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Menlo Park sued over car's collision with train

Original post made on Jun 11, 2013

The aftershocks of a late April afternoon collision continue to ripple through Menlo Park a year later: Two women who had been traveling in a car struck by a train at the Ravenswood crossing are now suing the city, the county, Caltrain and the state.


Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, June 11, 2013, 7:05 AM

Comments (34)

Posted by common sense, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 8:57 am

Do not ever stop on the train tracks. Do not attempt to cross the train tracks unless you have more than enough space on the other side. Don't drive so distracted that you cannot follow these simple rules. This is the law and just common sense.


Posted by Joe, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 11, 2013 at 9:48 am

I'm sorry for their injuries; however, who was driving the car and responsible for making common sense decisions. You don't proceed across the RR track unless there is enough space for your car.


Posted by Hunter, a resident of Atherton: other
on Jun 11, 2013 at 11:58 am

We live in a densely populated area and people have a vast range of mental abilities. Unless that train can stop quickly, it is responsible for the accident as the driver did not intentionally stop on the tracks.

Raise the tracks above the road. Period. Not rocket science.


Posted by Concerned, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Dear responders, you may not have traveled this particular intersection. No matter how attentive you are, and no matter how light the traffic is, there is a strong chance that you can be trapped on the tracks unless you are being very diligent, especially if you are not familiar with the intersection that immediately follows the tracks.

First, there is a flashing crosswalk that often stops traffic. Pedestrians enter the crosswalk without regard for traffic because they have flags and the right of way. They enter the crosswalk from without even stopping at the curb first. This results in cars trapped on the tracks.

Second, a left turn immediately after the tracks is possible - but might be illegal. If the driver in front of you opts for this left without signaling, surprise, you are on the tracks.

Lastly, a person may turn onto Alma to go to the library. Frequently a pedestrian will enter that crosswalk preventing the car from turning right, stopping the traffic and surprise - the person behind gets caught on the tracks.

So - yes, the absolute most aware, astute and experienced driver will avoid all of these problems, but the other 85% (including new student drivers) will be placed in peril accidentally. The crosswalk should be moved, or changed to a light that stops drivers before the tracks. Left and right turns immediately after the tracks should be made illegal.

For parents training new drivers, take your student to this intersection and practice the best approach, which is to stop before the tracks until the car in front is completely across and there is room to complete the crossing.


Posted by wondering..., a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Did they HONK their horns to let other know what was happening. I admit that this can happen, but I'm not willing to have the city, county and state pay these people ungodly amounts of money for something that might have been avoided... and for which there is essentially no protection from a lawsuit. If anyone is at fault it's the drivers and those around them. We have car horns for a reason. THIS was the real time to use it!

Pay for the car damage? Fine. Who paid for the train damage?? Never mind the lawyers will be the biggest beneficiaries.

Now... if the county wants to worry about a future lawsuit.. they should reconsider what they haven't done along the Alpine Road. I will help testify that they new the dangers there.


Posted by Drive responsibly, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Hunter and Concerned, your perspectives are why our society is so litigious. It is always someone else's fault. I am with Common Sense and Joe: one must never cross a railroad track until they see a clear space to land in. Never. These are the rules of the road. By accepting the privilege to have a driving license we all assume the responsibility to follow these rules.

The same applies in a normal intersection. How many times do we see people stop in the intersection in heavy traffic and the light turns red? Make sure you have enough space to clear the tracks and the intersection. Always.


Posted by Not rocket science, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm

Wow, "Concerned" is making this way to complicated. It is very simple. You do not cross the tracks unless you are sure you can clear them.

This is driving 101. It doesn't take any special knowledge of this particular intersection, or even special knowledge of trains. If you are driving at a non-train intersection and there is traffic, you make sure that you can clear the intersection before you enter the intersection. This way you don't get stuck in the middle when the light changes.

The Ravenswood makes very loud noises and flashing lights. The noises sound a few seconds before the gates come down. You have enough warning to not start to cross the tracks. If you hear the bell, stop. Not complicated.

If you are going to fast to stop, when approaching a train crossing or other intersection, you are going to fast. Slow down. Not complicated.

If you are going too fast to see and avoid pedestrians in a populated area, you are going too fast. Slow down. Not complicated.

