There are rumors of electric trains coming to San Mateo County. If high-speed trains someday travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and if their route includes the Peninsula, and if the Caltrain tracks are then electrified, then electric trains will run through Atherton and Menlo Park.
A consultant to the town of Portola Valley is proposing an alternative plan to bring electric and high-speed trains to the Bay Area, including Atherton and Menlo Park.
Electric trains could have been here long ago. In the late 1950s, San Mateo County was one of five counties in the San Francisco Bay Area Transit District. The district could assess taxes and issue bonds and had a round-the-Bay light-rail system planned, according to a history at the website of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).
The plan derailed, according to the BART account, because San Mateo County supervisors were "cool to the plan." They chose to exit the district in December 1961, citing the proposed system's "high costs" and the "adequate service" from Southern Pacific commuter trains, now Caltrain.
George Mader, who retired in 2010 after 45 years as Portola Valley's town planner, has another angle. The "cool to the plan" characters were two men of influence, he said in a March 11 letter to Portola Valley Mayor Ted Driscoll.
The "major problems," Mr. Mader said, were T. Louis Chess, who chaired the county Board of Supervisors and worked for Southern Pacific Railway, and David D. Bohannon, a "major player" in the county and the developer of the then-new Hillsdale Shopping Center.
BART would take shoppers away from Hillsdale and into San Francisco, "where shopping was rather good at the time," Mr. Mader said. For his part, Mr. Chess was protecting Southern Pacific. And the county voters would have had to decide on whether to join BART.
"These short-sighted and selfish people did not let the residents vote," Mr. Mader said. "A travesty!"
As for high-speed rail today, Mr. Mader suggests "a much better solution" to the route controversy: Stop it at San Jose and extend BART around the Bay using the money that would have been spent on the South Bay and Peninsula sections of a high-speed rail line.