Published Friday, October 27, 2006, by the Mountain View Voice
Caltrain confronts suicides, bad judgment
Last week's announcement that nearly $9 million in precious
transportation funds will be spent to improve safety on the Caltrain
line is a good thing, although we have to say it is a shame that
such a huge outlay of money is necessary simply to protect people
from killing themselves.
But that is what Caltrain will do with a $7.4 million grant from the
San Mateo County Transportation Commission, which will be used to
build new pedestrian and vehicle gates at 35 grade crossings on the
route between San Francisco and San Jose. Caltrain itself will throw
in another $1.5 million to rebuild pedestrian gates.
The Caltrain officials who made the decision had little choice,
after 13 people, including one from Mountain View, have died on the
tracks so far this year. That is a huge toll, and in almost every
case, those dying attempted to beat the train or should have known
the dangers of crossing Caltrain tracks when the pedestrian or
vehicle gates are down.
The $9 million will be used to pay for new center dividers and
mechanical arms that cover the whole street to block drivers from
going around crossing gates. Also, new "four-quadrant" pedestrian
gates would block sidewalks when trains are approaching.
Over the years, Caltrain has continued to do its best to convince
everyone to stay away from the tracks, which now carry fast "Baby
Bullet" trains between San Jose and San Francisco. Running at nearly
80 miles per hour, a Baby Bullet can be on top of someone -- who
thought they might have time to scoot around the flashing lights and
crossing arms -- in seconds. Obviously, for those who misjudge the
trains, there is no second chance.
That was true for the most recent person to be killed by a train
along the Caltrain corridor, a man who ducked under the crossing
gates in Redwood City earlier this month because he apparently
figured he could beat the train going one way -- but failed to
notice another train coming from the opposite direction.
Six days before that, on Oct. 5, it was 69-year-old Consuelo Coronel
of Mountain View who, according to the Caltrain conductor, attempted
to cross at Rengstorff Avenue even though the mechanical arms,
flashing lights and ringing bells were active.
We hope Caltrain's $9 million effort will make a difference and help
reduce the senseless fatalities that continue to occur up and down
the Peninsula. We expect that no system will be good enough to stop
individuals who are determined to thwart the barriers and place
themselves in harm's way. But as for the accidental deaths, we must
all remember to be vigilant: Keep away from the rails, and never
cross the tracks when the crossing arms are down.