26 November 2009

Electrification Blues

While overhead electrification using 25,000 volts AC is a widespread technology that is even found in several states in the Northeast, it has never been used in California and the relevant regulations either do not exist or do not allow for it. Caltrain finds itself in the unenviable position of blazing a new regulatory trail, with little success to show thus far.

Regulatory Wild Ride

In 2007, Caltrain filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission to have a new General Order established for 25 kV overhead railroad electrification. This application was backed by a draft standard and a series of workshops, and attracted participation from electric utilities and freight railroads. Caltrain later realized that the duration for establishing a new GO and only then applying under it for permission to build the project would not meet their schedule for completion by 2014. Despite an FRA reviewer stating that the draft standard was "96% of the way to the finish line," Caltrain withdrew its application, scrapped the draft GO, and decided instead to file for a waiver of existing rules on a project-specific basis.

In June 2009, Caltrain filed a new application requesting authority for variances from portions of CPUC General Order 95, which governs overhead electric line construction in California. This application was shared among interested parties including the Union Pacific Railroad and its key customers on the peninsula.

UPRR protested the application. Its protest brief listed the following issues:
  1. Caltrain's proposed variances do not meet industry engineering standards. Among other items, UPRR states: "The issue of clearances is critical. Clearances determine, in part, the types of railcars that can be operated on a track and the types of loads that a car may carry."

  2. Caltrain's proposed variances conflict with UPRR's legal rights and obligations as a common carrier freight railroad. UPRR contends that constraints on the types and loads of railcars would constitute a forced abandonment or partial abandonment of UPRR's peninsula operations, which requires approval from the federal Surface Transportation Board--and not the CPUC.

  3. Caltrain's proposed variance would conflict with the trackage rights agreement established when the peninsula corridor was sold, especially the clauses concerning abandonment of freight service.
Caltrain folded immediately and withdrew its application, stating sheepishly:
Caltrain has learned that certain interested parties had more serious concerns with the Application than were anticipated. Rather than undertake discussion with such parties under the scheduling constraints of a Commission proceeding, Caltrain prefers to resolve these concerns separately and resubmit the Application at a later date.
In its protest, UPRR suggested the following timetable to resolve the issue:
  • 1 September 2009 - Prehearing conference
  • 14 October 2009 - Workshop re: engineering issues
  • 9 December 2009 - Further prehearing conference
  • 4 May 2010 - Hearing
  • 15 July 2010 - Final decision
What this reveals, if nothing else, is that UPRR will vigorously defend its rights on the peninsula corridor, even without prodding from local residents who oppose HSR. This does not bode well for other regulatory changes that will be required, in particular a waiver of GO-26D to allow level boarding at station platforms--another move that is sure to attract a protest from UPRR.

Vertical Clearance Issues

The basic issue that underlies all this legal maneuvering is one of clearance dimensions, especially vertical clearances, where high-voltage overhead electrification infrastructure (contact wire, supports, etc.) might interfere with the operation of excess-height freight cars.
  • UPRR and its customers (especially the Port of San Francisco) want the unimpeded future ability to operate so-called excess-height freight cars, such as autoracks and double-stack container cars, none of which currently operate on the peninsula north of Santa Clara.
  • Such excess-height freight cars are up to 20'3" tall measured ATOR (above top of rail), with a recommended clearance of 23 ft ATOR for any obstacles such as bridges and tunnels.
  • Caltrain's plans to electrify the peninsula showed the 25 kV contact wire at a typical vertical height of 23 ft (7.0 m) ATOR, in compliance with these recommendations.
  • High-voltage wires require additional stand-off clearances (about 1 foot) to prevent arcing to trains or bridges, i.e. short circuits.
  • The peninsula corridor has numerous bridges with clearances at or less than 23 ft ATOR (see graphic at right), where the overhead wire would get closer to the top of freight cars than the recommended clearance.
  • Caltrain has proposed de-energizing the overhead electrification at night when freight trains operate. This might allow the wire to get down to about 21 ft ATOR (shown as a black dotted line in the graphic.)
  • Electrification support infrastructure underneath bridges can take up several feet vertical clearance, especially when configured for high speeds (125 mph) where a single trolley wire is insufficient.
  • Increasing vertical clearances under existing bridges and tunnels by undercutting the rail bed is often complicated by utility lines, culverts or creeks that pass under the tracks.
Clearly, excess-height freight cars will considerably complicate if not preclude electrification, and something will have to give.

