News - March 30, 2011

Planner envisions alternative future for Bay Area rail travel

by Dave Boyce

There are rumors of electric trains coming to San Mateo County. If high-speed trains someday travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and if their route includes the Peninsula, and if the Caltrain tracks are then electrified, then electric trains will run through Atherton and Menlo Park.

A consultant to the town of Portola Valley is proposing an alternative plan to bring electric and high-speed trains to the Bay Area, including Atherton and Menlo Park.

Electric trains could have been here long ago. In the late 1950s, San Mateo County was one of five counties in the San Francisco Bay Area Transit District. The district could assess taxes and issue bonds and had a round-the-Bay light-rail system planned, according to a history at the website of Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART).

The plan derailed, according to the BART account, because San Mateo County supervisors were "cool to the plan." They chose to exit the district in December 1961, citing the proposed system's "high costs" and the "adequate service" from Southern Pacific commuter trains, now Caltrain.

George Mader, who retired in 2010 after 45 years as Portola Valley's town planner, has another angle. The "cool to the plan" characters were two men of influence, he said in a March 11 letter to Portola Valley Mayor Ted Driscoll.

The "major problems," Mr. Mader said, were T. Louis Chess, who chaired the county Board of Supervisors and worked for Southern Pacific Railway, and David D. Bohannon, a "major player" in the county and the developer of the then-new Hillsdale Shopping Center.

Mr. Bohannon claimed that BART would take shoppers away from Hillsdale and into San Francisco, Mr. Mader said, adding that "shopping was rather good (in San Francisco) at the time." For his part, Mr. Chess was protecting Southern Pacific, Mr. Mader said. And the county voters would have had to decide on whether to join BART.

"These short-sighted and selfish people did not let the residents vote," Mr. Mader said. "A travesty!"

As for high-speed rail today, Mr. Mader suggests "a much better solution" to the route controversy: Stop it at San Jose and extend BART around the Bay using the money that would have been spent on the South Bay and Peninsula sections of a high-speed rail line.


Posted by Dick Klick, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 29, 2011 at 8:52 pm

So what's new ?

Posted by old timer, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 30, 2011 at 9:03 am

The biggest reason BART didn't come to the Peninsula, was that residents here saw no reason why they should have to pay for the huge infrastructure costs that were involved with San Francisco, across the Bay , Berkeley. If it had ever reached the ballot, it would have failed.

The Bohannon family, then just as now, has only its own selfish interests at heart, and they were certainly a factor.

Old time BART fanatics still keep trying to encircle the Bay. The latest "boondoggle" they are building may well bankrupt the operation by the time it is finished and realized their projections are so far out of line.

You want to completely degrade the quality of life on the Peninsula, just let BART (or HSR) in, and witness the results.

Posted by no need for BART, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Mar 30, 2011 at 10:48 am

Caltrain works great for our town, at least as long as we have a station.
BART would take a lot longer to get to San Francisco. It doesn't support us at all well to get to and from SFO, now that we have to change trains in addition to both Caltrain and skytrain to do so.

The real question is why are we in southern San Mateo County still paying into the BART fund? How could we move these payments to Caltrain? BART has ignored us consistently over the years. Why support it?

Posted by Mikeorama, a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2011 at 8:53 am

Umm, where is the rest of this article? The headline promises that a "planner has an alternate future for Bay Area rail travel," then the article provides a sketchy and incomplete recap of San Mateo County's rejection of BART. Only the brief offhand comment about stopping HSR in San Jose and building BART around the Bay alludes to a plan for the future. Does Mr. Mahder really have a plan that he and Portola Valley are promoting, or did he just happen to make an offhand comment, about an unresearched notion, while chatting with the reporter about ancient history?

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