Home News Train riders rally against closure of Amtrak in Antioch

Train riders rally against closure of Amtrak in Antioch


ANTIOCH  — Community members this week had a few choice words for Amtrak, which they chanted again and again: “Don’t drop the stop! Don’t drop the stop!”

With Antioch’s downtown train platform slated to close next year in favor of an Oakley stop, a group of residents and activists on Wednesday afternoon urged leaders to do whatever it takes to keep it open.

“This is really important to us because our community relies on this transportation to get to and from everywhere,” Tachina Garrett, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Action chair, told the dozens gathered near the platform. “This is not a low-income problem. This is a problem for the community; this train services veterans, senior citizens, students, youth and working families.”

Speakers at the afternoon rally, organized by Antioch ACCE Action members, said the trains provide a vital service for area residents, and they won’t abandon their battle to keep the Antioch platform from being decommissioned.

“If they continue to do this, we’re not going to allow it,” Eddie Gums of ACCE Action said. “We’re going to have to actively protest, we’re going to actively do everything it takes to make this train station stay.”

Antioch residents David and Diane Stertzbach board an eastbound train at the Pittsburg/Antioch Amtrak Station, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority is considering closing the station. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
Antioch residents David and Diane Stertzbach board an eastbound train at the Pittsburg/Antioch Amtrak Station, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority is considering closing the station. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group) 

Within minutes, the rally was interrupted by the blaring sound of an Amtrak horn signaling a train was about to pull in. Among those waiting were retirees David and Diane Stertzbach about to board the train to Bakersfield to visit their son and family. Sterzbach said she prefers riding the trains and that her children and grandchildren use them too to visit her and her husband.

“Pay attention to the people that are getting onto this train that is coming,” Garrett said. “This is not a dead stop. People are still taking this train.”

Resident Rufino Ramo agreed, saying it would be devastating for him to lose the Antioch stop.

“This station was here way before they (Oakley’s station) was and we want it to stay here and we’re not going to walk away from this,” he said.

“And, we also want the station that was here, we want it back,” he said, referring to the un-staffed building and shelter that were demolished in 2019 after an unhoused person was found camping on its roof.

The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority board, which oversees the intercity passenger rail service between Oakland and Bakersfield, voted last spring to decommission the unstaffed Antioch stop in favor of nearby Oakley, set to begin construction on a new train platform and parking lot in October.

No reason was given for eliminating the Antioch stop, but a railway spokesman said on Wednesday that talks began back in 2017, with safety concerns about unhoused residents living at the site, fare evasion and vandalism.

“These concerns were brought to the attention of the city, and the decision was made to close the station,” David Lipari, a San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission spokesman, said in an email.

As for the possibility of keeping both stations open, Lipari said that “the current service plan, railroad agreement, and infrastructure available does not allow for both stations to remain open.” The new station will be less than six miles from the Antioch stop, a distance that disqualifies having both stations due to  the inability to get the trains up to speed before they have to slow down again for a stop, according to officials.

But Lipari added that the SJJPA’s longer-term plans call for “the reintroduction of the Antioch Station with anticipation of a solution being found to operate both stations.” He did not, however, give a timeline.

The elimination of the stop didn’t sit well with Antioch Mayor Lamar Hernandez-Thorpe who was the lone dissenting vote and said at the time that he was “blindsided,” calling the move “unfair.” He also noted that while authorities said the area was unsafe, it has since been cleaned up.

Melvin Willis, a Richmond City councilman who also works with the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment for Contra Costa County, also questioned how the move was approved with little or nor community input. Happening near the tail end of pandemic shut-downs, the proposal to decomission Antioch’s station sailed through with many unaware it was up for a vote, he said.

“If you’re going to make a big decision like this, you want to make sure of the impact and the surrounding community is informed and has every opportunity to get input on the decision,” he said, calling for authorities to re-evaluate their decision.

“They may have already made that decision, but it was a decision that wasn’t made with the most integrity or wasn’t made with honor; it didn’t include community,” he said. “That decision has to be reevaluated and impact analysis needs to happen.”

Willis then urged residents to attend the next San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority meeting, which will be from 10 a.m. to noon on July 19 on Zoom or in person at 949 Channel St., Stockton.

Check back for updates.

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