The simplest solution, one that is in the best interest of the people footing the electrification / HSR bill (yes, that's you), is for Caltrain to file an application with the STB for a partial abandonment of freight service, resulting in a permanent restriction to AAR Plate F clearances (freight cars 17 ft ATOR, with overhead wire at 20 ft as shown by the green dotted line in the graphic above). This would not impede any of the current freight operations on the peninsula, and would facilitate the construction of trenches for certain grade separations in sensitive residential areas.

A Clash of Titans

Ultimately, Caltrain's role in this situation is secondary. The players who hold the cards are the UPRR, the California High Speed Rail Authority, and the Federal Railroad Administration. It is unclear if these players have any interest in the simple solution. Will they think about who should pay for this? Freight is and always will be a minority rail user on the peninsula, and it's hard to think of a reason why taxpayers should spend millions of dollars to buy UPRR and its customers complicated and maintenance-intensive solutions like movable overhead conductor rails or gauntlet tracks, especially when excess-height freight cars already have ample access to key regional facilities like the Port of Oakland.

We've already seen what gold plating for freight can do: expensive infrastructure is built on the taxpayer's dime for some hypothetical future need, and then languishes unused. Exhibit A is the Kelly Moore freight spur in San Carlos, which has yet to see its first freight car.


  1. I'd support that partial abandonment if its an envelope that is the greater of AAR Plate F and the DoD MIL-STD-1366.

    It may not be foremost in urgency for the California HSR Commission, but its something that the California HSR Commission ought to vigorously endorse, since it is likely to be a very useful precedent along the way.

    Its also something that might be able to bring in allies from out of state, as a combined MIL-STD-1366 / AAR Plate F envelope is an appealing place to draw the line for engineering for future electrification for dedicated 125mph track, where it will be much easier to bring new track through next to double stack heavy freight track if the higher speed track does not need to allow Plate H.

  2. @ Clem -

    "Ultimately, Caltrain's role in this situation is secondary. The players who hold the cards are the UPRR, the California High Speed Rail Authority, and the Federal Railroad Administration."

    That strikes me as an odd statement, considering that PCJPB - i.e. SF peninsula voters - own the right of way and, the SF transbay terminal project depends on Caltrain electrification.

    Operationally, the best solution would be the one in which all tracks are at the same height. This would allow limited and baby bullet trains to overtake slower local trains without having to change pantograph height. In addition, some freight trains will need to cross HSR tracks at freight spur turnouts.

    If accommodating plate H rail cars in the context of remodeling the SF peninsula would preclude electrification or add a lot of cost to that project, PCJPB should deny the related UPRR/Port of SF request. UPRR argument that it is under some sort of legal obligation to support plate H throughout its network because it is a common carrier is bogus. It's not partial abandonment if it's not already possible today.

    By contrast, forced elimination of certain freight spurs, restrictions on axle loads, restrictions on when freight rail movements are permitted or a requirement to switch to electric freight locomotives could constitute partial or even total abandonment if they render freight rail service in the SF peninsula uneconomical.

    Whether or not that should be considered is a political and financial discussion separate from the one about upgrading the corridor to plate H.

  3. "> > Ultimately, Caltrain's role in this situation is secondary. The players who hold the cards are the UPRR, the California High Speed Rail Authority, and the Federal Railroad Administration."

    "> That strikes me as an odd statement, considering that PCJPB - i.e. SF peninsula voters - own the right of way and, the SF transbay terminal project depends on Caltrain electrification."

    You were born yesterday, right?

  4. If you're referring to the fact that San Francisco would probably go ahead with the TBT project, electrification or not, then you may have a point. It is difficult to see electrification NOT happening at this point though.

  5. Union Pacific is complaining that electrification would cause partial abandonment since it would prevent Plate H operation?

    Point of clarification: can Plate H cars currently run north of San José?

    If not, then I'd be surprised if UPRR could defend its position. They call an upgrade that inhibits future hypothetical/nonexistent operation as partial abandonment?

