Caltrain shock halts commute, causes blackouts

An electrified fence at the Caltrain station in Burlingame jolted and injured a middle-aged man Thursday evening, shutting down rush-hour traffic on the tracks for close to two hours and leaving thousands in a subsequent blackout.

Around 6:40 p.m., a witness called 911 after seeing smoke and small flames coming from a tree leaningagainst a metal construction fence at the south end of the Burlingame platform, police said. Burlingame Fire Department Battalion Chief Drew Flinders said the woman reported that a man was convulsing next to the fence.

Burlingame police officers responded to the scene and immediately vacated the platform of commuters, Burlingame police Commander Mike Matteucci said. Authorities were unsure how the fence had been electrified, but said electricity may have come from an electrical source in the ground at the side of the station. Caltrain crews had been prepping for weekend maintenance work at the station to install new concrete pads and replace worn rails.

Flinders said the victim, who was found with his feet under the fence, had no external burns or exit wounds. He was disoriented but responsive when he was taken by ambulance to Mills-Peninsula Hospital in Burlingame.

“His statement was he thought he got hit by a train,” Flinders said.

Nine trains were affected by the incident, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said, although most of the trains were able to get to a nearby station and let riders off. At least two trains were still stuck between stations, and transit police near the trains reported that some riders were yelling at conductors. Trains began moving at 8:10 p.m.

A Pacific Gas & Electric crew on scene shut down several power sources in an attempt to figure out where the electricity was coming from. PG&E spokeswoman Darlene Chui said about 3,170 customers in the surrounding area were out of power as of 9:35 p.m.

The power outage created a traffic gridlock at the busy intersection of California Drive and Broadway with traffic lights shut down. Power was also out at some busy restaurants in downtown Burlingame.

At the popular restaurant Straits, Valentine’s Day celebrators were eating cold food by candlelight.

kworth@examiner.com

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