SMART installs train crossing safety upgrade at deadly Rohnert Park crossing
Following a pair of train collision deaths at the same Rohnert Park crossing two weeks ago, planned safety upgrades to the busy area were moved to the top of the list, SMART told city officials Tuesday.
Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit installed sidewalk fencing earlier in the day at the first of three corners that cross the tracks on Golf Course Drive near Commerce Drive. The so-called Z gate is designed to slow pedestrians, trying to force them to be more aware as they walk around the fence and then over the tracks. The gate will not be installed at the fourth corner of the deadly crossing because of a spatial conflict with a roadway gate crossing arm that lowers when a train passes through.
Speaking at a City Council meeting Tuesday night, Rohnert Park’s vice mayor questioned the effectiveness of the new safety gate because he said it won’t stop people from walking across the tracks when a train is approaching.
By the end of the year, another 29 of the passenger rail line’s 62 road-level crossings from Larkspur to the northern terminus near Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport will get the same safety enhancement.
Top officials with the North Bay’s commuter rail agency met with Rohnert Park city staff Tuesday to discuss additional upgrades that might increase safety at Golf Course Drive, the deadliest crossing on SMART’s 43-mile line. Including the two people struck and killed by the train on back-to-back mornings in late June, the same crossing has experienced three deaths in SMART’s first 22 months of passenger service.
Some Rohnert Park City Council members vented frustration Tuesday night that SMART officials did not attend their meeting, calling it “a huge missed opportunity” to further collaborate and come up with solutions.
“I think it sends the wrong message to our community when there’s been two deaths on (those) tracks,” Mayor Gina Belforte said. “You’re talking about education and awareness, and this is the perfect venue to talk about what they’re doing. I’m really disappointed that SMART isn’t here.”
Vice Mayor Joe Callinan echoed the sentiment as he questioned the new safety gate SMART will spend more than $500,000 to install at 30 crossings.
He instead called on the rail agency to add lowering pedestrian gate arms that block people from walking onto the tracks as a train approaches, as already exist on several other crossings across the line.
“That Z gate, in my opinion, is not going to do much. To me, that’s putting a Band-Aid on something,” Callinan said. “If we really want to stop the problem, we need to take all the precautions we can. So what are we waiting for? I think that’s our answer, and unfortunately we’re not going to find that out until probably someone else gets hurt.”
Councilwoman Susan Hollingsworth Adams asked city staff whether the Z gate system would have prevented either of the two deaths on consecutive days — a 30-year-old woman who walked under the street gate crossing arm and tried to beat the coming train on June 27, and a 66-year-old man riding a bicycle while wearing headphones on June 28. Investigators think both incidents were accidental, though official rulings won’t be made until later this week.