News

Atherton signs off on Caltrain proposal to permanently close its train station

After more than a dozen public comments, the Atherton City Council decided on Wednesday, Jan. 15, to accept a proposal from Caltrain to permanently close the town's train station. The town will now work with the rail service agency to create a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with specifics for closing the station in the next few months.

Caltrain spurred this process last week, when it sent a letter to the town – which had most recently indicated it wants to expand service to weekdays – asking it to provide official support for the proposal before closing the station, which currently operates only on weekends.

At a Jan. 15 City Council meeting, Mayor Rick DeGolia expressed sadness that a historic part of Atherton, and California's rail system, would close, but said that sadness often accompanies progress.

"At the end of the day, we will benefit from the closure," he said. "The station was heavily used in the past, but not today. … There's a significant capital cost to keep the station."

Town staff noted it would cost about $30 million to upgrade the station to bring back full weekday service.

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Atherton and Caltrain officials met several times over the last six to eight months as the rail agency prepares for electrification of its train service from San Francisco to San Jose, according to DeGolia.

Several speakers at the meeting noted that they would gladly travel to the nearby Menlo Park or Redwood City stations to take the train.

They also advocated for some sort of path extending south of Watkins Avenue that would safely connect Atherton to the Menlo Park station. With such a path, which Caltrain mentions in its letter, people would not have to walk along busy El Camino Real to go from Atherton to Menlo Park.

Caltrain also mentions that the town may expand its quiet zone as a result of the station closure and safety improvements at Watkins Avenue, which would "significantly expand the area in which horns are not sounded." Residents at the meeting said they would be pleased if they no longer hear train horns.

"I'm willing to give up our cute little train station," Mc Cormick Lane resident Barrett Anderson said at the meeting. "I welcome a much faster express station in Menlo Park. It's a remarkable opportunity."

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The majority of public comments were in support of closing the station, but DeGolia noted that there is more of a balance of Atherton residents on each side of the issue.

Malcolm Dudley, former Atherton mayor and town Rail Committee member, spoke in support of the side not represented as strongly at the meeting. Dudley said that traffic congestion in the area poses a major threat to the safety, health and quality of life of Peninsula residents.

"Restore weekday service and get back to providing the service we need as a community," he said.

Caltrain had previously indicated that 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.

"Neighboring jurisdictions have asked, 'why are you (Atherton) clogging up the system,'" said council member Cary Wiest. “We do lose the convenience, but a lot of riders already go to stations north or south of us. It's the slow boat to China if you get on (the train) in Atherton."

Council member Mike Lempres said that as Caltrain service expands, it would be better for the environment and for ridership to funnel riders to nearby stations.

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 trains, and a fence separating the tracks.

Caltrain suspended weekday stops in the town in 2005 due to low ridership.

If the town and Caltrain can come to an agreement, the rail agency will begin a process of about 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 station platform and track crossings, remove ticket vending machines and bike lockers, and implement grade crossing safety improvements at Watkins Avenue.

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said it's important that details are firm in the MOU since there are "many vague promises" in the letter from Caltrain. For example, Caltrain offers to lease some of the station land to the town, but doesn't say how much it would charge it, she said.

"I think this is the beginning of a negotiation with them," she said. "We need to make sure it's clearly spelled out. The letter doesn’t promise us a whole lot."

-

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Atherton signs off on Caltrain proposal to permanently close its train station

by / Almanac

Uploaded: Fri, Jan 17, 2020, 3:50 pm

After more than a dozen public comments, the Atherton City Council decided on Wednesday, Jan. 15, to accept a proposal from Caltrain to permanently close the town's train station. The town will now work with the rail service agency to create a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with specifics for closing the station in the next few months.

Caltrain spurred this process last week, when it sent a letter to the town – which had most recently indicated it wants to expand service to weekdays – asking it to provide official support for the proposal before closing the station, which currently operates only on weekends.

At a Jan. 15 City Council meeting, Mayor Rick DeGolia expressed sadness that a historic part of Atherton, and California's rail system, would close, but said that sadness often accompanies progress.

"At the end of the day, we will benefit from the closure," he said. "The station was heavily used in the past, but not today. … There's a significant capital cost to keep the station."

