Caltrain took the final steps last week to officially begin shutting down train service in Atherton in December. The Caltrain Board of Directors voted to close the station on Thursday, Nov. 5, while the same day county transit board officials approved allocating $4.13 million to help close the historic station.
San Mateo County Transportation Authority approved a funding request from Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB), which owns and operates Caltrain and consists of representatives from San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The board sought approval from the Transportation Authority for the funding to go toward closing the station and for improvement projects such as installing quad gates at the Watkins Avenue crossing.
It will cost $600,000 to close the station and install temporary fencing, according to Caltrain. It will cost an estimated $5.8 million toward Watkins Avenue crossing safety improvements, according to Caltrain. Other site improvements and an access study will cost around $400,000. The $4.13 million is coming from Measure A transit funds and will partially fund these projects.
The initial costs of demobilizing the station, which is anticipated to be completed in February, and installing temporary fencing will be paid out of the JPB's fiscal year 2021 operating budget, according to a Caltrain staff report. Other major costs of the proposed actions, which are expected to total $6.2 million, will be funded by a combination of Transportation Authority funds and grant sources.
"The antiquated platform configuration of the station does not meet current standards and has limited Caltrain's operations, as trains traveling in one direction are required to wait while the train operating in the opposing direction is boarding at the station," Caltrain's board of directors said in a Thursday press release. "Removing the station will improve reliability and flexibility, improving travel time through the area by as much as three minutes, which would mean the closure would save 93 million travel hours over the next 20 years. If kept in operation, the station would ultimately require an approximately $30 million upgrade to meet modern standards and prevent disruption of the expanded service that will come following the electrification of the corridor."
The City Council voted 4-1 to shutter the train station, pending funding, at the end of October. ("Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Atherton Caltrain Station only received limited weekend-only service every 90 minutes with an average of 114 passengers per weekend day. Weekday service to the station was cut in 2005 due to low demand," the rail service said.)
The council signed off on a Caltrain proposal to permanently close its historic train station in January because of years of minimal service and low ridership, and a desire to safeguard the town from legislation similar to the recent Senate Bill 50, which would have put cities on the hook for allowing high density housing near public transit. But the town's agreement of how to close the station with the rail service has been delayed as officials have focused on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Caltrain previously indicated it might eliminate a stop in either Redwood City or Menlo Park to accommodate an Atherton stop. It noted in its Thursday press release that the Atherton station closure will help Caltrain reallocate service to nearby stations, such as Menlo Park and Redwood City, which have much higher rates of existing ridership and where denser land uses are projected to generate higher levels of demand for future rail service.