Caltrain looks for ways to improve safety as vehicle strikes rise

Caltrain is working on new methods of preventing vehicle crashes on its tracks in response to a sharp uptick this year, particularly in recent months, officials said today.

At least eight vehicles have been hit on Caltrain tracks this year, six of them since Aug. 1. Four of the eight crashes have been in Burlingame, and three of those at the same intersection: Broadway.

That intersection has been the focus of the first action aimed at preventing further accidents. Caltrain is working with Burlingame city officials to add pavement striping to the existing gates and signals to make the crossing more clear to drivers, Caltrain officials said.

The commuter rail agency is also working on improving signal timing at the Rollins Road signal, where traffic sometimes backs up on Broadway to the Caltrain tracks.

The intersection where the fourth crash happened in Burlingame — Bayswater Avenue — may also get improved pavement striping, Caltrain officials said.

While implementing the changes, police are increasing visibility during times of heavy traffic and warning drivers to stay off the tracks, according to Caltrain.

“Running 92 trains per day on a corridor with more than 40 roadway crossings presents a unique set of challenges,” Caltrain executive director Jim Hartnett said in a statement. “Those challenges have become more difficult with increased traffic congestion and more drivers, cyclists and pedestrians crossing our tracks on a daily basis.”

Caltrain is also looking for ways to restore service more quickly after a crash, undertaking a full review of its processes and looking for ways to be more efficient.

The rail agency is also looking into another problem that has seen a drastic rise this year: pedestrian deaths on the tracks, most of which are by suicide.

There have been 18 deaths on Caltrain tracks this year, up dramatically from last. To address this Caltrain is working with mental health communities in San Francisco, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties to not only take steps to prevent suicide with intervention, but prevent access to tracks with fencing and possibly video monitoring.

“Each life lost is still hard to accept and Caltrain continues to seek partnerships with the mental health community that can help to address the root causes of depression of mental illness,” Caltrain officials said in a statement.

There are 24-hour hotlines available nationwide for anyone coping with depression or suicidal thoughts.

The Bay Area Suicide and Crisis Intervention Alliance provides regional 24-hour hotlines for suicidal individuals. In Alameda County the number is (800) 309-2131, in Contra Costa County it’s (800) 833-2900, in Marin County (415) 499-1100, in San Francisco (415) 781-0500 and in San Mateo County it’s (650) 579-0359.

More information can be found at www.bascia.org.

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