Palo Alto Weekly

News - April 13, 2012

One year later, questions remain about train/car collision

Conflicting accounts, secrecy and questions about traffic signals surround fatal accident at Charleston Road

by Sue Dremann

A year after Indiana resident Judith Goldblatt was killed when a train hit her rental car at the Charleston Road crossing, questions linger about the events surrounding her death and the City of Palo Alto's role, if any, in the accident.

Goldblatt, 65, and her husband, Dr. Lawrence Goldblatt of Indianapolis, were traveling east on Charleston when their Nissan Altima got struck on the tracks shortly after 5 p.m. on April 15, 2011. According to investigators, there were cars in front of the Goldblatts when the crossing-guard arms lowered, blocking the Altima from driving off the tracks.

Lawrence Goldblatt managed to escape the car before impact.

Speculation about the accident surfaced almost immediately, ranging from whether the traffic signals had malfunctioned to whether recent work at the rail crossing and roadway might have contributed to the tragedy.

Over the past year, the Weekly has sought to learn the extent to which the City of Palo Alto and Caltrain investigated the possible role of a traffic-signal malfunction, leading to a traffic jam that contributed to the incident.

But despite numerous requests for information and documents, the Weekly has found that neither agency, it appears, investigated how the signals affected traffic on the day of the accident — in spite of irregularities with the signal timings that were discovered later and a month-long slowdown of the trains through Palo Alto while the signals were examined.

Direct inquiries to city staff as to the extent of their investigation have only elicited vague replies and accounts that conflict with the official San Mateo County Sheriff's Office Transit Police investigation. Meanwhile, Transit Police Det. Victor Lopez said he did not investigate events related to the traffic signals. The Transit Police have jurisdiction only within the Caltrain right-of-way, so any investigation into events occurring outside of the right-of-way — namely, traffic signals — falls under the jurisdiction of the city, he said.

The Weekly has learned through documents and interviews that:

* Within a week after the accident, Amtrak officials noticed a malfunction of the traffic signals at Charleston and Alma Street

* City staff examined signal timings and changed them twice within three weeks of the accident to curtail longer "wait" times

* City staff also replaced the traffic-signal controller, which governs how quickly the lights respond to an indicator from an approaching train, called a "pre-emption"

* Judith Goldblatt attempted to maneuver her car at an angle and briefly got it off the tracks but ultimately it ended up back on the tracks

* Witnesses said that Goldblatt did exit the car but returned for an unknown reason

* Rail equipment was functioning properly at the time of the incident and afterward, according to the Transit Police.

The Weekly first went to the city in June regarding a Caltrain official's report that the traffic signal had malfunctioned. The city declined to comment until February of this year.

After nearly 10 months of silence, city officials now admit the signal timings were irregular, but they maintain the seconds of difference did not play a role in trapping Goldblatt's car on the tracks and are within accepted standards.

Curtis Williams, director of planning and community environment, said in a March 28 interview that he feels the city did investigate the signal timing and that it wasn't a factor in the accident.

"I couldn't be prepared to say, 'No, nothing could ever possibly contribute,'" to the accident, he said, but he called the role of the traffic signals a long shot.

Instead, he cited the city's understanding that Goldblatt had the opportunity to drive off the tracks.

"Our recollection, and it is supported by everything we've seen and heard, is that those cars in front of her were cleared in front of the intersection," he said.

"The light turned green for her to get out of the intersection. ... She wasn't trapped between cars (when the train hit). There was no reason she couldn't have gone forward then," he said.

But Lopez refuted that claim Monday. He said witnesses reported Goldblatt's car became stuck behind traffic that stopped when the light turned red.

"The light turned yellow, and traffic slowed down and blocked her," he said, later clarifying the traffic blocked her car in from all directions.

Lopez said Goldblatt appeared to panic. She tried to maneuver her car at an angle back and forth.

"She could've gone around the edge. Originally, according to the engineer, she got out of the track line, but then went back on. I just think she panicked. It was just a tragic accident," he said.

Goldblatt exited the car, according to witnesses, Lopez said. But for some reason, she returned. Her purse was found under the seat, and perhaps she had returned to retrieve it, he said. "But we will never know," he added.

Investigators concluded the accident was ultimately Goldblatt's fault because she was on the tracks, he said.

