21 April 2009

Regulatory Vacuum

Preliminary design for the California High Speed Rail project is proceeding in the absence of key regulations from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and numerous other agencies. While high speed rail is a very mature technology, it is still foreign and exotic in the United States, and our regulatory agencies do not yet have an effective or complete regulatory framework in place to direct the development of high speed track and trains. The regulatory vacuum is already causing some strange and potentially regrettable design decisions to be made, with negative consequences for the peninsula corridor.

Platform Heights

The side clearance dimensions around passenger rail platforms in California are regulated by the CPUC under General Order No. 26, originally issued in 1948, covering every relevant railroad situation from stock chutes to icing refrigerator cars. Where freight trains share tracks with passenger trains, as they do on the peninsula corridor, G.O. 26 limits passenger platforms to a height no more than 8 inches (203 mm) above the top of the rails (ATOR) to allow trainmen to ride on the side of freight cars without fear of getting clipped. Of course, none of these olde-tyme railroad practices are very relevant to 21st century rail technology.

Nevertheless, 8 inches is the maximum height of all existing Caltrain platforms. Taller platforms are allowed, but only beyond 7 feet 6 inches (2.3 m) from the track center line; in other words, taller platforms are only allowed if they do not come closer than about 3 feet from the side of a train. A lot of good that does for passengers! Combine G.O. 26 with ADA accessibility requirements, and you get a ghastly regulatory abortion called a "mini high platform" (see figure at right), to facilitate wheel chair boarding using a so-called "bridge plate" manually placed across the yawning moat between the high platform and the train. Mini-high platforms continue to sprout up and down the Caltrain line, most recently in Redwood City and Menlo Park, while elsewhere in the world, humans have discovered level boarding.

Of course, the regulatory rigors of accommodating freight trains are not anywhere on the CHSRA's radar screen, which is why they are planning for level boarding platforms regardless of where Caltrain eventually ends up--one can only hope, higher than eight inches. At stations to be served by both HSR and Caltrain, namely San Francisco, Millbrae, Redwood City or Palo Alto, and San Jose, it is quite possible that we will end up with different, incompatible platform heights with station tracks forever assigned to one or the other type of train. This runs counter to the most basic principles of interoperation, where the flexibility to assign any train to any platform (in a pinch) is paramount.

Moving beyond MOUs, who will bring about amended regulations to ensure that we have a common platform standard for HSR and Caltrain?

Who will make sure this standard allows the off-the-shelf procurement of new trains, without costly redesign? A hint: the most relevant platform heights are 22 inches (550 mm) and 30 inches (760 mm).

Why is Caltrain apparently not vigorously pursuing a waiver of G.O. 26?

High Voltage Electrification

Like platform clearances, overhead electrification of railroads is regulated by the CPUC. General Order 95 specifies the rules governing overhead electric line construction in California. Garden-variety 25 kilovolt overhead electrified railways do not exist in California, and G.O. 95 therefore does not allow them. That's right: 25 kV electrification is currently illegal in California. Caltrain has long-standing plans to electrify the peninsula corridor, and had been pursuing new regulations with the CPUC to cover 25 kV trains. More recently, the approach appears to have shifted towards obtaining a waiver from G.O. 95 instead.

Whatever happens, why is the heavy lifting for high speed rail being left to Caltrain? Moving beyond MOUs, where is the coordinated approach with HSR?

Safety and Train Control

Railroad safety in the United States is regulated by the FRA in a manner that places a premium on crash survival over crash avoidance. That's why we still have the 19th-century practice of train engineers calling signal aspects to their conductor (unless texting on their cell phone), with few if any automated systems to catch human errors. This safety philosophy is well-suited to the cost structure of the heavy freight rail business that dominates our landscape. On the opposite end of the spectrum, high speed rail safety relies almost entirely on avoiding a crash in the first place--not unlike airliners. In Europe, high speed trains zoom through dense fog at nearly 200 mph, with a train control computer watching over the driver's every move. Both philosophies achieve the intended level of safety, but what is supposed to happen when you need to mix both types of traffic on the same corridor, as is planned on the peninsula?

To their great credit, Caltrain is taking the national lead on the issue of mixed traffic regulations, as part of their plan to operate European-style passenger trains that are considered "non-compliant" with existing FRA safety regulations. As of September 2008, Caltrain staff estimated the likelihood of obtaining regulatory relief to be closing on 90 percent. That's very encouraging.

Caltrain's safety concept includes a radio-based positive train control system to be installed on the peninsula when the corridor is electrified, known internally as CBOSS (Communications-Based Overlay Signal System). This raises a host of questions, again moving beyond generic MOUs:

Why is Caltrain specifying CBOSS as a wireless system, excluding an entire segment of the wired train control market?

Is CBOSS an expensive re-invention of the wheel, where existing train control systems such as the Japanese Digital ATC and the European ETCS Level II might plug-and-play?

Why is Caltrain moving ahead with a solicitation this year, fueled by $500k in federal funds earmarked by congresswomen Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo, for implementation in the next couple of years--before HSR train control requirements are fully defined?

Why should Caltrain be taking the lead on this critical technology issue, when the standard they develop will need to be applied California-wide to the entire HSR system and likely other HSR corridor traffic such as Metrolink, Union Pacific and BNSF?

Doing It Right

Sometimes, doing it right means stopping and charting a new course. One of the fundamental principles of good systems engineering is that you must develop a complete and concise set of design requirements before you dive into the detailed design of station platforms, overhead electrification or complex train control systems. Caltrain does not seem to have fully absorbed the extent to which HSR alters the requirements of nearly every improvement project in their pipeline. Preliminary design activity on all the above items should be slowed and resources re-allocated towards bringing the technical requirements and regulatory framework into better focus. The successful integration of HSR and Caltrain on the peninsula corridor depends on it!


  1. First of all there is no such thing as "CBOSS". There exist multiple "Communication Based Overlay Signal Systems", of which ETCS Level 3 will be an example (Level 2 is sort of halfway there, as it still relies on track circuits and axle counters for train location). I personally don't see the requirement for it being "Communication Based" as things like ACSES and Digital ATC seem to work just fine, whereas ETCS Level 2 has had many problems, and ETCS Level 3 doesn't even exist yet. Oh and I think it's worth mentioning that neither 550 nor 760 mm platforms provide level boarding for HSR trains like the ICE 3. They still require a step (or two or three) up into the train. Also, in the east, trains use 48 inch high platforms just fine. Oh and the "antiquated 19th century practice" of signal calling is still practiced in Japan, at least on lines with conventional signals rather than ATC, so there must be something to it.

    As for the whole interagency cooperation issue, I think the problem is that until November, HSR was just an idea with no money behind it, and even now, it's just an idea with no designs or even requirements that they can give Caltrain for things like platform heights or control systems or anything really. It's up to HSRA to get their act together and give Caltrain some requirements so that they can start working on solutions. It's not reasonable to expect Caltrain to put all their proposed improvements on hold until HSRA figures out what they want, because that could take somewhere between a couple of years and forever.

  2. Thanks, Clem. That is a very useful discussion. A lot of stuff of which I was unaware. Acardy’s point is also well taken. HSR has been all promotional rhetoric, little substance. Now that reality has to set in, let’s see if a group of politicians can put a rail system together.

