Capitol Corridor train-pedestrian accident kills 1 in Fremont

I’ve been making the habit of taking Capitol Corridor from the South Bay more frequently this season. It’s a bit of hassle coming back since I actually have to take BART to a bus, but if I’m not going with a lot of people it’s usually the least stressful way to travel to and from the Coliseum. I had the option of taking a earlier 4:20 train out of Diridon or a 5:50 train. I chose the latter.

The ride was uneventful until the train turned away from the Bay and traveled into Fremont proper. At 6:20 or so, the train struck a man who was apparently walking on the tracks as the train approached. From BANG:

The train’s conductor told police that before the impact, he watched a man walking in the tracks towards the train.

“The conductor laid down the horn, but the man would not move and was struck by the train,” (Lt. John) Harnett said.

The identity of the man was not immediately known, police said.

It’s important to note that the man was trespassing on the tracks, which are owned by Union Pacific. Why? I don’t know. Now I know that many of you will immediately call the deceased an idiot or wonder what he was thinking. That really doesn’t matter anymore. The fact is that whether it was intentional or not, he got hit by a train. It’s something that happens all over America every week. It happens because pedestrians don’t pay attention. Or they play chicken with the train. It happens because we have thousands upon thousands of at grade crossings where accidents like this can happen. Or because someone has a death wish. Sometimes trains even hit each other.

Police and Fire assembled on Blacow Road in Fremont. Accident victim was found in area to the right along tracks.

Police and Fire assembled on Blacow Road in Fremont. Accident victim was found in area to the right along tracks. Traffic was cleared to the next major intersection.

The point is that these accidents happen all too frequently, and they will continue to happen as long as the current rail infrastructure remains as is. Even light rail, which has lighter trains and more ability to stop them, has its accidents. While train accidents are avoidable, they are still an all too common occurrence.

I had not even noticed that there was accident at first. I was seated, looking down at my phone and laptop. I was also in the middle of purchasing a seat upgrade for the game, a sweet $14 move to Section 111, Row 1. When I saw that the train was in an accident, I knew that I wouldn’t be getting to the Coliseum anytime soon. Of course, a man had just died so to bemoan my situation would’ve been crass or shallow. So I didn’t. Eventually I got to the game in the 6th inning, after the A’s unleashed an offensive barrage against Doug Fister. Just happy to be here, I told myself.

Fremont police arrived on the scene quickly. The train was stopped at an intersection, so vehicular traffic queued on both sides of the train. Police blocked off the area and rerouted traffic. Paramedics arrived and left fairly quickly, leaving the coroner to arrive around the time we started moving again. We passengers were forced to disembark and board the next scheduled train that was coming from the south. Delays on the Union Pacific-owned tracks were experienced elsewhere on the Capitol Corridor and ACE Rail systems.

The delay ran 1:40. Now imagine a scenario where that happens in front of a Howard Terminal ballpark after a game (a regularly scheduled train leaves Jack London Square for Sacramento at 10:05 every weekday), either with a pedestrian feeling some liquid courage or a foolish driver trying to beat an automated gate.

Now imagine that the entire team, VIPs and dignitaries are stuck for nearly two hours as the train blocks access.

Now imagine that someone at the ballpark has a medical emergency during that wait, and an ambulance needs to take this person to Highland Hospital.

These are all worst-case scenarios that need to be addressed as part of planning for a Howard Terminal ballpark. There is ZERO chance that ballpark proponents will be able to shortcut this just by sweet-talking some elected officials. There’s liability on the part of Union Pacific, the Port of Oakland, and the City of Oakland and Alameda County. The California Public Utilities Commission will be involved, as will the Federal Rail Administration and probably Caltrans.

The March letter from concerned JLS neighbors considered these issues:

Short-sighted designs and plans which create chronically unsafe interactions between incompatible modes of transportation and conflicting uses unfortunately result in thousands of accidents every year. The odds of unsafe activity by pedestrians and passenger automobiles around heavy machinery, like trains and trucks, increases exponentially around crowds, congestion, and alcohol which we would expect to see at the proposed baseball stadium. This is especially disturbing given the proposal’s goal of creating a neighborhood, street scene activated in the vicinity. What specific considerations would ensure pedestrian, motorist, rail and truck safety?

Indeed, what specific considerations would ensure pedestrian, motorist, rail and truck safety? Grade separation? Bridges? Sounds like a start. We should be having this discussion. We should be figuring out what it will take. Howard Terminal is not just a waterfront ballpark site. It’s port land designed to have easy rail access. If that isn’t dealt with properly, a ballpark there will suffer its own death by a thousand paper cuts.

9 thoughts on “Capitol Corridor train-pedestrian accident kills 1 in Fremont

  1. I’m sure some people will criticize you for taking a tragedy like this (whether the guy was somehow unaware, mental, just wanted to end it all, etc.) and connecting it to the Howard Terminal ballpark proposal, but it’s not wrong to look at this as being possible there when train tracks can be so easily reached around areas more densely-packed with people.

    Accidents can and do happen, and in some cases they’re unavoidable. In other cases, they’re preventable. Part of the conversation with the Howard Terminal ballpark, if it ever does get off the ground, has to be what it will take to make accidents more preventable. Then, it would become a matter of acting on it to make scenarios like this as unlikely as possible.

  2. What about the same *exact* thing happening at Diridon? Or at the new Superconductor Stadium in Santa Clara with the VTA?

    • @Yee Yee – The tracks at Diridon are grade separated from nearby streets. A similar situation exists near Great America, where Tasman Drive has always had a bridge over the UP tracks and Lafayette St. The only at grade operations are light rail, which will run very slowly through both areas.

      In other words, San Jose has its trains/cars/bikes/pedestrians situation figured out. Oakland still has to figure it out.

  3. Interested to see how the foot traffic is handled around Levi’s Stadium. My understanding is that on game days they will shutdown Tasman in front of the stadium. It can’t be a good situation where you have thousands of fans crossing over the light rail tracks to get to their cars.

    • @fc – That’s the smart way to handle it. A few thousand parking spaces will be on the north side of Tasman. Including the golf course as parking makes the decision a no-brainer.

  4. I remember when Jerry Brown was mayor, he talked about wanting to tunnel the train tracks under Jack London Square. I don’t imagine it’s any more feasible now than it was then, but it would make the whole area so much more viable as a destination if it were done, regardless of whether or not a ballpark went in.

    • @Daniel M – That would be a hugely transformative project for JLS. I remember that the costs were astronomical when Brown talked about it. UP would balk at the cost and upheaval required.

  5. A while ago there was a quote on here from Larry Reid when he was talking to a radio call in show. In that, he claimed that MLB had ruled Howard Terminal dead. Has anything like this been substantiated elsewhere?

  6. I can’t recall a single pedestrian strike during a JLS event, and there are a lot of highly attended events around JLS most weeks. Presently a few thousand people live, work, or visit the west side of the JLS tracks. I have never heard of a first responder having a problem getting to the west side of the tracks.

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