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April 19, 2006



Somehow tragedy always leads to insight. That said, I don't understand why the bus stops aren's only at intersections where railroad crossing gates are present. When kids are let off in the middle of a street, such as California Drive, and live on the other side of Carolan Avenue, do we expect them to walk to intersections where there are railroad crossing gates (Oak Grove or Broadway)? If you can remember when you were a kid, what would you have done to cross the tracks? That said, I kept stressing to my kids at school today that they should NEVER cross the tracks where there is no crossing gate, no matter what. Yet, as we all know and have had firsthand experience with; kids will be kids. What a sad day.


It is sad, but don't blame on bus stop. As a kid I'll go to park, baseball field to play NOT by the track sigh...


It made me wonder if we should reassign one of our crossing guards to the bus stop near the tracks. I think it stops twice now on California, but perhaps we could change that to a single stop at Oak Grove and move the least busy crossing guard to that spot to help with the train.

jeriann fleres

why can't the bus take the extra couple of blocks and go down Carolyn Avenue and drop off the many kids that live on the other side of the railroad tracks? Those tracks are a nightmare. There are enough kids going to BIS that live on the east side of California Drive that they could have their own bus. Am I the only person that thinks of these things? or is is "too expensive" so have the bus drive over there?


Burlingame High School used to have a shortcut that led towards Stack's it was closed up once when someone was killed around 1980 and the hole was closed up again when a high school student was killed on the tracks in Millbrae in the late eighties. But that is a city fence I believe, not a Caltrain fence.

Perhaps the city should erect a fence if Caltrain is unwilling to do it. Maybe the fence could be added onto the upgrades at the Burlingame station and the costs can be shared.

Also, perhaps the SamTrans bus should stop at the crossing at Morrell Avenue and not Broadway Ave while BIS is in session.

I hate to say it, I'm not sure that more fencing will keep this type of thing from happening. A fence on either side might tempt some kids to play chicken. At some point, there is always an opening. It's like blaming suicides on bridges.

I think we should be focusing on the dangers of kids using headphones, I-Pods and cell phones. I don't know if this was the case in this specific tragic event, but I remember a few years back, a fatal event as a result of headphones, and a recent one in Redwood City, I believe also a headphone issue. It isn't just the kids who do this, and it isn't just a train issue, it is an issue of our times. How many times a day do we see all ages using cell phones, deep in conversation, crossing busy streets without looking at all. It happens frequently. People need to start paying more attention to their surroundings.

I also think that Samtrans could stop at Morrell, help lead the fish to water.


A fence is not the answer. The girl from Hayward that was killed last year had crawled through the fence.

I agree with Jen the bus should stop on the other side of the tracks.

There must also be kids taking that same bus that do not need to cross the tracks, but must cross over one of many busy streets, and therefore are still at risk.

Let's all reinforce what we taught the kids in kindergarten: stop, look, and listen.

Patrick Jensen

As a temporary measure:

Burlingame/Caltrain/Volunteers should provide "track moniters" at all potential crossing points that do not have crossing guards... before and after school hours... Crossing the tracks in random spots was commonplace when I was a kid in Burlingame.

A quick evaluation of all points in Burlingame where children are likely to cross/ be present will reveal where this protective measure would best serve the community...

Nice to see you back, Patrick. You are right, probably thousands of kids have crossed the track over the decades, right where that child was hit. I guess it just gets down to statistics, at some point somebody will get hurt or die.

We have been fortunate that not too much has happened here, considering how long the train tracks have been around. I expect with all the gadgets and distractions, there will be more to come, no matter what measures are taken.

However, as far as true danger goes, I personally find the teen drivers much more of a threat. Kids can drive now, with very minimal experience. Just six formal hours behind a wheel, and the other 50 go on the "Honor System", what a joke. So these are the kids on our roads, basically very young and inexperienced, with all the distracting gadgets and also sometimes alcohol, further degrading their driving abilities.