Town staff noted it would cost about $30 million to upgrade the station to bring back full weekday service.

Atherton and Caltrain officials met several times over the last six to eight months as the rail agency prepares for electrification of its train service from San Francisco to San Jose, according to DeGolia.

Several speakers at the meeting noted that they would gladly travel to the nearby Menlo Park or Redwood City stations to take the train.

They also advocated for some sort of path extending south of Watkins Avenue that would safely connect Atherton to the Menlo Park station. With such a path, which Caltrain mentions in its letter, people would not have to walk along busy El Camino Real to go from Atherton to Menlo Park.

Caltrain also mentions that the town may expand its quiet zone as a result of the station closure and safety improvements at Watkins Avenue, which would "significantly expand the area in which horns are not sounded." Residents at the meeting said they would be pleased if they no longer hear train horns.

"I'm willing to give up our cute little train station," Mc Cormick Lane resident Barrett Anderson said at the meeting. "I welcome a much faster express station in Menlo Park. It's a remarkable opportunity."

The majority of public comments were in support of closing the station, but DeGolia noted that there is more of a balance of Atherton residents on each side of the issue.

Malcolm Dudley, former Atherton mayor and town Rail Committee member, spoke in support of the side not represented as strongly at the meeting. Dudley said that traffic congestion in the area poses a major threat to the safety, health and quality of life of Peninsula residents.

"Restore weekday service and get back to providing the service we need as a community," he said.

Caltrain had previously indicated that 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.

"Neighboring jurisdictions have asked, 'why are you (Atherton) clogging up the system,'" said council member Cary Wiest. “We do lose the convenience, but a lot of riders already go to stations north or south of us. It's the slow boat to China if you get on (the train) in Atherton."

Council member Mike Lempres said that as Caltrain service expands, it would be better for the environment and for ridership to funnel riders to nearby stations.

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 trains, and a fence separating the tracks.

Caltrain suspended weekday stops in the town in 2005 due to low ridership.

If the town and Caltrain can come to an agreement, the rail agency will begin a process of about 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 station platform and track crossings, remove ticket vending machines and bike lockers, and implement grade crossing safety improvements at Watkins Avenue.

Vice Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said it's important that details are firm in the MOU since there are "many vague promises" in the letter from Caltrain. For example, Caltrain offers to lease some of the station land to the town, but doesn't say how much it would charge it, she said.

"I think this is the beginning of a negotiation with them," she said. "We need to make sure it's clearly spelled out. The letter doesn’t promise us a whole lot."

-

Comments

CA Love
Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 18, 2020 at 8:56 am
CA Love, Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 18, 2020 at 8:56 am
23 people like this

Dear Mayor,

This is not progress. A Town closing its rail station in the year 2020, in the middle of the megapolis known as Silicon Valley, is a crime against progress and humanity. This is not progressive but a regression. This after decades of fighting Caltrain over everything.

What’s next? Closing down a couple lanes on El Camino?

With sadness and shame I call myself an Atherton resident


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 18, 2020 at 9:23 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 18, 2020 at 9:23 am
20 people like this

It is simple - The Town Council of the Independent Republic of Atherton/ Duchy of Grand Fenwick wishes to remove itself from all "foreign entanglements" such as CalTrain, the Fire District etc.

Next is will be looking for ways to "get back" the millions of dollars of income taxes that its residents pay to the State and Federal government because all of those dollars are not spent within the boundaries of the Town of Atherton.


Farrah
Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:15 pm
Farrah , Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:15 pm
18 people like this

Sadly, we will soon no longer be able to use a train station we live nearby. We enjoyed our weekend train excursions to Redwood City. Definitely not safe to walk with a stroller to their downtown district, especially on the 4th of July. Removing the train station makes us feel a bit disconnected from the towns nearby


Reading comprehension
another community
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:35 pm
Reading comprehension, another community
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:35 pm
38 people like this

It would appear that reading comprehension is a struggle for Mr. Carpenter and 'CA Love'.

1: Caltrain...NOT Atherton...controls whether there is a train station in Atherton. Caltrain does NOT need Atherton's approval to close the station.

