Unhappy with Caltrain's response to a letter from Atherton requesting concessions on plans to electrify the rail system between San Francisco and San Jose, Atherton's City Council has decided to go ahead with a lawsuit.
At a closed session meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 4, the council reviewed a letter from Caltrain responding to some of the town's concerns and "decided to move forward with a legal challenge to the Final Environmental Impact Report for Caltrain's Electrification Project," City Manager George Rodericks reported.
The deadline to file a challenge to the environmental report is Saturday, Feb. 7, but because the deadline falls on a weekend, the town's attorneys have until Monday, Feb. 9, to file the lawsuit. The letter from Marian Lee, Caltrain's executive officer for the modernization project, was a response to a Jan. 21 letter from Atherton Mayor Rick DeGolia.
Mr. DeGolia's letter asked Caltrain to extend the period in which the environmental report could be challenged, to give the town and Caltrain more time to negotiate. Caltrain did not grant the request, noting "that time will not materially change the responses" to the town's concerns.
The Caltrain letter addressed six other issues the town had brought up after the final environmental report was released:
● Quad gates at Watkins Avenue crossing. The town had asked Caltrain to help pay for safer gates at the crossing, which could allow the town to request trains no longer sound their horns at that location. Caltrain said it could not help pay for the gates, but would "provide technical input ... that may be required by regulatory agencies relative to such a project."
● Study of alternatives to electrification, including modern diesel options. Caltrain said it "respectfully disagree(s)" that it had not done this in the environmental review. The report looks at three diesel-based alternatives, Ms. Lee's letter says.
● High-speed rail and Caltrain electrification. The town had argued that one project could not be considered without considering the environmental impacts of the other. Ms. Lee's letter says that the projects are independent and that "electrification has been a fundamental assumption in the planning for the future of Caltrain long before high speed rail was proposed."
● Schedule - Atherton had asked Caltrain to commit to more train service for Atherton with electrification. Ms. Lee's letter says that while "no commitments can be made to any city at this time," a sample schedule included in the environmental study shows 54 daily stops in Atherton.
● Civic Center Project. Atherton had asked Caltrain to work with the town to make sure its plans for the Atherton train station do not disrupt or change the town's Civic Center project, which is still in the planing stages. Ms. Lee's letter said Caltrain is already working with town staff on this.
● Trees. The town had asked Caltrain to commit to using a system that requires the fewest number of trees to be pruned or removed when adding the electrification wires. Ms. Lee's letter says Caltrain is committed to doing this.
Click here to see the Caltrain letter.