Atherton Caltrain station to close permanently

SAN JOSE, CA - MARCH 27: CalTrain passengers make their way to the station in San Francisco. In the final days of the Obama administration, the Transportation Department agreed to spend more than $700 million on an electrification upgrade to the comm

The Caltrain Board of Directors on Thursday approved closure of Atherton's Caltrain station and elimination of its weekend service, possibly beginning in December.

The board, known as the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, comprises representatives from the three counties that Caltrain serves: San Mateo, Santa Clara and San Francisco counties. 

The Atherton station closure is estimated for Dec. 1 with completion by February 2021, according to documents in Thursday's agenda packet.

Caltrain Deputy Chief of Planning Sebastian Petty shared some of the benefits of the closure during a presentation to the board.

Petty said providing high-quality service to the many Caltrain stations can become "a zero-sum game." Caltrain serves dozens of stations from Gilroy to San Francisco.

Atherton's station switched to weekend-only service in 2005 due to delays and low ridership. At the time, the Caltrain board committed to restore weekday service following the electrification of the Caltrain corridor. However, in late 2019 the town council and Caltrain staff discussed potentially closing the station instead.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the station's ridership averaged 114 riders per weekend day, a fraction of the ridership numbers in neighboring stations. Pre-COVID-19, the Redwood City station (about 2.4 miles north of Atherton) saw 523 riders per day on weekends and 4,220 riders per weekday. 

Instead of trying to restore weekday service, closing Atherton's station would save costs. Resources could be allocated to the Redwood City or Menlo Park stations, where denser land use and improved travel times could increase ridership.

The Atherton station also has an older "center-boarding" configuration that limits operations. Northbound and southbound trains cannot be boarded at the same time - one must "hold out" while the other is boarding. Rebuilding the station to remove the holdout rule was previously estimated to cost over $30 million, a cost the closure would eliminate.

Atherton's town council voted Oct. 26 to move forward with the closure, pending agreement from the Caltrain board to secure funding.

The board on Thursday executed those agreements with the city to specify terms of the closure. For instance, the town would assume responsibility for maintaining and landscaping the station area.

The board is responsible for aspects such as funding and implementing the closure process, which involves removal of the center boarding platform, installation of a new right-of-way fence and installation of quad gates at Watkins Avenue to improve crossing safety.

The board also adopted an environmental impact report, concluding that the closure would not have any substantial environmental impacts. An equity analysis found that the closure would not disproportionately impact minority or low-income populations.

To view the agenda packet containing documents from Thursday's meeting, click here.