  6. political_incorrectness27 November, 2009 20:23

    Doesn't Caltrain have the nuclear option in hand if it becomes necessary? Sure we do not want to use it but if UP wants to play hardball, then it is time to play hardball back. If they want it their way, I want some strings attached to the San Jose-Gillroy ROW

  7. Caltrain is likely to continue to tiptoe around UPRR as lightly as possible. Throwing the nuclear option on the table would be, well, a little too hardball for this time in the negotiations.

    Also, abandonment may end up not being permitted. If the JPB was to petition for adverse abandonment with the Surface Transportation Board, and lost, they would lose a MAJOR bargaining chip in negotiations with UPRR. This may be another reason why Caltrain and CHSRA haven't evoked it yet, or even mentioned it publicly.

  8. I meant "invoked." It's been a long day.

  9. @ anon @ 12:33 -

    I was referring to the DTX and train box portion of the Transbay Terminal, without which the entire project makes very little sense. Diesel trains will not be running into an underground station via a long tunnel.

    Caltrain isn't going to switch to dual mode (diesel + grid electric) equipment. Unless the entire right of way from SF to San Jose can be electrified, Caltrain will remain at 4th & King.

  10. Another reminder that rude language (such as I recently expunged) will not be tolerated on this blog.

  11. The problem is and tramsin there are no adults involved anywhere in the process who are either willing to or able to look at the transportation system and analyze what provides the highest public benefit.

    There's no place anywhere in any of this where somebody says: "Here's a budget. Here are a set of desiderata. Let's objectively look at each one, determine what each will cost (including real-world-experience-based massive discounting of the "optimism bias" which leads individual project proponents to lie), determine objectively what benefit will be delivered to the public (who, after all, are 100% on the hook to pay for this mess), and then select and document a prioritized list of technical undertakings that best satisfy the highest combinations of needs and that can be delivered to a budget.

    Instead, everybody wants everything, nobody cares about cost, cost overrun is never punished (ie project cancelled) but instead actively rewarded (here's some good money throw on top of that bad!), the most penny ante "stakeholder" bringing nothing to the table trumps the public who bring billions of dollars, histories of failure are ignored, and the cycle repeats.

    Instead we have a horrific convergence of outright technical ignorance (CBOSS! 9tph HSR!), extortion (UPRR! FRA!), mush-for-brains innumerate "environmentalism" (trucks are infintely BAD!), stakeholder inflation (I own two old locomotives and haul one train a week! Give me everything!) with earmark-based project-based piecemeal project funding and the usual spectacular levels of rent-seeking and competition-excluding corruption by local "expert" consultants, all with no accountability to the larger public interest, be that environmental or financial. (And recall just who is funding this -- not PB or UPRR, that's for sure.)

    The fundamental basis of CHSR is that -- and the Pachecho sleazefest made that absolutely, unambiguously explicit -- it is purely a cost-maximization public-to-private wealth transfer program, and is simply not expected to deliver a quantifiable benefit for a bounded cost.

    Once the floodgates were opened (the lowest ridership route with the worst environmental impacts and the highest costs ... and a $10 billion BART extension guaranteed to our special friends at PB) and it was made perfectly clear that nobody cared about cost-benefit, of course everybody is going to belly up to the trough for everything they can get.

    UPRR is doing (ie extorting) nothing more or nothing less than what PBQD or HNTB or PTG are. That's the way the game is set up, and they'd be stupid not to be in on a racket where nothing of theirs is at stake and payouts are guaranteed.

  12. UPRR wants an extra track all to itself? Separated 50 feet laterally from the dangerous passenger trains? Bring it on!

    How about another for Port of San Francisco autoracks? Why not?

    And space for BART expansion? Superb forward future-oriented out-of-the-box thinking!

    San Jose wants a three level Diridonplex with 16 tracks? Of course! It's the least we can be paid to do!

    Caltrain wants to strand all its passengers away from downtown SF, never trying to fix Transbay, at a worthless $300m SoMa dump? Mais oui!

    TJPA wants to waste FOUR BILLION of your public dollars planting redwood trees in the sky and not pay even the most rudimentary attention to rail operations? Step this way!

    Finest US Railroading Professionals n eed to park trains in terminals for half an hour or more at the end of each and every trip, driving up the size and cost of nose-bleed expensive downtown stations while increasing operating cost and fleet size? Excellent idea! Sounds like the best of all possible worlds! We're very happy to be paid to build that! Anything else we can suggest which would make things any worse? Some tail tracks, perhaps?

