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.
East Meadow and Churchill in Palo Alto are two of five crossings targeted for the safety improvements, which would include new traffic and railroad signals, according to a Peninsula Joint Powers Board (JBP) staff report.
The JPB will vote on awarding a contract for the improvements this morning. The board has already approved funding through its capital budget.
The Signal Preemption Project will provide improved advance warning of train approaches by lengthening the amount of time that signals will be red prior to when a train passes through the intersection. Preemption boxes and other devices transmit information to change traffic-signal sequences when a train is approaching so that traffic can be cleared from the tracks.
The amount of time might only be a matter of seconds, but that would increase safety for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians crossing the tracks, according to Caltrain.
A motorist was killed at the Charleston Road crossing in Palo Alto on April 15, 2011, after her vehicle became trapped on the tracks in heavy traffic and was struck by a train traveling at 79 mph.
The victim, Judy Goldblatt, 65, was an out-of-town visitor. An investigation by the San Mateo County Transit Police found that Goldblatt had likely panicked after the crossing gates descended and her rented Nissan Altima initially became trapped on the tracks in traffic. Her husband, Lawrence Goldblatt, escaped from the vehicle moments before it was struck.
Investigators found Goldblatt to be at fault because she had returned to the car after exiting, perhaps to retrieve her purse, which was under the driver's seat.
The Weekly later reported that investigators and city officials did not look into whether faulty signal timing played any role in her vehicle being trapped on the tracks.
A City of Palo Alto traffic signal was found to have timing that was off by several seconds in three directions. The signal should have turned red so that traffic traveling across Alma Street would have stopped and westbound traffic across the track would have been able to clear the intersection on a green light.
City traffic engineers were notified of the problem days after Caltrain personnel noticed the signal was not functioning properly, city and Caltrain documents showed.
Improvements will include crossings at Rengstorff Avenue and Castro Street in Mountain View and Brewster Avenue in Redwood City. If approved, the contract would be awarded to lowest bidder Shimmick Construction Company, Inc. of Oakland for $1,849,500.