I like the old system better, where high school sophmores could take a high school course on campus, I believe in the second semester. It took several months of instruction, including time in a simulator before we even sat in a real car. And we got much more than six hours of training. Nowadays, the instructors are often poor drivers themselves, and fitting driving courses into an already crowded kids' schedule, is very difficult.


I know fences don't appeal to everyone, but that huge train is flying by very fast. The fence in front of Burlingame High has kept an accident from happening there for over twenty years. If the fence develops a hole, the hole needs to be fixed. It is much easier to monitor a fence that to try to monitor the children along a two-mile strecth.

This week I was talking to someone in their car while they were parked near the tracks. It was a full-sized pick-up, that train came by so fast the whole truck moved and knocked me back from the window. The train was going maybe eighty miles an hour and it was quite forceful as it went by.

The fence in front of Burlingame High is hardly noticeable with all the ivy that has grown on it. You may not want to discount this as a viable alternative to another accident on the tracks.


Fencing train tracks is logical
Bill Silverfarb

On Tuesday, at 2:40 on a sunny afternoon, 13-year-old Fatih Kuc was hit and killed by a train near the Broadway Station in Burlingame. Kuc and a group of friends from Burlingame Intermediate School hopped off a SamTrans bus that stops on California Drive and walked on a well-worn path that crosses the track to Carolan Avenue. Kuc's friend, Caique Santos, was standing four feet away from his friend when a southbound train snatched the life away from the avid soccer player.

Today a bunch of flowers lay in remembrance near the spot where Kuc's life was taken. After the accident, Kuc's friends and family were seen embracing each other, tears streaming down their faces and heads resting in their hands as the reality sunk in that the young man was no longer with us.

On Wednesday, some of his friends returned to the site of the accident to rehash the tragedy. The path across the track Kuc and his friends traveled every day was not a secret shortcut accessed by only a handful of kids, instead it's a well-worn and well-known illegal crossing that many in Burlingame have used for years.

I honestly do not know how that boy could be dead. You would think the kids had to know a fast-moving train was headed their way. How Kuc could be standing so near the tracks with a massive locomotive bearing down on him is unimaginable. Certainly, Caltrain officials are correct when they say common sense and safety awareness is needed when crossing train tracks.

Kuc's death is the seventh on the tracks so far this year. Last year, 10 people were killed by trains but eight of the deaths were ruled suicides. In 2000, 17 people died on the tracks and in 1995, 20 people died on the tracks. Caltrain contends nearly 70 percent of train-related deaths are suicides.

It does not appear, however, Kuc's death was a suicide. He died because he was trespassing. While Caltrain does post Do Not Trespass? signs along the tracks it is painfully obvious they are ineffective. A simple sign does not work.

It is time for Caltrain to erect a fence along the entire stretch of track between stations to prevent deaths like Kuc's from ever happening again. For some reason, however, Caltrain spokeswoman Janet McGovern says putting up a fence and maintaining it is cost-prohibitive.

We can not trust that just being aware of the danger is enough to prevent unnecessary deaths.

Caltrain's Operation Lifesaver and school outreach program isn't enough to keep tragedies from occurring. The only real measure the transit agency can take to prevent these types of deaths is to completely take access away from the tracks by building a fence. It is the only way.

In years past, cities such as Sunnyvale held safety blitzes where officers would focus their attention on the tracks and fine people for trespassing on Caltrain's right of way. The fines levied ranged from $271 to $1,000. I wonder when the last time a Burlingame resident was fined for trespassing on Caltrain land?

It seems these stiff types of fines might be a good deterrent and the county and local law enforcement agencies might want to consider safety blitzes as a way to keep people away from the tracks. But again, without a fence, the temptation to shave a couple minutes off walking time might be stronger than the threat of a fine.