    HSR says it needs to run 50+% empty trains every 7 minutes at 200kmh all the way along a commuter corridor? We can't think of a better way to spend $2 billion!

    My Community Will Be Destroyed unless you spend $300 million on random crap that we came up with in an Envisioning Workshop? Why not?!

    Train control system subject to cheese eating Euro surrender monkeys doesn't meet our Unique Local Requirement? Sure, here's a $230 million downpayment for the first stage -- knock yourselves out -- and we'll be here when you come back for phases 2 and 3 and 4 and 5 ...

    Too lazy or ignorant to specify a realistic operating plan? We'll just lay as much track everywhere as possible and you can work out what to do with it later!

    You say you heard you might need triple-deck passenger trains some day? No problemo! We can throw in maglev future-proofing for a small additional consideration also.

  13. I think Richard needs to take his meds.

  14. I think Peter needs to pay attention and learn something from the tragedies of Bay Area transit planning.

  15. Or probably both. That's what makes this so frustrating: the planning of the Bay Area's transit system has been and continues to be a huge mess, and we desperately need to change that. But most of the people who see this are of the ranting Richard Mlynarik type, which is ... not very helpful.

    As for electrification, has anyone considered the option of undercutting? Also, look closely at clearance envelopes and solutions developed in other countries, including the UK and the East Coast of the US. You really do only need about 10 inches of clearance between wire and bridge, maybe less with insulation on the bridge, and I believe about 10 inches from the top of the car to the wire. That would only leave Tunnels 3 and 4 and Paul Ave as the problem spots, which would be solved with gauntlet tracks and de-energized wires.

  16. "As for electrification, has anyone considered the option of undercutting? [etc]"

    First rule of engineering: determine exactly what problem you are trying to solve.

    Solutions in search of problems always turn out to be ... well ... big, big, expensive prob lems.

  17. Problem statement: UPRR wants several tens of hundreds of millions of dollars:

    Solution1: Raise catenary height.

    Analysis of solution1: Several hundred million dollars spent? Check. UPRR receives several tens or hundreds of millions? No. Problem not solved.

    Solution2: Spend several hundred million extra dollars on Caltrain-unique, UPRR-compatible signal system.

    Anslysis of solution2: Several hundred million dollars spent? Check. UPRR receives several tens or hundreds of millions? No. Problem not solved.

    Solution3: Spend several hundred million extra dollars on unnecessary and neighbourhood-hostile civil engineering purely to accommodate fictitious/negligible freight trains.

    Anslysis of solution3: Several hundred million dollars spent? Check. UPRR receives several tens or hundreds of millions? No. Problem not solved.

    Solution4: Waete several hundred million extra dollars by requiring US freight railroad standard (AREMA, etc) track on Caltrain. Hold all HS vehicles state-wide and all HS infrastructure state-wide hostage to this small, perversely-engineered northern appendage rather than adopt a proven, trouble-free, critical wheel+rail interface standard from elsewhere. (nb we have a similar issue with Transbay cretins dictating curve radius.)

    Anslysis of solution4: Several hundred million dollars spent? Check. UPRR receives several tens or hundreds of millions? No. Problem not solved.

    Solution5: ...

    Some might detect a pattern.

  18. Just tell UPRR they're going to have to pay up if they want mile-high stacks of containers on their freight cars.

  19. Just tell UPRR

    If it only were so. In reality, UPRR tells Caltrain. As you can see, they even picked the date of the hearings.

  20. It sounds like the situation is hopeless and it might be more productive to move to another country if having mobility without an automobile is a priority. Anybody know French?

  21. @ Clem

    Are they actually holding those hearings?

    It looked to me like something that they threw out there as an option.

    It happens all the time that the party submitting a legal objection to something will suggest a timeframe to resolve the issue. Unless there is some reason not to, the other party will simply agree to the timeframe.

    That being said, UPRR does have a lot of rights in this matter. However, they do not hold all of the cards. Caltrain and HSR do have the trackage rights agreement, and do in fact have the right to initiate adverse abandonment proceedings.

    I think this matter will be resolved most likely by a compromise in which UPRR simply is permitted to continue operations the way they are right now with Plate F cars. There is no reason for them to demand, except as a bargaining position, the future right to run Plate H cars on the Peninsula.

  22. It was my understanding that the FTA nor the FRA was the agency would would certify this. I got this from Doty.

    What's is going on here? How do those two agencies interact?

