I know it seems silly to have to say this but for some, it seems they need to be reminded that Caltrain is not to blame for any suicide on their tracks. That and if you think about it, suicide is not the answer to any problem, no matter how great you perceive the problem you are focusing on to be.
Did you know that in 2011 over 700 people died on railroad tracks in the U.S.? Or that only a very tiny percentage of those deaths are suicides? Except here in the Bay Area, up and down the Peninsula, it seems to be a very different world.
For the ninth time in two and half months and the 4th time in four weeks a lost and misguided sole took their own life by hurtling themselves off a train station platform in front of a Caltrain express train passing through the station.
And as is the case, an event like this caused huge delays in the commuter’s day. And when you dwell on it, each suicide selfishly impacts the days of hundreds upon hundreds of people.
Each commuter train holds around 500 riders at capacity and when a lone suicide lays down or jumps out in front of a train, that mindless act impacts that train and the next five to six trains on each set of tracks due to the logistics of having to remedy the scene.
That is up to twelve trains worth of commuters. At 500 persons each train, in a worse-case scenario that 12 different trains in transit are impacted, that adds up to around 6,000 commuters. Depending on the time of day, if they are going to work, and you dwell on the two to three hour delay they experience, we’re looking at (6,000 x 2.5) an accumulated 15,000 hours of lost productivity along the Peninsula of the Bay Area, from one single person’s act.
The numbers are seriously loose and fancy free estimates, but you get the idea.
Caltrain And Twitter
Now for me, my favorite go-to resource for Caltrain information is actually Twitter. If for nothing else, Twitter is a fantastic news source if you know how to look for it. Whether you are planning ahead or trying to understand what is hapening, a Twitter search for the term “caltrain” will provide you with a ton of great and useless information, all at once.
Caltrain has a few Twitter accounts itself, but initial information is hard to come by as they are trying to learn the facts of any situation before saying anything.
But then there are the Twitter users themselves. They are a great resource and I depend on these great and informative folks to keep me apprised of events, as they experience them. They are akin to a news or info aggregate. Average it out, weed out the noise and you have what you’re looking for.
I use the word experience because all updates should be taken with a grain of salt, but most of the time, I do feel fairly well informed as I start to ascertain from multiple sources the actual situation.
For instance, folks on a train that hit someone start tweeting. (We also know that Caltrain’s early code for this is “police activity.”) Additionally, as the event unfolds folks start reporting their delay times so you can start getting an idea of how long things will take.
But as you weed through the tweets, it is rather amazing some of the perspectives you see from folks. You expect a little variation between sensible and upset, but to be honest, to actually blame Caltrain for the suicides seems rather short-sighted.
I can’t see how Caltrain can change the entire infrastructure of the tracks to repel pedestrians. At some point cars have to cross the tracks and as we have learned of late when the last person was actually at the station and jumped off the platform area in front of an express train, there IS NO STOPPING someone who is sadly bent on ending their own life.
And just for the record for the insanely upset commuters, no one has enough money to rebuild the tracks as a monorail. No one has the money to build a tunnel.
And then there are those that say Caltrain a total fail. No insult to any one person, that sounds like a pre-teen saying they hate their parents.
For myself over 91% of all the Caltrain transit schedules have been met this year, despite there being nine tragic events this year.
I get that it feels horrible to be held up from getting to work or home by upwards of three hours. I also understand that some employers have no sympathy for the train commuter and that some of us will be docked valuable sick time or pay for being late.
But those situations are on your employer or personal expectations. And everyone has to understand that shit happens.
Then there are the after effects of a suicide.
If you ponder how all the trains in the schedule manage to get from point A to point B, whether they be local trains that stop at every stop or an express train that has to bunny hop around other trains, it is an orchestration of timing.
And the moment a train kills someone, it becomes a police matter and local law enforcement procedures must be followed in every case. And that means stopping the trains to prevent contamination of a crime scene, until it is ruled otherwise.
I’ve been on a train that has his someone and the delay for us was a mere hour, plus we did not have to change trains afterwards. But the damage was done to the entire transit schedule.. During this or any delay Caltrain starts single tracking other trains around the stopped ride. This is not as fast as some people would like, but there you have it. (Did I mention that ‘stuff’ happens?)
On the other end of the spectrum I waited three hours after a woman was hit and killed by a train when her car sat on the tracks, here in Menlo Park. Once the wreckage from the car and train were cleaned up, Caltrain let six northbound trains single track through before they sent any southbound trains through the crash zone.
That night I watched more silliness as the first delayed southbound train showed up and a fellow train rider was yelling up at the conductor of the arriving train, as if he had anything to do with anything, except comply with Caltrain accident procedures. (Though to be honest, it was frustrating to watch several northbound trains pass on through while waiting, as if they had a priority over the meager southbound trains.)
There is help if you are thinking about suicide.
If you are one of those folks considering suicide, no matter by what, there is help. I know that sounds trite, but you would be surprised when you can talk to someone about the shit that is hovering over your head.
To be honest we are all we can be and that’s that. We are a result of our decisions, but choices and actions can change those results, even if they are not overnight changes. But sadly humans do this thing where we end up being what we focus on. Being in a dark place mentally is a very horrible mind suck. You don’t look to see around the darkness, you focus on what is in the darkness and it can suck you in farther than you realize. It is not until you look up and try to see beyond the darkness that you can realize there are more options out there.
The ripple effects of a suicide by Caltrain
And then there are the innocent people/commuters who suffer from these selfish acts, where those estimated 15,000 hours impact quite a few folks. That’s an estimated 6,000 people on the trains alone. If you start counting family and friends of those folks and suddenly that 6,000 can become 12, 18, 24 or 36,000 freinds, family, peers or associates impacted by this deed of suicide.
Yes, I just called you dark-minded folks selfish. Folks can get so dark about things that they don’t think about their direct family or closest friends and how this will impact them. They don’t think about the Caltrain conductor that has to get out of the train and go verify what just happened. Or the conductor that has to hold the hand of someone whose effort did not pay out as they liked and instead die very slowly while waiting for emergency services to arrive or until they pass. Or about your parents, spouses or siblings who won’t have much to view to verify your identity. But their last memory of you will be your battered remains, scarred in their minds forever.
Seriously, at least try the suicide or depression hotlines before you mess up so many folks’ day. You truly have nothing to lose. Try the hotline before plunging your family into this mental spiral of “why?,” and all the people around you that may actually depend on you.
I remember when a peer of mine killed himself. He was part of this popular little click, wore the latest fashionable clothes, had a great job that provided great opportunities, had a great fiancee and all the while, he felt like he had no friends. And yet his passing filled a church with hundreds of saddened people. Hundreds. How could he not know how loved or liked he was? Oh yea, he never looked up from under his personal dark cloud.
He never looked up from his focus to see how many people actually liked him. And that is yet just one more sad stat.
And that peer possibly saved my life. It made me see, made me look up and see what was really going on around him and how senseless his act was. His timing was peculiar and beneficial, all at once for me and I believe .
Any way, that’s my two cents about death on the Caltrain tracks, suicide and mental focus. And if my two cents stops or helps only one person, then this piece was worth its weight in gold. Thanks for reading.
A few fascinating pieces/sources on the matter: