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Caltrain kills pedestrian near Alma crossing

Original post made on Jul 6, 2007

A Caltrain commuter train fatally struck a pedestrian around 6:15 p.m. Thursday near the Alma Street crossing, halting or slowing commute trains in both directions for about 30 minutes to an hour.

Read the full story here Web Link

Comments (23)

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Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2007 at 10:19 am

This is really getting ridiculous. I know that some of these deaths are suicides, but until I know otherwise, it seems to me the death of that young mother last week at the E. Meadow crossing was the result of a simple mistake with no room for error. We all make mistakes, our systems should allow for the most common human error and not result in inevitable fatality.

At a minimum, the crossings should come down sooner. The trains pass almost as soon as the gates go down. If someone realizes they've made a mistake, there is no room to assess the situation and make even one correction.

I wonder why the trains don't have "cow catchers"? Less like the ones on old steam trains, but maybe more like modern traffic barriers at highway offramps that would crumple in a collision and buffer the impact to a car or even pedestrian in the way. And at the very least push them out of the way rather than trapping even cars under the wheels, as in last week's collision. The "cow catchers" could even be aerodynamic and reduce drag and fuel consumption, so an added benefit.

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Posted by Caltrain Commuter
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 6, 2007 at 10:22 am

This is the second Palo Alto train fatality in a week. Labelling the victims as trespassers is not helpful. Access to the tracks should be eliminated by replacing the street crossing gates with underpasses.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2007 at 10:31 am

This is really a very dangerous area. There is a park which is used by serious soccer and baseball players and the balls are always going on the tracks. There must be a strong tendency for players to retrieve their balls, particularly soccer balls as they can be expensive. It is much to easy for someone to get onto the tracks and here is a good example of the attraction for someone to do so. Even a child who may see the ball go over into the tracks and the players abandon it, will be devious enough to try and retrieve it.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 6, 2007 at 10:45 am

I proposed, years ago, a design contest to develop a people catcher that would cushion the impact of a train with a pedestrian and hold them up safe until the train could stop. Such devices were routinely fitted to trolleys a hundred years ago. Speeds are higher, but materials are better today. Perhaps an incentive might be a speed limit for trains not so equipped. At the very least, have something to keep people from going under the train. That isn't even rocket science. Someone has to care.

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Posted by robert
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:33 am

You guys need to get over wanting to sterilize everything! We don't need underpasses, we need people to be careful. Think of how hard it is to get hit by a train. These things don't pop out of nowhere. They are BIG, LOUD, blow their horns before they reach you and you can FEEL them coming through the ground. If you go through all that, and STILL end up on the track the moment it passes over them, then you don't need an overpass. You need common sense.

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Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:35 am

Thank you, Walter! This is a great idea.

The problem of keeping pedestrians from harm with such a device would be much harder than at least not trapping and crushing cars, but it would save lives, and if designed properly, would probably also save fuel.

The kids all play with toy trains that have cow catchers, safety devices on the trolleys, etc, which were fitted to trains in the past as you say. I wonder why they fell out of use? I have a very bad feeling that it's another one of those warped liability arguments, where if the trains don't have the devices, anyone who is hit is killed and is entirely at fault. If the train does have a device, anyone who is hit may survive and sue... Are there any "good samaritan" or other municipal safety laws that would exempt such a device from silly liabilities like this?

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Posted by Peter
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 6, 2007 at 11:36 am

I was on the train yesterday as it stopped 200 yards short of the station platform. The conductor announced that "We have hit a trespasser" and then kept us well informed of the fatality during the 75 minutes that we were in stasis. Though there may have been more respect for the dead than the living, Caltrain did a very professional job of handling the incident and working with the authorities. I know that the drivers and conductors wake up at night sweating over these incidents and that they would welcome working with Palo Alto to do the same to the crossings that San Carlos and Belmont did years ago.

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Posted by Jim Bob
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 6, 2007 at 12:04 pm

Yeah, great idea. Underpasses everywhere! So, who is going to pay for that? And will car commuters suffer the inevitable massive delays as each and every level crossing is rebuilt?

Get a grip, folks. LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING THE TRACKS! I learned that in first grade, hasn't failed me yet.

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Posted by Mike
a resident of another community
on Jul 6, 2007 at 1:26 pm

I used to commute regularly on Caltrain. Fortunately, I was never on the actual train hitting a car or person, but I have been on the one right behind it a couple of times.

It is really a difficult situation. We could probably spend huge amounts of money building fences and overpasses, but even then people sometimes jump in front of trains at station platforms (happens once a year or so on BART which is highly separated). The fact is, however, that Caltrain is just scraping by each year and has absolutely NO money to build overpasses.

I have little sympathy when I am delayed an hour or more by someone walking along tracks or stopping their car at a traffic light on the tracks. This is basic common sense.

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Posted by Yes to Common Sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2007 at 2:14 pm

Perhaps it would be a good idea to check that the crossing gates come down with "enough" lead time, given the increased speed of trains such as the baby bullets.

As for cow catchers, it may be wise to look into them, though I doubt that any feasible device could do much to protect against a train at 40-60 miles per hour (basic physics).

Ultimately, we need to hold ourselves accountable for our basic safety. It is certainly a tragedy when a cyclist, car occupant, or pedestrian (whether child or adult) is killed in an accident on the tracks. However, the root causes are consistently the same - and it is consistently the same basic awareness and personal responsibility that could have prevented it.