Clearly there are some drivers that don't understand how to drive through intersections or marked train crossings or populated areas. That lack of basic driving skills shouldn't be anybody else's liability.


Posted by Fix-it, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm

"Concerned" is absolutely right. I drive across this intersection frequently, in both directions, and consider it the most dangerous intersection I have ever encountered. Even when one is especially careful, one can never foresee everything. A child on a bike might suddenly enter the intersection. Someone standing still at the curb and facing the library, might suddenly turn around and decide to cross just as the train warning lights come on, etc. Or the car in front of you fails to signal its intention to turn left, leaving you stranded on the tracks.
While the lawsuit mentioned may or may not have merit, the city has been told by many residents that this is a dangerous crossing and should be fixed. Simply doing away with the crosswalk and making left turns illegal would go a long way toward improving the safety.


Posted by Jerry Johnson, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jun 11, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Since I began driving in California in 1950 the rule has always been, do
not begin crossing train tracks until there is room on the far side to
fully cross. That rule has never let me, or any other drivers down who
have followed the rule. This type of lawsuit, trying to deny a drivers obvious
mistake, makes life difficult and expensive for us all. What happened to
accepting responsibility for mistakes made. My heart goes out to those who
were injured but it hurts us all when fault is not accepted and a lawsuit
filed which is baseless. Drivers need to slow down and follow simple driving
Rules that they were taught when the first learned to drive.


Posted by Not rocket science, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 1:12 pm

To fix it who suggests solving the safety hazard by removing the crosswalk. That crosswalk is the path to and from the library, and the gym, and the pool, and the civic center, and the train station. If you block pedestrian crossings, and make people walk the long way around, you are encouraging people to drive for short neighborhood trips. And then perhaps you will wonder why there is even more traffic!

Also, if the crosswalk markings were removed, it would still be a legal crosswalk at an intersection - it would just be less safe.


Posted by Natalie, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 11, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I hope these people win their lawsuit on all fronts. That intersection is a nightmare. Why there hasn't been a death there is remarkable. The people who think it's so easy to avoid entering onto tracks haven't used this intersection.


Posted by Solutions, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm

Elevated tracks with free flow of cars underneath. Take a look at San Carlos which has a half and half track design. The east/west road is slightly depressed and the elevated tracks are raised. Visually, it is benign and there are no traffic delays or safety issues. With a one quarter dip under the tracks and a three quarter rise, there is no visual insult. Why is it that Menlo Park makes everything so much harder than needs be? Can there ever be leadership that brings new ideas to the city? C-H-A-N-G-E will not created mayhem, floods and slums.


Posted by Menlo Park Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I am in 100% agreement with "concerned". I have lived and worked in Menlo Park for over 30 years, crossing those tracks at least twice a day. Yes, I realize drivers should always be aware to stop before the tracks if they see there is not enough room or the bells/lights are flashing. This is the law and, for most, common sense. However, there are unforeseen situations when traffic is flowing smoothly and a car decides to suddenly turn left or right on Alma when headed east and just marginally over the tracks, it leaves the drive behind no time to use that judgement. If, in either case, the driver fails to use a turn signal to warn the car behind them of their intentions, the situation can be unavoidable and disatrous. While I think the right turn is probably necessary, the left turn against oncoming traffic should be illegal. It holds up traffic and creates very dangerous conditions. It is currently illegal to make a left turn between 4-6pm but it is not observed nor enforced. This is an area that should policed for a while -- perhaps the city would see the need to illiminate this turn altogether.


Posted by Robert, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm

@Natalie

Be careful what you wish for. The most foolproof and cost effective solution to eliminating accidents would be simply closing the crossing to auto traffic.


Posted by Menlo Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jun 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

@Robert
That would be throwing the baby out with the bath water. Eliminate turns immediately after the crossing.


Posted by Long Time Menlo Man, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jun 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

I've lived here 50+ years and have NEVER been trapped on the tracks. Why? Don't cross until your car fits. Thousands of people make it every day. I wish there was a video of this. Oh, wait, there was. I saw it on "The World's __________ People."


