PETALUMA — The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit’s Board of Directors met in Petaluma Wednesday afternoon to discuss the recent spate of pedestrians who have been killed by its commuter trains.
Five people have died between June 27 and Monday. Three of the deaths are considered suicides and two were labeled accidents.
Nine people have been killed by SMART trains since Jan. 13, 2018, and six of them are considered suicides. SMART started its train service between San Rafael and Santa Rosa in August 2017.
The Board of Directors at the 1:30 p.m. meeting at SMART offices in Petaluma discussed an overview of the agency’s public safety, operation and public outreach team’s assessment related to the recent deaths in the Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park areas.
SMART General Manager Farhad Mansourian said in a report to the board that a task force evaluates all aspects to determine the circumstances that contributed to the collision. The inquiry includes a review of all federal and state safety standards, devices and warning systems.
“Though no amount of additional enhancements can fully account for human behavior or distractions, SMART continues to evaluate what enhancements or enforcement options can be made to improve the public awareness of the active railroad by the inattentive pedestrian, bicyclist or driver crossing the tracks,” Mansourian said in his report.
After an Aug. 30, 2018 pedestrian death in Rohnert Park, Mansourian assembled a task force the next month to review all grade crossings with sidewalks or some other path-of-travel across the tracks.
The task force identified ways to improve public awareness of the trains at 30 of the 62 locations it reviewed. The improvements included “Watch for Trains” stencils on the sidewalk and pedestrian “channelization” that forced pedestrians to break their stride and change direction before crossing the track.
The SMART board reviewed the suggestions at a workshop in October, and SMART included more features to increase awareness of the trains.
In May, SMART awarded a contract to Ghilotti Bros. Inc. for improvements that could quickly be made at 17 high priority crossings in Petaluma, Rohnert Park and Santa Rosa. The improvements included widening sidewalks, installing fencing and barrier railing and “Z” gate style channelization to raise pedestrian awareness of the trains.
The SMART board Wednesday afternoon considered approving an additional $249,175 to add path-of-travel enhancements at 13 locations in San Rafael, Novato, Cotati and Rohnert Park.
The improvements are to be completed by Oct. 31.