Safety programs and fences aimed at ending train fatalities

Critics say Caltrain could move faster in installing fences in dangerous areas

SAN CARLOS — Nearly six months into a stepped-up campaign to save lives along the tracks, Caltrain has made some progress, visiting a half-dozen classrooms, but is still working to identify locations where fencing is needed along the tracks.

A half-dozen Peninsula cities have identified locations where they would like to see fencing installed along the Caltrain tracks to keep pedestrians out of harms way.

From a crossing in Redwood City near F Street, where an ice cream vendor was killed last month, to South San Francisco, where workers regularly cross from East Grand Avenue to Airport Boulevard, fencing could save lives, officials said. Cities that are asking Caltrain to install fencing where pedestrians frequently cross the tracks illegally include Belmont, Burlingame and San Bruno. San Mateo is still studying the issue, officials there said.

The submission of a list of potential fencing locations is one of the first signs that the agency’s stepped-up safety efforts are beginning to see the light of day, following the death of 13-year-old Fatih Kuc of Burlingame in April Kuc was fatally struck while walking along the tracks on his way home from school after being dropped off at a nearby public bus stop.

The commuter train agency has budgeted $1.5 million for fencing this year and anticipates spending another $3 million in the coming two years, according to Mark Simon, special assistant to Caltrain CEO Mike Scanlon.

Since April, Caltrain has been working to develop criterion for where and when fencing should be installed, but hasn’t yet determined a timeline, Simon said. “We’re attempting to identify places where there is heavy traffic from trespassers, as well as locations where past incidents suggest there is a high degree of trespassing,” Simon said.

In addition to fencing, Caltrain has focused on stricter trespassing enforcement and public education, but the lack of a timeline for fence installation and the fact that only a handful of schools have held safety classes has some critics frustrated. “We’ve got an identifiable hotspot and Burlingame has already paid the ultimate price,” said Gene Condon, Burlingame’s chairman of the Traffic, Safety and Parking Commission.

Track safety has also become something of a priority in Redwood City since 63-year-old Elias Mecina Vazquez was killed Sept. 6, although city officials haven’t demanded fencing, as in Burlingame. “It’san ongoing safety issue we hope Caltrain can address and we’ll work with them,” Redwood City spokesman Malcolm Smith regarding track safety said.

Of particular concern for Condon is the fact that Caltrain has only managed to visit a handful of schools to talk about safety since the school year began. “They shouldn’t wait until June to give everyone safety lessons for crossing the tracks,” Condon said.

Since Sept. 12, Caltrain officials have visited five schools in Burlingame and San Bruno that are located near the train tracks to talk safety with about 1,700 students, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said. Safety classes with another six schools are to be held in the coming weeks, he said. The fact that only a dozen or so schools have signed up isn’t Caltrain’s fault, Weinberg said. “Letters went out to San Mateo County schools twice,” he said. “[We] can’t force a school to invite us to present rail safety information.”

ecarpenter@examiner.comBay Area NewsLocal

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