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Bellarmine boys protest College Park Caltrain station closure

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  • 4/8 Gilroy Dispatch
    Published Friday, April 8, 2005, in the Gilroy Dispatch Students protest closure By Matt King Mentioned in works by Jack London and Jack Kerouac, the College
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 8, 2005
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      Published Friday, April 8, 2005, in the Gilroy Dispatch

      Students protest closure

      By Matt King

      Mentioned in works by Jack London and Jack Kerouac, the College Park
      rail station in San Jose occupies a small place in literary history.
      But neither of those writers ever knew about Caltrain, and trains
      don't run on nostalgia.

      More than 100 years after it opened, the College Park station is
      about to close because it doesn't figure in to Caltrain's plans to
      rescue itself from severe budget shortages. Caltrain staffers have
      concluded that express trains are the way back to fiscal stability
      and College Park is in the way.

      The station is one of four that Caltrain has threatened with
      extinction, but the only one located across the street from
      Bellarmine College Preparatory school and a large group of
      administrators, parents and students determined to keep the station
      open. College Park might not have the most riders, they say, but it
      does exactly what public transit is meant to do -- serve a community
      and keep people out of their cars.

      "It's a matter of what Santa Clara County is trying to accomplish
      and how Caltrain fits into that," said Jan Johnson, a Gilroy mother
      of two Bellarmine students who commute on Caltrain. "If you really
      want transit that serves a community, there's no better example
      than Bellarmine. The impact on the neighborhood if you take the
      train away is going to be huge."

      Estimates on the number of riders who regularly disembark at College
      Park range from 200 to 300, almost all of whom are Bellarmine
      students and staff. According to Bellarmine controller Thomas
      Gorndt, about 100 of those riders come from South County.

      "Bellarmine has been there for 80 years and the property was
      purchased because of access to the railroad," Gorndt said.

      Parents say that without Caltrain many South County students could
      not attend Bellarmine. They say the system's low cost helps lower-
      income scholarship students get to school, teaches students to
      respect the environment and is the only safe and reliable way for
      students to make to it school on time.

      Norma Luvergnani's sophomore son, Diego, takes the train most days
      from South County to Bellarmine. Luvergnani said that having that
      option played a huge role in sending her son to the school.

      "What was important about Bellarmine was not just a good education,
      but affordable transportation," she said. "Many kids who can not
      afford to go to Bellarmine can get financial aid, but if you take
      away the affordable transportation, people will not even apply."

      And for students, the 53-minute trek from Gilroy to College Park is
      a chance to study, sleep, hang out with their friends and look at
      girls.

      "When I drive, I can't relax on the way to school. Being in traffic
      is just stressful in itself," Gilroy junior Andrew Gutierrez said.
      "If I have a big test, I can study on the train."

      Gutierrez's freshman brother Stephen said his commute is the one
      time during his day that he can really socialize with his
      classmates. "It's important to be with your friends," he said.

      But as the period for the public to comment on a series of proposed
      changes to Caltrain service -- including closing four stations,
      running fewer trains to Gilroy and raising fares 17.5 percent --
      Caltrain staff was unmoved by Bellarmine's arguments.

      Caltrain Spokeswoman Jayme Kunz said she agrees that serving
      communities is the ideal of transit systems, but College Park can
      simply not attract the number of riders Caltrain needs to balance
      its budget.

      "We want to serve the greatest number of people possible," Kunz
      said. "This is a system-wide issue. We are trying to save Caltrain.
      The only way we're going to do that is offer faster service."

      In addition to the fare increase, the key to Caltrain's plan is to
      offer several more of the profitable "baby bullet" commuter trains
      to San Francisco and replace some local service with express trains.
      Caltrain staff believes doing so will bring in an additional $2.5
      million in annual revenue. The fare increase will add $3.4 million
      to Caltrain coffers. The agency is scrambling to close a budget gap
      of at least $13.6 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

      Kunz said the College Park station interferes with express trains
      because northbound passengers must cross the southbound tracks to
      get on. That forces other trains to idle outside the station.
      Kunz said the agency can't afford the $7 million it would take to
      refurbish the station and make safety improvements.

      Whether or not the station closes or is able to maintain enough
      service for Bellarmine students is ultimately up to the agency's
      board of directors, which comprises three representatives from San
      Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties. The station has at
      least two supporters. Both Santa Clara County Supervisor Don Gage
      and San Jose City Councilman Ken Yeager, whose district includes
      Bellarmine, have voiced strong support for the College Park station.

      "I don't know if we'll be able to keep it open," Yeager said
      Thursday. "I think all three members from Santa Clara County are in
      support of keeping the station open, but I don't have a sense of the
      other six. I'm absolutely in favor. I think the ridership warrants
      it, and I think there are better ways to save money than by closing
      stations."

      Kunz suggested that if the station closes, Bellarmine students can
      easily ride the train to San Jose Diridon Station and catch a bus to
      Bellarmine, but parents and students say that trip takes too long
      and isn't as safe as Caltrain. The only good way to get to school,
      they say, is a Caltrain trip that ends in College Park.

      "We want to fight this battle because in the future other young kids
      will need this opportunity," Luvergnani said. "We're doing this for
      the next generation."

      In addition to College Park, Caltrain is considering closing
      Atherton, Broadway in Burlingame and Paul Avenue in San Francisco.
      A final decision on all changes is expected on April 22.

      Who to contact

      To comment on any of Caltrain's proposed changes, e-mail the board
      of directors:

      Caltrain changes@...

      Jim Hartnett jhartnett@...
      John Mclemore jlmclemore@...
      Ken Yeager district6@...
      Don Gage don.gage@...-clara.ca.us
      Sophie Maxwell sophie.maxwell@...
      Michael Burns michael_burns@...
      Jose Cisneros treasurer.taxcollector@...

      Matt King covers Santa Clara County for The Dispatch. He can be
      reached at 408-847-7240 or mking@...
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