    Here is a point I wish to raise for consideration: The MOU between the JPB and HSR is that the latter provides funding (our tax dollars at work) to build all the grade separations (whatever form that may take), electrification, two additional tracks, and a lot of the other stuff, like signaling, etc. It’s not yet clear who pays for stations, but that’s not the issue here. What is the JPB contribution? The rail corridor itself, which they keep saying “they” own. Well, actually, they only administer it for us; we are the real owners since it is public property paid for with our tax dollars. Their nine-member board is representing us very unprofessionally.

    Caltrain/JPB people have told me repeatedly how this is JPB property, they are the “hosts,” and HSR is the “user,” “guest,” or “tenant.”

    HSR will go no other way than on the corridor. They have made that amply clear. We, the corridor owners, are their sole-source provider.
    They need our property to install their profitable business, their train.
    (“Profitable” according to Kopp&Kompany, not me.) OK, we have them over a barrel, so to speak. Why should we let them occupy our property, invest up-front development dollars so that they can operate a profitable business, and after that development cost amortizes over, let’s say, 50 years, they can use this property forever for free? That is a very bad business deal.

  3. Martin - Your proposed plan can be applied to virtually every piece of transportation infrastructure in existence.

    The people of East Palo Alto own the roads that lead to the main US-101 exit to Palo Alto. They have Palo Alto residents over a barrel, so to speak. Why should they let Palo Alto residents occupy their roads for free? Not setting up a toll booth to collect money from every person exiting 101 towards Palo Alto is a very bad business deal.

    The people of Menlo Park own the road that leads to your house. They have you over a barrel, so to speak. Why should they let you use these roads for free? Not charging you your maximum willingness to pay to use that road is a very, very bad business deal.

    Actually, I have no problem with charging CHSRA market rates to use the JPB corridor land, as long as the principle is applied fairly and universally. For example, we should also charge SFO several hundred million dollars per year for its use of several billion dollars of public land that it currently gets for free. We need to charge every driver on the Peninsula 50 cents/mile driven (equal to a gas tax of about $10/gallon) to recover the cost of the thousands and thousands of acres of public land that are currently allocated to roads totally free.

    Under that market-based system, all forms of transport will be competing on equal grounds, and I'm sure that HSR and Caltrain would do quite well, even with no public subsidy.

  4. @arcady: find me a reference to CBOSS outside of the Caltrain realm.

    Regarding ETCS, it seems that a lot of the teething troubles have been overcome, after an admittedly rocky start. Fresh installations (e.g. LGV Est) don't seem to have made the headlines.

    I should also have mentioned BART's experience with trying to develop fancy train control technology. Their AATC (Advanced Automatic Train Control) project was a miserable failure, with $80 million flushed down the toilet and nothing to show for it. It all ended with lawsuits, going to trial later this year. A nice example of how NOT to do it.

  5. Clem: other people call it CBTC (Communication Based Train Control), and Caltrain intends to use it as an overlay on their existing signal system. As a generic term, it can be used to describe things like the SelTrac installation on the KCR East Rail in Hong Kong, where the commuter rail trains use the ATC system and the freight/intercity trains use the old British-style 4 aspect block signals. As for BART's experience with AATC, that has been more or less universal with the new generation of radio-based systems, especially in subways. Turns out that radio signals don't propagate very well or even tunnels. Especially WiFi signals (which is what is oftne used for these things). ETCS is a bit different, in that it uses GSM cell phone technology. ETCS Level 2 isn't exactly an advanced system though: it's still fixed block and roughly the equivalent of taking out the lights from all the Caltrain signals and replacing them with cell phone transmitters that talk to the trains. It provides no benefits over Amtrak's ACSES, and many potential problems, including security problems.

  6. Looking through the GO-95 document.. where in the document would one look.

    Any idea why its been illegal in California up to now? Are there public safety issues? What are they (or what were they) concerned about when they wrote these rules? Are the safety concerns obsolete now? (Or are they obsolute because we want to build an electric train here?)

    Also I noticed there are clearances above and to the sides of swimming pools required for other types of overhead electrical. What might be the clearances required for 25kV and wouldn't that create some eminent domain considerations (especially since the concept is to put the outer tracks right up agains the outside edge of the ROW, in some neighborhoods where the ROW is narrow.

  7. @arcady: thanks for the insight. I have to admit I'm in a bit of an information vacuum (the curse of the blogger?) concerning CBOSS. I sure would appreciate someone shining some more light on Caltrain's intentions.

    @resident: GO95 covers all electric power lines, not just trains. 25kV catenary is illegal by default because it simply isn't covered.

  8. So the $50M San Jose redesign is going to continue to have low platforms even for HSR?! I was excited that we might see the first HSR ready station within a year or two.

  9. Last I heard, Caltrain was either in the process of getting or had already gotten a GO to cover their electrification. Hopefully they won't mess up too badly in dealing with the particulars of a high voltage overhead contact systems. As for the pools, I don't think it should be too much of a problem unless someone has a pool hard up against the ROW, with the track right up against the fence. Even then, I think they might be able to get away with a solidly grounded metal fence.

    njh: HSRA doesn't even know what floor height they want yet, and the station throat of San Jose is a bottleneck (all moves to tracks 2, 3, 4 have to pass through a single piece of track), and it wouldn't hurt to have more platform space instead of the now abandoned makeshift maintenance facilities. Besides, HSRA wants to build a whole new upper level station for themselves, so the current platforms would be irrelevant.

  10. The AATC BART fiasco was more or less a product of a private company that was later absorbed by GE. When GE bought the company out around 2001-2002 they decided to dump the whole product and also support for the AATC project. Hence the the lawsuit. The lesson is not to wait for others or to put all your eggs in one basket. Want further proof: look at MTC/Translink and ERG. Whoops.

    The freight railroads are leaning on one company called Wabtec to figure PTC out for them. There is an inherent risk if something were to happen to Wabtec but they are pretty solid. More importantly the freight railroads are focused on freight trains and will develop the standard PTC platform and its associated braking algorithms for large freight trains. In the passenger train universe this is not very helpful but at the end of the day it is evolving to be an industry standard.

    25kv electrification is nothing new to the world and even the US (e.g., CT, RI, MA, PA, NJ). When new technology is introduced, the regulations have to be rewritten. In 1948 most rail freight still had steam engines and TV's were a novelty yet the CPUC regulations from over sixty years ago are still on the books. SMART will probably have to sort out this CPUC level boarding issue in the event the choose to use European/Asian diesel multiple unit trains.

    The JPB tracks I guess are the "People's Railroad": People being overmedicated baby boomers...generation X and Y taxpayers need not apply. But in the event I am an owner too this gives me an idea: I will sell you the old Paul Avenue Caltrain station (homeless encampment included) for a hamburger next Tuesday. Do we have a deal? I've got my offshore Nigerian banker on standby.

  11. .... swimming pools.... Rule Rule 54.4-A3b4, page 156 of the document I looked at. 30 feet away from the edge of the pool for 25kv lines.

    25kV catenary is illegal by default because it simply isn't covered.The part about lines above 1500 volts in urban districts implies that they were considering lines above 1500 volts in secure ROWs. Just because it doesn't say 25kV specifically doesn't mean the regulations don't cover it.

    Rule 74.4-F2, page 277 of the document I looked at


  12. A part of the Karlsruhe network of tram-trains has 15kV electrification in a street running section, where they were sure they'd have plenty of electrical clearance and didn't want to build a tiny island of DC electrification just for that little piece of line. I bet CPUC would have a fit if they heard of that, much like they'd have a fit at the way the Sacramento Northern and NWP electrics ran with third rail and grade crossings (and the LIRR and Chicago El still do today).