While the city denies the traffic signals' involvement in creating a traffic jam, both city and Caltrain documents obtained by the Weekly through the California Public Records Act show that both Amtrak and the city were concerned about the signals immediately after the accident.

On April 15, Ryan Johnson, city electrician, and James R. Lynch, an Amtrak assistant division engineer, verified visually that the city's traffic controller was operating correctly, according to an April 22 email from Scott Yahne, the city's supervisor of electrical systems.

But the day after, Chief Transportation Official Jaime Rodriguez discovered the Charleston signal's green light ran two seconds too long in the east-west direction Goldblatt was traveling, Williams said.

Although a longer time might sound favorable to clearing the tracks, it actually could have the effect of making a driver think he or she has time to dart across the rails, Williams said.

Typically, the green light allows each car four seconds to go forward. It takes about three of those seconds per car to go through the tracks, Williams said.

The Charleston signal allowed for 12 seconds of green when the traffic controller received the pre-emption message — the indicator that a train was coming. The 12-second interval is within safety parameters of up to 20 seconds, however, Williams said.

But Rodriguez determined the interval should be 10 seconds before the light turns red.

Amtrak workers also noticed a problem with the intersection's signals. On April 21 Amtrak notified the city of a different problem. Patrick Murphy, a signal maintainer for Amtrak, reported there were long track-clearance times on two different occasions, according to Yahne's email. Murphy saw the signal for traffic traveling north and south along Alma stay green for 18 seconds, Williams said.

Murphy issued a slow-order for all trains passing through the crossing. Caltrain notified the Transit Police, according to Murphy's log.

When Yahne and a team of city, Caltrain and Amtrak officials went to the scene, they watched the intersection for an hour but could not duplicate what Murphy had seen, Yahne wrote in his email. Rodriguez, City Traffic Engineer Sam Peiris, Yahne and Caltrain and Amtrak personnel returned to the city's Municipal Services Center later that morning to review downloaded data from the signal controller. They spent two hours validating the information and found no malfunction, he wrote.

Rodriguez continued to investigate. On May 4, at Rodriguez's request, Yahne built a replica of the intersection using a spare controller. Yahne "found that there is a longer delay than normal for that intersection," according to an email by Russ Kamiyama, city Utilities Department manager of electrical operation.

The Alma traffic light had a 12-second minimum green time for cars traveling north and south before the signal would allow east- and westbound traffic on Charleston to clear the area, he noted. The duration is three times longer than at Palo Alto's other crossings at Churchill and East Meadow, according to Kamiyama's report. Churchill and East Meadow each have a four-second delay.

Yahne also found that at Charleston "the initial pre-emption only forces out the pedestrian crossing north/south bound (does not allow traffic to clear tracks) and the total time delay is 12 seconds," Kamiyama noted.

Later that morning, Rodriguez reduced the Alma Street green time down to four seconds to match the times at East Meadow and Churchill, he noted in a May 4 email.

The 12-second interval had been in place at the time of Goldblatt's accident and had been functioning that way for several years, Williams said last month. He did not have an explanation for why it had been set differently from the other intersections.

Rodriguez also replaced the 7-year-old traffic-signal controller on May 9, which is located at the northwest corner of Alma and Charleston. Williams said the replacement was a proactive measure that gave engineers more flexibility in adjusting timing. The automatic trigger to tell the controller a train is coming takes one second now instead of four, he said. In addition, the city has added video cameras at the intersection, he said.

Although an email from Rodriguez immediately after the accident show he directed staff to gather data and other documents related to the traffic signals — and it appears the city's police department prepared a supplemental report related to the accident — the city appears not to have come to any conclusions about its role in what happened April 15.

City Manager James Keene said on Thursday that any independent Palo Alto investigation would have muddled the official query into the accident.

City Attorney Molly Stump said on Jan. 19 that it did not appear the police department was involved. Transit Police had told the Palo Alto police department that they were handling the investigation.

Stump said the police supplemental report is exempt from disclosure because it is an investigative report.

The city also declined to release papers it said are not subject to disclosure under exemptions for attorney-client privileged communications, attorney work product and preliminary drafts and notes, and it claimed one record is exempt under state evidence code "as a record acquired in confidence where the public interest in maintaining confidentiality clearly outweighs the interest in disclosure," Stump wrote to Weekly Publisher Bill Johnson on Feb. 8.

Caltrain produced no written documents between it and the city regarding discussions about the traffic signal, and it has not answered a request to explain why it held the trains at slow speeds going through the Charleston intersection last year until May 21.

