Caltrain officials vowed Thursday to continue the agency’s crackdown on trespassers, despite protests by some riders who say they were unfairly ticketed last month after illegally crossing the tracks.
Since ramping up their zero-tolerance trespassing policy with a number of stings in October and November, transit police have handed out 178 citations to people for ducking under lowered arms and cutting across the tracks where there is no crossing, transit police Lt. Dave Triolo told board members at their monthly meeting.
Board members backed the aggressive ticketing policy in light of the 16 deathson Caltrain tracks this year.
A small group of riders who have been cited for illegal crossings have criticized the program. San Mateo resident Bill Van Beckum, who was ticketed $358 for ducking under an arm as he rushed to make a train at the Hillsdale Station last month, said riders should have been alerted to the crackdown before citations were issued.
“Maybe they should have handed out something like a warning first,” said Van Beckum, who plans to fight the citation in court.
A regular Caltrain commuter for two years, Foster City resident Nicole Biondi called the $402 ticket she received “a little excessive to make a point.” Still, it has made her more aware of the dangers, she admitted.
“Since the incident almost a month ago, I have made it a point to get [to the station] before the train is approaching,” she said.
“It’s not just an advisory, but a legal requirement,” Triolo responded to residents’ arguments that their offenses didn’t warrant citations.
An unexpected consequence of tighter trespassing enforcement is that transit police have been pulled off emergency response duties to cite passengers, officials said.
With no additional overtime or funding for personnel, several officers are wearing multiple hats, doubling as gang task force liaisons and motorcycle officers, Triolo said.
Caltrain has just nine transit police — primarily responsible for trespassing and emergencies response — to cover 77 miles of track from San Francisco to San Jose, officials said. In spite of the spare numbers, the agency isn’t alone. It works closely with all of the law enforcement agencies along the tracks, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said.
Asked whether Caltrain planned to hire more officers, Weinberg said, “It’s too soon to say whether or not [funding for additional transit police] is in the plans for next year’s budget.”
Efforts to prevent track deaths redoubled
Since the death of Fatih Kuc made headlines in April, Caltrain has redoubled efforts to improve rail safety.
Kuc, 13, was the seventh of 16 deaths so far this year on Caltrain tracks. He was fatally struck while walking along the tracks on the way to his Burlingame home from school, after being dropped off at a nearby public bus stop.
Caltrain has budgeted $1.5 million for fencing this year and anticipates spending another $3 million in the coming two years, said Mark Simon, special assistant to Caltrain’s CEO Mike Scanlon.
In addition, Caltrain has begun meeting with schools located near the tracks to educate kids about train safety and added new warning signs at stations. Transit police have also been trained on how to deal with those who may be suicidal or the mentally ill.
Transit police Lt. Dave Triolo said his office is pursuing grants for motorcycle and canine training, important tools for working along the tracks.
In an attempt to think outside the box, his division is also exploring the possibility of a pedestrian safety school for those who receive tickets. The school would work like driving school for first-time offenders, removing a ticket from their record after graduation, Triolo said.