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On a Roll

By Paul Bendix

About this blog: A 32-year resident of Menlo Park, I regularly make my way around downtown in a wheelchair. This gives me an unusual perspective on a town in which I have spent almost half of my life. I was educated at UC Berkeley, and permanentl...  (More)

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Garbage Can on the Tracks

Uploaded: Feb 8, 2015
After Caltrain's 8:39 AM weekday express left Menlo Park last Thursday, someone in San Francisco rolled a 55-gallon garbage can in its path. To the south, the town of Atherton was attempting pretty much the same by means of a lawsuit.

When Thursday's train halted in a San Francisco tunnel, two conductors hurriedly moved the obstruction out of the way. Though a 55-gallon garbage can won't derail a train, impact can throw off dangerous metal shards.

The same can probably be said of Atherton's threatened lawsuit.

The town would like overhead electrification lines supported by poles between the tracks, not on either side. Atherton also wants the return of weekday service.

Atherton, population 7100, seems to have remarkable expertise in rail electrification. As for weekday service, Caltrain ceased stopping in Atherton because daily boardings had dropped to 120. By contrast, thousands of daily commuters clamber aboard at Menlo Park, Redwood City and Palo Alto.

Hard to say if Atherton's redesigned electrification is feasible. What's certainly worth trying, is a civic push to boost ridership. The town can sue all it wants, but rush-hour commuters will protest if packed trains keep stopping at Atherton's empty station. These days many Caltrain's expresses run at 120% of capacity. They are often standing-room-only.

As for the garbage can on the tracks, one conductor speculated about the underlying roots. He had lots of time to speculate, waiting to lower me in a wheelchair lift as hundreds of commuters slowly made their way up the rush-hour platform. In the UK, I suggested, railway walls are topped with glass fragments, fences with rolls of barbed wire.

Yes, he shrugged, and they've got 1.2 billion riders a year. Every Briton knows trains are dangerous -- and vital to the economy.

Actually, there are people in Atherton who know the same thing about Silicon Valley. Burgeoning companies need to get people to work. And long-term, they are not in the bus business.

Silicon Valley is all about growth. And unless Caltrain grows, the region's companies can't.
What is it worth to you?


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood,
on Feb 9, 2015 at 7:48 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Atherton should buy 3 acres of land adjacent to its station and have a developer build low/moderate rental housing. That would both fulfill Atherton's unmet obligation to provide such housing and would generate enough demand to justify the train stopping in Atherton during the week.

Posted by Robbie, a resident of another community,
on Feb 9, 2015 at 3:52 pm

Nice column, Paul. I liked comparing the Atherton city council to a trash can!

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