The Transit Police also declined to release the final report. Investigative reports are exempt from release to third parties under the public records act, Deputy County Counsel David Silberman wrote to the Weekly in September.

But he provided a preliminary report from April 15, which noted "the victim was driving across the train tracks when vehicles stopped in front of her as the crossing arms came down."

Lopez said that regardless of events, it is unlawful to be on the tracks.

"People need to be careful. They need to be safe. If the light turns green, wait until the track is cleared before crossing it. Working in this unit, I would've never imagined how many vehicles have been struck by trains," he said.

Staff Writer Sue Dremann can be emailed at sdremann@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 12, 2012 at 11:07 pm

I recall previous witness statements saying that the car in front cleared the intersection when the light turned green and then there were several more seconds before the collision. Were those several seconds the time period that the driver was outside of the car?


Posted by David, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 10:26 am

The operator/driver of the vehicle maneuvered the vehicle in a way that they could not clear the tracks for an approaching train. The golden rule of driving over rail crossings is you do not stop on the tracks, or get trapped on the tracks. This is not just a Palo Alto issues, it's taught all over the world. Sorry if I come across as heartless, but people need to take some responsibility for their own actions.


Posted by stretch, a resident of another community
on Apr 13, 2012 at 10:42 am

I'm afraid I have to agree with David. I'm so scared of being caught on tracks that I never, ever proceed onto them unless there's room for my car on the other side. I'm aghast at how many people pull onto the tracks to wait for a chance to cross the intersection.

I feel badly for the Goldblatt family, and the fact that Mrs. Goldblatt was out of the car and went back makes it all the worse.


Posted by FrankF, a resident of Ventura
on Apr 13, 2012 at 10:45 am

FrankF is a registered user.

All of us who drive have made and will continue to make mistakes and misjudgments; hopefully not too many and not too often but they will happen.

Such a mistake should not be a death sentence - and I think the only true solution here is grade separation of all of out train crossings. We might not be able to afford it today but we will never do it unless we set it as a goal.

Grade Separated Crossing! Write your council member today.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2012 at 10:53 am



The rule is simple and clear-

-never stop on the train tracks-if you do then you endanger others lives as well as your own.


Posted by Ronnie, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2012 at 10:56 am

I think you are correct, David. Its still heartbreaking. But, I see people doing this quite often, whether they are just confused by the intersection, or are just impatient.

I think the best thing to do (other than getting rid of the grade crossings) would be to make that 1-car space a "forbidden" zone, and mandate that if the light is red, you have to stop before the tracks and the gate.

The other thing thats sad in this case (at least it appears so) is that in an emergency, you leave everything behind. I remember my parents/teachers telling me that, and I try to drill this into my kids heads too. Remember you can replace just about anyTHING, but you can never replace a person.

Really sad though. Hopefully they will figure out some way to prevent it from ever happening again.


Posted by resident, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:03 am

When this collision first happened, there was a lot of talk about moving the eastbound traffic lights to in front of the train tracks instead of the current location behind the train tracks. Is this change still under consideration? I think the Weekly even interviewed Palo Alto traffic engineers about this change and they said it was doable.


Posted by TyrL162, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:04 am

I agree with "stretch." A security camera that activates every time a train approaches the intersection should be installed. If a car is stopped on the tracks, its license plate should be recorded and the violator notified. Something akin to a "red light" camera.


Posted by She was not a native, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Apr 13, 2012 at 11:42 am

Remember that she lived out of state. When I lived in Minnesota, there were train tracks for slow freight trains. Many of the tracks were old and never used so people didn't take them seriously. Others tracks were used by slow, slow freight trains. There were guards that would fall to block cars from crossing, but often it would take the train a very, very long time to approach the intersection. Yet, people would still get killed by trains out there.

Our commuter trains are at the intersection within a matter of 15 seconds (?) after the lights and guards warn people; she obviously didn't realize this.


Posted by lyfe, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Apr 13, 2012 at 1:13 pm

its discovered that there is always a form of existence or life whatever. its not reincarnation its consciousness that is everything.that person is now another form or awareness.we are all it. you were always some form of consciouisness no seperation between anyone. another life will feel like the you that is now. its all ''we''. consciousness never began and will never end. there never was an individual that died at that crossing. that consciousness is another form now. but it is not that particular individual. it is you!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 4:21 pm

Personally, I would like to see greater safety controls put in place at our crossings.

