what it does today. Single-occupancy-vehicles are antiquated, and will be mostly replaced in the future by electrified trains and buses.



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