Caltrain slams into car sitting on tracks

A Caltrain slammed into a sedan on the tracks Tuesday afternoon after the car’s driver drove around the lowered crossing arm inadvertently, according to police.

The driver, identified as a 63-year-old woman from Grass Valley, was not injured in the accident at San Mateo and San Bruno Avenues, but was taken to a local hospital, police Capt. Neil Telford said.

The woman was reportedly driving north on Huntington Avenue when she drove around the crossing arm. Telford said she did not know the area and it appeared she was confused by the intersection and drifted toward the tracks “inadvertently.”

The front end of the yellow Subaru that fire and police removed from the scene was severely smashed by the impact.

Ernie Leal, a member of American Legion Post 409, located across the street from the accident, said he saw that the car was thrown away from the tracks and that someone was helping the woman out of the wreckage.

“She was very lucky,” Telford said.

The train was only detained for approximately half an hour, moving again by 3:05 p.m., Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.

The woman likely escaped a citation as well, Telford said. Last month, Redwood City police cited a driver after he piloted his truck under a crossing arm and a Caltrain clipped the back of the car. He was not injured either.

San Bruno City Councilman Jim Ruane said the accident highlights the need for planned grade separations, especially at that intersection, which, citing a Caltrain report, Ruane called one of the most dangerous in the state.

“Our priority is to have this thing done,” he said. “It’s a dangerous configuration that confuses people.”

The project, slated to begin by late 2006, includes a grade separation at Angus, San Bruno and San Mateo avenues and a second at South Linden Avenue in South San Francisco. But because of rising construction costs, there is a chance the project could be delayed.

A woman and a 5-year-old boy were killed in 2000 when their car was hit by a train near the same intersection after driving around the barrier arms.

It has been a deadly year for Caltrain, with nine fatalities along its tracks.

“We would like people to know that it’s always a bad idea to try to drive around the lowered crossing arm,” Weinberg said. “The train will win 99 percent of the time.”

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