There was some talk about moving the light westside of the crossing and nothing has been done.

It is likely that if another accident such as this occurs again, it will be to someone unfamiliar with our crossings. Better safety controls and freeway style lights warning that the gates are closing which can be seen before traffic approaches the gates would make a big difference.

Thank you Weekly for updating us, but it is sad to see that there are no real plans to make our crossings safer.


Posted by OGPA, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 13, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Does no one remember that the gates with the yellow bars threatening fines were not there 6 months before this incident? That area was a perfect emergency area and allowed cars to get out and make a right turn towards mv and clear out. Now with the revenue gates, there is essentially a fortified cage of steel and concrete preventing you from escaping. I have photos from the incident and and the aftermath. Furthermore, children walk around the gates because they fear the fine which puts them in charleston road traffic. Remove the revenue gates. Why were they installed and why are they fortified so you would need a gmc Sierra 3500 hd to take them out? Or any Oldsmobile. Poor lady I would have punched it into the car in front of me or even taken a head on collision in alma before taking on the Nippon Sharyo in an altima. Or I would have gone into the area directly to the left of the two cars in front, which inevitably would be empty because it is tge left side of the road and cars do not wait there.


Posted by Trudy, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2012 at 9:46 pm

It is far too easy to get stuck on the tracks especially if you are not familiar with the layout at those intersections (westbound, Alma at Meadow and Charleston). If you don't know *before* you hit the tracks that there is very little room between the stoplights and the tracks, you can easily get stuck right on the tracks if the light changes from green to red. Knowing where to stop is made more difficult to anticipate with decreased visibility from the track grade and if you are behind a larger vehicle. The lights need to be moved before the tracks or else this kind of accident will be sure to happen again.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 13, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Another train/car collision today Web Link


Posted by Trudy, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 13, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Make that eastbound.


Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 14, 2012 at 10:42 am

This article seems to represent a significant investment of time on the part of the Weekly. I, for one, would like to compliment them for making the effort. The article seems to have covered many of the issues on the table, but like many investigations of government activities, many questions are left unanswered. Moreover, many have not been asked.

The article does not broach the topic of liability, which always means multi-million dollar settlements these days. Given the multi-jurisdictional nature of Caltrain—the article leaves us with no clear understanding of who is responsible for safety involving the Caltrain operation.

The article does not seem to indicate that the family intends to sue for compensation, but certainly that is a possibility that is looming on the horizon. If they were to sue, which agencies would be named in such a suit? Remembering back a decade or so, the City of Palo Alto was named in a suit involving the death of a young girl on East Meadow Caltrain crossing—involving perhaps a $1M payout by the City of Palo Alto (if memory serves). (Unfortunately, these sorts of settlements can not be found on the City's web site. Finding mention of the accident and any settlements can only be found in the archives of local newspapers, for the most part.)

The whole issue of liability is one that we all should be concerned about. Particularly now that every country in the world is a possible target for terrorist attacks. We all should be wondering if the City of Palo Alto, as well as every other member agency, has an emergency plan drawn up, that is well coordinated with other member agencies, to deal with a train derailment, or terrorist attack, that might result in the deaths, and injuries, of hundreds of people and the damage of significant property? And again, the issue of liability would need to have been considered also—does the Caltrain operation have insurance that might cover a billion dollars, or more, in claims?

State Legislator Jerry Hill has been trying to make a name for himself recently by being overtly critical of PG&E over the gas pipe explosion San Bruno a couple years ago. PG&E's not being able to produce records about this particular pipeline, or others around the state, has been criticized by just about everyone, including Hill. Yet, Mr. Hill seems to have been very quiet about the safety issues on the Caltrain line—which has resulted in many, many, more deaths over the years than PG&E gas pipeline management has caused.

This leaves us asking the fundamental question—who is responsible for Caltrain safety? Is it the CEO, who is paid upwards of $400K a year? Is it the JPA Board, which are mostly all elected municipal/country officials? Is it the treasuries (meaning the taxpayers) of all of the member agencies? Who can be held responsible for safety of motorists, and passengers, of this short, 77-mile long, railroad operation?

The Weekly has done its readers quite a service with this article—but there is so much territory untilled here that we all need to press our elected representatives on the problems of Caltrain's refusal to answer questions about safety, as well as its finances. We also need to press our State representatives to have the State Auditor called in to review Caltrain operations, and safety.


