Commute stalled after collision 

Caltrain drags stalled car 200 yards in accident

PALO ALTO — The usual Caltrain fare didn’t get Jed Beach all the way to work in Palo Alto on Tuesday, instead leaving him and dozens more passengers to walk a half-mile or more after the train they were on struck a stalled car on the train tracks.

All train traffic was stopped for nearly two hours as Caltrain worked to clear debris from a Honda Civic lodged beneath the engine of northbound train No. 323. The stalled Honda was abandoned on the tracks when it broke down at Churchhill Avenue in Palo Alto, officials said. No one was injured, but thousands of the commuter train agency’s 35,000 average weekday passengers were left stranded at stations or had to find other ways to work following the 8:07 a.m. collision.

"We didn’t know exactly what had happened," said Beach, a passenger on the train that hit the abandoned Honda at about 80 miles per hour.

There was no panic or sense of danger among passengers and many may not have even realized they had crashed until the engineer made an announcement, said Beach, a software engineer who takes the train from Mountain View. On such a sunny day, even the walk and the fact he was an hour late for work weren’t enough to irritate him, though it was frustrating, Beach said.

Along with dozens of other passengers, Devin Carraway of San Francisco was still waiting to transfer from BART to Caltrain at about 10:15 a.m. "There was a big group of people [at the Millbrae station] when we pulled up, which is never a good thing," Carrawaysaid. While the train was more packed than usual, once it finally arrived, and he, too, was late for work, it could have been worse, Carraway said.

In all, nearly two-dozen trains were affected, including two that were canceled, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said. A second train was brought in about an hour after the collision to transport those passengers who choose not to walk to Palo Alto, officials said. Damage to the train was "significant" and Caltrain expects it will take two weeks to order the parts and make repairs, Dunn said. No estimate of the train damage was available.

The car was totaled, officials said.

The driver of the Honda, a 26-year-old female, told police the car stalled as she approached the tracks. "She tried to start the vehicle but about a minute later the bells started and the arms started coming down," Palo Alto police Officer Rich Bullerjahn said.

The woman, whose name was not released, fled the car, which was dragged about 200 yards past the collision point, Bullerjahn said. Drugs and alcohol are not believed to be a factor in the accident. "When all is said and done, this is the best case scenario when you get a train-versus-car accident," Bullerjahn said. "No one was injured."

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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