2: Given some of the antagonism between Caltrain and Atherton in recent years, it's clear that Caltrain wanted to avoid further litigation and/or political entanglements with the town.

3: Caltrain found what many find to be a win-win, or at a bare minimum is a reasonable compromise. In a nutshell...

* Caltrain gets:
- saves $25-$30 million in rebuilding the Atherton hold-out station, which they would have HAD to do; the current configuration is UNSAFE. Even if Caltrains needs to spend $8 million for the quad-gates and other improvements, that's still $17-22 million in savings.
- slightly reduced travel times for local trains.
- slightly easier train scheduling, as they won't need to factor in train dwell times at the Atherton station as part of train movements.

* Atherton gets (potentially, assuming Caltrain honors the implications of their letter:
- Safer crossing at Watkins, with quad-gates being deployed.
- An expanded and more-useful quiet zone.
- More usable space (likely parking) around the town center and library.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:41 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:41 pm
13 people like this

No problem with reading comprehension -"the Atherton City Council decided on Wednesday, Jan. 15, to accept a proposal from Caltrain to permanently close the town's train station."


Reading Comprehension
another community
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:44 pm
Reading Comprehension, another community
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:44 pm
19 people like this

Thank you for making my point:

"to accept a PROPOSAL FROM CALTRAIN to permanently close the town's train station"


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:56 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 18, 2020 at 12:56 pm
12 people like this

It is simple - The Town Council of the Independent Republic of Atherton/ Duchy of Grand Fenwick wishes to remove itself from all "foreign entanglements" such as CalTrain, the Fire District etc.


reading comprehension
another community
on Jan 18, 2020 at 2:31 pm
reading comprehension, another community
on Jan 18, 2020 at 2:31 pm
23 people like this

The town's policy for 15 years has been to advocate for full service at the Atherton station, which contradicts your 'foreign entanglements' false assertion.


Sceptical
Woodside: other
on Jan 18, 2020 at 3:36 pm
Sceptical, Woodside: other
on Jan 18, 2020 at 3:36 pm
5 people like this

With Atherton removing the train station, does that mean it also avoids upzoning? It would have been nice to see denser more affordable housing...


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 18, 2020 at 3:53 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 18, 2020 at 3:53 pm
15 people like this

"The town's policy for 15 years has been to advocate for full service at the Atherton station, which contradicts your 'foreign entanglements' false assertion."

No -for the Town Council it is"my way or the highway". They did not get full service so they got rid of this foreign entanglement..


Rick Moen
Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 19, 2020 at 12:28 pm
Rick Moen, Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jan 19, 2020 at 12:28 pm
3 people like this

I hope the town, very soon, takes seriously the need for a pedestrian/bicycle path from Watkins Ave. southwards to Encinal Ave. (five short blocks) -- both for the benefit of Athertonians getting to CalTrain and for other walkers and bicyclists. Currently, there really is no southwards passage at all between Elena Ave. and Middlefield, except for the deeply scary and hazardous walk or ride along El Camino Real.

One might imagine a path paralleling the west side of the tracks, essentially connecting Dinkelspiel Station Lane @ Watkins to Garwood Way @ Encinal. Am guessing such a passage would have to be paved on the edge of the former Southern Pacific right of way, so would require coordination with CalTrain. A possibly cheaper and easier alternative would be opening a gate from the southwest corner of Holbrook Palmer Park to Felton Drive (if the Felton Drive residents wouldn't have a cow over the very idea, which they well might).

Not that I think either course of action's likely given sempiternal town politics, mind you, but I thought I'd mention them for the record.


reading comprehension
another community
on Jan 19, 2020 at 3:51 pm
reading comprehension, another community
on Jan 19, 2020 at 3:51 pm
22 people like this

>"The town's policy for 15 years has been
> to advocate for full service at the
> Atherton station, which contradicts your
> 'foreign entanglements' false assertion."
>
> No

What an odd position to take. They were "my way or the highway" living with a mostly-closed station for 15 years?

Waiting 15 years clearly undermines that argument.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 19, 2020 at 4:21 pm
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 19, 2020 at 4:21 pm
8 people like this

"Waiting 15 years .."

