News

Atherton Rail Committee recommends restoring weekday train service

In a split vote, the Atherton Rail Committee recommended that the City Council support resuming weekday train stops in Atherton, despite some members' concerns about a recent state bill that could require new housing to be built along busier transit corridors.

The 10-member committee voted 4-3, with two committee members abstaining and one absent, to resume weekday service at a Feb. 5 meeting. In the fall, the committee recommended that the council restore full weekday train stops in Atherton, but it backpedaled on the recommendation at a Jan. 9 joint council and committee meeting.

The concern: SB 50, a bill introduced in December by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. The bill would require cities to allow new apartment buildings in any place that is within a half-mile of a rail transit station, within a quarter-mile of a high-frequency bus stop, or within a "job-rich" neighborhood.

The town is examining this issue as Caltrain reviews and plans its service schedules in preparation of rail service electrification

from around San Francisco down to San Jose.

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Caltrain has indicated that rather than adding a stop in the overall train schedule, it might eliminate a stop in either Redwood City or Menlo Park to keep an Atherton stop, according to a staff report. Caltrain has final say on the schedule.

Caltrain suspended weekday stops in the town in 2005 due to low ridership. The train now stops at the Atherton station only on the weekends.

"Nostalgia is lovely, but history is history," Jim Massey, a longtime Atherton resident and former Park and Recreation Committee member, said at the Feb. 5 meeting. "This train station has been closed (on weekdays) for 14 years."

The committee stuck with other recommendations it made before SB 50 was introduced:

• 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. To change this, Caltrain would have to build separate platforms for northbound and southbound passengers and a fence separating the tracks.

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• 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.

The committee did modify the wording of one of its recommendations, which originally called for the town to advocate designating the Watkins Avenue crossing a "quiet zone," adding quad gates at the crossing. During the Feb. 5 meeting, the committee changed the recommendation to state that, "Caltrain must take all necessary steps to make rail transit through the rail corridor as safe as possible, including the maintenance of quad gates at Fair Oaks Lane and the establishment of quad gates at the Watkins Avenue crossing." It also added a clause requesting that Caltrain continue to enforce the Fair Oaks Lane quiet zone.

Some council members and committee members fear SB 50 could force Atherton to allow new housing, and take on the growth from other nearby jurisdictions that have growing job markets and populations.

If SB 50 does pass, Atherton should stay with the weekend service it has currently to avoid this housing requirement, said committee member Malcolm Dudley. Otherwise, it would be ideal to add weekday stops in town, he said.

"It's so critical for us to have Caltrain," he said. "It's had a long history for our town."

The City Council will examine the committee's Caltrain service recommendations at its Feb. 20 meeting, according to a staff report.

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Angela Swartz
 
Angela Swartz joined The Almanac in 2018 and covers education and small towns. She has a background covering education, city politics and business. Read more >>

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Atherton Rail Committee recommends restoring weekday train service

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Wed, Feb 13, 2019, 11:58 am

In a split vote, the Atherton Rail Committee recommended that the City Council support resuming weekday train stops in Atherton, despite some members' concerns about a recent state bill that could require new housing to be built along busier transit corridors.

The 10-member committee voted 4-3, with two committee members abstaining and one absent, to resume weekday service at a Feb. 5 meeting. In the fall, the committee recommended that the council restore full weekday train stops in Atherton, but it backpedaled on the recommendation at a Jan. 9 joint council and committee meeting.

The concern: SB 50, a bill introduced in December by state Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco. The bill would require cities to allow new apartment buildings in any place that is within a half-mile of a rail transit station, within a quarter-mile of a high-frequency bus stop, or within a "job-rich" neighborhood.

The town is examining this issue as Caltrain reviews and plans its service schedules in preparation of rail service electrification

from around San Francisco down to San Jose.

Caltrain has indicated that rather than adding a stop in the overall train schedule, it might eliminate a stop in either Redwood City or Menlo Park to keep an Atherton stop, according to a staff report. Caltrain has final say on the schedule.

Caltrain suspended weekday stops in the town in 2005 due to low ridership. The train now stops at the Atherton station only on the weekends.

"Nostalgia is lovely, but history is history," Jim Massey, a longtime Atherton resident and former Park and Recreation Committee member, said at the Feb. 5 meeting. "This train station has been closed (on weekdays) for 14 years."

The committee stuck with other recommendations it made before SB 50 was introduced:

• 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. 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.

The committee did modify the wording of one of its recommendations, which originally called for the town to advocate designating the Watkins Avenue crossing a "quiet zone," adding quad gates at the crossing. During the Feb. 5 meeting, the committee changed the recommendation to state that, "Caltrain must take all necessary steps to make rail transit through the rail corridor as safe as possible, including the maintenance of quad gates at Fair Oaks Lane and the establishment of quad gates at the Watkins Avenue crossing." It also added a clause requesting that Caltrain continue to enforce the Fair Oaks Lane quiet zone.

Some council members and committee members fear SB 50 could force Atherton to allow new housing, and take on the growth from other nearby jurisdictions that have growing job markets and populations.