  13. Reading stuff like this is so depressing. We aren't re-inventing the wheel here.

    I wish we could just buy a Build-your-own-HSR kit from the Japanese. :-)

    OK, thats a joke, but there is a bit of truth there. This stuff is operating all over the world. Can't we just buy the technology off the shelf, engineering standards (platform heights too!), trains and all from the Japanese, or a consortium of companies like Taiwan did?

  14. Alex: there's a difference between a project and a product. A product is just a standard thing you can buy from a store, or maybe from a factory, but you know exactly what you want, you tell it to someone, and they give it to you. High speed rail is not a product, it's a project. First, you need to figure out what exactly you want, then write a set of requirements, and only then can you start shopping around to see if you can buy some existing thing that meets those requirements, or if you need to design a new one. And keep in mind, just buying something straight from Japan or France would bring with it all those stupid little historical quirks that people keep complaining about here. For example, French trains are rather narrow, to fit in the clearances on existing lines, while Japanese trains are wide, because they designed the system completely from scratch, but their trains are so wide that they won't fit on normal US freight lines, which would be a major inconvenience in various ways even without through-running. Or platform heights: in France, the standard platform height is a compromise between the desire to save money on converting old low platforms and the desire to get closer to level boarding. They don't actually have level boarding, though. You have to go up two steps to get into the TGV. And Europe, unlike the US, doesn't have the ADA, which I think has been interpreted to more or less mandate level boarding now.

  15. Further musings on projects: doing a project competently requires a certain level of expertise in engineering and project management, and that expertise takes a while to develop. It's almost guaranteed that mistakes will be made early on: just look at BART, or the construction of the LA Metro. This is why I worry about the HSR being a "big bang" project building a huge system all at once: the mistakes will have much bigger impact than if they confined themselves to a smaller initial segment, or an upgrade of existing lines, or whatever. It's also why I'm worried about HSRA's tiny staff: they simply don't have enough people to deal with the project management, and don't have the in-house expertise to make sure the contractors are doing the right thing.

  16. ...and just to keep us taxpayers safe from harm, they have a panel of bureaucrats for independent oversight!

    What we should further worry about is that the "engineering consultants" get to (a) set the scope of the work and (b) carry out that work. That's a recipe for scope maximization. You can bet this thing will have as much scope as possible, just a shade short of the whole project collapsing under its own financial weight. The true professional skill is going right up to that line without crossing it.

    In the meantime, what incentive do they have (other than professional integrity and the goodness of their hearts) NOT to engineer different platform heights, multi-level stations, all-things-to-all-people train control systems, and to throw a whole lot of fresh technology and concrete at the problem? In other words, where exactly is the incentive to build an effective system?

    It's a better topic for the blog across the street, but maybe there should be a well-funded incentive system for finishing on time, on budget, and especially on spec (2 hours and 40 minutes). That last one is definitely something to worry about.

  17. How was the Shinkansen designed?

  18. What.. You want more state overburdend rules and regulation that will drive up cost? How many more stupid studies and delays do we need for any state project?
    And I keep seeing comments that WE own the Caltrain corridor ..well that includes the County of San Francisco..AND we back HSR.

  19. "In the meantime, what incentive do they have (other than professional integrity and the goodness of their hearts) NOT to engineer different platform heights, multi-level stations, all-things-to-all-people train control systems, and to throw a whole lot of fresh technology and concrete at the problem? In other words, where exactly is the incentive to build an effective system?"

    Its supposed to be the Federal DoT that has the incentive to push for efficiencies at the level of the system as a whole. However, the FRA is an example of regulator capture by the freight railroad, the FAA by the airlines, the FHA by the roadbuilding lobby.

    And when there was an administration that was trying to spend as little on rail as they could get away with, the DoT had much less leverage on system efficiencies.

    Now that the DoT is distributing noticable funds for intercity rail, they can use their funding allocation as well as their regulatory authority to push for system-level efficiencies, by crediting applications that can demonstrate network economies.

    And where people may fight regulatory rule changes ... when there is money on the table, they are sometimes much more willing to change their ways of doing things if needed to get their hands on part of the money.

  20. High Tech Crossings24 April, 2009 10:31

    The lack of oversight is the central problem for CHSRA. Where is the independent auditor? The potential for project overscoping and abuse is evident and could doom the overall project. No incentives exist for an efficient, effective project. For an effective project, PB and HNTB should be on the hook or incur penalties for not meeting a set budget or meeting set performance standards. At the moment, the system looks rigged to lavish funds on consultants and contractors without any accountability for performance.

    Tim Cobb works for HNTB, and Dominic Spaethling works for Parsons Brinckerhoff. Spaethling in particular represents himself as a member of CHSRA, but he actually represents PB, which has its own interests. The interests of the taxpayer-funded CHSRA and the private firm PB are not the same, just as the interests of the federal government and Goldman Sachs are not the same. This should be obvious to all.

  21. arcady said: Japanese trains are wide, because they designed the system completely from scratch, but their trains are so wide that they won't fit on normal US freight lines.Oh no! Does that mean my fantasy of having an N700 series shinkansen running on the California HSR system has been shattered?

    Just look at this picture! It is practically train porn! :-)

  22. arcady said...
    "Also, in the east, trains use 48 inch high platforms just fine."

    This is more like what is considered a high platform in Oz.

    An advantage of a high platform is that it discourages trespass from the platform, which is something to consider when trains will be using a corridor at high speed.

  23. The whole point of selecting steel wheels rather than maglev HSR technology was to use proven, off-the-shelf technology from Japan or Europe.

    CHSRA has had serious financial constraints and has focused its skeleton staff on selecting the consultants that will execute the project-level EIR/EIS work. Oversight is an issue, the eight-member board that is supposed to do - pro bono, btw - is only half staffed.

    My take on the situation is that the Governor should seek a liaison from each of the regulatory agencies at the federal level (principally, the FRA) to be dedicated to California rail projects, at the state of California's expense (prop 1A bonds). This would be similar to paying a company for an engineer on site, e.g. to operate and maintain mission-critical equipment. However, in this case, the objective would be to draw up mission-critical regulations.

    Literally in the same room or across the hall in the same building in Sacramento would be representatives from CPUC, CHSRA, Caltrans Div. of Rail, Caltrain, Metrolink etc. Then put some of the prop 1A money on the table for R&D like computer simulations of crash scenarios, noise analysis, earthquake safety etc. to be performed by universities and/or businesses under consulting contracts.

    With all of the potentially adversarial players working on close proximity, it becomes much easier to invite technical experts from JR, SNCF and others that can bring everyone up to speed on why they do the things they do the way they do them.

    Platform heights are an obvious area in need of updated regulations. It would be very smart indeed to pick a height for which many proven off-the-shelf trainset products are available and then simply mandate that as the new standard for CA. There is essentially zero value in providing multiple choices in this regard.

    Similarly, 25kV AC overhead catenaries should not only be permitted, it should be the only option permitted for heavy rail, except for subways. Otherwise, you end up with the same ugly hodgepodge they have to deal with in Europe and in the NEC.

    As for wireless signaling, I see no reason to futz with that, especially on the Caltrain corridor. Wireline signaling works reliably and the cost differential is peanuts compared to all the grade separations, electrification etc. Pick something that is already known to work in numerous implementations, at any speed, and stick with that.

