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Train strikes car at Churchill Avenue

Original post made on May 22, 2017

A southbound Caltrain car clipped a vehicle on the tracks at Churchill Avenue in Palo Alto on Monday evening, transit officials said. No injuries were reported.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Monday, May 22, 2017, 8:52 PM

Comments (20)

Posted by Train Neighbor
a resident of Ventura
on May 22, 2017 at 9:30 pm

So glad to hear that no one was hurt!
I am always nervous when I see helicopters hovering over our train crossings.

I went to the grade separation meeting on Saturday and it seems like it will take years before we will see any separation construction.

At least the Federal electrification funds are now approved!

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2017 at 8:37 am

Very confused by this. I can't see how the crossing arm didn't stop a car from getting so close to the track. I can see how a train could clip the back of a car that hasn't cleared the track, but not one that has stopped too close.

Am I reading this all wrong?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 23, 2017 at 10:02 am

@Resident, judging from other reports, a Nissan Altima was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Apparently the driver entered the crossing in the right-turn lane before the gates came down. Wouldn't surprise me if pedestrians in the Alma crosswalk kept traffic from clearing the rails when their light turned green, and traffic behind the vehicle precluded backing-up as an option. Driver error, and probably the longest 15 seconds contemplating one's fate or calculating the true width of a diesel locomotive. A good time to be level headed and exit the car -- maybe something you'd want to rehearse in your own driveway a couple times. Any of us can make a mistake.

Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on May 23, 2017 at 10:34 am

On Charleston Crossing there are idiots who park on the tracks so that they can catch the green light before a train comes. Why don't the guards take license plate numbers and send them to the police?

Also, folks rush onto the tracks from ALMA North after the yellow light so they are crossing just as the gates are coming down.

What will they do with high speed rail once electrification goes in increasing speed and number of trains and there are still street level crossings?

I still wish we could build an over or under 101 high speed rail system-- Train System all the way to the City and shut down the RR tracks from SF to SJ.They managed it in London , why not here. Then we would have a bike park through the cities on the existing RR corridor. We need visionaries.

Posted by Torreya Man
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 23, 2017 at 10:36 am

From personal observation, the most common error is a second car attempting to occupy the space between the tracks and the opposite side cross street. Some is blatant driver stupidity and other times it is lack of knowledge of the limited space and that a right turn may not be immediately feasible.

Large, prominent warning signs to this affect should be added to those already in place. "Do not stop on tracks" is insufficient. How about adding something to the effect of "Space for one vehicle ONLY on opposite side of tracks".

Posted by al munday
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2017 at 10:40 am

it does seem these days, people drive more recklessly and do not pay attention to their surroundings....I do not know all the facts about this incidnet, but I have seen many a time where drivers ignore where to stop for a R/R crossing.

careful driving is a thing of the past now

Posted by Miriam Palm
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2017 at 10:54 am

Miriam Palm is a registered user.

Didn't we discuss not allowing the single-space waiting area on the far side of the tracks for Churchill, Meadow and Charleston? Why has this change not been implemented?

Posted by Cur Mudgeon
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 23, 2017 at 11:12 am

Check out eastbound Rengstorff x Alma crossing. Traffic light is BEFORE the gates.

Posted by Marlene Dietrich
a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 23, 2017 at 11:41 am

Marlene Dietrich is a registered user.

I'm glad that nobody got hurt !! Now with the Caltrain electrification approved, we can stop the train with a remote control ! (Sarcasm)

Posted by Rosewood
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2017 at 12:58 pm

I've taught my teenagers to never proceed across the tracks until there is room on the other side for their entire car. My oldest tells me that this angers the people behind her, who start honking. But too many near-misses have occurred because when the light turns green, everyone drives forward,and if the car in front of you stops to turn or wait for a bike or pedestrian,you are left with your rear hanging over the tracks. I see people do this all the time, as if it's a normal intersection. I can't imagine what it's like, with the lights flashing and the bells clanging, to realize you can't go forward or back!

Posted by biker mom
a resident of Mayfield
on May 23, 2017 at 4:26 pm

Today I was crossing over the tracks heading towards Old Town and right as the car in front of me was turning an idiotic pedestrian ran across the street on our left arrow and made us all slam on our breaks including me leaving part of my mini van left on the tracks. Pissed me off. I see pedestrians do this all that time. It's not a yield situation. We have the right away and it endangers all cars crossing the tracks with their own green light.

Posted by Ed
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2017 at 8:01 pm

Biker Mom's comment refers to an "idiotic" pedestrian. It may be true that the pedestrian was "idiotic", but that isn't relevant to the safety. Her minivan should never have been crossing the tracks UNTIL there was enough space for it on the other side. The fact that somebody was about to turn doesn't mean that they will turn. There are "idiotic" drivers as well who suddenly realize that they aren't going the right way. Or non-idiotic drivers whose car suddenly stalls, etc. Bottom line is - what many above have already said -- accidents can occur when somebody proceeds across the tracks before determining that there is enough space for their vehicle on the other side. If everybody counts on the next vehicle actually making a turn in the future (as in Biker Mom's example), then by definition sooner or later there WILL be an accident because eventually a car will stall, a kid will run in front of a car, a cyclist will do something unexpected, and yes, there will be "idiotic" pedestrians. But drivers who proceed onto tracks using only an assumption as a strategy are not all that much better than the "idiotic" pedestrians.

