After spate of rail deaths, Caltrain strives for safety 

Pedestrian crossing arms are going down across Peninsula sidewalks at train tracks as Caltrain looks to avoid a repeat of the alarming number of people who were killed by trains last year.

More then 25 pedestrian crossing arms have been installed at rail crossings in recent weeks, with another 22 slated for installation in the months ahead, Caltrain spokesman Jonah Weinberg said. The arms — similar to those that come down across the road to keep vehicles from crossing as trains pass — are part of three-year, $7.2 million plan to improve rail safety in the county.

The upgrades come after 17 people died on Caltrain tracks in 2006 — the highest number since 1995 — making headlines and raising a public outcry.

In addition to pedestrian crossing arms, the safety plan will add quad-vehicle gates (rather than dual) and raised street medians at rail crossings to keep drivers from driving around lowered arms, Weinberg said.

"While it’s virtually impossible for someone not to know that a train is coming, we are trying to make it harder for people to take unnecessary risks or use poor judgment when crossing the tracks," Weinberg said.

"Hopefully[the safety improvements] will provide some deterrents for people who tend to go around gates or ignore warning lights," said county Supervisor Jerry Hill, who is also a Caltrain board member.

Hill called the number of deaths on Caltrain tracks last year "terrible," and said this year has started off a little better. Three people have been killed on the tracks so far this year, down from six at this time a year ago. The cause of two of the deaths has yet to be determined. One was ruled a suicide by the San Mateo County Coroner’s Office.

A plan to add fencing along the tracks where pedestrians frequently cross illegally is also in the works, with $3.4 million being set aside by Caltrain over the next two years, Weinberg said. "They expect fencing to start going in in the next six weeks, with priority given to Burlingame."

Much of Caltrain’s expanded safety efforts can be traced to the death of 13-year-old Fatih Kuc, a Burlingame resident, whose death outraged area residents and his parents. Kuc was hit in April just south of the Broadway train station. He was walking home from school along the tracks after taking a public bus home and exiting at a nearby bus stop, officials said. The unfenced area where Kuc was hit was a well-known shortcut, according to locals.

The multiyear safety project is being paid for using San Mateo Transit Authority funds, collected as part of a 5-cent sales tax for transportation improvements.

The safety improvements and funds only go for improvements at Caltrain crossings in San Mateo County, but Santa Clara County is also considering such a plan, officials said.

Ticketing trespassers

Another safety measure being used to deter pedestrians from ducking under barriers and racing to beat trains is increased patrols by Caltrain’s transit police, officials said. In February alone, transit police handed out triple the number of citations for trespassing and other nonarrest infractions compared with a year earlier. Fines can range from $200-$400.

Citation Feb 2007 YTD 2007 Feb 2006 2006

» Other infractions, 34 78 10 37

Including nonarrest

trespassing

»Parking 411 830 279 523

»Adult — felony and 8 18 12 25

misdemeanor arrests

Source: Caltrain

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