Person hit, killed by freight train on tracks in Berkeley

Train
The Union Pacific freight train that struck a pedestrian today was still stationary on the tracks at around noon. Photo: Bryan Westfall

Update, March 18: The Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau has identified the man who was struck and killed by the train as Matthew Finch, 28, of El Cerrito, according to the Bay City News.

Original story: A man was struck and killed by a Union Pacific freight train Monday in Berkeley on the train tracks just south of Harrison Street near the Berkeley-Albany border, authorities said.

The person, believed to be an adult male, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Berkeley Deputy Fire Chief Avery Webb.

The train, which was headed from Roseville to Oakland, was still stationary on the tracks at around midday, according to Berkeleyside reader Bryan Westfall, who said the front of the engine was located just behind Books Inc. on Berkeley’s Fourth Street.


BFD first received a call about a south-bound train striking a pedestrian at 9:06 a.m. on Monday March 17 at the northernmost part of Berkeley near the grass soccer fields south of Harrison Street. An ambulance, fire engine and the duty fire chief responded.

A pedestrian was struck and killed by a Union Pacific freight train near the Berkeley-Albany border on Monday March 17,2014. Image: Google Maps
A pedestrian was struck and killed by a Union Pacific freight train just south of Harrison Street near the Berkeley-Albany border on March 17, 2014. Image: Google Maps

Berkeley Police and Union Pacific investigators were also rapidly on scene and the circumstances of the death are under investigation.

Union Pacific spokesman Aaron Hunt said there was a two-person crew on the train, an engineer and a conductor, and the victim was spotted walking southbound, with his back to the locomotive, on the railway track just before 9 a.m.

“The crew implemented the stop process and sounded the horn,” Hunt said, “but the individual did not leave the track. Sadly he was fatally struck by the train.” A train covers about a mile before it stops, Hunt said.

Hunt said the investigation, which is ongoing, had not recovered headphones at the scene which might suggest the man had not heard the train’s horn. But he added that trains can be deceptively quiet, despite having a legislated minimum decibel level. “People assume you feel a rumble or a squeaking on the train tracks,” he said, “but this is not always the case.” Hunt said investment in improving tracks has made straight tracks in particular particularly smooth-running.


“This is a stark reminder that people should not walk on train tracks and use them as a shortcut,” he said.

Traffic trying to cross the railway tracks was affected by the incident, as well as that near the Gilman exit of I-80, as the train was stationary on the tracks for several hours. Webb specified that blocked streets included Gilman, Camelia, Cedar and Virginia.

Trains in the area were stopped in both directions, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham told Bay City News. Amtrak had set up a bus bridge to take passengers between the Richmond and Berkeley stations, Graham said.

Webb said alternative crossings for vehicles would be Hearst Street to the south or Marin where it merges with Buchanan to the north.

Train traffic was running regularly again by 1:00 p.m. Hunt said.


The incident was naturally very upsetting for the train’s crew Hunt added. “The crew are very impacted by this,” he said. “It’s a helpless situation for them.” The train’s crew were replaced by a secondary crew and counsellors were being made available to them.

This story was updated as more details became available.

Related:
Good Samaritans set up fund for Berkeley train victim (10.22.14)
Good Samaritans recount Berkeley train amputation (10.11.13)
Man loses leg in train accident at Gilman St. in Berkeley (10.08.13)

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