Posted by mother
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2017 at 8:10 pm

Just because you have a green arrow does not mean that the pedestrian does not also have a pedestrian crossing light. I have been almost nailed by cars several times when I have the pedestrian light and car turns into my path. Now I walk more slowly so I can keep looking over my shoulders to see if cars are coming from behind me, but of course that means I am in the crosswalk for more time and sometimes cars blast their horns at me for that. At least I know they see me.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2017 at 10:43 pm

My own personal feeling is that pedestrians crossing the tracks and Alma should only do so on the north side of Churchill. The fact that pedestrians cross and prevent traffic turning right on a green light is a big problem, particularly for out of town drivers.

However, the best solution would be to have the red right before the track (west side) so that cars do not wait between the tracks and Alma and we need a much bigger waiting space for bikes and pedestrians on both sides of Alma on this crossing at Churchill.

Posted by mother
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2017 at 11:37 pm

The safest pedestrian crossing lights are the so-called "scramble" signal timing that San Francisco uses. All directions of auto traffic get red lights at the same time and all pedestrian lights go on at the same time. No right turn on red. Any signal timing where cars are allowed to turn at the same time the pedestrian light is on is inherently dangerous since some car drivers just do not look for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Posted by Louise68
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 24, 2017 at 12:46 am

1. Construct an east-west pedestrian/bike tunnel under the tracks with its east portal on the north side of Churchill near Alma and its west portal on the north side of Churchill next to the high school, somewhere west of the road that goes into the campus. This tunnel should be much wider than the one that goes under Alma and the Train tracks at California Ave, but should have a metal barrier at the bottom of the tunnel to prevent bikes from speeding down the tunnel and mowing down pedestrians. Install barriers at Alma And Churchill to prevent pedestrians and bikes form crossing Alma and the train tracks on the surface once the tunnel is completed.

2. Install barriers on both sides of Churchill west of the train tracks to prevent pedestrians from crossing Churchill anywhere between the tracks and El Camino. Yes, I am requiring everyone to walk down to El Camino to cross Churchill, and that intersection, like most signaled intersections, must have a pedestrian scramble cycle.

3. Add a "Pedestrian Scramble" cycle at most signaled intersections.
During this cycle, all traffic lights are red for all motor vehicles, and no motor vehicles are allowed to turn right on a red, and all signals are green for all pedestrians and bicycles. There should never be a time when a traffic light is green for pedestrians/bikes and motor vehicles at the same time. That is too dangerous. If needed, police officers must be on scene to make sure no motor vehicles or pedestrians or bikes proceed against a red.

4. Station a police officers at the Churchill entrance to the high school and at Alma and Churchill when traffic is heavy, mostly, but not limited to, the start and end of each school day, to control motor vehicle flow and movements. A police office is needed here because a police office has a lot more training and authority than does a crossing guard.

OK -- Now, where is my consultant's fee? <G>

Posted by David
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 24, 2017 at 2:38 am

Didn't we discuss not allowing the single-space waiting area on the far side of the tracks for Churchill, Meadow and Charleston? Why has this change not been implemented?

Yes! great idea. I was doing this at Charleston, in the single space eastbound, the train activated every thing, I got the green and began crossing; all of this is very LEGAL. A pickup in the left westbound turn lane jumped and ran the red, just missed me, flew through the arms coming down. WRONG< RISKY AND STUPID; but we all see this type of activity constantly and occasionally, it doesn't end well.

Posted by DOT Still Unresponsive
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 24, 2017 at 8:31 am

Why was this change not implemented?? That question comes up an awful lot with PMr. Mello, head of Transportation in Palo Alto. Unfortunately we rarely get an answer from him or his Dept.

Not only does he routinely fail to inform us of meetings, his dept. routinely fails to notify us about meetings of direct concern.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 24, 2017 at 8:51 am

Looks like this morning's City Council Rail Committee meeting got cancelled.
Web Link

Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 24, 2017 at 7:22 pm

stanhutchings is a registered user.

Here is what Palo Alto needs under Caltrain tracks for grade separation:
Web Link
Actually just a tunnel without the electric sleds would be sufficient. Just wide and tall enough for pedestrian/bike and auto two-way traffic.
The cost comparison between undergrounding (or even elevating) the Caltrain tracks makes it a no-brainer for those interested in financial responsibility (i.e., my tax dollars). Add to that the disruption of traffic on Alma during undergrounding, trenching (or even elevated tracks). I suspect the Elon Musk tunnel borer would cost much less for the total few hundred feet required for the 4 Palo Alto underpasses than the several miles of undergrounding/trenching/elevating of the Caltrain tracks. Actually, one lane for vehicles controlled by stop lights, plus bike/pedestrian lanes in each direction, would be even cheaper than 2-way single vehicle traffic lanes. The delay would not be much more than we suffer at the intersections already.

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