Friday, October 9, 2009

Safety Concerns and Training for New Mission Bay Caltrain Crossing

Safety concerns about the new 7th Street railroad crossing that opens up Mission Bay and Potrero Hill were high on the agenda at last night's meeting of the Mission Bay Citizens Advisory Committee.

One concern was over driver confusion with the number of different signs there. One particular pole - pictured above - was singled out for criticism. The pole, at the end of Berry Street, has four signs clustered on it, with a fifth sign of a large white arrow painted on the road below it.

Already the crossing is more dangerous than most because it covers three rather than two tracks.

'There's a lot going on there! It's a bit scary to think people can just walk through there,' said one man at the meeting.

All day yesterday and into the evening, the first day that the crossing was open, Transit Police monitored the situation and advised people on how to use it. Listening to one cyclist, it was clear there was confusion.

The CAC also expressed concern about safety issues for children. There are now over 350 children in the vicinity including The Beacon apartments on the other side of King Street, with most of them under five.

'It's pretty amazing we've got so many kids already,' said CAC Chair, Corinne Woods.

The committee had invited Kelly Green, Community Relations Specialist of Caltrain, to the meeting to give an illustrated safety talk, and next week she will give an hour-long safety training session in Mission Creek for both adults and children.

At a top speed of 79 mph, she warned, a hurtling Caltrain weighing one million pounds will take one mile or the length of 18 football fields to stop, though trains entering and exiting the city at 7th Street travel at slower speeds, she said.

Kelly is associated with the internationally renowned Operation Lifesaver organization, which focuses on railroad safety. Its logo is the 'three E's' of education, engineering and enforcement. Both she and the CAC are anxious to get the safety message out to the public.

Top violations are to rush the gates before they are fully up or down; drive around the gates; and, incredibly, to stop on the tracks. Transit Police pursue citations, she said, the most expensive fine being $1,000 which is applicable to a number of different infractions.

But this evening drivers showed that they were confused, at least about where to stop when traffic lights are red.

Some of Kelly's safety tips include:
  • Be aware that Caltrains are wide, unlike the city's Muni trains, so that they overhang tracks by between 3 ft - 5 ft.
  • If your car gets stuck on tracks, GET OUT! And run in the direction of the train to avoid flying debris.
  • Call 911 and the dispatch office at San Jose will try to stop the train.
  • Similar to an aeroplane, it can be difficult to judge the speed of a train because of its size.
  • After the gate is triggered, there is 29 seconds before the train arrives, three seconds longer than the national minimum requirement.
  • Be aware that track use can change, so that trains can run in both directions, north and south, on the same track
  • Don't rely on schedules: 'Any time is Train Time!'
Despite the realization last night that some aspects of the crossing need to be 'tweaked', as one man said, 'We're so happy it's opened, though!'

The next safety meeting takes place at the Mission Creek Senior Community, 225 Berry Street, San Francisco, in the 3rd Floor Conference Room on Tuesday, October 13, 6.30 - 7.30 pm.

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