Work is expected to be completed by the end of May on the installation of an integrated video system at four Caltrain rail crossings including Palo Alto Avenue, Churchill Avenue, Meadow Drive and Charleston Avenue, as part of the City’s efforts to reduce access to the rail corridor.
Beginning in June, the cameras will provide a live video feed to a remote location that will be monitored by vendor G4S, and off-site operators will have the ability to make live voice announcements or provide direction to people spotted on the tracks or in the immediate area. There will also be additional visual signage at each intersection letting people know that the area is monitored by cameras.
As part of last year’s budget, the City outlined its intention for the gradual draw down and reduced budget for track watch guards. Once the camera installation and remote monitoring operations are completed, there will be a period of overlap where both the cameras and guards are still in place. Beginning in July, guards will continue to be stationed at designated rail crossings throughout the City with an additional guard providing roving coverage as needed. Starting in September, the rail corridor will be monitored solely via cameras.
Throughout this process, the City has coordinated with national experts on suicide prevention as it transitions from human guards to camera installation/monitoring. Both the experts and the international literature on suicide prevention identify cameras on the tracks and additional signage as among the best practices to restrict physical access to the rail tracks. Physical barriers, such as grade separation at crossings that the City is now discussing with the community, provide the most effective deterrent.
Since the first teen suicide cluster in Palo Alto in 2009, the City has taken the lead in implementing measures to restrict physical access to the rail line. This has included funding of the track guards, installation of lighting and signage, brush removal along the right-of-way, new fencing on the east side with enhanced climb resistant design and a pilot of thermal infrared cameras. The FY 2018 budget included $1.7 million for the Track Watch program. The cost of installing cameras at all four Palo Alto crossings is $1.5 million in one-time capital costs, and an ongoing annual cost for remote monitoring and maintenance of $325,000.
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