No one ever said that this Town Council does anything quickly.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 20, 2020 at 2:24 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 20, 2020 at 2:24 am
11 people like this

To put the Town Council's efficiency, or lack thereof, in perspective note that in 2014 they identified ten so-called municipal services provided to Town residents:

Web Link

They also noted that " This list is not exhaustive as many other agencies (regional, state and federal) serve the needs of the community. "

And yet SIX years later the Town Council has only addressed one of these services and accomplished nothing of value for Atherton residents even in that review.


John Donald
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 20, 2020 at 12:54 pm
John Donald, Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 20, 2020 at 12:54 pm
4 people like this

Does this get Atherton out of its S.B. 50 requirements?


Joseph E. Davis
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 20, 2020 at 1:14 pm
Joseph E. Davis, Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 20, 2020 at 1:14 pm
2 people like this

No because it's still a job rich area, so density limits will be waived.


Dano
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2020 at 5:06 pm
Dano , Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 20, 2020 at 5:06 pm
5 people like this

WTF is the Duchy of Grand Fenwick? I think this Carpenter dude used to list Atherton as his location. Now it’s MP. If he likes the Atherton council so much he gonna love the Menlo Park council. A real vision of sanity!

It makes sense to close Atherton Station. Proven low ridership. Forget all this other crap. No riders no station. It’s not complicated.


RaceToTheBottom
Atherton: other
on Jan 20, 2020 at 5:24 pm
RaceToTheBottom, Atherton: other
on Jan 20, 2020 at 5:24 pm
7 people like this

It is a shame the train station will close, as electrification would change some of the underlying assumptions. The electrified trains will have a better acceleration leaving the station and make less noise. The trains could still stop in Atherton without having as significant impact on the schedule.

Since the Council is throwing in the towel on the CalTrain matter, how about envisioning what things might look like for Atherton in 20 years (2040):

* Obviously, the train no longer stops in Atherton.
* The States sues the Town to enforce SB50, forcing the Town to allow subdivisions of its 1 acre parcels.
* Multi unit dwellings on 1/4 acre parcels start to replace the mansions.
* The Council allows retail businesses along El Camino Real in the high density housing buildings.
* The Council is eventually replaced with people who like dogs and Holbrook Palmer becomes an off leash park.
* The Atherton Police Department is outsourced to the San Mateo County Sheriff.
* Menlo Fire is usurped by South County Fire and it provides services to Atherton.
* The Almendral fire station is closed because it is not busy enough.
* Stop lights get added to Selby Lane and Atherton Ave.
* Stop lights get added to Alameda de las Pulgas and Atherton Ave.
* Stop lights get added to Walsh Road and Alameda de las Pulgas.
* Stop lights get added to El Camino Real and Selby Lane.
* Marsh Road is widened to four lanes all the way to Middlefield Road.
* The El Camino Real is reduced to two lanes for several years and then restored to three in each direction (in Menlo Park too).
* Homeless are allowed to camp in Holbrook Palmer Park because Atherton is unable to provide shelter options.

The race to the bottom is well underway.


Athertonian
Atherton: other
on Jan 20, 2020 at 7:12 pm
Athertonian, Atherton: other
on Jan 20, 2020 at 7:12 pm
6 people like this

The Atherton Train Station has be a historic and wonderful part of the town experience. It would have been great for future Athertonians to be able to reach destinations in the Peninsula, San Francisco, and South Bay without having to always rely on automobiles to get to and from. As Silicon Valley continues to grow, so will the congestion on our roads. Menlo Park and Redwood City have experience significant growth, including more vehicles on the road.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 21, 2020 at 12:04 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 21, 2020 at 12:04 am
6 people like this

"WTF is the Duchy of Grand Fenwick? "

"The Duchy of Grand Fenwick is a tiny fictional country created by Leonard Wibberley in a series of comedic novels beginning with The Mouse That Roared (1955), which was later made into a film."


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 21, 2020 at 12:35 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 21, 2020 at 12:35 am
4 people like this

"If he likes the Atherton council so much he gonna love the Menlo Park council. A real vision of sanity!"