  23. @ Morris Brown

    What do you mean?

    Are you referring to who would sign off on Caltrain's design?

  24. My understanding is that, since many of the regulations overlap and contradict one another, if Caltrain wishes to implement something that complies with, let's say FRA regulations, but conflicts with CPUC regs, then they have to request a variance from CPUC, and vice versa.

    This may be an easier way for Caltrain to approach the contradictions than to fight them in court under a federal preemption theory.

  25. @ Morris Brown

    The way I understand it, the FRA has implemented general regulations pertaining to railroad safety. If they have not implemented rules pertaining to 25kV OCS, then it is up to the states to regulate them. Therefore, if neither the FRA nor the FTA has regulated the field, there is no preemption and they don't care how it is implemented, as long as their other regulations are followed.

    Hence my above comment. Sorry that I didn't post this one first.

  26. What's is going on here? How do those two agencies interact?

    As far as I understand it, you're referring to the lead agency involved with the electrification EIS prepared under NEPA, which I believe is the FTA. This stuff is different from the environmental impact process; it has to do with regulations and permits. Even if the project passes environmental muster, you still need all the permits and approvals to build it. There are a lot of rings to kiss.

  27. I believe it is all part of the EIR/EIS process. FTA is the lead federal agency, and they have to approve the EIR/EIS.

  28. @ Caltrain First

    FTA only certifies the EIS under NEPA.

    The EIR under CEQA is certified by CHSRA, if I recall correctly.

    Different statutes, different requirements (Yet similar enough that one document can satisfy them).

  29. Relocate the hsr to its own ROW along 101. No doubt very expensive but this eliminates the freight accomodation and platform height problems and would assuage neighborhood opposition. This alternative should at least be costed out, especially since hitches and complications with the Caltrain ROW seem to be mushrooming instead of going away.

  30. I appreciate the input on who certifies what in these processes.

    Certainly the CHSRA certified the CEQA EIS/EIR for the HSR SF to Merced segment. At the board meeting on Thursday they appear to be going to take action to de-certify that document (item #3 on the agenda) in response to the court ordered writ of mandate.

    As I wrote, I was told on the CalTrain electrification, the FTA was stated to be the agency to certify; they apparently have yet to complete that action, although CalTrain says final certification is due very shortly.

    With the disclosure in this posting, it would seem to me, that FTA certification would not proceed until these major issues are resolved.

  31. @ Morris Brown

    CEQA and NEPA certification simply means that the project has met certain environmental statutory requirements. That does not mean that it meets all the other regulatory requirements or that the engineering is decided in detail. Look at the EIR/EIS process going on for the rest of the HSR project. It's an ENVIRONMENTAL study, not an engineering study.

    Note, however, that in the HSR study, which necessarily includes grade separations, the engineering also has to be worked out due to the different environmental effects of the different alternatives. That will most likely not be an issue with electrification.

  32. I think Richard needs to take his meds.

    Perhaps, but that doesn't mean that most of what he's posting is wrong.

  33. Note, however, that in the HSR study, which necessarily includes grade separations, the engineering also has to be worked out due to the different environmental effects of the different alternatives. That will most likely not be an issue with electrification.

    What?! The engineering of the electrification has to be worked out for the electrification EIR/EIS (typically a combined document if federal funding is sought) as well, because the different electrification structures have different environmental impacts. Clem even had post on his preference for poles rather than headspans.

  34. @Caltrain First

    And the siting of the necessary substations, though I'm confused exactly how Caltrain's requests fit into the CAHSR planning and EIR process.

  35. The environmental impacts between headspans vs poles are nothing compared to the different impacts of tunnel vs elevated, etc.

    Hence the engineering does not need to be as detailed.

  36. The impacts nonetheless have to be documented in any EIR/EIS. Poles and headspans have distinctly different visual impacts.

    Where substations are located is another notable impact that has to be documented.

  37. § 2.10, page 9

    "If [UPRR]'s Trains or Equipment require additional clearance, [PJCPB] agrees to provide said additional clearance in a timely manner at [UPRR]'s sole cost provided that such additional clearance would not materially impair or interfere with the usefulness or utility of the Joint Facilities... In the event any work to be performed by [PJCPB] on tje Joint Facilities may affect the horizontal or vertical line clearances, [PJCPB] shall notify [UPRR] and [PJCPB] shall cooperate with [UPRR] to provide any such additional...clearances needed by [UPRR]....and [UPRR] shall pay the incremental costs required for such additional clearance requirements."