Posted by Sunn, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Apr 14, 2012 at 10:57 am

Need to update traffic rule/ law to 21st century.

Most high way speed limit is 65 mph in rural area. When high way enters city/ town, the speed limit is set to 40/35/25 mph.

Why is train allowed to run recklessly in the cities?

Elected officials should do something. Just do it!


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Maybe some new signage would make the old law more clear: DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS
Adding another word for emphasis: EVER


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm

It looks like the city is covering something up and that needs to be discovered, even if it takes a long time.


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm

Hmmmm - no conspiracy theories please. It is painful enough that this is being brought up a year later, and extremely sad that there was another accident at another intersection. Tragically, both are due to driver error.

In last year's horrific accident, the driver stopped on the tracks after the warning signal behind another stopped car. There was a car behind her & the gate, she was stuck. It was a terribly sad story. Drivers--stop IMMEDIATELY when the signal sounds.

In the latest Menlo accident, there were no other cars blocking the one that was hit but the driver misjudged her distance.

Be extra careful around railroad tracks -- you can't beat the train, so stop immediately and be patient.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Neighbor - did you read the article? I'm not looking for a conspiracy theory at all, but I'm a realist & coverups happen frequently. It looks like there's a coverup going on w/this incident, if this article's slant is accurate.


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 14, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Let's assume for the sake of discussion that the diagram is an accurate depiction of the scene at the time of the accident. Sorry to say that the driver was clearly in violation of the section of the California Vehicle Code that says no vehicle may enter a railroad crossing unless there is room for that vehicle on the opposite side of the crossing. I don't see where the city, county, JPB or CalTrain have any liability here and I doubt there is a competent attorney who would take the case. A similar section of the vehicle code says that no vehicle may enter an intersection (with no railroad crossing) unless there is room for the vehicle on the opposite side of the intersection. This is the "don't block the box" law which was enacted to prevent gridlock when the light changes and there are still vehicles in the intersection blocking cross traffic. I see this violated all the time.

What I infer from the article is that tragically, the driver and her husband had both exited the vehicle before the train was upon them, then the driver had returned to the vehicle (perhaps to retrieve her purse?) at the time the train collided with her car. Her husband escaped without injury.


Posted by Do not discount Human Error, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2012 at 12:59 am

Just today I personally saw 3 cars driving onto and idle on the tracks waiting for the light to change. There was absolutely no reason for them to be on the tracks other than poor judgment. It was a clear day and there were no traffic jams. The cars behind them even made room for them to reverse but none of them did. They just sat there.

I share this because there is no good reason for a car to be on the tracks. It makes no difference whether the signal is 8, 10, or 12 seconds long or short. We could spend lots of time and effort to investigate the cause and the engineers could test this and that. And after all that, I guarantee that there will be those who continue to ignore good sense and all the signs and drive onto the tracks and wait.

And when that train comes, panic is natural.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2012 at 6:04 am

I hope the city is at least trying to work towards grade separating these crossings. Cars and trains should not be crossing at the same level on a busy commute line. It may be okay for rural areas but not for a busy commute line with up to 5 trains an hour each direction. The sad thing is that when people are panicked their normal functioning is affected and people can't always respond the way they should. Everyone is human and everyone could find themselves in a similar situation, particularly if in an unfamiliar area. Regardless of talking about what someone should or shouldn't of done the best solution is the one that eliminates the risk in the first place.

Palo Alto needs to make an assessment of which crossings can be grade separated first with the remainder to follow when funds available. I think Charleston and Alma should be the first due to their high traffic followed by East Meadow and Churchill. An interim solution with East Meadow and Churchill may be to close the crossings but replace them with pedestrian and bicycle underpasses which would easier to fit in the limited space. When driving it would only take a few minutes more to get to the next closest grade separated crossing. Traffic would also move better at newly grade separated crossings if not repeatedly waiting for trains to pass.


Posted by Deb, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2012 at 8:25 am

I agree with Brian, assessments must be made and undercrossings developed because the sheer number of deaths on the tracks makes the costs of under crossings valuable. Here is a comment from a person who knows first hand. Years ago my mother was struck from behind by a vehicle and pushed onto the rails, she was face to face with an oncoming train. No time to get out of the car. The track she was pushed onto was a spur track with no train on it, it could have been different.Having a grade separation will save lives, in light of the suicides and car & train crashes. Build undercrossings.