In March, following the February death of a woman on the track in Redwood City, Caltrain implemented police patrols to target a station once a month to hand out citations and warnings. It is clear the young man who died Tuesday in Burlingame, however, was not reached by one of these police patrols.

Burlingame Councilman Russ Cohen, following Kuc's death, said a fence was a logical solution to preventing tragedy. I agree with him. Recently, former San Mateo County supervisor Mike Nevin lauded Caltrain's recent success. Apparently, more people are riding the train. But no one likes to be on a train when it strikes and kills someone and backs up the system for hours. On average it happens once a month and last month two people were killed in two separate incidents on the track in the same day.

It is time for Caltrain to find the money to erect a fence to keep residents all along the Peninsula safe from tragedy and it's time for our local elected leaders to step up and put some pressure on the transit agency.

What is the cost of life? I'm sure Fatih Kuc's family would say build a fence at any cost because a person's life can not be measured by money alone.

Cathryn Baylock

From Public Works Director Bagdon:

"Staff has been looking into options for deterring pedestrians from crossing the railroad tracks at unsafe locations. The accident occurred near Sanchez Avenue where there is a marked walk across California Drive. The walk provides access to Sam Trans bus stops located on both sides of California Drive adjacent to Sanchez Avenue.

As an immediate step, we have placed a sign at the east end of the marked walk (the start of a dirt path used to cross the tracks) informing the public to use the Broadway or Oak Grove Avenue crossings. We are also looking into the possibility of relocating the bus stops and eliminating the crosswalk. We have contacted Caltrain staff about fencing, especially between Sanchez Avenue and the parking lot to the north. In this area, a drainage ditch along the tracks is easily crossed for access over the tracks. The fencing is less necessary south of Sanchez Avenue as the ditch is much steeper and provides a natural deterrent. Of course, the safest solution is to fence the entire railroad right of way from the Broadway to North Lane on both sides of the tracks.

We intend to place this issue on a TSPC agenda to provide an opportunity for community discussion and input and will invite a Caltrain representative."

On a personal note, my heart goes out to Fatih's family and friends. My son is a classmate of Fatih's and described him as "always happy...he loved to play soccer". Everytime I hear the train whistle, I imagine the beautiful face of that smiling boy and say a silent prayer for his family. cathyb


I parked in front of the high school yesterday and noticed -- for the first time -- the chain link fence topped with barbed wire that separates the high school property from the railroad tracks. Fred -- or anyone else out there -- was this fence put up after an accident? Who paid for it (City or CalTrans?)
I find it highly ironic that CalTrain has large stretches of unfenced track that pedestrians cross (without the benefit of a guard rail and/or bell) but when it comes to remodeling Burlingame Avenue Train Station (where there are guard rails at Howard and North Lane in short stretch of track) and where passengers actually need to get past the fences in order to board the Train, CalTrain had planned to put up three sets of fences....I don't understand CalTrain's safety "logic".

The funny thing about those fences (Caltrain's) is that they all have safety exits! I noticed these at every station. They are swinging gates with plenty of space besides and below them, so that people can use if they get trapped between the train and a fence. Therefore, no Caltrain fence would keep kids, or anyone else, from getting in the way of a train.

Oddly, I've heard some kids at BHS saying that the kids involved in the accident were playing some kind of chicken game. The earphone question also hasn't been clarified. Has anyone actually heard or read any factual material?

If any of this information is true, it should be shared as a learning experience so that it doesn''t happen again. The tragedy already happened; we can't change that, but things can be learned by it.


They were definitely NOT playing any kind of "chicken" game.


How do you know that Sue?

