BY EMILY MIBACH
Daily Post Staff Writer
A woman miraculously survived after her car — which was trapped between backed-up traffic and a railroad crossing arm — was hit by a 78 mph Caltrain in Menlo Park tonight (Oct. 23), according to Fire Chief Harold Schapelhouman.
The woman, who is in her 30s, was headed west on Ravenswood Avenue at 6:15 p.m. when she stopped on the railroad tracks between Alma Street and El Camino Real. When the crossing lights lit up, indicating a train was on its way, she was stuck. The cars in front of her and behind her wouldn’t move, even though she was frantically honking her horn.
“She was honking, but there was not a whole lot of room for her to move,” Schapelhouman said.
Witnesses told firefighters that the train lifted the car off the ground. The car was thrown into the air and landed parallel with the train tracks. The woman was still in the car.
The train was headed south at 78 mph. The train was not damaged and did not stop, according to Schapelhouman.
Remarkably, after the train passed and the car hit the ground, the woman was able to drive the vehicle. She circled back to park in the Caltrain parking lot, saying that something “didn’t feel right” when she drove her car — only to find out that the back of her car had been sheared off.
“It’s amazing the car was still drivable and she wasn’t more severely insured or even killed,” said Battalion Chief Dan Coyle.
The woman was taken to Stanford Hospital after complaining of neck and back pains.
This is not the first time someone has been stuck on the tracks at that location during rush hour. On Feb. 23, 2015, Jahyun Jennifer Koo, 35, of Palo Alto, died when she became trapped between a railroad gate and a car stopped by traffic in front of her.
Her death resulted in a lawsuit against Caltrain, San Mateo County and the city of Menlo Park. The outcome of the lawsuit wasn’t available tonight.
Koo’s death also prompted the city to install temporary medians on Ravenswood Avenue from Alma to Noel Drive to prevent left-hand turns onto Ravenswood from Alma Street.
“This at-grade crossing is notorious for many significant near misses and sadly tragic accidents involving the loss of life. It’s a poorly designed crossing exacerbated by people who are in a hurry and not paying attention that can then suddenly find themselves in harm’s way,” said Schapelhouman. “The train can’t swerve to avoid an impact and if the Express is coming through it takes about a mile for it to slow down and stop because it’s going about 80 mph. This should have been improved years ago, but the debate on how to fix this crossing has gone on for decades … in the meantime our firefighters continue to directly deal with the very real deadly consequences and close calls associated with it.”
After decades of squabbling over how to separate the train tracks from the road at Ravenswood, the council decided earlier this year to raise the tracks and lower the road at Ravenswood. It’s estimated the separation will cost $190 million.