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.
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.