Posted by Jerry Johnson, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jun 11, 2013 at 6:09 pm

As I said, 60 plus years of driving and never a problem at this or any other train crossing. How could that be? Simple, follow basic driving rules and common sense. I'm an old man, getting slow but still manage to make that crossing several times a week, often during the rush hour and never had a problem. Gould the intersection be safer? Of course it could if we went the underpass route but I believe there is a lot of opposition to that solution when in fact it is not necessary if people slow Dow and drive properly. Once again, if you break the rules and have an accident (?) take responsibility for your own stupidity and don't try and get rich with a lawsuit at the citizens expense. !!!!!!


Posted by ndnorth, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2013 at 7:37 pm

I've been driving the intersection since 1982. Never had a problem. While confusion or mistake are understandable if you are not paying full attention in the case of a railway crossing such mistakes can be fatal. If as others have said you do not cross if you aren't sure of room the other side the intersection is as safe as any other. If you follow other cars without ascertaining that there is room of course, you risk being on the tracks with dire consequences. Just today at about 9:07 am on the Churchill crossing on Alma a van driven by a women didn't make sure of enough room and she was stuck. She tried to move back (with the crossing arms on the top of her vehicle) but a car had moved behind her. The car was able to make enough room at an angle for the van to move back enough (still part of it on the train right-of-way) and since the second car was occupying part of the left lane on Alma my line of cars couldn't move and that's what saved her.
Had our lane been moving at regular speed the second car would not have been able to move back at all and the van would have been on the train way. The Menlo Park residents want to be paid. For what? For their own incompetence? For being on the train's right of way? For inconviniencing the train riders and causing damage? For being inattentive? Give me a break...


Posted by Get real, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 11, 2013 at 7:39 pm

Common sense, Joe, Not Rocket Science, and Jerry Johnson all clearly identified where the responsibility rests.
You've made a mistake, accept that fact and your own responsibility. Move on and don't expect CALTRAIN, your City, your County and your State to bail you out and make you a bundle. I honestly feel sorry for your loss but I am not interested, as a tax payer, to pay any part of your court costs. The suit should be summarily thrown out for lack of merit.


Posted by ndnorth, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2013 at 7:55 pm

Menlo Park resident,
All your scenarios for mishap at the train crossing are a result of
following the car in front of you and assuming that the driver is going to be legally doing what you expect him/her to do. That a bad recipe for driving and a worst one for placing blame. Also the "pedestrian problem" doesn't hold water. IF you see pedestrians assume they are going to cross and prepare plan B-the first yards of Ravenswood at the Alma crossing have 2 lanes with that merge, so 2 cars can be there at a time, so instead of turning on Alma you can get onto Ravenswood and then go to where you want from there. There is no need to get stuck at the tracks.


Posted by ndnorth, a resident of another community
on Jun 11, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Natalie,
if you think that is remarkable that the intersection hasn't seen deaths it's because it isn't the nightmare that you make it to be.


Posted by Lawabiding, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 11, 2013 at 10:23 pm

It would be sinful for these people to win a court case. It's a matter of LAW as well as common sense. California DMV handbook states: At railroad or train crossings:
• Look in both directions and listen for trains. Many crossings have multiple tracks; so, be ready to stop before crossing, if necessary. Cross railroad tracks only at designated crossings and only when it is safe to do so.
• Expect a train on any track at any time traveling in either direction. If you need to stop after crossing the tracks, wait until you can completely cross the tracks before proceeding. Make sure your vehicle clears the tracks before you stop.
• Never stop on the railroad tracks.
Remember that a train cannot stop quickly or swerve out of the way. If you are on the tracks, you risk injury or death.
I'm sure the greedy dolts are counting on a settlement.


Posted by Iver Driver, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jun 12, 2013 at 7:03 am

Filing a lawsuit as a result of ones own mistakes -- that's the American way! Blame some else.

Note that all the comments on crosswalks, left and right turns, etc apply to drivers going east on Ravenswood. The article says that the car hit by the train was going West. What's the excuse for that? Maybe the litigioust driver ASSUMED that the traffic lights would be coordinated with the train gates as they are along Alma in Palo Alto.


Posted by makfan, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

@Concerned: I want to quote the first part of your comment:

"... there is a strong chance that you can be trapped on the tracks unless you are being very diligent, especially if you are not familiar with the intersection that immediately follows the tracks. "

Railroad crossings *are* dangerous, and therefore you simply must be "very diligent" to use your exact words. You must allow enough space to stay on the near side of the tracks until you are 100% sure that you have enough space to cross to the far side. Period. If the car in front of you might stop to turn, you have to stay on the near side until the car is out of your way.