    There are enough planning, funding and ridership risks in this project. The technical and regulatory risks should be minimized by putting appropriate stakes in the ground as early as possible, i.e. well before the project-level EIR/EIS process wraps up.

  24. Having thought about this and investigated the issue, I think the platform height should be standardized at 48 inches. It's a close match to the floor height that is used by most HSR trainsets, and would be able to provide level boarding for both Caltrain and HSR, and has the added benefit of compatibility with the East Coast systems as well. Alternatively, go with a 550mm platform, which would require wheelchair lifts on the HSR, but provide level boarding for Caltrain bilevels and retain compatibility with Superliners (with a small step down). Those are the only two standards that need to be considered here.

    As for electrification: I don't think there's any need to prohibit or mandate anything, 25kV is in general very standard and convenient such that if someone does build a system with some other voltage, it's only because they have a very, very good reason to do so.

  25. Other questions that need answering:

    1. Will FRA require California's high-tech 224mph TGV's to ring old tyme cowbell at station platforms?

    2. Will passengers have to suffer that idiotic automated message "The doors are closing. Please stand clear of the doors."

    3. Will there be the mandatory horn blast as the train departs the station? (According to FRA, this is needed to warn any railroad workers hanging off side of a car.)

    4. Due to light weight of equipment, will trains be required to haul around locomotives at both front and back of trains -- even for EMU?

    5. Will the "safety" work rules require an absurd number of train conductors to punch tickets?

    I think someone from CHSRA seriously needs to ask the Governor, and President to issue Executive orders exempting project from the steam-era regulatory framework. This is only fair given that environmental review has basically been removed for highway projects in the Stimulus Package.

  26. @ arcady ... or just specify 1m or 1.2m, as if we had entered the 20th century already.

  27. bikerider: 4 is basically the collison strength requirement, which HSRA will need to get waived. Caltrain is already working on this. 5 should not be an issue, as Metrolink already operates with one engineer and one conductor. Caltrain still has two conductors, which might have to do with union agreements or just for safety. 1 and 3 sound to me like something that should be part of the operating rules of any given railroad, but I assume there are some requirements from the CPUC about adequate audible warning devices being present on trains. 2 is very definitely a matter of individual railroad preference: the old M series cars on MNR and LIRR had a buzzer sort of thing, the M-6 had NYC subway-style door chimes, and the MBTA in Boston is still new to the whole automatic door concept and in many cases doors are just left open.

  28. 5 should not be an issue, as Metrolink already operates with one engineer and one conductor.In other words, Metrolink is overstaffed by almost factor of two.

  29. bikerider: there's no way to do away with the conductor on Metrolink, as among other things, it's his job to deploy the bridgeplate at stations, as well as to check tickets and of course perform various functions as specified in the rulebook. The conductor is also the ONLY customer-facing employee at all on Metrolink in most cases, seeing as there are no station staff or ticket offices anywhere but Union Station, and sheriff patrols are very sporadic.

  30. Arcady:
    Having conductors (i.e. ticket collectors) on every train is very much an anachronism. No modern transit or commuter-rail agency does this anymore. None of the tasks you mention require so much extra personnel, and the only reason it is "required" for Metrolink is due to steam-era regulations.

    If these regulations end up being applied to modernized Caltrain and HSR, it will have a very detrimental impact on operating costs.

  31. Re signalling:

    "Arcady" continues to be -- there is no other word for this -- delusional (in the nicest possible, pollyanna-y sense) about the cost and availability of signalling systems. (I'm pretty sure we've gone around on this with the same correspondent on misc.transport.rail.americas in the past.)

    But not a hundredth as delusion as anybody who proposes or believes that anybody at Caltrain (or the FRA, or UPRR, or PBQD, or Metrolink, or Wabtec, or ...) could has a snowball's chance at inventing from this air a system that meets any budget or schedule or reliability goal.

    The only possible way that there will be fail safe cab signalling on the Caltrain corridor is if Caltrain buys and installs a pre-existing signalling system which has been proven to work elsewhere and has been tested and debugged by others.

    The only possible way that there will be cab signalling on the Caltrain corridor that doesn't come in at five times the "budget" is if Caltrain buys a system which is not a proprietary scam of one vendor or much worse, vapourware from some incompetent Buy American scam artist, all of whom have long and consistent and unbroken records of failure in the arena.

    Besides all of which, the very notion of any sort of "communications based" (ie trains self-report computed positions to each other and to interlockings) is one that has been proven -- proven!! -- again and again and again to have massively negative return on investment for mainline railways.

    The only people who advocate going that route are rent-seeking consultants who stand to profit massively from the gargantuan development costs and who will get to keep the loot once the program inevitably -- inevitably! -- fails to deliver its goals while blowing out its budget by a factor of five or ten or more. Nice work if you can get it, and as we see with BART's defence-contractor-scam AATCS or any of the sundry FRA+Amtrak failures, those involved are very skilled at getting exactly this sort of work, again and again, no matter how badly they fail again and again.

    There is nobody at Caltrain or at FRA or at UPRR or Amtrak or NJT or Metra who is even remotely qualified to design a new signalling system. And there is nobody in the country who has even an infinitesimal chance of designing, developing and delivering a signal system to anything approximating a schedule or a budget.

    The fact that anybody is even talking about "communications based" anything shows how completely ignorant and/or unprofessional and/or hubristic (for which read "ignorant") our isolated little third world transportation planning island is.

    The only way forward is for Caltrain, like the Swiss, Spaniards, Germans, Danes, Indians, Australians(!), New Zealanders(!!) and Chinese (via a knock-off), etc, to adopt a deployed, standardized, debugged signalling system available from multiple vendors, and the only real candidate is ETCS/ERTMS.

    The only reason CTRL worked is because Britain -- a typical Anglophone basket case in delivering rail infrastructure projects anywhere near on time or budget -- built a French railway to proven French standards with proven French signalling all the way to St Pancras. (CBTC on West Coast Mainline? A multi-billion-pound fiasco. CBTC on Jubilee Line Extension? A multi-hundred-poind fiasco.) The only reason LAV Madrid-Sevilla worked in Spain -- which at the time was a practically a third world country in terms of railway technology and much else -- was because they built a German railways to proven German standards with proven German signalling (installed inside proven French trains.)

    ETCS wasn't an option at the time for the above, but it is now, and GIF (Spain's infrastructure body) is actively transitioning away from LZB (the vendor-specific historical system) to ETCS on the high speed lines, just as it is transitioning to ETCS nation-wide.

    The idea American Know How will come up with anything even remotely appropriate, workable, reliable or cost-controlled is simply laughable, and flies in the face all all historical precedent.

    Life safety critical systems are mind-numbingly expensive to develop and deploy. Life safety critical systems which are also scope-expanded to solve world hunger while delivering more coal trains per day and being designed for Unique Local Conditions are absolute, guaranteed, crashing failures and fiscal black holes.

    And the idea that Caltrain and CHSR should be captive to a freight-determined system coming from one single vendor because it will be a "standard" any decade now ... well, that's just reason number 238947234 to Keep the Bloody Steam Trains OFF THE RIGHT OF WAY and just ignore the coal-train-loads-full of garbage of grief and expense and regulatory hell that come with them. It's all downside and no upside.

