Atherton officials vow to fight high-speed rail
- Published Monday, May 5, 2003, in the Palo Alto Daily News
Affluent town vows to fight plans for high-speed rail line
By Nina Wu
Daily News Staff Writer
If they build it, Atherton town officials vow that they will fight
Plans for a high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles,
which would make use of the Caltrain right-of-way between San
Francisco and San Jose, poses a threat not only to the town's peace,
but to its integrity, council members said at a recent
transportation committee meeting.
"My hunch is we're in for a future fight," council member Alan
Carlson <acarlson@...> said during the town's regular
Although the reality of the high-speed train may still be another 20
years away, it alarms Atherton's leaders because the tracks would be
too close to residential properties for comfort -- and it might
cleave the town in two. That, in turn, might lead to violations of
police and fire codes.
In a presentation to Atherton town officials on April 8, Caltrain
spokesman Darrell Maxey revealed the transit system's plans,
complete with aerial maps and diagrams.
In order to accommodate the high-speed train service, Caltrain would
need to build two additional tracks in Atherton to meet the required
four tracks along the corridor as well as grade-level separations at
But the town does not want grade separations -- meaning an overpass
or underpass or combination of the two -- breaking up the town. The
other option is to make the roads a dead end at the train station,
"If you look at the amount of room needed for grade separations, how
could some people get into their driveways or enter the park at Fair
Oaks?" Carlson told the Daily News.
"My fear is that because of the expenses involved and the physical
nature of the surroundings, closing those crossings would cut one-
third of Atherton from the other two-thirds."
Carlson said that four tracks would need a minimum width of 65 feet
to accommodate them -- and that would mean the train stations would
be within 7-1/2 feet of several Atherton residences.
A different grade
Maxey said the federal government is pushing for grade-level
separations at all train stations. Grade-level separations are
supposed to reduce noise and traffic congestion and increase
pedestrian safety. He added that Atherton has plenty of room to
accommodate four tracks.
"California's going to be growing in population and economy," Maxey
said. "There is a need for transportation 20 years from now to
answer the question of how everyone is going to get from San
Francisco to Los Angeles. On the Peninsula, the goal is to get
people out of their cars and to provide them with a viable
At the Atherton station, Caltrain plans to replace the center
platform with outboard platforms and install a central fence and
pedestrian gates at Fair Oaks. Construction would begin sometime in
the summer or fall of 2004.
The other question is how much it would cost. When Carlson mentioned
to Caltrain that the town didn't have enough to pay for the required
changes, he said Caltrain's response was: "We'll find the money for
Not only would the new high-speed service ruin the town's
aesthetics, Vice Mayor Kathy McKeithen said, it would increase
pollution, considering that diesel freight trains use Caltrain's
"It's something we will monitor and report back on," McKeithen
<kmckeithen@...> said. "These plans are somebody's
Eyes on Menlo Park
Council members are keeping a close eye on what its neighboring
town, Menlo Park, decides to do. Menlo Park considered grade
separations 10 years ago and rejected the idea, but is now
Palo Alto has grade separations at University Avenue, Embarcadero
Road and the Oregon Expressway.
Despite a 15 percent decline in ridership, Caltrain plans to improve
its services in upcoming years with more trains, faster trains,
additional tracks, improved stations and a Baby Bullet express from
San Francisco to San Jose. The Baby Bullet train, which will have
possible stops at Mountain View, Palo Alto and Millbrae, is slated
to be operational by 2004.
Atherton town officials are not as concerned about the Baby Bullet
train because it will not require additional tracks or grade
separations. But they'll be watching.
"We want to be prepared," Carlson said. "We want to be aware of the
impacts and hopefully be able to mitigate any impacts on the town."
[BATN: Related items: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/11561
High Speed Rail Authority: http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov
Atherton City Council: http://www.ci.atherton.ca.us/council.html ]