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Caltrain Hits Two in First Fatal Accident of 2014

In a horrific accident on Monday night, one person was killed and another severely injured after being struck by Caltrain near the Santa Clara stop. The train, an express commuter train that was not planned to stop at that particular station, was estimated to have been moving somewhere between 50 and 70 mph when it hit the two pedestrians on the tracks. Authorities are still investigating the accident, and have said that they hope to question the survivor when his condition improves in order to ascertain why the two people were on the tracks in the first place.

It is unusual for a train to hit two people at once, but still, hitting and killing a certain number of people each year has become more or less standard practice for Caltrain. Last year was no different: in 2013, Caltrain killed 13 people, on par with the average number of deaths over the past several years. Now, with this accident starting off 2014, Caltrain is once again on track to have a similar number of fatal train accidents for the year.

I have written about this before, because I find the steady stream of Caltrain fatalities to be an unspeakable travesty. Every time a train hits and kills someone, Caltrain effectively shrugs its shoulders and does nothing about it. They treat these fatalities as an inevitable byproduct of providing train service when they should be taking steps to create a safer system that would cut down on accidents. I firmly believe that measures can be implemented by Caltrain that could help prevent many of these tragedies.

In the case of this most recent accident, this was an "express train," and bypassed several local stops without slowing down in order to deliver passengers to their ultimate destination more quickly. Was the train moving too fast? Even if there is no train scheduled to arrive, shouldn't it still be mandatory for trains to slow down as they approach a station, even if they aren't stopping there? Perhaps people expected the train to stop not realizing it was an express train. If the train had not been moving so fast when it hit the two pedestrians, perhaps it might have been able to slow down fast enough to avoid hitting them altogether. Maybe the express train, dubbed the "Baby Bullet," could afford to add just a few extra minutes to its travel time in order to save some lives.

I understand that had these people stayed off the train tracks the Baby Bullet would not have taken their lives. What we do not know quite yet is why they were on the tracks. It is no more acceptable to kill a pedestrian on the train tracks than it is for the driver of a car to hit a pedestrian who is crossing against the light. Sometimes the accident cannot be avoided--but often it can be. Furthermore, recognizing that a train does not stop quickly should be impetus to install video systems or other warning systems able to provide information to engineers far enough in advance for them to avoid the danger.

As a San Francisco accident attorney, I continue to be irked about Caltrain's indifference to these accidents. They write off most of them as "suicides" as though that automatically exempts them from all responsibility for the incident. I acknowledge that some of these are quite likely suicides, but why should Caltrain not see value in trying to prevent suicides as well? How do they know these are suicides? Do their trains need better brakes? Do their drivers need better training? It would be nice to hear at least some conversation from someone over at Caltrain about what could be done to try to cut down on fatalities going forward. But at least for now, there is nothing but silence.

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