Atherton Continues To Thwart Progress
Last week’s big news was that the Caltrain electrification contracts were officially approved, with completion expected by 2020.
That is, unless Atherton gets its way and stops the whole thing:
Officials in this wealthy Bay Area enclave will decide by early next week if they’ll seek a restraining order to stop Caltrain from going ahead with $1.25 billion in contracts for bringing electric train service to the Peninsula….
Atherton officials contend that Caltrain has not addressed physical and aesthetic impacts of building an electric train system that will run through the community. Electrical towers will require removal of at least 200 trees, Conners said. And because the system is also intended as a step toward high-speed rail — the California High-Speed Rail Authority has committed to $113 million in funding — Atherton officials anticipate future train-related issues.
“High-speed rail has even more impacts because of the speeds at which it goes through communities,” Conners said.
The city will decide by early next week whether to ask a judge for a temporary restraining order to prevent Caltrain from proceeding with the contracts until the dispute over the environmental impact report is resolved, he said.
Caltrain service is bursting at the seams, and so is traffic on Highway 101. Electrification is necessary to add capacity and better service. Atherton, one of the richest cities in North America, is happy to delay or stop those improvements just because of their aesthetic concerns.
If you needed further evidence that reforming the California Environmental Quality Act is needed to stop cities from being able to do things like this, well, here you go.
You probably didn’t need further evidence that Atherton doesn’t care about traffic or climate or jobs and the economy. You also probably didn’t need further evidence that they’re hypocrites, but here you go:
Atherton’s quiet zone, an area a quarter-mile on each side of the Fair Oaks crossing, went into effect on Monday, June 13. The quiet zone is the first in the Caltrain corridor, and many other cities are looking to see what happens in Atherton before they try to do the same.
Residents and town employees say the quiet zone has made a huge difference in the amount of train noise.
But when, a few days after the quiet zone had gone into effect, town officials pointed out to Caltrain that some train horns were still sounding in the quiet zone, the response was not what the town wanted to hear. Loopholes in the law, Caltrain said, mean its train operators are still allowed to sound their horns in much of the quiet zone….
Caltrain spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew said on June 17 that despite the quiet zone, “Caltrain engineers can still sound the horn through the Atherton station.” The station is next to the crossing inside the quiet zone.
The reason, Ms. Bartholomew said, is that “the Atherton train station includes five pedestrian crossings that require all Caltrain trains to sound horns as they transition the station.”
You know what would solve this? Grade separation. Put the tracks above or below the street, and that also gives pedestrians a way to cross the tracks without actually walking directly on the rails. No people or cars crossing over the rails means no horns.
But Atherton and its neighboring communities have spent ten years fighting to stop any kind of grade separation, unless it’s a long tunnel that someone else pays for.
None of this makes any sense. But maybe it’s not supposed to. It’s possible that Atherton, a town that exists because of the railroad, would prefer that railroad simply not exist. That won’t happen, of course. Let’s hope Atherton makes the right decision and supports, rather than opposes, Caltrain electrification.