Actually the current MP Council is a real vision of sanity as a result of being reconstituted by a strange thing called an ELECTION - which the Atherton Town Council has not had for years.


Lazy People
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2020 at 8:58 am
Lazy People, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 21, 2020 at 8:58 am
5 people like this

All this whining over what? Wealthy Atherton residents will have to somehow find their way 1.4 miles south to the Menlo Station. Oh my, however will they be able to endure that hardship?


School commuting
Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 21, 2020 at 9:17 am
School commuting, Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 21, 2020 at 9:17 am
7 people like this

I was hoping for the return of weekday service. Considering the worsening traffic and commute condutions, a ride on CalTrain from the Atherton station is a great option for high school students attending Bellarmine, Serra and Notre Dame.


Peter Carpenter
Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 21, 2020 at 9:34 am
Peter Carpenter, Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 21, 2020 at 9:34 am
3 people like this

"Town staff noted it would cost about $30 million to upgrade the station to bring back full weekday service."

The interest alone on $30 million would pay for a lot of shuttle service to Menlo Park and Redwood City.


Resident
Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 21, 2020 at 12:16 pm
Resident, Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 21, 2020 at 12:16 pm
7 people like this

Once again our town takes the short term view. Closing the station is loss for the town and the community. They were clearly scared by a small vocal group who used SB50 to bring fear to council. In 2020 to close a mass transit station is almost beyond understanding.


peninsula resident
Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 21, 2020 at 6:02 pm
peninsula resident, Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 21, 2020 at 6:02 pm
24 people like this

For those not paying attention:

* CALTRAIN CALLS THE SHOTS...100%. Caltrain has been able to close the Atherton station whenever it wanted to. Atherton...the council or citizens or both...could protest all it wants, but Atherton in the end had/has zero say on whether there's an Atherton station. ZZZZEEERRROOOO. The town council vote is mostly irrelevant.

* So, why did Caltrain even ask, you say? It's clear Caltrain wanted buy-in from Atherton to avoid future entanglements, politically and/or legal, which take both time and money away from their other priorities. It's smart business, and using the words both "smart" and "Caltrain" in the same sentence is a rare thing! But it's applicable here. Caltrain saves about $22 million ($8 million to improve the station area vs $30 million to rebuild the station).

Personally, I welcome more cooperation between Atherton and Caltrain. And I welcome a larger quiet zone even more!


Atherton's choice was between having Caltrain spend 8 million in Caltrain Right-Of-Way improvements (including improvements to support an expanded quiet zone)...OR...ZERO million in zero improvements and STILL have a closed Atherton station.

Caltrain was clearly going to close the station, with or without the town's support. Considering the town had relatively little leverage, it got a great deal.


Judgemental people
Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 21, 2020 at 8:51 pm
Judgemental people, Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 21, 2020 at 8:51 pm
3 people like this

In response to Lazy people post: clearly, you've never tried walking to Menlo Park station from the Atherton station, along Watkins and El Camino Real, with a stroller. It is totally unsafe and to build walkways will only cost the town more money. We've been waiting for the town to build a temporary walkway to connect Lloyden Park to the Library. Not going to happen. Instead, we have to travel down the busy Fair Oaks Lane to take another route.

Please think further about the judgemental comments before posting. If your aim is to insult, this is not the place for it. Thanks.


Ahem
another community
on Jan 22, 2020 at 3:55 pm
Ahem, another community
on Jan 22, 2020 at 3:55 pm
8 people like this

With Atherton's decision to allow Caltrain to shut down the Atherton station a tunnel from Palo Alto to Atherton just got a lot cheaper.

SF plans to underground Caltrain from the 22nd st station all the way to the Salesforce building (right next to the bay). San Jose is going to underground BART through San Jose. There is no reason Caltrain can't be underground through Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton. We have the technology. We just need vision and money.

Do it once, do it right, put it underground.


Joseph E. Davis
Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 23, 2020 at 6:48 am
Joseph E. Davis, Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 23, 2020 at 6:48 am
Like this comment

"Just" is doing a lot of work in that sentence. Local governments have almost no vision, and it would be an unprecedented mountain of money that would be better used on other things.


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