Bay Meadows race track, next to Hillsdale station, has been torn down. New shops, residences, and offices will add hundreds to ridership.Everyone I know who tries Caltrain likes the experience. The camaraderie with conductors and fellow passengers, the clacking of the wheels and tooting of the whistle, the luxury of snacking, dozing off, and feeling superior to drivers stuck on Highway 101, and the self-satisfaction from reducing one’s carbon footprint all contribute to the pleasure of commuting by train.
Satisfaction turns to horror about once a month when a train strikes a person or vehicle. And it’s even more tragic because many deaths are not accidental:
Caltrain had more suicides in 2008 — 12 — than any year in its history. From the launch of Caltrain in 1992 through 2008, 62 percent of the railroad's deaths were ruled to be suicides.As a rider of twenty years, I’ve ridden on a train that struck an empty bus—no one was hurt—and another that killed someone. It makes little difference whether one is on the incident train or one following behind; one’s schedule is disrupted for a good part of the day.
When an accident happens, service up and down the line is halted for at least an hour. Many commuters have learned to adapt, but I’ve observed a decrease in the number of younger people whose jobs absolutely require them to start at a fixed time. Professionals and executives have colleagues or subordinates who can cover for them; junior workers who are trying to establish a reputation for reliability do not have such flexibility.
Caltrain suicides are especially difficult on the engineers and conductors, the former because they know they can’t stop 80-MPH tons of steel in time, and the latter who are first on the scene to assess the damage to flesh and bone. It’s a regular part of the job but surely not what they envisioned when they signed up. This year I’m making an extra effort to smile and engage the conductors in conversation (only if it appears they might welcome it, of course). © 2009 Stephen Yuen