Atherton Rail Committee recommends restoring weekday train service | February 13, 2019 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

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News - February 13, 2019

Atherton Rail Committee recommends restoring weekday train service

by Angela Swartz

In a split vote, the Atherton Rail Committee recommended 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 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 either: 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 as it prepares to electrify the rail service 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 Parks 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.

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