Caltrain is proposing to permanently close the Atherton train station, which currently operates only on weekends, according to a Jan. 8 letter written by Caltrain to the town of Atherton.
Caltrain officials are asking the town – which had most recently indicated it wants to expand service to weekdays – to provide official support for the proposal before closing the station, according to the letter.
The City Council will discuss the proposed closure at its meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m. Other topics on the agenda include funding for the town's $31.6 million civic center project, evaluation of its fire services, and reviewing a policy for license plate readers in town.
Atherton officials have met with Caltrain several times over the last six to eight months as the rail service plans its train schedules in preparation of rail service electrification from San Francisco to San Jose, according to Atherton Mayor Rick DeGolia.
"In general, adding new service (or 'stops') to trains is a zero sum game – either requiring that a stop be re-allocated from elsewhere in the system or that the entire train be slowed by several minutes, degrading the railroad's ability to compete with auto travel in terms of travel times," said Caltrain Executive Director Jim Hartnett in the letter. "The lower density, residential character of the land uses around the Atherton station suggest that the station is unlikely to generate significant future ridership."
Caltrain previously indicated it might eliminate a stop in either Redwood City or Menlo Park to accommodate an Atherton stop. It has the final say on the schedule.
The station, which is more than 100 years old, is a designated "hold out station" because it has a center boarding platform only, meaning passengers can cross the tracks in multiple places to reach the platform. To change this, Caltrain would have to build separate platforms for northbound and southbound passengers and a fence separating the tracks.
Caltrain suspended weekday stops in the town in 2005 due to low ridership.
"The Caltrain station has been an important asset to Atherton for nearly 150 years," DeGolia said in an email. "I know that the station would need to be significantly upgraded in order to bring back full weekday service. While closing the station, rather than doing those upgrades, may be a significant benefit to Caltrain, we have to see what benefits Caltrain is proposing to offset the loss of the station."
If the town and Caltrain can come to an agreement, Caltrain will begin a process of approximately five to six-months to identify potential impacts, obtain environmental clearance and develop a station closure resolution, according to the letter.
To close the station, Caltrain said it would seek funding, between $7 million and $9 million, to construct a right-of-way fence separating the current station from the town's civic center; remove the existing center station platform and track crossings; remove ticket vending machines and bike lockers; and implement grade crossing safety improvements at Watkins Avenue.
The Wednesday night meeting will be in Holbrook-Palmer Park's Jennings Pavilion, 150 Watkins Ave. in Atherton.