  32. The Danes recently decided to re-signal their entire network with ETCS. While ETCS/ERTMS got off to a shaky start because of debugging problems, standard/spec immaturity and the need to play with umpteen legacy systems, the technology is now past the debugging stage. Procuring an off-the-shelf system inherently buys you all that hard-won experience, although the profit margins on a commodity product are not as juicy as a cost-plus development project.

    I think we'll see a lot of reluctance on the part of US operators to adopt ETCS, if only because of the 'E' in its acronym. Those shifty-eyed Yurpeans ain't from around these parts.

  33. Re platform height:

    [Long and under-proof-read as usual. So sue me! Or pay me better!]

    As usual, much of the talk here is of the HSR tail which so many seem to believe ought to wag the Caltrain dog.

    The corridor needs to be designed with the needs of humans first (not fantasy "trainsets"), and most of the humans on the SF Peninsula are going to be riding the regional trains, not a Flight Level Zero airline surrogate.

    So to start with the presumption that all Caltrain stations ought to be redesigned to whatever hare-brained (or otherwise) standard our world-class (Pacheco! BART-SJX! Controlled-access secure platforms! 12 HSR trains per hour!) CHSRA consultants dream up, is a fundamental category error, just as it is cripple passenger service infrastructure and operations to pander to irrelevant and anachronistic freight regulations.

    So what are the issues for regional service?

    The first is that we need a migration strategy from the (disastrous, utterly inexcusable, shockingly wasteful, and above all stupid) 8 inch (203mm) above top of rail platforms that Caltrain has shockingly and inexcusably wasted over a hundred million dollars rebuilding over the last decade.

    (Caltrain could have sought a waiver to the stupid stone-age CPUC regulation, but chose not to do so at all, let alone doing so aggressively, and chose to waste public money on "new" stations that were guaranteed to slow boarding times and come with built-in obsolescence. Unbelievable! Inexcusable! Scandalous! And oh so typical.)

    The second is that we need to consider the needs of Caltrain-appropriate regional trains.

    The third is that we need to consider how the stations fit into their suburban milieu, and how they can best be made to serve train riders, facilitate multi-modal connections to and from the regional rail service, and enhance the local pedestrian environment and (sub)urban fabric. Passenger safety and accessibility of course are part of this.

    This last issue is one to which engineers (fantasy, armchair, amateur, "professional" or otherwise) pay the shortest shrift, but one can argue it is the most important.

    A complete non issue is "compatibility" with visiting steam train excursions, a once-daily Amtrak Coast Daylight (as if!), or visiting Acela trains that drop by on a whim for a spot of Amtraky fraternization.

    So how about platform height?

    A "high level" (> 1m Above Top of Rail "ATOR") platform solution, while it may be comfortably familiar to those whose comparisons reach to (parts of) the Amtrak North East Corridor, Britain, (most of) Japan, Australia (hi Bruce!), etc, or to any metro (subway) system in the world, has distinct disadvantages to go with what is the obvious advantage of being compatible with, say, Shinkansen or (God forbid) Acela.

    I claim there simply is no good migration strategy for such an undertaking, short of overnight Caltrain fleet replacement. (And please don't talk about "trap doors" and other 19th century garbage. Then we'd be replacing the fleet twice: once for low-and-high-platform transitions, and then again to get rid of the deadweight globally-unique junkers.) While, as has been pointed out here, it is possible to imagine Caltrain's inexcusable and awful fleet of historical relic/hysterical wreck high-internal-floor gallery cars serving high platforms after having their internal steps welded over, there's no good way transition from today's situation to that one (all platforms raised and all cars' steps removed overnight?); meanwhile the story is worse for Caltrain's less-obsolete Bombarder cars, with their 640mm internal floor height (step down 1.9' on entry?)

    And what of Caltrain's own equipment needs under such a scenario? Well first we exclude the most interesting and most successful and most Caltrain-appropriate equipment that anybody anywhere in the world in building (Stadler's shockingly well-designed and hugely successful FLIRT), along with similar regional offerings for the large European market from Bombardier, Siemens, Alstom, CAF, etc. And while it is technically possible to redesign existing offerings for a higher external and internal platform level (much simpler than going the other way!) or to take an existing UK or Japanese market product line and significantly widen the car body, doing so means that Caltrain, with a small fleet size (not that much over 100 vehicles even for 6+tph once higher speeds and shorter dwells times improve fleet efficiency), is going to be eating the design and development and testing costs of a new train design. And that's frankly something we could do without. What Caltrain ought to be doing is saying "we're a small and inexperienced and marginal rail operator in a technically backwards environment, surrounded by incompetent consultant sharks who seek to rob us blind by addressing Special Local Needs that Require Their Expertise. Rather than deal with that, we were wondering if there's something you might have in production that a larger and more experienced and more successful and more professional rail operator might have already have fully debugged? If so, we'll take 110 or so, depending on what availability and costs you can promise in your build-maintain contract. KTHXBAI!"

    How about urban design? The elephant in the room here are the cripplingly unhelpful and generally counter-productive dictates of the Americans with Disabilities Act, particularly the extremely low inclination ramps that are mandated -- at most 30 inches (762mm) of rise in 35 feet (10668mm) of run (30 feet plus mandated 5 foot long flat intermediate landings), or barely over 7% -- and the toxic nature of local government pandering to a litigious ADA lobby that demands and receives design compromises and sabotages far beyond even what is legally mandated.

    So even assuming a Caltrain station right at street grade level (where there will be very few examples once the corridor has been roto-tilled out of the 19th century), we're looking at about 0.5m from ground level to top of rail plus the platform height. With the sorts of 1220mm-ish (4 foot tall) platform heights some where are advocating, we're looking at nearly 32m (105 feet) of ramp length snaking back and forth just to get up to the platform -- a minimum of three flights of ramp given the only-in-America legal restriction to 30" per rise. Three flights of ramp is a significant obstacle to station accessibility in the wider sense: either it blocks lateral access from a significant linear extent of the platform, inevitably interrupting "desire lines" of pedestrian movement and hence lengthening Caltrain door to door travel times, or if stacked into a chicane (itself wheelchair-unfriendly), extends the footprint of the platforms out past where one would ideally have buses stopping for convenient steps-away transfers.

    And these ramps are disasters in terms of practical station accessibility and usability. The uniform local experience is that cowed and/or ignorant engineers will simply plonk down masses of ramps where-ever they can, and do so with less than zero regard for the 99.99% of riders who do not wish to use them. For examples, see the the inexcusable and unnecessary disaster of the ADA ramps at the brand-new California Avenue station, which everybody heading to the northbound platform is obliged to use at a cost of minutes of delay per trip, or the inconvenient, inadequate, delay-inducing, circuitous and narrow (but legal!) ramp insanity at San Carlos station. Avoiding ADA litigation and pandering to insider disability lobbying is the only priority: the larger issues of good architectural design of stations for humans simply never ever ever appears on the Caltrain engineering radar.

    For stations above grade, which I believe and hope will be the majority of reconstructions, the ramps stretch on and on and on. At a track level of say 4m above pedestrian ground level (1m of track+civil structure, 2.5m (low!) of human headspace, which is about the minimum possible), we're looking at 64m of ramp run just to get up to the level of the rails, and a total of 75m to get to a high platform. It's hard work to find any place to put such a thing, let along the multiple such ramps per station that will be demanded.

