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on and off-track

By enelson
Friday, March 14th, 2008 at 7:09 pm in AC Transit, Amtrak, Bicycling, Buses, Capitol Corridor (Amtrak), connectivity, driving, rail, Safety, traffic signals, Transit vs. driving.


News item:

OAKLAND _ A Capitol Corridor commuter train struck a car near the Jack London Square Amtrak station Monday evening, prompting an AC Transit bus to illegally pass railroad crossing gates and become jackknifed on the tracks.

Several trains were delayed, the worst an hour and fifteen minutes on the train that hit the car, which made an illegal turn in front of the train, an Amtrak spokeswoman said.

Oakland police said the driver of the car was not seriously injured and refused medical attention. No other injuries were reported.

Trying my level best to maintain my journalistic objectivity, I tried to imagine how this incident could have been the railroad’s fault.

First, there’s the whole Embarcadero issue. Here’s a street that also serves as something like a half-mile of railroad. It’s like the mother of all railroad crossings. Each intersection is gated, but the gates could be open when you enter the street, but close while you’re still driving along it.

I was on an AC Transit bus that came up to that very same intersection where the car was thrown off the tracks. The lights started flashing, and the driver sped up to get onto the Embarcadero before the gates came down.

Thus I had no trouble envisioning Monday’s bus screw-up, although I’m still a little unclear how the two sections of the bus jackknifed.

Luckily, reader Susan Bohan has a quick trigger finger and sent me a photo of the bus and Capitol Corridor.

“I saw this last night and couldn’t figure out how that bus got there,” she told me in an e-mail.

It wasn’t until the next morning, riding my bike from the Coliseum Amtrak station, that I got a better understanding of how such things happen.

I was about to cross the same tracks I had just arrived on, and the red lights started flashing and the bells started clanging. I looked down the tracks at the train I had just gotten off of, and it wasn’t moving. I looked the other way, and nothing. The gates were not closing.

At this point, cars and trucks are stopping at the tracks, then gunning across when it appears nothing’s coming.

As it happened, a certain bicyclist became a raving hypocrite at that point.

Before I continued on my way to work, I stopped to snap a photo of a pair of trucks crossing as the lights and bells continued.

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2 Responses to “on and off-track”

  1. John T Says:

    Living in this area, I’m constantly amazed by the risks people are willing to take when it comes to putting themselves or their vehicles in the way of oncoming trains. The fact that vehicles can travel parallel to the trains on this stretch of road without any separation from the trains leads some drivers to treat the trains like they’re other cars and not trains. More weight = more momentum = diminished ability to stop quickly.

    Depending on where in this stretch of roadway you are, there are two or three tracks running along the road. I’ve seen people wait for the train that’s blocking them to pass and without looking, charge across the tracks. I believe that the woman who was killed by a train at Broadway & Embarcadero several months ago did.

    When I’m trying to go to sleep in my apartment, I sometimes get annoyed at the engineers that seem to lay on their horn for the length of this stretch, but I understand why they do.

    Don’t cross the tracks until the gates are up and the lights and bells are off. You may be delayed by a couple of minutes, but it could save your life.

  2. DensityDuck Says:

    Down here in Silicon Valley we have a perpetual problem with the train tracks along Monterey Highway; people are always running across the tracks to get from one side to the other, and occasionally some silly bastard gets run over.

    Which, y’know…how can you be so inattentive as to not see a FREAKING TRAIN COMING AT YOU? It’s not like there’s obscuration of the sight lines, the thing’s dead straight for twenty miles.

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