Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of the Fairmeadow neighborhood, on Jan 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm
This idea does not seem to be well thought out. For starters, the track is on private property, and is clearly posted: “No Trespassing!”. So, the only access to the tracks that the public can legally claim would be the at-grade crossings, and selected pedestrian crossings at train stations.
Moreover, this “program” will cost virtually nothing to implement—with the predictable results that there will be little/no measurable increase in safety of people that are affected by this railroad who are not passengers.
It’s generally conceded that the majority of the deaths caused by the trains are suicides. People jump in front of moving trains and are killed. Occasionally there are collisions involving vehicles—caused by motorists who stop on the tracks—for whatever reason. The only way to stop the suicides at the station platforms is provide separation barriers between the platforms and the tracks. This solution is not cheap, and fraught with problems. However, it is a possible solution that would reduce deaths at the stations.
Clearly, grade separations would “design out” the possibility of train/vehicle collisions. But there will be some number of people intent on killing themselves who will be inclined to use the train—rather than some other means to do the deed. Observant people will call 911 to report someone sitting on the tracks—with, or with out, a Caltrain “program” in place, such as this one.
There is the on-going problem of crime on the station platforms—which occurs more frequently than Caltrain wants to admit. Again, people with cell phones and the willingness to call 911 to report on-going crime will be more effective than anything Caltrain has proposed. Additionally, there is the need for using “technology” to provide increased safety at the at-grade intersections, as well as on the station platforms and parking lots. Video cameras, and telephones connected to either a Caltrain safety office, or the local 911 operator (or both) should be added to every station so that people without cell phones can contact the police, or Caltrain safety employees, when some sort problem, or dangerous situation presents itself.
In addition to muggings/personal attacks that occur from time-to-time on the station platforms, we now have the problem of “terrorism” to complicate our lives. In this case, unattended packages, and personal items (like backpacks) can contain bombs (such as were used in the Madrid Train Station Bombing) as well as bombs carried by people intent on becoming suicide-murders ( as as was the in case London Subway Attack). Being able to alert the local police/Caltrain would seem to be obvious. There are enough cell phones in people’s pockets these days that it’s very unlikely that someone will not call 911. However, Caltrain does not seem to have learned much from the tragedies in Madrid and London.
At-grade intersections should be outfitted with vision systems, which are monitored by both Caltrain employees, as well as software. It really is not that difficult for modern vision systems to identify a non-moving vehicle on a train crossing—alerting both a dispatcher, and the engineers on any trains in the vicinity of those crossings.
Lastly, collision avoidance radars should be installed on every train, and at-grade crossing. It is difficult to understand why this sort of technology has not been utilized, in some way. While this technology will not detect people on the tracks, there is no reason not to believe that vehicles on the track can not be detected in time to alert on-coming trains, so that they can stop before colliding with these vehicles.
Caltrain’s multi-jurisdictional government “ownership” allows Caltrain management to avoid all of the scrutiny of a private-sector management team. There is virtually no one on the Caltrain Board of Directors that has any idea how to run a railroad—so they generally rubberstamp whatever comes up for their approval. This meaningless “safety program” is another example of the agency throwing up some “smoke and mirrors”—without providing anything of substance to the residents and businesses of the three-country Caltrain service area.
And in passing—let’s not forget that the compensation of the Transit District’s CEO's compensation at/about $600K a year (salary/benefits/employment costs) helps to explain why there isn’t a lot of money left in the kitty for technology to increase public safety.