Jeriann Fleres

Ok, I know these kids. They were not playing chicken. They were walking home and talking and laughing with each other. They take the same route home every single day. Only one of them had headphones on. It was not the boy (Fatih) that got hit by the train but the boy Caique) that was directly behind him (the one that was pulled out of the way by his friend) that had them on.
The were walking sort of in a row Fatih turned with his head away from the where the train was coming and looked to Caique to see what he was saying (a joke). If you go to the tracks you will see that unless the train's horn is blowing (which is was not) then you will not hear the train until it is quite close. Too close to move out of the way. Especially when you are having fun and are not payig attention. This playing chicken story is insulting to an already tragic story. Those buses should not be dropping those children off across the tracks from where they live. What would it take to drive around to Carolyn? There are plenty of children that live there. That bus makes plenty of money for a 1 mile trip. And why can't a fence be put up? Not for all the miles of rail but why not for the areas where there is so much population? And especially for the areas where there are so many children present. Why are we so worried about demanding it? We have lost a child. Yes due to a child's negligence but we have lost a child. We want a fence - put up a fence. What does a fence cost? We don't care? A fence is ugly? Put morning glory's on it!

Rich Grogan

Could it be possible that part of the problem could be from Cal Train wanting to get from SF to SJ quicker? With the elimination of the stations and the increase in EXPRESS trains (baby bullet, strange name) the track speed has increased. Does anyone know the speed of the train at the point of the accident? Does anyone know if the engineer sounded the horn prior to the accident? Cal Train is attempting to maintain the at grade speed of 80 mph. It is possible those individuals, who are crossing the unprotected tracks are misjudging the speed of the train? The approximate 120 feet per second closing speed is deceptive and could be contributing to the most recent rash of train deaths. In this last unfortunate death, had the train stopped at the Broadway Train Station and was just starting, there is a great probability we would not be discussing this issue.

Cal Train has to bare the Lyon share of the responsibility regarding this issue; they have failed to protect the population from the dangers of the train tracks. Freeways are walled or fenced to keep people from crossing the path of vehicles traveling 65 mph. Why should Cal Train be able to send Trains Speeding down a track at 80 mph and NOT have some sort of a protective barrier?

The two bus stops on California that have pathways crossing the tracks to Carolyn seem to be an invitation to pedestrians to cross the tracks. These pathways are on Cal Train property and it appears Cal Train has failed to conduct a good due diligence? as to track safety. Has Cal Train put profit before safety?


Well said, Rich. One wonders if the train speed is increasing. I think your analogy to a freeway is perfect -- we put barriers and limited on/off egresses there...why not with trains too?
The San Mateo County Times reported that two construction workers at the Northpark Apartments heard the train engineer urgently blowing the horn and they dropped their work to look up to see why. However, if the train was going at 70 MPH one wonders how far away the train engineer would have to be when he blows his horn in order to be effective in warning people to get out of the way....maybe it's the case that at a certain speed, by the time the engineer sees people on the tracks there is not enough time to get out of the way?
Hopefully, the accident will be reviewed in great detail so that we can minimize the possibility of this ever happening again. It it so tragic.


Build a fence, save a life


Please tell me that I'm not going crazy. I am writing about the young man who was tragically killed by a southbound commuter train was the seventh fatality this year ( Classmates mourn, Caltrain stresses safety? in the April 20 edition of the Daily Journal). We're not even out of April yet.

Also reported was a total of 10 deaths last year. Unfortunately that's all the facts I have. So in 16 months there has been a death caused by a commuter train 17 times. Roughly every 28 days a commuter train kills somebody. Is it just me or is this absolutely unacceptable?

Caltrain's first spokesman Jonah Weinberg was so cold in his speech in regards to the Kuc family, I was floored. Not once did he mention how Caltrain is sorry for their loss. Weinberg then added that not now or in the future will there be protective fencing installed. Then he goes on to basically scold the family for their lack of safety precautionary measures, as well as telling the community that this should be a lesson to us all on how dangerous the tracks are. Every time I think of his remark I am outraged.

Caltrain then decided to go with another spokesman, Janet McGovern. Our councilman, Russ Cohen stated the need for fencing in between stations only to be met with a reply by Janet of that not being an option ... too pricey since there's 50 miles of track.'

