A little boy died in November 2005 at the railroad tracks that separated a residential neighborhood from Monterey Highway (a four-lane expressway) and a nearby shopping center in South San Jose. After his the babysitter escorted him and his brother across the railroad tracks, he followed her back over as she went to fetch her own daughter in a stroller, and was hit by a passing Amtrak train. Although government officials made promises in 2008, the funding wasn’t authorized until this year and the new pedestrian bridge is opening this week.
I used to live down the street from this unofficial railroad crossing in the late 1990’s. While not as dangerous as the crossings next to the busy Caltrain stations in Sunnyvale and Mountain View, you still had to keep a wary eye up and down the tracks for a lumbering freight train as you clambered over the gravel bed. (Amtrak and Caltrain trains operate on these tracks today as Southern Pacific sold the right-of-way to Caltrain and commuter rail service was extended to Gilroy.) You couldn’t run across these tracks. Tripping and falling was more dangerous than being slow and careful.
Until the shopping center opened a few years later, I never had much reason to cross the tracks. If I had to go out to Wells Fargo Bank and McWhorter’s Stationers at Bernal Road and Santa Teresa Boulevard, I would hoist my bicycle over the tracks, ride south on the side of the highway—a four-lane express after the 101 opened in 1973—that went parallel to the tracks, cross the highway at the stoplight, and walk my bicycle up onto the Bernal Road overpass that went above the highway and the tracks.
Crossing the tracks became more frequent when the shopping center opened with a grocery store. Depending on what my mother needed, I would either walk over or ride my bike that had a large basket in front. Walking over with a few bags of groceries in hand wasn’t difficult. Moving my bike with a half-dozen grocery bags in the basket and a few plastic bags hanging off the side was more treacherous. On those occasions, I made damn well sure that I didn’t see the headlight of a train on the horizon in either directions before crossing.
During my first year as a college student, I had to cross the tracks to catch the bus on the Monterey Highway—or Monterey Road when it passed through the incorporated areas of San Jose—to get to San Jose City College. You had to be extra alert in the morning, especially if the weather was foggy and you had less time to see the train headlights coming your way.
Although I may never live in that part of San Jose, it’s nice to know that I could safely walk over the railroad tracks and Monterey Highway. Too bad that a little boy had to die and it took seven years to make this happen.