Amtrak passengers no longer have to leap onto commuter trains at Berkeley’s rail stop.
On Saturday Berkeley opened its new rail platform at Third Street and University Avenue, giving passengers easy access to Amtrak trains.
Since Berkeley lost its train station more than 30 years ago, the waiting area had consisted of two benches on a dimly lit street with no rain shelter other than the University Avenue overpass. Passengers had to board trains from the street-level track, a nearly impossible task for wheelchair users.
“We were the worst stop on the line,” said Berkeley Redevelopment Manager Iris Starr, who managed the $2.4 million project.
Besides a new platform, the new rail-stop renovation also includes trees, benches, lighting and a hub for AC Transit’s 51 bus that will serve the station. A rain shelter is nearly finished, and the Civic Arts Commission is deciding on a public art installation for the platform, Starr added.
Amtrak makes 18 stops a day in Berkeley, serving about 80 passengers along its Capital Corridor line from San Jose through Sacramento, according to Starr. She said the city hoped the new platform would convince Amtrak to add Berkeley as a stop to the San Joaquin line that goes through Stockton on its way to Bakersfield.
Amtrak spokesperson Vernae Graham said the rail agency would consider restoring a Berkeley stop to the line. Amtrak removed the stop several years ago because of a lack of ridership in Berkeley, she said.
Graham said Amtrak had no plans to rebuild a full-service train station in Berkeley. Most stations outside the northeast are owned by cities or private owners, she said.
A new platform had been the top priority for Berkeley’s Redevelopment Agency. The agency received just over $1 million in federal and state grants through Caltrans for the $2.4 million project.
Along with the new platform, the city is installing six 10-hour parking meters for commuters, Starr said. Unlike many other train stations in the state, there is no free parking available at the Berkeley stop.
In 1971, the Southern Pacific Railroad sold the Berkeley train station, which later became a Chinese restaurant, according to Phil Gale of the Berkeley Historical Society. That same year, he said, Amtrak, which took over Southern Pacific’s routes, stopped train service in Berkeley.
In the 1980s, Amtrak reopened the Berkeley stop for its Capitol Corridor line.
The original train station, designated a structure of merit by the city Landmarks Preservation Commission, might become the new home of Brennan’s Restaurant, which is being forced from its home on Fourth Street to make way for a condominium project.