    We can't avoid this issue -- and of course there's no way we should even consider not providing excellent barrier-free station accessibility to all users, as either a practical or a moral matter -- but we can attempt to mitigate it. And one way is to try to cut out as much vertical grade change as is feasible, and one modest but significant way is to build platforms at a lower height above rail level. Perhaps this only saves one flight of ramp out of seven, or one our of three, but that can be significant, both in terms of the engineering of the stations, the footprints of the ramps, and the overall accessibility of the stations to both the disabled and the able-bodied.

    In short, the lowest platforms that offer level train boarding to Caltrain trains are the ones that make for the best neighbours.

    I claim that 760mm is that compromise height. (That's a big step for me, because my normal rule is: "Do what Switzerland does", and Switzerland is going for nation-wide level boarding at 550mm.)

    It's a European Interoperability standard. (The Spaniards, who could have chosen the build their brand-new platforms at their brand-new stations for their brand-new high speed trains on their brand-new high speed lines chose 760mm ATOR. Admittedly China has gone with higher platforms with its much larger new system.)

    It's a manageable enough change from the existing 203mm ATOR disasters that it is possible to imagine incremental station improvements that do not require either extensive service interruptions, heroic and expensive engineering work-arounds, and significant on-going passenger inconvenience.

    It's a manageable enough change from existing conditions that it's possible to imagine Caltrain's existing and largely life-expired fleet continuing to operate during the transition. In particular, the Bombardier cars whose number are increasing and which are far and away the riders' choice have a plausible-seeming operating transition, given their existing 640mm ATOR internal floor height. Not so for 1220mm-ish ATOR high platforms.

    It is high enough above track level that is offers some deterrence against short-cutting. (Though with the threatened corridor-wide four-track contractor-enriching Los Banos-serving overbuild this is going to be somewhat moot, either with awful fast-tracks-in-the-middle or with nice flanking fast tracks. And of course the best defense against such short-cutting of course is to build stations that meet human desires -- ie aren't designed by know-nothing railroad or civil engineers -- and offer safe and convenient pedestrian routes.)

    A good choice of in-production, proven, service-appropriate regional rail vehicles are available that offer level (step-free!) boarding at 760mm.

    It may not offer perfect, step-free boarding into all possible high speed trains (but ... see Talgo 350!) but once again, that is the tail wagging the dog: a very large majority of riders on the Caltrain corridor will be regional Caltrain riders, not blast-bys to Los Banos, and making the local stations work in the local pedestrian environment is as important as blank slate redesign for trains that may or may nor be locally appropriate.

  34. Richard: ETCS is a "communications based" system, and indeed has been incredibly problematic, to the point of being one of the major causes of delay of the opening of the HSL Zuid. ERTMS/ETCS is still very much in the process of standardization, and is still at the point where you don't quite know whether any given implementation will really interoperate with the other, because your wayside system might be at version 3.2.3, while the trains have version 3.3.0. The Danish bureaucrats can decide all they want, but ETCS is still not a mature system. There's also the regulatory issue of needing a spectrum allocation in the US for the GSM-R, which they may or may not have.

    If you want a solid debugged system, go with the PRR pulse-code cab signals, also known as ATB in the Netherlands, RS-4 Codici in Italy, CAWS in Ireland, and probably many other things around the world. It's simple and it works. Or you could use German LZB, or even SelTrac as is used in Hong Kong (on a line shared between very intensive commuter rail, intercity, and freight rail). ETCS is still at the point of being a European bureaucratic mandate, rather than an actual functioning system in most cases. I say at this point, the best thing to do with ETCS is wait for Europe to figure it out, and if they do, take it, and if it turns out to be a disaster like all the other RF-CBTC systems, then leave them to it.

    And Richard: do you think screw-couplings are better than automatic couplers?

  35. Richard: do you happen to know what the floor height is specifically for low-level-entry double-deckers? Something roughly with the layout of the Bombardier cars, but European and EMU. I think the double-decker intercity cars in Switzerland were level boarding from 550 mm, but I might be wrong on that. The FLIRT, while an excellent train with many applications, is not really what the Caltrain corridor needs.

  36. I don't understand Richard's rant against ADA ramps.

    Just do like BART and install elevators instead.

  37. Elevators are maintenance and sanitary nightmares. It's not a question of whether they get urinated in; only a question of how quickly it gets cleaned up.

  38. Re: ADA and ramps.

    Ramps are never our of service.Elevators are maintenance and sanitation nightmares outside the most heavily-used, constantly-serveilled stations. (Think: Transbay, and, uh, Transbay. Maybe Mission Bay.)

    Plus they're litigation attractors when they don't work, which is inevitable.

    Keep it simple!Hint: compare the fairly pleasant ramps at Lawrence or the (new) Palo Alto with the disaster of Bayshore's elevators. Belmont's elevator is OK, but why borrow trouble?

  39. Re: "Communcations Based Train Control."

    Dear Arcady,

    You appear to be using CBTC in a sense different from most other people.

    "Communications based" doesn't just mean there's a radio involved. I've never heard radio communicated train orders described as "CBTC", but I may have been hiding under a rock.

    Also, despite what you appear to be trying to imply, the radio substrate (GSM-R) of the ETCS/ERTMS system is far from troublesome -- in fact several infrastructure authorities have moved their train to ground communications to GSM-R before adopting ETCS, as it provides a standard, multi-vendor solution to a real world operational need. (It isn't perfect, but then I'm sure you've heard it said somewhere that, in engineering as in much of human endevour, "the perfect is the enemy of the good." Certainly for a trivial system like Caltrain's or CHSRA's "network" GSM-R's known data rate limitations are simply not an issue.)

    Though it is true that there have been significant development and interoperability problems with ETCS, at this point somebody else, a somebody else with an immense amount of skill and severe operating requirements (SBB-CFF-FFS) has dealt with them, and the most critical parts of the most intensively used rail network on the planet (Switzerland's) simply would not work if ETCS were unreliable.

    As for HSL-Zuid: the problems with this project extend far, far beyond their ability to implement a signalling system. Check our their rolling stock procurement ("Albatross." Albatross!!) for example. I'd take these guys over theirs any day. (BTW fun fact to know and tell: local BART-Amtrak foamer hero Gene "perjury in the service of BART contractors' profitability is no vice" Skoropowski likes to tout his Fluor experience in HSL-Zuid impleementation.)

    So, sure, believe that Wabtec will ome up with the perfect solution and that it will work the first time. At least they're not yurrupeen. Or believe that an unspecified, newly-developed signalling system (which is the issue here) communicated over a non-radio communications system (which isn't) will solve everything, because, hey the Pennsylvania Railroad did it all and did it right.

    PS "Danish bureaucrats"? Paging Rush Limbaugh! (GSM-R has a special local reserved national annex that can be used to implement the Paging Rush Limbaugh call group.)

  40. Richard: GSM-R is not the troublesome part of ETCS, I'm just saying that it might not be as straightforward as you think to bring it to the US. Just look at the kerfuffle with plain old GSM and tri-band and quad-band phones. And yeah, you're right that ETCS L2 isn't truly communications based, but it's about half of a CBTC system, in the sense that movement authority is automatically communicated by radio to the train. For the full package you also want to communicate train location by radio as well, which is the eventual goal of ETCS (with the as yet undefined Level 3).