My child will be riding a bicycle soon and once quite a bit older he may well be riding solo throughout the city (and crossing the tracks at Charleston and Meadow). While it is my mission and duty to protect him and nurture him, I feel that the responsibility of CalTrain / the city / Big Brother stops with appropriately timed crossing gates, warning bells, lights, etc.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2007 at 2:20 pm

Repeated accidents like this do not happen in other countries. There should be no way a pedestrian can get to walk alongside the tracks. At the crossings, there should be barriers which block access to the tracks. In other countries, the barriers do not raise, but fold back stopping access to the tracks for vehicles or pedestrians. This system should be introduced here. I can't see that a gate which remains horizontal and folds back across the tracks can be any more expensive than a barricade which raises into the vertical.

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Posted by Emily
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 6, 2007 at 2:42 pm

@ Anonymous
I thought I heard that the fatality that happened a week ago was deemed a suicide. The SF Chronicle said the driver remained on the track, even after the light turned green and the other cars had moved out of the way. If this is true, then I don't think it can be blamed on a flaw in the crossing system


The train does go right next to the El Camino park and baseball field, but it *is* separated from the park by a 8 foot tall wire fence. I was on the train involved in the accident yesterday, and during my hour+ wait, I noticed that this area of tracks are surrounded on both sides by fences. To say that players and children can *easily* get to the train tracks in this area is somewhat misleading. A person coming from the park would've had to climb up a slight hill and climb over a fence to get to the tracks.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jul 6, 2007 at 3:35 pm

There does seem to be a lot of accidents in this area. The person killed was a young man, I think calling him a "trespasser" is insensitive. Given the fact that so many pedestrians have been killed by caltrain, I think Palo Alto and surrounding towns should consider building a concrete wallaround the tracks.

What a tragedy!

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 6, 2007 at 3:44 pm


I agree that El Camino Park has an embankment and a high wire fence, but it is only a relatively short walk to the end of the park where the crossing is and it is at this point an enterprising ball chaser can enter the track.

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Posted by Diane
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 6, 2007 at 4:13 pm

It amazes me to hear that the train comes almost immediately after the gates go down. I live in Menlo Park near the tracks, and our gates go down long before the train arrives. Too long in fact. The seemingly endless delay tempts people to go around the gates. If this guy was on the tracks with the gates down, then he was either suicidal or tempting fate.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Atherton
on Jul 6, 2007 at 10:22 pm

Anyone on the tracks after the gate comes down *is* trespassing. It's illegal and just plain dumb to go around the gates after the bells start ringing. Criticizing Caltrain reps for calling the victim a trespasser is unfair and beside the point. There was no sane reason for him to be there. He was trespassing.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 7, 2007 at 2:04 pm

There are times when we are distracted. That is why they put guards on machines even when only skilled folk use them. Trespass need not be a death sentence, and it ill behoves the lucky survivors to denegrate the gone.

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Posted by Crossing_User
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jul 7, 2007 at 11:19 pm

> El Camino Park has an embankment and a high wire fence, but it is only
> a relatively short walk to the end of the park where the crossing is
> and it is at this point an enterprising ball chaser can enter the
> track.

No. The fence curves around the field all the way to the corner of El Camino and Alma, without any gaps. Retrieving a ball would be quite a walk.

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Posted by Rob
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 8, 2007 at 2:33 am

believe it or not, i was in that train!!! it was bad. 7 days before this accident, around the same time a caltrain hit a car. i was in a train few stations behind. i dont know if its caltrains fault or anybody else's but they really need to look into this and find a solution.

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Posted by Leo
a resident of University South
on Jul 8, 2007 at 7:16 pm

Sometimes, the best solution to problems like this are societal changes. More overpasses and more barriers are not the answer, but just reactionary changes that will themselves be compromised.

For example, talking about drunk driving as a problem of individuals making bad decisions is ignoring the societal role of providing little or no public transportation after "commute/business hours".

I feel that the caltrain crossing problem can be solved with more trains, and perhaps a reduction of train crossings to those which have overpasses. If you didn't feel the need to drive as much, you wouldn't need to cross the tracks in your car so often. Pedestrian overpasses are much easier/cheaper/faster to build than ones for cars, especially since you need not change the train track elevation, and only build a ramp and bridge for pedestrians.

Get out of your cars people! Shed your car and you'll shed some pounds, too!

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 9, 2007 at 7:42 am

Weird that people can reject overpasses and yet urge BART, which establishes the same seperation but at a hundred times the cost.

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Posted by whoknows
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 9, 2007 at 5:05 pm

It was a suicide guys. It did not happen at the Alma street crossing it happened at the bridge. People shouldn't involve train crews and passengers if they want to take their own lives. Also, people need to pay attention around tracks at all times to avoid accidents. Peolpe need to slow down and take a minute to look around for trains. Don't be in such a hurry and we can avoid accidents. As far as suicides, we can't stop those but, accidents we can.

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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 10, 2007 at 7:07 am

As one whose father and granfather were the fun kind of engineer [SP and Rock Island] I know about the agony of being first at the scene. If a people catcher wih a reasonable chance of not killing were deployed, suicides would pick a more sure way. How many people jump off the San Mateo bridge?

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

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