Well Janet, what do you say to doing just two miles of track, a mile on each side where the tragedy took place. Doing two miles at each site would have enclosed about 34 miles of open track. How will other people feel when they do a little research and see that their loved one's life may not have had to be ripped from them by a speeding locomotive, only if a safety fence had been installed. The question isn't if there will be any future accidents, the question is which one of us will be involved.

I pray it isn't you.

John Fogleman


I keep thinking of Rich Grogan's analogy to freeways. What if traffic were allowed to go 70 or 80 MPH along El Camino Real? Of course, some sort of safey measures would divide the public and the speeding cars. Unfenced railroad tracks may have been fine 100 years ago when trains put-putted along through flower fields, but they seem to be an anachronism for high speed trains going through urban and suburban areas in the 21st century.


Keeping the rails safe


News accounts reveal disturbing elements in the tragic death of a 13-year-old ( Teenager dies on tracks? in the April 19 edition of the Daily Journal) on Caltrain tracks in Burlingame. Among them, with questions they raise:

SamTrans buses let school kids on and off at a rail crossing, requiring them to walk over tracks to and from homes. Could those buses stop closer to homes and spare kids exposure to fast-moving trains?

There is backing to fence Caltrain, at least where tracks tempt kids to trespass. Caltrain objects to cost and upkeep. Neither stopped BART from spending billions on tunnels and viaducts to shield its deadly third rails. Why exempt the open hazard Caltrain presents?

There's consensus to ramp up rail-safety education. Schools offer it maybe once a year. More often wouldn't hurt. It's tough to remember in spring what you heard last fall.

Peninsula rail fatalities this year at a record rate claim mainly adult lives, including suicides. Clearly, many people don't yet grasp why it's vital to keep off the tracks: Today's trains can be swift, near-silent killers, snatching lives of the unaware.

Our Peninsula policy-shapers have much to learn about trains. They bring on baby bullets before closing unsafe gaps. They promote family housing next to dangerous rails. Long-standing hazards, as in Burlingame, escape notice. Nor do they offer innovative solutions. Los Angeles and now Reno have roofless tunnels channeling trains through congested areas, avoiding costly grade separations. Both rail and roads benefit an idea our Peninsula Rail Corridor might explore?

James W. Kelly
San Bruno

The price of fencing


There have been lots of letters to editors? about Caltrain turning a cold shoulder to full rail-corridor fencing.

Could it be that Caltrain does not want to solve this problem at lower cost (fencing), thereby generating support for far more expensive grade separations, which they really want in order to run more and faster trains, including the possible high speed train? No, that's too cynical an explanation, isn't it?

I did some checking. At $30 per linear foot, a mile of 12-foot high with barbed-wire-on-top chain-link fencing would cost approximately $160,000. If Caltrain put this out for bid, it would be less.

While I don't know how many miles of fencing would actually be required to enclose all of the rail corridor, it certainly sounds affordable (cost/benefit) if it significantly reduces the rapidly growing mortality rate of the trains. Stories about cutting through the existing fences suggest higher tensile steel or other solutions at those critical lengths of fence. My point is that the problem can certainly be mitigated. So, why don't they?

Martin Engel
Menlo Park

Thanks for posting these. People who advocate complete fencing of the railroad tracks really need to look at the upgraded station fencing. It is too hard to explain without a diagram, but these are not complete enclosures, (they cannot be for safety reasons, there must always be a way in and out.)

As long as there are 'at-grade' crossings, there will be openings, whether illegally cut, or even by design, and thus there will be fatalities. On the strip such as the one where the boy was killed, between two stations, I can see that fencing directly around where the bus drops the kids off would possibly deter a short-cut, because it is no longer "short," making it more cumbersome for the kids to cross, but not failsafe.

The no-brainer here is moving that bus-stop, and I cannot even imagine why that couldn't be done immediately. How difficult can that be?


A link to San Jose Mercury News story today about Caltrain safety.

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