    That isn't the whole body of § 2.10, but it looks pretty obvious to me that Caltrain has the legal right to demand that UPRR pay for the extra cost of accommodating Plate H cars, unless Plate H can already run from Santa Clara to San Francisco

    Now someone should tell Caltrain's lawyers

  38. The question is whether Caltrain's demand for electrification is primarily generating the clearance problem as opposed to any UP demand for a significantly greater than current clearance.

    In other words then it's mostly not the UP's fault or instigation and Caltrain must pay up.

  39. I'm getting the feeling that none of us on this thread really know what we're talking about.

    The most useful post I've seen was Anonymoose's post on the trackage rights agreement.

  40. Whether plate H cars can make it all the way up the peninsula also might matter as much as whether or not UPRR can currently bring plate H cars to at least one of their customers. Since according to clem's diagrams, they can currently bring plate H cars all the way up the peninsula until they hit the tunnels leading into SF. While apparently their only potential customer for plate H cars happens to lie beyond those existing tunnels, making it rather silly to do so, they could argue that any new restriction is a degradation.

    I agree, however, that plate-H is a luxury without a market. I think it's also worth noting that a system built to match the width of the shinkansens should be wide enough for plate F to pass even with high platforms. Combined with their focus on noise reduction and much quicker acceleration, I'm beginning to think those are the trains we should end up with.

  41. I'm getting the feeling that none of us on this thread really know what we're talking about.

    Nah, it's just you.

  42. @ Anonymous @ 10:27

    I knew someone was going to say that.

  43. Clem, do you have a URL citation for the four page scoping comments letter from UPRR to the CHSRA as part of the response to the rail authority comments requests? It was submitted this past spring and was signed by Jerry Wilmoth who also signed the original trackage agreement.

  44. I have never seen this many hypocrites on one page. You talk all day about the subsidy that freight needs to be accommodated on this line. Wait a minute take a breath and think about that for a while. Freight rail does not require a subsidy to run on the line now but Caltrain certainly does. The money being spent on high speed rail and electrification is no more than another subsidy. You want to make a major change that freight rail does not need but because it doesn't need it you want to banish it from existence. That is hypocritical at best. Take a for profit business and kick it off in favor of something that will always require subsidies. Wow that makes economic sense. Look at the root of the problem and quit subsidizing the automobile and the trucking industry and passenger rail and freight rail can operate for a profit again. In case you don't know this our U.S. freight railroads are required to make a profit, pay for their own infrastructure, maintain their own infrastructure and pay taxes on the property not to mention their profits. They are also required to give passenger trains windows on their right of way which costs them valuable slots for profitable non-subsidized freight trains. They are also forced to compete with a heavily subsidized competitor – trucking. No other transportation related industry is required to meet these requirements. Lets get freight off of the peninsula for good and cut off our two Peninsula ports because there is no value in those. Oakland can handle everything. We will end up with the best transportation system our tax dollars can buy a permanently subsidized non freight running railroad. We will continue to subsidize freight on the highways and even more now that freight will be gone from the Peninsula. GOOD RIDANCE!

  45. Hey Clem, is this rocket science?

  46. Freight rail does not require a subsidy to run on the line now but Caltrain certainly does.

    True. Caltrain only recovers about 40% of its operating & maintenance costs through ticket revenues, and none of its capital costs.

    The point here is that given the improvements that are about to be made on the peninsula rail corridor, accommodating heavy and excess height freight cars will cost several hundreds of million dollars more than the improvements would otherwise cost without heavy and excess-height freight cars in the equation. Those several hundred million dollars won't come from the tooth fairy: they will come from taxpayers. That's what I call a subsidy. If you have a different word for it, then by all means use it instead.

    You want to make a major change that freight rail does not need but because it doesn't need it you want to banish it from existence.

    I have never called for the outright abandonment of freight rail service on the peninsula. My position is that freight operations can and should continue with Plate F clearances, high platforms, light axle loads (22500 kg maximum) and steep grades (2 to 3 percent). Giving up on any of these criteria will cost the taxpayer serious money.

