Caltrain’s plan to permanently close the Atherton station appears to have the support of many, but some feel the town is getting a raw deal.

“The benefit of station closure accrues rather more to Caltrain than it does to Atherton,” said a resident who identified himself only as John during a virtual town hall Wednesday.

Caltrain officials are proposing to close the station in part because a roughly $30 million renovation would be necessary before electrification debuts in 2022. Officials feel that money could be put to better use considering how few people use the station: since weekday service was eliminated in 2005 an average of just 114 people used the station each weekend day. Prior to 2005, an average of 122 passengers used the station daily. That’s significantly fewer passengers than use the nearby stations at Redwood City and Menlo Park.

Most of the speakers during the meeting seemed to agree with Caltrain’s reasoning.

“Please close the station to save taxpayers $30 million plus, the amount of money Caltrain says is necessary to upgrade this little used and antiquated station,” said Narissa, who did not provide her last name.

But John suggested Caltrain, rather than a lack of interest in taking the train, is to blame for the minimal use of the station.

“It’s been clear for years that Caltrain wanted to close or at least reduce and now eliminate service here,” he said. “As a result of actions taken the ridership here has decreased and that decrease in ridership has then been used a justification for further reduction in service.”

According to Caltrain, benefits of closing the station include being able to reallocate service to adjacent stations where denser land uses and improved travel times could generate 300 to 500 additional daily riders.

There would also be financial savings due to reduced operating and maintenance costs in addition to avoiding the requisite station upgrades, noise reduction and improved safety, and the potential for the town to integrate the station property into its Civic Center redevelopment project, Caltrain said.

Atherton’s town council in January tentatively agreed to the shutdown of the station subject to a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, with the railroad’s Board of Directors.

Potential elements of the MOU include a commitment by Caltrain to fund and implement various improvements, including the installation of quad gates at Watkins Avenue to improve crossing safety.

Further improvements, including joining Atherton in creating a bicycle and pedestrian path from the town’s station site to the Menlo Park one could also be included in the MOU.  

One speaker described the proposed arrangement as a “win-win” while John wants to see Caltrain fund and implement the above improvements and others “rapidly” if the station closes.

Another resident, Michael Dudley, blamed Caltrain for depriving the town of service and now eliminating it altogether without offering anything meaningful in exchange.

“We’re making a big mistake here, we’re not being treated fairly and I’m very disappointed,” he said.

The Caltrain board will discuss the fate of the Atherton station at its meeting Aug. 6.

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