Posted by close the crossings, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2012 at 8:43 am

Do we really need roads across the train tracks every half mile? That is dangerous for car drivers and dangerous for train passengers. I vote for closing all the existing at-grade crossings in Palo Alto. There are already enough grade-separated crossings (San Antonio, Page Mill, Embaracadero, University). Cars can easily drive another minute or two to use one of these.

For pedestrians and bicyclists, build lightweight bridges over the tracks. These bridges don't need much space, so we don't need to condemn any homes to build them. Price for pedestrian bridges is cheap, too (less than 10% of the price of a car bridge or car tunnel). For examples, look at the pedestrian bridges in Mountain View, which are way safer than at-grade railroad crossings. Palo Alto is way behind the times in pedestrian safety.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2012 at 9:17 am

Personally, I don't think we can shut down our grade crossings because I don't think the other non grade crossings could take the load in the busy commute times. Just think, at least half our high school students need to cross the tracks and arrive at school within a 15 minute window and then there is the staff too.

No, we must make the crossings safer. Of course we all know that we shouldn't stop on the tracks. And yes, there are signs telling people not to stop on the tracks. What seems to be missing is the fact that there are no signs warning cars that there is not enough space for more than one car to wait at a red light. And too many signs saying too many things are not realistically going to be read particularly by an out of towner who is not familiar with the area and possibly lost or thinking about which lane to get in for the next turn to be made or where the next turn may possibly be. I believe I read somewhere that more cars have turned onto train tracks by accident as the volume of GPS and similar have increased.

Moving the traffic light to the West side of the tracks, painting the grade box with bright stripes, freeway style lit up sign saying "train approaching, gates closing," would all help, but from this article and the report, it appears nothing is going to be done.

There was another accident in Menlo Park just this week and one recently in the East Bay where the driver was able to escape and the elderly passenger who needed help to get out of the car was not able to get out (this was supposedly due to GPS instructions confusing the driver). We really must look at safety measures to avoid these car/train collisions. We must look overseas and see the safety measures that other countries use and adapt them to our clearly behind the times attempts to keep our crossings safe.

No one wants to be in a car that is hit by a train, but human error will not stop just because a sign says don't stop on the tracks.


Posted by close the crossings, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2012 at 9:42 am

A lot of kids don't ride their bicycles to school because the existing railroad crossings are kind of sketchy for bicycling. When the gates come down, cars crowd the streets, forcing bicyclists onto the sidewalks, where there isn't much room to begin with. By closing the crossings to cars and building pedestrian/bike bridges instead, these crossings will be much safer and more efficient for bicyclists. That makes it much easier for them to get to school safely and on time.

Grade separated car crossings will take decades and hundreds of millions of dollars. If you want safety in the foreseeable future, pedestrian bridges are they way to go. They can be built in less than 1/10 of the time and with less than 1/10 of the money.


Posted by So lets be honest, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2012 at 10:11 am

How many lives would be saved by closing the crossings? Not all that many. How many lives would be lost by closing the crossings? Probably a similar amount. A lot ot trouble for no net effect. Diverting all that traffic is going to cause more accidents elsewhere as impatient drivers get more aggressive by the bottlenecks this change will cause. Spend that money saving lives elsewhere where it is more effective.


Posted by close the crossings, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2012 at 10:20 am

Caltrain ridership is soaring. Reportedly, ridership has increased every month for the last 2 years. The trains are going to get longer and more frequent to keep up with the demand. At-grade car crossings will become less practical, especially at rush hour when train traffic is heaviest.

Grade separated roads are too expensive, in terms of taxpayer dollars, time to build them, and the number of homes that need to be condemned to make room for the grade separations. The best solution is to close the at-grade separations and replace them by lightweight bicycle/pedestrian bridges.


Posted by Keep-It-Real, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 15, 2012 at 11:48 am

> Caltrain ridership is soaring.

Increasing by a small amount, yes. Soaring.. hardly. And if there were to be a significant shift of high tech start-ups to San Francisco, then it's likely that the ridership would decline again.


Posted by TEACHKidsAboutTRAINS, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 15, 2012 at 2:30 pm

All adults need to know how to act at a railroad crossing. If your child does not know that, it is VERY Bad.
And also some people do try to kill themselves via the train tracks.
If so, that may happen...hope not, but it seems the lights, crossing bars etc. are there for safety.
THEY are making a decision.
It is not easy to do, so don't think we need to change the crossing mode/flashers.
Maybe more signs....