If SB 50 does pass, Atherton should stay with the weekend service it has currently to avoid this housing requirement, said committee member Malcolm Dudley. Otherwise, it would be ideal to add weekday stops in town, he said.

"It's so critical for us to have Caltrain," he said. "It's had a long history for our town."

The City Council will examine the committee's Caltrain service recommendations at its Feb. 20 meeting, according to a staff report.

-

Comments

resident
Atherton: other
on Feb 13, 2019 at 5:54 pm
resident, Atherton: other
on Feb 13, 2019 at 5:54 pm

Is Caltrain committed to restoring service if Atherton asks them to? If the problem is low ridership, how do they bring the customers back on weekdays?


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 13, 2019 at 8:00 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 13, 2019 at 8:00 pm

Ridiculous. Caltrain stopped weekday service for a reason. Frankly, I'm not sure why they even have any weekend service. Just more nonsense from entitled wealthy people that think they should be able to dictate how a business should operate. BS

To the entitled Atherton folks: until you can demonstrate an actual DEMAND for Caltrain service in your town, shut up. You can drive a mile to Menlo Park. IF you actually take the Train anywhere (questionable). If you actually do take the train, you can surely afford to drive a mile in your $100,000 Tesla to get there. Give me a break.


Hillsider
Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 13, 2019 at 8:35 pm
Hillsider, Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Feb 13, 2019 at 8:35 pm

I smell envy. Or is it jealousy? Atherton has the right to request train service if they want, after all it finds thru their backyards.


MP Resident
Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:00 pm
MP Resident, Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 13, 2019 at 11:00 pm

Given Atherton's repeated lawsuits and general refusal to play nicely (e.g. the disputes over electrical poles for electrification), Atherton does not deserve train service. They have already demonstrated that they consistently act in bad faith towards vital transportation systems.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 14, 2019 at 6:52 am
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Feb 14, 2019 at 6:52 am

"They have already demonstrated that they consistently act in bad faith towards vital transportation systems."

The Town consistently acts in bad faith with respect to almost every other agency and yet it expects to be given favorable treatment by those agencies - go figure.


Peter Carpenter
Registered user
Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 14, 2019 at 7:28 am
Peter Carpenter, Atherton: Lindenwood
Registered user
on Feb 14, 2019 at 7:28 am

"$450,696
That’s the average household income in Atherton, California, the wealthiest town in the United States for three years in a row now."

Bloomberg

And yet the Town Council does not think it is fair that its residents pay a lot in taxes - go figure.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Feb 14, 2019 at 7:40 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Feb 14, 2019 at 7:40 am

Hillsider:

envy? No, just common sense.


Resident
Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Feb 14, 2019 at 9:51 am
Resident, Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Feb 14, 2019 at 9:51 am

They should call this the troll board. You all need to get a life and keep the comments on topic and not personal.


Scott Lane
Atherton: other
on Feb 14, 2019 at 12:46 pm
Scott Lane, Atherton: other
on Feb 14, 2019 at 12:46 pm

Hello,

Thank you for the article. I was in attendance at the committee meeting, and thought I’d comment on a couple aspects mentioned in the article.

The vote on the station:

As noted in the article, the committee voted 4-3 in favor of recommending the station be restored to full service. It should be pointed out, though, that members of the public in attendance that spoke, unanimously advocated for the stations closure. While the sample size is small, this indicates that many residents — possibly a majority — are in favor of closure.

Speaking only for myself, I’m in favor of closure, and suggest that Caltrain build a station between the Menlo Park and Redwood City stations that serves an area with a higher population density than Atherton. In my opinion, the North Fair Oaks community just north of Atherton is underserved by public rail transit and could potentially better utilize a station more than Atherton residents ever could.

If Caltrain sees a need for a train station between RWC and MP, it’s going to need to build one anyways (see below for why), so they may as well build one better strategically located.

The hold-out station:

Background: a ‘hold-out’ station is one where trains planning to stop or pass through a station are required to ‘hold’ (stop) outside the station while passengers [de]board a train heading in the other direction. The reason the incoming trains stop is because hold-out stations have boarding platforms on only 1 side of the station, so incoming trains need to stop outside the station to ensure passengers can safely cross the tracks to [de]board the train.

Atherton has advocated for addressing the poor configuration of Caltrain’s station for at least a decade, and likely longer.

Atherton’s advocacy has a lot of merit: hold-out stations are *dangerous.* Here’s an article that describes a near catastrophe at Caltrain’s hold-out station in South San Francisco: Web Link

Caltrain’s negligence in addressing the safety of some of its stations has been a longstanding issue, and I hope the town continues to advocate for the immediate improvement in station safety and design throughout Caltrain’s Right-Of-Way.


Martin
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 15, 2019 at 9:36 am
Martin, Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 15, 2019 at 9:36 am

Given Atherton's continuous lawsuits against transit and refusal to build any housing, Bay Area would benefit more with simply closing the station, and adding additional passing tracks on land already owned by Caltrain. This would benefit all of Bay Area, especially those who commute along the 101 corridor and be more efficient use of our land.


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