Efforts underway to prevent teen suicides along Palo Alto train tracks

PALO ALTO, Calif. (KTVU) - It's being called the most concerted effort yet to protect young people along Palo Alto's train tracks.

The city and Caltrain are set to begin work in August to restrict access to the rail corridor.

The project is happening in the wake of several clusters of teen suicides that Palo Alto has grappled with.

"(The fencing) will be an 8-foot welded wire fence with an 18-inch winglet or curved fence to prevent people from climbing over the fence," said Claudia Keith, spokeswoman for the City of Palo Alto.

An intrusion detection system will also be installed at the Meadow crossing as part of a 2-month pilot program. City leaders want to see whether a thermal infrared camera using heat sensors and other technology can effectively detect someone on or near the tracks up to a mile away.

"So it can look much beyond the human eye. What we'll be doing is the camera has the intelligence for example to know if it's a human or animal on the rail corridor, and will sound an automatic warning system to 911 dispatch and they will notify Caltrain," said Keith.

Keith said the price tag for the fencing work was about $420,000. She said there is no cost for the camera and detection system during the 2-month trial period, and it would cost about $170,000 if the city decided to use it permanently.

Palo Alto has grappled with a number of teen suicides on the tracks, losing 5 teens connected to Gunn high school between 2009 and 2010. Officials said this past school year, Palo Alto area high schools lost two students and a recent graduate.

Parent Lynnette Carey said she thinks the fencing and camera system are meaningful steps in the right direction.

"My son went to Gunn High School. He graduated in 2007 and it's close to home because we've known some of the children who've been here -- close by -- and have had problems. So it's a good thing I think," said Carey.

Mental health is also part of the equation. The community has also been focused on prevention and education, letting teens know help is available and someone is willing to listen.

"Education about mental health, education about stress, how to deal with everyday stress and how to help teens identify when the stress is more than just everyday stress and actually quite serious where some help is needed," said Dr. Shashank Joshi, of Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Joshi said what's planned in Palo Alto is the "most concerted effort at serious means restriction" at the tracks, and said he believed it would help in the effort to save young lives.

City leaders, Caltrain officials and other partners will be discussing the upcoming projects during a community meeting on July 27 at the Mitchell Park Community Center.