    But who's counting? Not the CHSRA. Not the engineering firms salivating at the prospect of juicy contracts. Not the JPB. Certainly not UPRR and its customers.

    Hey Clem, is this rocket science?

    It's not rocket science to point out that what we have here is a cost-benefit analysis that is likely to be severely skewed because it involves Other People's Money... yours and mine. I don't like that.

    Clem, do you have a URL citation for the four page scoping comments letter from UPRR to the CHSRA as part of the response to the rail authority comments requests?

    Martin, see p.35 in Appendix K4 of the scoping report.

    Interestingly, UPRR wants 23'6" and not just 23' of clearance.

    If sanity prevails, I think this issue will ultimately end up before the STB, something that is provided for under the trackage rights agreement section 8.3(c).

  47. If the AAR plate H + 25kv electrification recommended height is 24 feet 3 inches, as shown in the linked file, and Caltrain is proposing 23 feet, isn't 23 feet 6 inches a bit of a compromise? Or am I not reading things correctly?

  48. @Andy: 24'3" is the tunnel roof including high voltage clearance, not the contact wire itself (23').

  49. Clem:

    I'm a high school kid in Palo Alto and really don't know much about this stuff.
    But if Caltrain argued that "User" (now UPRR) must pay the incremental cost of the Plate H upgrades per § 2.10 of the trackage rights agreement above, then why not allow for Plate H clearance?

    I see nothing wrong for supporting Plate H if UPRR foots the bill for it (which it is obligated to do, if § 2.10 isn't superseded by another section)

    Of course, UPRR wouldn't want to, but from my reading of the section, UPRR has the right to demand timely upgrades for expanded clearances, if and only if they pay the incremental cost

  50. @Clem: Ok, but why would they specify it that way? How do they know how large your catenary system is, and why would they care? Isn't "clearance" a lack of structures, including, or perhaps especially, electrified wires? It seems coincidental that their recommended increase in "clearance" from non electrified to electrified, is nearly the same as the additional distance you list as being required for 25kv electrified wires to prevent arcing (1' vs 1'3"). I've been trying to find documentation from AAR on this, but I can't find any.

  51. What is now painfully obvious, is the CalTrain has not been above board when putting out information.

    All we have heard was, certification was due any minute now. We have had excellent relations with the UPRR and are sure we can work out any problems that arise.

  52. Dear Brave Capitalists,

    Assuming the evil gubmint were to turn off the spigot of Caltrain subsidies overnight, just how many minutes do you estimate it take for the mighty Union Pacific Railroad to initiate abandonment proceedings for the ultra-profitable, super-strategic, core-competency, network-critical, customers-knocking-down-the-doors, relentlessly-growing, revenue-gushing SF Peninsula sudivision?

  53. Adirondacker1280002 December, 2009 09:22

    Assuming the evil gubmint were to turn off the spigot of Caltrain subsidies overnight, just how many minutes do you estimate...

    That depends on how adept the administrative assistant is at opening the bottles of champagne. And whether or not they begin as the champagne is being poured or they wait until after the toast. They have been trying to abandon that annoying little branch line for decades.

    Not that it should be abandoned. It might be useful in a few years when San Francisco and the rest of the Peninsula has to ship their garbage to Utah. Does it need Plate H, probably never. Does it need Plate F, probably not. Plate C would do for hauling drywall, granite countertops and Portland cement in, and hauling the garbage out. Lash two electric locomotives to the ten car train and they could probably cope with 2 percent grades two.

  54. It seems pretty clear that UPRR feels their future potential on that line has value and they want it retained, they don't explicitly come out and say in the february 09 letter that they will accept being paid off for that theoretical loss, but they might as well.

    FWIW, the relevant clearances are apparently discussed in standard S-2040 in section C of the AAR Manual of Standards and Rec. Practices. It's a paid download, however, and I'm not $234 interested. If any of the posting/lurking railroad engineers have that doc sitting around, I'd appreciate looking up the clearance issue to clarify it.

  55. All this talk of Ballast Track vs Slab Track on the newer thread and on the CAHSR blog brings up an interesting point.

    Wikipedia (which, of course, is never wrong) states that slab track is shallower than ballast track – one of the reason it's often used in tunnels, specifically when converting to overhead electrification.

    1: Is that true?
    2: If there are utilities near these overcrossings that make it difficult to lower the track bed, could converting to slab track, if even just for a small section, make the difference?