    And if you want to compare European and US systems, one key difference is that the US has major heavy haul freight, which is something that is unlikely to change unless you can find a way of shipping things by barge to Denver. In the US, PTC development has been much more focused on train handling for hevy freights. I don't think that whatever BNSF came up with is going to be at all a good idea either for HSR or for Caltrain. I just think that we need to be cautious about using a system that's still very much in the development phase, and that does not provide any appreciable benefit over a system that is already used in Europe (such as TVM or LZB) or the US (such as ACSES). The main point of ETCS is to solve the interoperation problem, which simply doesn't exist in the US, and it's incredibly unlikely that Californian trains will ever be operating across European borders.

  41. Re: "do you happen to know what the floor height is specifically for low-level-entry double-deckers?"

    The Swiss IC2000 inter-city unpowered double deckers are level boarding at 550mm. The existing Siemens double-deck EMUs for the Zürich S-Bahn likewise, as are the coming Stadler double-deck EMUs for Zürich (nominally 570mm, but you get the idea), as will be the 59+ inter-city and inter-regio double-deck EMU trains ordered in response to the SBB tender issued just a couple weeks ago. As I said, CH-land is going 550mm, and everything else being equal, I'd always follow that leader.

    The generic Bombardier (né DWA) double-decker unpowered cars in Germany have a floor level 800mm ATOR, which in practice means level boarding for 760mm platforms.

    The generic older Alstom double-decker EMUs (TER-2N Z235000 in France) have doors at 970mm ATOR -- but note these have doors above the bogies (trucks), at the intermediate level, not at the lower level.

    Alstom's more recent "Coradia Duplex" derivatives (eg the X.40 double deck EMUs operating in Sweden) have doors into the lower level at 645mm ATOR (so many standards!) while other derivatives (TER2N-NG, eg for Luembourg) advertise 600mm (ie level enough for 550mm platforms.)

    The FLIRT, while an excellent train with many applications, is not really what the Caltrain corridor needs.Caltrain, a low ridership, marginal suburban rail operation with modest growth, is a decade or two (and a rolling stock procurement cycle or two) away from justifying high-density or double-deck vehicles -- and it's unclear it ever would. (Stockholm's large suburban train order? Single deckers. Most German S-Bahnen? Single deck EMUs.)

    Having grown up with double-deck EMUs I once made the unexamined prejudiced assumption that double deckers are the only possible solution to suburban rail transportation, but more dispassionate analysis and wider experience shows that's simply not the case.

    FLIRTs are, like, totally bitching trains.

    PS Somebody ought to tell the Algiers RER people that they've ordered the wrong trains: FLIRTs can't possibly be applicable to their high density operation (like, uh, ... umm... Mountain View to Tamien!)

  42. Re ETCS and interoperability.

    The point is that it's a multi-vendor and debugged and a standard.

    Auckland's tiny (Caltrain-scale) suburban network in the middle of the southern Pacific ocean isn't adopting ETCS because those forward-thinking New Zealanders want to operate freight trains from Italy or Slovenia or Old Zeeland, after all.

    There must be something else going on, wouldn't you say?

  43. Richard: just because it's a standard doesn't mean it's good. Or that it can even be made to work reliably. After all, there are international standards for computer networking set by the ISO, yet everyone uses TCP/IP instead. Also note that Auckland is using ETCS Level 1, which doesn't even need GSM-R, rather than any of the more advanced levels which might actually result in a capacity improvement, which is after all what Caltrain is looking for. Level 2 is still not fully debugged yet, especially in terms of interoperability, although signs are that it's getting there. ETCS is definitely a case of writing the standard first, and then mandating implementation because it's a standard, rather than taking the best of the currently working systems and making that the standard.

  44. @arcady: some industry insiders seem to feel ETCS is on its way to becoming a de-facto global standard. If you haven't already, read this Railway Gazette article. No matter what the standard's shortcomings may be, the point is that it's a standard and numerous vendors can build off-the-shelf systems against it. Nobody is mandating the implementation of ETCS outside of Europe, and yet it's happening; that can't be a coincidence.

    Besides, the peninsula corridor won't need a 100% resignaling for another few years (2015 ?), which bodes well for further stabilization and consolidation of reliable ETCS solutions. There are billions of dollars being spent (elsewhere! by other people!) to make sure it happens.

    What's not to leverage?

  45. Richard: while we're on the subject of American incompetence, you should note that in more advanced countries, elevators and escalators don't break down. In Singapore, the MRT has a few wide turnstiles that accommodate wheelchairs. The elevators work. The escalators work, too, as intended - unlike in New York, where they sometimes turn into really inconvenient stairs. And that's a country where no lobby matters except that of the Prime Minister, and the only frivolous lawsuits that succeed are those the Prime Minister uses to silence the opposition.

  46. Arcady: depending on the railroad, sometimes double-decking creates more capacity problems than it solved. When you need to detrain large numbers of people simultaneously - for instance, if you're a commuter rail that needs to stop at TBT, dump an entire trainload of people, reverse direction, and be out of the station in five minutes - having a lot of doors is a bigger asset than having two floors. In Japan they go for the doors on most commuter lines, I think.

  47. Alon: in Japan they have a VERY restricted loading gauge, and even despite that, they manage to fit some double-deckers in there. Note also that japanese mainline trains can be as long as 16 cars. Caltrain already has a fairly generous (by world standards) loading gauge, they might as well take advantage of it. I suspect that the tradeoff are such that just running double deckers is cheaper than lengthening platforms, but upgrading clearances for double deckers is more expensive. And by the way, if the chokepoint at TBT is the station throat, then the way to go is to minimize the number of trains passing through there.

  48. Re escalators (Alon's comment):

    Yes, of course they can be made to work. The beatings will continue until morale improves and all that.

    But the reality is that there are ongoing costs and an unchanging social context. And, as I've asked a couple times, why borrow trouble?I think you'll find the same sorts of problems at suburban stations in the Netherlands or Italy or whereever: nobody could pretend that sociopathic human behaviour (unlike inept rail engineering) has any particular relation to the USA.

    You're also papering over the difference between heavily trafficked facilities in dense urban centres with, well, San Bruno. A few hundred boardings and alightings per day aren't going to do it. The same goes for nearly every other station on the line.

    Install a funicular at every one if you like: signature architecture for everyone!

  49. "Alon Levy said...

    Arcady: depending on the railroad, sometimes double-decking creates more capacity problems than it solved. When you need to detrain large numbers of people simultaneously - for instance, if you're a commuter rail that needs to stop at TBT, dump an entire trainload of people, reverse direction, and be out of the station in five minutes - having a lot of doors is a bigger asset than having two floors. In Japan they go for the doors on most commuter lines, I think.

    I have seen photos of German double deckers that are three doors per car per side ... put 4 across seating on the top decks and metro style seating on the bottom decks and you have something with the seated capacity of an all-seated 4-across single deck commuter and the crush capacity of a single deck metro.

  50. @Bruce: the Parisian RER E is similar. Here's a photo (avert your eyes: there's an operationally unthinkable curved platform). Richard's point is that it will be a looooong time before Caltrain ridership ever grows enough to require such stock. The RER E has about four times Caltrain's ridership.

  51. Re: double deckers

    Getting off topic, but there are no German dostos with more than two doors per side. The only such vehicles in the world are the MI2N used on a subset of the Parisian RER lines. An new order for a follow on model (Bombardier-Alstom consortium, EUR917m for 60 110m trains for RER line A, crush capacity 1725!) was placed just last month.