We cannot continue to pay out taxpayer money because someone wasn't "very diligent" in a situation where it was required.


Posted by makfan, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2013 at 9:08 am

Although I don't live in Menlo Park these days, I did live there for one year and I drove across that intersection regularly.


Posted by Julius Caesar, Act 1, scene 2, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm

"The fault . . . is not in our stars,
But in ourselves . . . ."


Posted by Menlo Driver, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jun 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm

In regards to the original comment by Concerned: all your scenarios are in regards to traveling Eastbound. The accident happened while traveling Westbound (as stated in the article, and also observed by my son, who happened to be dropping his brother at the train station that day.) The only reason a car would be hit while traveling Westbound, would be if they were caught at the El Camino lights, sitting on the tracks. Even my 16 year old said, "You never enter the tracks unless you have room to cross to the other side." And he doesn't even have his license yet.

As far as all your Eastbound scenarios go, I can imagine each one of them happening, but in all cases, they are temporary delays...people crossing the street, or a car turning left. If a train were coming in these circumstances, I would think that all involved would do what they could to remedy the situation before a collision. As stated by a previous commentator: honking can do wonders.


Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jun 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

There are simply some people who are too foolish to drive safely and who may injure themselves and others as a result.

I personally witnessed an "eager beaver" push forward onto the Caltrain tracks at a different intersection when there was no room on the other side due to a red light. Too bad, the gates went down and the train came. He was just fortunate that the train was on the optimal track, and there was just barely enough room for it to squeeze by his car without killing someone.

As Bugs Bunny would say, "What a maroon."


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm

It doesn't matter if you are an individual, a corporation, a public utility, or a City/County/State, there is a tenant in law that basically says if you know of a situation that is dangerous and it is in your power to mitigate the danger and you do nothing, you can be held responsible when bad things happen. This intersection is a safety mess; has been for a long time; it has been well documented; and, contrary to what some posters have assumed, there have been accidents and serious injuries here (check the Almanac archives for details). Anyone who has had an auto accident where the fault is jointly shared has likely experienced how the courts and insurance companies approach the issue, its the 51% rule (who was 51% at fault), that then sets up the negotiation between the parties to see who pays what. The victims in this instance are getting good legal advice; expect a settlement between the parties. Then, how about insisting that this terrible intersection get FIXED. How do you spell "grade seperation"? Last comment, I find it interesting that people immediately blame victims when they think the pay out is coming out of their taxes, but if its somewhere else, more power to the victims.


Posted by John Murphy, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2013 at 1:59 pm

I too know that intersection. There is a very simple answer.

Close the crossing to cars.

QED.


Posted by John Murphy, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm

How do you spell "grade seperation"?

It is spelled it "T-A-X I-N-C-R-E-A-S-E"

The grade separation in San Bruno cost $150 Million.

I highly support an increase in taxes to pay for grade separation. I do not live in Menlo but I frequently shop there, and would support a sales tax increase instead of a parcel tax increase if you like.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of another community
on Jun 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm

Why didn't they exit their vehicle to avoid getting hit?


Posted by Kathryn Wrigley, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jun 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm

It's amazing to me that people who know nothing about the accident, weren't there, and no nothing about car-train intersections safety, have "expert" opinions about the matter.
When I hear about a pedestrain, bicyclist or other accident I don't pretend to know what the issues are...Many of the safety measures we have today are the result of recognizing that crossings can be designed to be safer. Yes if everything happens prefectly, accidents wouldn't happen, pedestrian crosswalks wouldn't need count-down time displays (which many European train tracks have, by the way)--but that's not realistic.
I recall reading that the Palo ALto "track watchers" have tallied that at least once an hour , a car is caught on the tracks at that grade level crossing.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Jun 13, 2013 at 6:06 am

"You must allow enough space and stay on the near side of the tracks until you are 100% sure that you have enough space to cross to the far side. Period. If the car in front of you might stop to turn, you have to stay on the near side until the car is out of your way."

Thank you, makfan for pointing out something we all learned at one time.


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