Stephen Ellison

Cameras to Replace Guards at Palo Alto Caltrain Crossings

Technology will replace people in an effort to prevent suicides on train tracks in Palo Alto.

For years, a guard has been posted at Palo Alto Avenue in an effort to prevent suicides on the Caltrain tracks. But this week, two surveillance cameras will be installed, eventually replacing the guard altogether.

The city plans to install the surveillance cameras at four railroad crossings, including Palo Alto Avenue, Churchill Avenue and Meadow Drive. Each camera will have thermal capability, or night vision. It will be able to capture footage as far as 1,000 feet down the tracks and alert police if it spots somebody trespassing.

But some question whether the camera system will be effective, saying if the purpose is to prevent suicides, the cameras can't talk someone down from hurting themselves.

Palo Alto first launched a track monitoring program back in 2009 after several teenagers committed suicide there. The City Council decided to switch from people to cameras following a pilot program at the East Meadow crossing. Staff concluded cameras were more effective, especially at night.

They're also less expensive. The "live" surveillance costs about $1.7 million a year whereas the camera monitoring is estimated to cost about $325,000.

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