Atherton to discuss future of Caltrain service in town | News | Almanac Online |


Atherton to discuss future of Caltrain service in town


Atherton is starting off the new year with a discussion on Caltrain's electrification project plans for the near future. Among questions town officials and residents will be considering is one posed by Mayor Bill Widmer: "Has Atherton outgrown the need for a rail stop?"

On Wednesday, Jan. 9, town staff will present to the City Council and the town's Rail Committee a report on the Caltrain Business Plan and the future of the Atherton's train station. Caltrain's business plan forecasts its future service up until 2040, and assesses the benefits, impacts and costs of different service options. It coincides with Caltrain's plan to electrify the corridor from around San Francisco to San Jose. The project, scheduled to be operational in 2022, will replace diesel-run trains with electric trains.

Issues discussed at the meeting include:

• Potential impacts of Caltrain's long-term service vision for the town.

• Desired levels of service -- from no service to full service. (Caltrain suspended weekday service in Atherton in 2005 after finding ridership was fewer than 150 daily. The train now stops at the Atherton station on the weekends.)

• "Quiet zone" and grade crossing expectations, and the impact of possible state legislation on land uses along transportation corridors. The town imposed a quiet zone in 2016, which prohibits Caltrain engineers under most situations from sounding their train horns within a quarter-mile of the Fair Oaks Lane railroad crossing.

The council and committee members will also discuss Rail Committee recommendations for "successful implementation of the town's rail corridor priorities," according to a staff report. The 10-member rail committee meets every other month and examines the impacts of rail service on Atherton.

The council will vote on these recommendations at its Jan. 16 meeting:

• Caltrain must restore full weekday service.

• Caltrain must complete a capital project to remove the "hold out station" designation in town. Atherton's station has this designation because it has a center boarding platform only, meaning passengers can cross the tracks in multiple places to reach the center boarding platform. If a train is already in the station, an approaching train coming in the opposite direction must stop outside the station and wait for the other train to leave before entering. To change this, Caltrain would have to build separate platforms for northbound and southbound passengers and a fence separating the tracks.

• Ensure that any long-term rail corridor plan limits the number of tracks to two through Atherton.

• Modernization of the rail system must minimize and fully mitigate any environmental impact to the town.

• Advocate adding on the Watkins Avenue crossing a "quiet zone" with the addition of quad gates at the crossing.

Electrification and service

Electrification is expected to lead to more frequent and/or faster train service, and to reduce noise, improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The Caltrain Business Plan projects a demand of up to 240,000 riders per day in 2040, including peak passenger ridership of 8,000 to 10,000 heading north in the morning and the same number going south during the evening commute. To meet this demand, Caltrain forecasts it would need to operate eight 10-car trains or 12 eight-car trains per hour, per direction.

Caltrain has committed to restoring weekday service - systemwide - once electrified train service is operational in 2022, wrote Dan Lieberman, Caltrain public affairs specialist, in an email. Caltrain has the final say on how many trains will stop in Atherton.

"This commitment was reflected and analyzed in the service assumptions used in the Caltrain electrification EIR (environmental impact report)," he wrote. "The specific future schedules and service levels for any stations with electrified service have not yet been determined."

The Caltrain Business Plan lists Atherton service levels as "to be determined" by further analysis. Caltrain has indicated that rather than adding an additional stop in the overall train schedule (adding time), it might eliminate a stop in either Redwood City or Menlo Park to accommodate an Atherton stop, according to the staff report. The Caltrain plan should be finalized by the end of 2019, Lieberman said.

"We as a community need to figure out what service level we want," Public Works Director Robert Ovadia told The Almanac.

Widmer, in an interview, said that Caltrain has suggested minimal restoration of weekday service at the Atherton station after electrification. The town "didn't think that was appropriate," he said.

But he's not convinced weekday service is even desirable. "We've lived without the train service for a period of time," he said. "We need to decide if we need stops (in Atherton) at all."

If the train doesn't stop in Atherton, the town could better enforce a quiet zone, he noted.

If Caltrain offered multiple stops each weekday in Atherton on express trains, the service might be attractive to Lloyden Park and Fair Oaks neighborhood residents, he said. But with low ridership, Atherton might not have express stops, and longer train rides would not be attractive to people commuting to San Francisco for work, he said.