    Anybody who believes Caltrain needs double deck trains for "capacity" in a way that München S-Bahn doesn't just isn't thinking too clearly. (There may be other reasons involving mechanical capital and operating costs per seat, but I'm very dubious. What do we know here in this global centre of passenger rail enginering expertise that they haven't yet cottoned on to?)

    As for turning trains rapidly and efficiently by taking advantage of high door throughput: it's clear there's no understanding about just how shockingly catastrophically bad and unworkable and dangerous the train passenger "design" of the TJPA's Transbay Terminal is -- and that's altogether leaving aside the mind-blowing incompetence, slowness, low capacity and unworkability of the rail alignment getting the trains to the station.

    Oh man.

    PS Here's some RER reading for the Anglophone (that's me!) audience. "Providing capacity to accommodate waiting passengers and giving space to those unable to board during periods of disruption becomes a significant design objective" ... dude, like, WTF?! Strange yurrupeen socialist concepts! We didn't learn that in our AREMA Coal Loader Siding Rail Design course.

  52. Hey, I'm not disagreeing with you that TBT is designed really badly - almost as badly as Moynihan Station and the ARC tunnel in New York. I'm disagreeing with you about the idea that Caltrain should mindlessly copy the standard of whichever European country has the best marketing department.

    I mean, yeah, Europe's way better at it than the US. So what? Japan's way better at it than Europe. The RER gets a billion riders a year, which is closer to the commuter rail ridership in the New York area (250 million for the LIRR, MNRR, and NJT) than to just JR-East's commuter lines (5.3 billion), to say nothing of the many other operators in Greater Tokyo. Should we declare that Paris's rail system is primitive and only concentrate on copying features from Tokyo?

  53. Richard Mlynarik said...
    "Getting off topic, but there are no German dostos with more than two doors per side. The only such vehicles in the world are the MI2N used on a subset of the Parisian RER lines."

    I may have misread a caption, or saw a misplaced caption.

    For the RER, it addresses the task at hand, to operate with low station dwells when running through the subway system at the center while offering substantial seated capacity, for the passengers originating in the suburban stations in the outer network at grade.

    "Anybody who believes Caltrain needs double deck trains for "capacity" in a way that München S-Bahn doesn't just isn't thinking too clearly."

    The easiest way to add crush capacity to a given train is to allocate a larger portion of each car to metro style seating. Of course, that removes seated capacity, so its preferable when the crush involves a substantial number of trips under 15 minutes.

    From a system perspective, however, at the present Caltrain service frequencies, the additional capacity that delivers the best ridership gains would be increasing service frequency. And wrt crush capacity, even when there is a strong demand peak, given sufficient frequency the peak demand will spread itself out as those with more travel time flexibility shift toward either shoulder to avoid the crush.

    If frequency is the first recourse, single deck EMU sets in pairs, either with driver or without, can be formed into six or eight car sets (or four car sets if the driver-car pairs are coupled back to back). Down the track, if still more seated capacity is need, double deck cars can be added at that point.

  54. Aha, Haussmann was the 19th century French Baron that oversaw the establishment of boulevards, ground floor faces and shops, and the architecture of facades and balcony lines continuing from one building to the next along a street.

    So the Haussmann in the station name refers to Haussmann Blvd in Paris, even if it lodged in my mind as a German name.

  55. Aha, Haussmann was the 19th century French Baron that oversaw the wholesale destruction and reconstruction of Paris and the eviction of the working class to the suburbs.


  56. Naked consultant rent seeking in Santa Rosa today as SMART steams into the 19th Century.
    Read it and weep. There's no hope in this country, it's quite clear.

    Based on the foregoing, it is concluded that the gauntlet track option better represents proven technology suitable for use on a rail line that, either initially or eventually, is likely to host simultaneous passenger and freight train operations. Pending further analysis as the vehicle identification and selection process proceeds, it is tentatively recommended that SMART design proceed on the basis that gauntlet tracks be installed at each station platform located on a track that will be shared by passenger and freight trains.


    Although selecting FRA-compliant technology means sacrificing some efficiencies, it untangles many regulatory knots and would allow SMART to provide the voter-mandated commuter rail service on schedule. All things considered, and based on the best information available to date, the recommended technology selection can only be for FRA-compliant DMUs.

    Amurrrrican Know-How!

    U-S-A! U-S-A! F-R-A! L-T-K!

  57. I particularly enjoyed how they identified 8 different off-the-shelf, immediately available "non-compliant" DMU train models, and ZERO compliant DMU designs currently in production... and nevertheless selected the compliant DMU "option", availability be damned!

    SMART is rolling over and playing dead in the name of "full regulatory compliance".

    What's cheaper, obtaining a regulatory waiver, or procuring non-existent, one-of-a-kind trains and eating all the non-recurring engineering costs for a product that is proven not to have a sustainable market? (Colorado Railcar anyone?)

    Caltrain seems to be smarter than SMART, although some of their waiver efforts could become less relevant with the prospect of 100% grade separation. For example, the basis for a "non-compliant" level crossing safety case seems to be evaporating... regulators could just say "leave us alone and let's wait until HSR".

  58. SMART is rolling over and playing dead in the name of "full regulatory compliance".SMART staff is made up of old-tyme railroader types. They are literally trying to reinvent the Skunk train. According to one person who interviewed with them (back when the agency was first starting), he asked staff whether they would be looking into European DMUs, and the response was a Homer Simpson "Huh?".

    There are enough counterexamples of non-compliant DMUs running on freight ROW in the USA, that regulatory "compliance" is not a showstopper. And that presumes SMART ever sees any freight traffic at all.

    Moreover, one would think, after the fiasco of the CRC order in Portland, that the SMART General Manager would have been pink slipped by now, given her past involvement in that project.

    It is really all quite depressing.

  59. Another Option

    Regarding a corridor for the proposed High Speed Rail System (CHSRA) between San Francisco and San Jose; perhaps this alternative plan would greatly improve traffic flow and congestion which is badly needed for Highway 101 with traffic becoming heavier as years pass. This overly used, antiquated road has not kept up with the increasing traffic needs of the Peninsula and the West Bay.

    This new proposal is to make Highway 101 a two level, updated freeway or toll road, with each level being one way, both north and south, adding more traffic lanes from San Francisco to San Jose.

    The HSR (from San Jose to San Francisco) would be part of this new structure. The rail roadway could be situated and operate on both sides or under a newly designed state of the art structure, below the vehicular level of the lower deck, out of sight from vehicular drivers. This also would allow the new rail line(s) to have choice stops on the Peninsula, SFO for example.

    An improved 101 corridor would also stimulate and regain interest for eastern expansion for businesses and residential developments in all of the Peninsula cities.

    A proper and carefully considered design would alleviate acquiring much more land for the CHSRA as well as displacing existing dwellers near the existing rail line. The rail roadbed, could also be a ground level trench rather than a tunnel and another consideration for the 101 project. Perhaps the construction could be undertaken without closing down the present highway.

    This vast project could employ international consultation from countries such as France, England, Germany, Russia, Japan, China and Korea.
    (Especially the last three.)

    Their expertise in High Speed Rail could be something to tap into, including
    their newest construction and engineering methods such as prefabrication of
    sections which could lessen construction time. Perhaps companies from these countries could also vie in it's construction possibly participating in a a joint venture. Extraordinary Chinese helped to build our state's first railroads, why not our latest?

    Thank you,
    Jerry Emanuel
    912 Woodland Ave.
    San Carlos, CA 94070