Monday, June 14, 2010

Tunnel or Nothing?

There's a sign on a building across the street from the San Mateo CalTrain station that says "Tunnel or Nothing--Don't Let High Speed Rail Ruin Downtown San Mateo".

Aside the odd fact this this sign is on a dingy little light industrial business (you're worried about ruining the view from your garage?), I'd like to point out that "or nothing" means the status quo, at-grade crossings with frequent incidents like tonight's:

From the Examiner:

Pedestrian killed by Caltrain in San Mateo

Bay City News
June 15, 2010

SAN MATEO — A female pedestrian was killed by a Caltrain in San Mateo on Monday evening, an agency spokeswoman said.

The person was struck by southbound Caltrain No. 266 at about 5:15 p.m. on the tracks north of the Hayward Park station, spokeswoman Christine Dunn said. It is the sixth fatality on Caltrain tracks this year, after 19 in 2009.

None of the 143 passengers aboard the train were injured.

Around 7 p.m., Caltrain said trains were running full speed, but were delayed about 60 minutes in both directions. Trains were expected to be back on schedule by 7:45 p.m.

SamTrans and BART accepted Caltrain tickets until 7:30 p.m.

Is this seriously a status quo that anyone wants to fight to protect?

Despite the service interruptions (if a train is 60 minutes late, as far as anyone is concerned, it's just the next train), the kids and I had a fun night out to Millbrae for dinner at In-n-out & L&L Hawaiian BBQ (outdoor tables so everyone can get what they want), and en route I introduced Nathan to Randy the ("have a wonderful") Conductor.

10 comments:

Peter said...

u want faster trains to make suicides even easier? we don't need high speed trains -- we need decent low speed trains first. let's walk a mile before we try to run a marathon.

295bus said...

It doesn't matter if they're fast or slow, decent or crappy--the only way to keep people from getting hit by them is to separate tracks from the streets.

Actually I'd say that CalTrain is pretty decent except for the fact that schedules are regularly hosed by these incidents.

Peter said...

so, regarding suicide, it doesn't matter if trains are fast or slow, huh? interesting. i think you're wrong, but i don't have proof yet -- working on getting data from Caltrain. it's not easy.

295bus said...

Are you suggesting there's a speed below which people will not bother jumping in front of trains, and that trains should not be allowed to go faster than that?

Slow trains are still fatal, even if they don't seem as scary. People manage to get hit and killed by VTA light rail trains too--I think this is usually legitimate accidents.

Yokota Fritz said...

Regarding "slow" trains -- that's why I thought that proposal to slow trains in Palo Alto @ Meadow to prevent the teen suicides was so ludicrous. It wasn't the speed of the train killing those kids.

These people know that the tunneling option is a non-starter, right?

Peter said...

Are you suggesting there's a speed below which people will not bother jumping in front of trains, and that trains should not be allowed to go faster than that?

yes. i suspect most if not all Caltrain suicides are done using express trains. i think it's appropriate for us to do a certain amount of suicide deterrence.

there are all sorts of reasons to oppose fast transit -- namely, they're bad for sustainability -- but the suicide aspect is definitely troubling, and i don't think we've done nearly enough. it degrades us all to continue to ignore the problem.

295bus said...

Slowing CalTrain to avoid suicides will make it useless.

This problem needs to be addressed, but not at the cost of killing the service.

(And it you believe it should be, fair enough, but we should limit the speed of cars to avoid fatalities too).

Peter, the original point of my post was exactly that (a) we need to do something about suicides on CalTrain, specifically grade separation, and (b) if people who demand "tunnel or nothing" get their way, they'll get nothing, because there's no money for a tunnel. So everybody looses. Trains will stay slow (relative even to non-"high-speed" passenger trains in other countries), and people will still jump in front of them.

Peter said...

Slowing CalTrain to avoid suicides will make it useless.

of course not. in fact, it will probably make it even more useful. and sustainable - which of course is its own moral imperative. the highest-traffic/capacity-carrying train in the country is a slow train. in other words, slow trains are quite useful, and often, more useful that fast trains.

This problem needs to be addressed, but not at the cost of killing the service.

i understand this overreaction, but it's not based on fact -- it's just fear and superstition.

but we should limit the speed of cars to avoid fatalities too).

yes - i've advocated for this before, but folks usually get so huffy and puffy about slowing caltrain that they refuse to listen to reason. not much i can do about that.

and people will still jump in front of them.

i think you're wrong about this, but i need data to prove it.

murphstahoe said...

Peter - the local trains go as fast as the express trains. They just stop more frequently.

In order to stop the suicides, the trains would have to go slow enough that a conductor who saw someone trying to commit suicide could stop. That speed is pretty much 5 MPH - barely faster than walking... a.k.a. useless.

Peter said...

Peter - the local trains go as fast as the express trains. They just stop more frequently.

this is partially true, partially false. supposedly, all local/limited/express trains reach the same top speed (79 MPH), but the trains with more stops are obviously slower -- their average speed is lower. this is important, possibly crucial.

Meadow Rd is about 1.5 mi from both the San Antonio stop to the south, and the California Ave stop to the north -- this is where most of the Gunn students choose to kill themselves. i'd be curious to get the speed of all trains passing this Meadow Rd intersection -- I suspect the limited and bullet trains are going significantly faster there than the locals that stop at both stations -- there's only so much speed you can build up in 3 miles, and you have to both speed up and slow down in time enough to stop at the next station, all in 3 miles. an express train might blow by one or both of these stations, maintaining it's top speed in that area -- whatever it is (79 MPH, or something less?).

also, i believe most kids are killing themselves by just standing in front of the train -- they're not laying down on the tracks -- though, i really have no idea. if this is true, slowing the trains down through the area would almost certainly deter suicides to a certain extent.

we should be working to illuminate the particulars of these deaths to make them more real to all the train riders who feel only inconvenience instead of compassion when a teen kills himself/herself. the kids who want to kill themselves are going to get the info, i promise you -- that's why they're so successful -- they're depressed, and they're also smart and very determined. all we've done is left the equivalent of a loaded gun in the house with them alone -- not smart, not compassionate, not decent.

In order to stop the suicides, the trains would have to go slow enough that a conductor who saw someone trying to commit suicide could stop. That speed is pretty much 5 MPH - barely faster than walking... a.k.a. useless.

disagree. many reasons this could be, and probably is, wrong. one is that perception matters -- a fast train is perceived to be more deadly than a slower train. someone who really wants to kill themselves is not going to mess around with slower trains -- they're gonna find the fast ones.

also, bystanders have been able to rescue folks from the tracks before. slower trains *might* allow bystanders a bit more time to grab a suicidal teen from the tracks.

also, research at UC-Berkeley has indicated that people regularly underestimate the speed of oncoming large objects -- i _think_ the research says that the bigger/faster the object, the greater the deception. if you want to give impulsive teens a chance to have a second thought, we'd better slow the trains and make them smaller.

the whole thing just seems so sickening to me -- that we argue for a couple of minutes of travel time instead of saving these kids from themselves. we're sick sick sick.