Posted by lazlo, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 15, 2012 at 5:19 pm

So Keene and Klein don't want an independant investigation because it would "muddle" the facts. Maybe the truth would prevail and that would be more work for the city attorney. Jeez, where did they find these guys?


Posted by neighbor, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2012 at 6:15 pm

This accident occurred when a car was in heavy traffic and got caught within the RR gates. Perhaps they tried to beat the gates coming down. Perhaps the drivers in front of them wouldn't move forward to give them more space.

Accidents like this happen way too often, as people often do not obey signs and/or hear the loud signals if they are on the phone.

That a terrible mistake was made by the driver must add to the family's grief -- as must this prolonged discussion.

Lazlo: There is no cover-up, no conspiracy, no cause for another investigation unless THE FAMILY asks for it And..there's no plot by Keene and Klein. You ask "where did they find these guys?" Who is "they?" You and your fellow citizens elected them --- YOU are "they."


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 15, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Here is an idea you could implement tomorrow. Station several motorcycle cops at the various grade crossings. When a motorist violates the CVC law prohibiting entry into a railroad crossing without sufficient room on the other side, pull them over and write them a ticket. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel. The revenue from the tickets would more than pay for the officers' time. Drivers might then get the idea and it would be money in the city's pocket.


Posted by GMR, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 16, 2012 at 11:53 am

@neighbor

"Lazlo: There is no cover-up, no conspiracy"

You seem adamant about this. Mind telling us why? How is it that you have inside knowledge?


Posted by Omar Chatty, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2012 at 1:03 pm

The fifth person this year just died on Caltrain tracks again this morning. This time in Szn Mateo. Caltrain is outdated, dangerous, and can and should be replaced by BART up the Peninsula to connect the whole Bay Area with one, much safer, electric, grade-separated from the street level auto, truck, pedestrian, cyclist, traffic, and wandering ill-fated animal and pets. I will be going to the Palo Alto City Council (Oral Comments) to speak again to advocate to at least start a study with neighboring Caltrain communities to bring BART up the Peninsula in an environmentally and neighborhood sensitive way. Believe me, HSR, a state-driven project will usurp local control, just as is now happening in the Fresno-area design and soon contruction plan. Sneaky Simitian's Blended Plan, backed by die-hard, arrogant Jerry Hill and elitist Jerry Brown with Pres Obama's backing, are hell-bent to cram this HSR up the corridor. It must be stopped, or stop in SJ, with BART connecting all the Bay area--and safer, too. "Only" one person has died on the longer BART tracks this year (most suicide attempts fail, unlike Caltrain's). Please, let's save lives and protect our communities (including mine in SJ where one lane of Monterey Road will be taken, just like Alma in P.A. if HSR sneaks into the "tent" with the Democrat Blended Plan. Statistics: 181 people have died on Caltrain tracks since 1/1/1995, 16 died last year, 5 in Palo Alto, 5 this year so far, the fourth month of the year. More will die as the corridor densifies by current General Plans. Let's stop this Caltrain madness and start to end this Caltrain Killtrain carnage. In Silicon Valley, it is not "good enough" to "always have done it this way". BART is the way, and fundable during the next 10 years, with money from planned Caltrain fund-seeking for upgrades $4Billion, plus another $4Billion to get over the next 10 years (and 160 more deaths) necessary to connect BART the final 28 miles to Millbrae from its currently planned end in Santa Clara. Please do your part to end this Caltrain danger among us to our children, now toddlers, won't have to risk their lives when they become teens, or our neighbors, friends, and visitors. How many more must die by Caltrain?


Posted by Freemotorist, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Palo Alto's late Steve Jobs used to quote Henry Ford when asked about asking people, like current Caltrain-at any cost (and death) advocates to state" If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse"...and today we'd still be dealing with horse fecal pollution, deaths by common 'runaway horses' etc. Electrifying Caltrain, even building more grade crossings, extending the Caltrain further into San Francisco, and building the Dumbarton Rail Caltrain extentsion (at grade) is a waste that won't come anywhere near the benefits of simply extending safer, fundable, financially surplus BART, electric, grade separated (by law), ... using those funds and more. Doing the above for Caltrain is simply "Perfuming the Pig". BART is locally-regionally controlled, unlike HSR--which is State controlled. Jobs also is quoted to say "Innovation distinguishes Leadership" "Upgrading" Caltrain to accommodate HSR, is not innovation. Extending BART around the whole Bay, connecting University to University, Sports Venue to Sports Venue, community to community, downtown to downtown, airport to airport and train station to train station, is the way to go...and it has a higher farebox recovery than Caltrain, with more frequent, quieter, service, and, soon new rail cars, too.


