Police presence may see upswing near rails

With an average of about one death per month since 2006 on its tracks, Caltrain is addressing its primary concern of pedestrian safety by adding three San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

Caltrain will add three full-time deputies April 1, the same day its contract with Amtrak police ends. Since 1992, any incident on the tracks has been handled by Amtrak police. The board of directors for Caltrain is expected to approve the move today.

“In order to change the culture that has developed over time of people trying to run the gates and pedestrians trying to cross the tracks, we need appropriate enforcement,” said San Mateo County Supervisor Jerry Hill, a member of the Caltrain board of directors.

The transit agency, which has 33 stations from San Francisco to Gilroy on a span of tracks stretching for 77 miles, has implemented a number of security programs and added millions of dollars of extra fencing in recent years to help stem pedestrian fatalities on the tracks. According to Caltrain, 27 people have been struck and killed on the tracks since 2006.

With the addition of three full-time deputies, Caltrain will have 14 full-time deputies to watch over the tracks. Caltrain’s police officers, called the Transit Police, are the lead investigators and respond to any incident in which someone dies or is injured after being hit by a train or bus. Caltrain has contracted with the county Sheriff’s Office mainly because most of the stations are located within San Mateo County, officials said.

Having more full-time deputies would improve Caltrain safety, said Jonah Weinberg, spokesman for Caltrain and SamTrans, especially as ridership has jumped 21 percent since 2005. More than 36,000 riders are expected this year.

Weinberg said the Transit Police most commonly deal with passenger enforcement. Sometimes passengers refuse to pay their fares once on the train and do not cooperate with conductors. Other times, rowdy riders need to be kicked off the train. Drinking is legal on Caltrain as long as passengers are orderly.

“It’d be nice to have more enforcement on the trains,” said Alicia Watters, who hopped on a northbound train at the Millbrae station Wednesday to get to her home in San Francisco. “Sometimes there are some people who get a little out of control, especially later at night and [when people are drinking].”

The deputies will likely be contracted through mid-2011 at about $200,000 apiece annually. The new deputies will also help patrol SamTrans buses, which are run by the San Mateo County Transit District.

mrosenberg@examiner.com

Common reports by transit police

» Reports of trespassers cutting across tracks

» Passengers who refuse to pay for ticket

» Passengers who are too rowdy

» Injuries that occur onboard trains and buses

» Cars that hit buses

» Annual rail crossing citations program in May

» Responding to incidents at major transit centers

Deaths on the tracks

» 10: People hit and killed by Caltrains in 2007/08

» 17: People hit and killed by Caltrains in 2006

*Source: San Mateo County Transportation Authority

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