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Atherton: Train strikes stalled car Saturday night

Original post made on Feb 11, 2018

An unoccupied vehicle caught fire when it was struck by a train Saturday night in Atherton, according to Menlo Park Fire Protection District officials.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, February 11, 2018, 11:21 AM

Comments (18)

18 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 11, 2018 at 12:11 pm

How does a car stall exactly on the train tracks? Did the car driver illegally stop at that location, then was unable to start again? [Portion removed; don't speculate and suggest criminal intent; investigators will make findings based on fact.]


17 people like this
Posted by Harold Schapelhouman, Fire Chief
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 11, 2018 at 12:29 pm

From Menlo Fire

Menlo Park Firefighters responded to a vehicle that was reportedly on fire and jammed under a South bound Caltrain Passenger Train Locomotive that was able to finally stop just short of Watkins Avenue Railroad Crossing at 8.13 pm Saturday night.

Captain Tim Bogner on Menlo Engine 3 arrived on scene at 8.17 pm and reported that they had a white convertible vehicle on fire that was pinned and entangled under the front grill of a South bound Caltrain locomotive. Upon further investigation, they found the vehicle was not occupied.

The unoccupied classic 1950’s era Austin Healey motor vehicle had reportedly stalled at the Fairoaks Rail Crossing and the driver had gotten out of the vehicle before it was struck by the Southbound Train. The vehicle was drug under the front of the locomotive for about a quarter of a mile until the train was able to stop just short of the Watkins Avenue Rail Crossing.

In all, three Fire Engines, one Ladder Truck and a Battalion Chief responded with 14 Fire personnel to this incident. After extinguishing the vehicle fire, Menlo Park Firefighters were able to free what was left of the classic car by 10.26 pm using the jaws of life and other extrication equipment to free the twisted metal and debris from under the much larger locomotive.

A total of over 300 passengers were safely transferred to another train while Menlo Park Firefighters disentangled the vehicle from the front of the locomotive. There were no injuries reported.

Fire Chief Schapelhouman said “this is the second vehicle that has been struck at this intersection in the last four years and then caught fire. The last time this occurred in December of 2014, a driver following his navigation system on a dark and rainy night turned onto the tracks and the vehicle became stuck. Fortunately, in both of these cases, the drivers were able to escape from their vehicles before being struck by a Southbound Passenger Train”.


6 people like this
Posted by Harold Schapelhouman, Fire Chief
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 11, 2018 at 12:43 pm

More photographs will be posted to our web-site found at menlofire.org by Monday afternoon. This was a difficult multi-hour disentaglement of the classic 1950’s Austin Healey motor car from the front and under the locomotive. The fire crews had to literally lay on the ground under the locomotive using the Jaws of Life to cut and pry the vehicle from train.

Photographs of the December 2014 incident will also be included. Everyone was relieved no one was in the vehicle because that isn’t always the case.

The cause of the vehicle being on the tracks is under the capable jurisdiction of the Atherton Police Department and San Mateo County Sheriffs Department.


24 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 11, 2018 at 12:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Note that because the Fire District has seven stations that it was able to respond to this incident and keep multiple apparatus on site for hours while also providing continuous coverage to all other parts of the District.


2 people like this
Posted by elevate
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 12, 2018 at 8:23 am

Some want to Install quad-gates to have a "quiet zone" free from train horns. The only practical and safe way to accomplish a "quiet zone" is by elevating the tracks to fully separate from the vehicle crossing. Some fool driving a rented cement truck could have just as easily gotten stuck on the tracks. City and county officials need to work together on full grade separation before we have a derailment.


6 people like this
Posted by Rail Worker
a resident of another community
on Feb 12, 2018 at 8:42 am

The car did not stall at the crossing. The car got on the tracks from the parking lot. How would a car with low clearance find it's way from a parking lot to the tracks without being blocked by a curb?


1 person likes this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2018 at 12:31 pm

I am of the understanding that on Saturday night, every train stops at the Atherton station. If that is true, I can't see why the engineer, already slowing for the station, was unable to stop in time. Please enlighten me.