Posted by John Murphy, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2012 at 2:19 pm

As someone who lives in the city and is able to take BART and Caltrain - BART would be a *slower* horse.

More frequent service is only a function of money.
BARTs rails screech like banshees. Overall BART is louder than RER trains in Paris running similar stock on the same grade rails as Caltrain. Electrify and grade separate the train, QED. Higher farebox recovery on BART is solely a factor of the higher frequency of service which leads to higher ridership.

And note that to run BART down the peninsula we would either need a tunnel more costly than the entire HSR project - or we would need to convince the Palo Altans that they want an aerial tram line "dividing their community" a la Hayward and Fremont. And we crash the local economy with Caltrain shut down for years, congesting the roads and making the place unlivable.


Posted by John Murphy, a resident of another community
on Apr 16, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Let's stop this Caltrain madness and start to end this Caltrain Killtrain carnage.

By this logic the Golden Gate Bridge should be shut down - ferries only.


Posted by Concerned Citizen, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 16, 2012 at 3:54 pm

There is another rule at work here. I will not drive across the tracks unless I see the entire space my car will fit in on the other side. I stop before the tracks and allow that space to open up. There are no assurances that that space will open up during times of traffic congestion. The real answer is to work to get rid of the grade crossings in Palo Alto, as San Mateo County did some years ago.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 16, 2012 at 9:44 pm

@ Freemotorist,

I am not sure what you are talking about when you say "BART is quieter". BART is only quieter from the outside because they don't have deal with grade crossings and blast their horns every few miles. BART is definitely not quieter than Caltrain from the inside. BART has the distinction of being one of the noisiest mass transit systems in the world. Riding BART from Millbrae to Berkeley takes at least 45 minutes and all that screeching can be sheer agony on your ears. No wonder it's not uncommon to see people wearing earplugs on BART. At least you don't have to deal with that on Caltrain. Once Caltrain is electrified and fully grade separated it will be significantly quieter than it currently is.


Posted by Anon, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 17, 2012 at 8:27 am

Caltrain needs to be grade-separated end-to-end. This won't be cheap to do, though, because of the inconsistent above-grade/below-grade choices that have been made up and down the Peninsula. The right way to do it is generally to put trains below-grade, but, you couldn't really fix University and Page Mill that way. A bridge for Meadow would never fly. I guess that is why HSR was looking at elevated tracks, but, nobody wants that in their backyard for sure.


Posted by Silly, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Apr 17, 2012 at 11:04 am

I guess fixing the timing of the traffic lights would be way too simple.


Posted by Brian, a resident of Midtown
on Apr 17, 2012 at 7:21 pm

@ Silly,

Yes, that would be way too simple (if no safety improvements after that). I seriously doubt anyone is suggesting not fixing the traffic light timing. As I am sure you know grade crossing accidents happen all the time even when the lights and signals are working perfectly. Grade separating the crossings eliminates the fundamental cause of these problems so we don't have to deal with them over and over again. When there are known hazards such as these and very basic solutions (grade separation) it is irresponsible for Palo Alto to ignore the root cause of the problem.


Posted by I like trains, but..., a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2012 at 11:22 am

Grade SEPARATE the crossings. Kill HSR and develop an intelligent plan to get local trains working better, faster, safer. We need trains and street systems that work safely and efficiently for buses, bikes, cars, walkers locally--where most of the trips are generated! Without grade separation, that is a pipe dream.


Posted by Reorganize, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 18, 2012 at 11:29 am

While you're at it, reorganize local transit authorities (VTA, MTC, Caltrain, Caltrans...)in a way that motivates them to collaborate and efficiently connect all modes. Currently, they are at war with each other and it shows in the recurring battles over Caltrain funding, among other things. Transit planning should CENTER around the trains.

Combine the organizations. Force them to work together and hold them accountable for creating a system that draws more ridership because it WORKS conveniently for USERS and is well-connected.


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