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Sunday, May 07, 2006

Pedestrian crossings

While waiting for the next train, I had time to think about another issue: pedestrian track crossings. At the stations, it's pretty common to have to get across a track to meet a train heading the other way; this can be a dangerous situation in which people may meet the train a little too closely. The Milbrae station uses the simple solution of a bridge over the track, with a heavy fence preventing people from just running over the tracks:

This works, but is expensive to construct, especially with the silly modern- art canopy over the walkway. It also has the disadvantage that it takes a long time to go up and down stairs.

I'm sort of partial to the spartan solution used at the Amtrak station in Richmond, which is just a paved ramp cutting across the track and a sign noting "Hey, there are trains on these tracks! Try not to get hit by a train!" This seems simple enough, and it's not really that hard to not get hit by a train. You could even add a whistle and light to show when a train's coming, so you shouldn't cross. Unfortunately this would probably motivate people to sprint across just in time and then there'd be a lot of lawsuits.

Here's the system used at the smaller Caltrain stations:

Crummy picture, but the point is that the cute little bar comes down when the train's a-coming. The rest of the station has a fence between the tracks, so you have to cross at this intersection. It's not perfect – in case of a mechanical failure the track could be blocked or the safety mechanism might be ineffective, but it seems like the least clunky method. It doesn't require a big bridge, and people can still get around it, but at least they can't do so without realizing it's a stupid idea.