5 people like this
Posted by @elevate
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2018 at 1:08 pm

For all practical purposes, grade separation at Fair Oaks and Watkins will never happen. There are about 100 at grade crossings along the Caltrain corridor. Each one will cost at least $100M with costs rising every year.

Grade separation projects are prioritized based on traffic counts and safety. Fair Oaks and Watkins have the lowest traffic counts in the Caltrain corridor. They would be done last.

On top of that, Atherton residents aren't interested in elevating the rail. City leaders won't push nor contribute to this project. Even some Menlo Park residents don't want elevated rail either, specifically those that live around the Encinal crossing.

This is why the only realistic way to establish a quiet zone in this area is to quad gate Watkins and Encinal. The quiet zone has worked well at Fair Oaks as Lloyen Park residents can attest.


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Posted by @Mike
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2018 at 1:11 pm

Currently, there are two baby bullets every weekend day in either direction.
Web Link

The train that struck the car appears to be the 804 train, which is a baby bullet.


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 12, 2018 at 2:20 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

" There are about 100 at grade crossings along the Caltrain corridor. Each one will cost at least $100M with costs rising every year."

Which is exactly why a bored tunnel, even as expensive as it would be, is the best solution. And a bored tunnel would require minimal surface disruption during construction.


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Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 12, 2018 at 3:55 pm

Per Web Link, there are 42 at-grade crossings, not 100 (at least as of 2016).


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Posted by @MP Resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 12, 2018 at 5:25 pm

You're right. I mixed up the total road crossings number with at grade crossings.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dana hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2018 at 10:55 am

So this type of accident happened again - this time in Palo Alto on February 12 at the Charleston grade crossing.

Web Link

Makes one wonder why some communities SETTLE for either "quiet zones" or quad gates when neither will prevent these kinds of human errors and collisions.

What am I missing?


7 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 13, 2018 at 11:29 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"What am I missing?"

1 - Coming up with the best solution would require all of the communities on the Caltrain ROW to actually work together - they have never done that,

2 - Nothing, except nothing, can be accomplished on the grade separation issue in the 4 year tenure of a council member so they have no incentive to deal with this issue.

3 - It takes wisdom and courage to make expensive long term investments that will not pay off during your time in office.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2018 at 12:28 pm

Peter: I agree with all your points... vision, wisdom and courage are characteristics of strong leadership which is willing and able to overcome tough obstacles and often these are the government processes. Thanks for contributing to this discussion.


1 person likes this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 13, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Peter: I agree with all your points. Vision, wisdom and courage are characteristics of strong leadership which is willing and able to overcome tough obstacles and often, these are the government itself. Thanks for contributing to this discussion.


2 people like this
Posted by Steve_J
a resident of another community
on Feb 13, 2018 at 2:14 pm

Steve_J is a registered user.

I am glad that nobody was injured or killed. All city councils need to get together and resolve the problems. Trains do not stop on a dime!!!


2 people like this
Posted by @Dana
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 13, 2018 at 4:44 pm

"What am I missing?"

The real reason grade separation isn't done is money. Quad gates cost about $1M or so. Grade separation solutions start at $100M, but generally higher as the cheapest solution is never chosen. There are a lot of people to please in such a large scale project.

When the Menlo Park grade separation study is done, you will soon realize there is no funding source for such an expensive project (if Menlo Park asks for more than Ravenswood to be grade separated).

The county, state, and federal government fund transportation projects based on safety and traffic studies. Only the Ravenswood crossing is unsafe and high traffic enough to warrant priority. The other crossings in Menlo Park and Atherton do not. Maybe one day they will, but the Bay Area has a very long list of transportation projects they want to fund. It's likely there will never be money to grade separate any other grades in our community in our lifetimes.

Finding $1M in funding is easier for a quad gate project. A city could fund this project on its own and even find some small grants from outside sources. This is the reason communities settle for quiet zones.


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