Berkeley Train Death Similar to June Accident at Jack London Square

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday November 20, 2007

Scott Slaughter, 31, of Oakland lost his life Thursday morning when he crossed the train tracks north of the Berkeley Amtrak Station on his way to his job at Truitt & White, located near the tracks on Hearst Avenue. 

Slaughter was talking on his cell phone and watched a train pass going south, but was hit by the Chicago-bound California Zephyr at 8:12 a.m. going in the opposite direction, according to Vernae Graham, Amtrak spokesperson. 

This was an eerie reminder to Berkeley Councilmember Linda Maio of the death in June of Bread Project founder Lucie Buchbinder, 83, at a train crossing in Jack London Square. Similarly, Buchbinder was talking on a cell phone, waited for one train to pass and was struck by another going in the opposite direction. 

“It takes three football fields [distance] to stop the train,” Graham told the Planet.  

The city does not have statistics available on pedestrians killed by trains in Berkeley. According to Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit that provides rail safety education, there were six pedestrians killed by trains in Alameda County in 2005 and seven in 2006. From January through July 2007 there have been three such deaths in the county. 

With a new police department computer system, the city will do a more efficient job of tracking such accidents, Maio said. 

Speaking on Monday, Maio said she had not yet been briefed on the accident, but said there may need to be a prohibition against trains passing each other from two different directions in an urban setting. Or trains may need to be elevated when they pass through cities, she said. 

“There have been two accidents like this—it should be a wake-up call,” Maio said.  

In September, at Maio’s behest, the City Council voted to have a study conducted on the feasibility of mandating a quiet zone in Berkeley, where trains are not allowed to sound their horns. Rail safety issues within the city will be evaluated in that study being conducted by WilburSmith Associates. 

Operation Lifesaver provides rail safety education to interested groups. The organization can be reached through their website at www.oli.org.