The town has been at odds with Caltrain about the electrification project. In 2016, the town lost a lawsuit against the agency to stop progress on the electrification project by claiming the project's environmental report was flawed. The town also initially opposed Caltrain's installation of tall poles in town as part of the project, but ultimately backed away from the challenge.

Upcoming construction activities along the Caltrain line in town include infrastructure installation. Pole installation began in December and will last two to three months, said Lieberman. Wire installation will begin this spring and is expected to take about two to three months, he said.

The Jan. 9 meeting takes place at 4 p.m. at Jennings Pavilion in Holbrook-Palmer Park, 150 Watkins Ave. in Atherton.


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13 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 8, 2019 at 1:51 pm

Atherton continues to regard itself as something special, and not just another town in the urbanized area extending from San Francisco to San Jose.

7 people like this
Posted by Bring Train Back
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 8, 2019 at 2:32 pm

Absolutely the train station should stay and daily service added; not just weekend service. Using it for shopping, going to work and going to San Jose or San Francisco makes it a great alternative to a car or Uber/Lyft.

10 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 8, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Use it or lose it!

Atherton can use Menlo Park as it's close. Right now, it's one stop too many for a very small population of riders. Scrape the parking lots and build the city hall there instead.

8 people like this
Posted by Cayo
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 8, 2019 at 3:13 pm

As a long time employee in Atherton, my commute costs have increased by not having the train stop there during the week. Walking a few blocks is one thing, transferring buses and walking a half mile is quite another. I don't think service workers were considered when the M - F trains were stopped, and I don't think it did anything to alleviate train noise.

Like this comment
Posted by Angela Swartz, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of another community
on Jan 8, 2019 at 3:20 pm

Angela Swartz, Almanac Staff Writer is a registered user.

@Cayo, feel free to email me at if you'd like to talk about this further.

8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 8, 2019 at 4:47 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why doesn't the Town simply guarantee CalTrain a certain number of paid trips for every train that stops at Atherton?

6 people like this
Posted by David
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 8, 2019 at 5:06 pm

Sounds like the dialogue around rail service in Atherton is utterly clueless and untethered to reality. Guess what, if you have no weekday service and at last check only generated 150 daily riders, you are probably not in a position to demand express service. Sounds like the whole Caltrain corridor would be best served by eliminating your station altogether, along with the grade crossings, whatever environmental impact that may entail. Good riddance.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 8, 2019 at 5:07 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"Why doesn't the Town simply guarantee CalTrain a certain number of paid trips for every train that stops at Atherton?"

Because it costs money?

7 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 8, 2019 at 5:52 pm

Caltrain is not a taxi service. Unless they can demonstrate meaningful ridership, they tax themselves and pay for it.

And I gotta laugh that a tiny town that doesn't use its train station gets to dictate to state of California how many tracks Caltrain can put down on its own property,

4 people like this
Posted by Rudy
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jan 8, 2019 at 11:43 pm

Keep the train for very limited service on the weekends. It really should be tied to SF Giants games. SJ Earthquakes games. Holidays. Big festivals/concerts/etc.
During the week; One in the morning north and south -Last train back at night. And make it a neutral zone two go north and south (don’t charge me one more zone to go from Redwood City to Atherton).

16 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 9, 2019 at 9:21 am

Instead of keeping the Atherton train station, how about running an hourly shuttle bus from city hall to the nearest active Caltrain station?

15 people like this
Posted by steve
a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2019 at 12:56 pm

Absolutely NO to daily service, even on local trains. Many people are forced to take local trains to places like Cal Ave, and an added stop means those trains go even slower. The few Atherton residents who use the train can easily drive/walk/bike the mile to the Menlo station.

7 people like this
Posted by Duncan
a resident of another community
on Jan 9, 2019 at 10:40 pm

This list of recommendations is (typically) selfish and incoherent. "We want full weekday service, and a better station, but we want two tracks, which will choke Caltrain's ability to deliver a higher level of service to the other communities it serves."

The way to make all this work is for Caltrain to emulate Berkeley's example where its residents voted to tax themselves in order to pay for putting BART in a tunnel. Heck, several of Atherton's wealthiest residents could write a check for the cost of this on their own.

13 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 10, 2019 at 10:30 am

Points well made! Here's the deal:

If Atherton wants train service, then they need to allow two extra passing tracks. I wonder how far that will go.......

3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 15, 2019 at 1:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The unelected Town Council ( all of whom have been appointed to their current Terms) continues to fancy itself as being in control of things for which it has neither responsibility, authority or public support.

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