  56. I thought it was used in tunnels because it requires less maintenance...

  57. Plate F is the necessary minimum on any line because that is the new standard for freight cars. All new box cars, refrigerated box cars and soon gondolas and hoppers will be 17' standard. The railroads have been pushing for taller and heavier duty rail cars since the beginning. That is one thing that makes them so efficient. One 100 car freight train equals 400 trucks. A freight train will move 1 ton of freight 436 miles on one gallon. Freight rail reduces emissions by up to 80% compared to trucking. But none of this matters since everyone on this blog wants to truck everything instead.

    For the record Clem, freight trains run up and down 2 & 3% grades all the time. Donner Pass exceeds 2.6% now and they run 15,000 ton trains over it no problem. A freight train will still run on your plan for a roller coaster HSR. Not sure the passengers would enjoy it that much.

  58. Freight rail reduces emissions by up to 80% compared to trucking.

    Class A freight rail does. Short lines that carry gravel, not so much.

  59. But none of this matters since everyone on this blog wants to truck everything instead.

    Definitely not true. Most people here just want restrictions put on freight, such that it won't drive up construction or maintenance costs.

    Not sure the passengers would enjoy it that much.

    I ride a 3.1% grade on BART many days (both directions), and I feel nothing when it happens. Grades like that don't really matter for passenger comfort (vertical transition radius might though...).

  60. Plate F is the necessary minimum


    One 100 car freight train equals 400 trucks.

    We can all throw around statistics. For example, all of the peninsula rail freight traffic amounts to about 25% of the five-axle truck traffic on highway 101. Yawn.

    A freight train will still run on your plan for a roller coaster HSR.

    No it won't, not without white-knuckle train handling and risk of serious slack action. It might with much shorter trains and much greater hp per ton (more like less ton per hp...) which is precisely what I've been advocating. Could it be that we're in agreement?

    The characterization of "roller coaster" is alarmist and naive--and quite worrisome, because it is often (and incorrectly) advanced by project people at PB and HNTB. These guys apparently haven't ever seen the vertical profile of the LGV Sud Est, and perhaps don't understand that as long as the vertical radius is kept to greater than 10 km, there is a wide range of possibilities for the vertical profile on the peninsula--many of which would be more context sensitive than a freight-constrained 1% grade limit.

    Not sure the passengers would enjoy it that much.

    Grandma wouldn't ever spill her coffee on this "roller coaster", as the most elementary physics calculations demonstrate.

    For the record Clem, freight trains run up and down 2 & 3% grades all the time.

    Yes, but with how many hp per ton? Saluda to you too.

  61. 2005 DOT study showed that there are over 600,000 trucks a day that serve the 3 counties of SF, SC & SM. I guess we should forever keep those trucks on the highways with even larger subsidies than would be needed to build a rail line that would accommodate both passengers and freight over the long run. I want both HSR and freight. Trains are the most efficient way to move people and freight on land. None of you should want more trucks or more automobiles.

    Caltrain, HSR and the JPB have said that freight is not going anywhere. They are going to honor the trackage rights agreement. Therefore why are we all still debating this? So keep debating all you want and watch the freight trains roll by along with a TGV (probably not at the same time but on the same tracks).

  62. There's little question that freight will continue. The question is, what types of freight trains will be permitted, since things like Plate H and 1% grades will increase construction costs. Of course, none of this would prevent the use of shorter Plate F freight trains with light axel loads.

  63. Over long stretches a 2 to 3% grade would affect a freight train in terms of horsepower but over short quick undulating territory as you are proposing would have little or no affect on a freight train. When the majority of a freight train is on flat or downhill only some of the trains weight would be on the slope. The terrain in the Midwest is a lot like you are proposing with large slopes up and down. It is merely quality train handling using both air and dynamic braking to keep the slack from running in and out. So go ahead and build your HSR with the slopes and valleys that you want and let us freight guys figure out how to get over the humps.

  64. So go ahead and build your HSR with the slopes and valleys that you want

    I'm glad we're in agreement. Now if only Tony Daniels and on down the engineering hierarchy would realize that a 1% spec is idiotic. Sounds like even the freight guys don't need it!

    The only plausible use of such an absurd spec would be as an excuse to eliminate expensive tunnel alternatives on the basis of specious "technical" limitations.

    I doubt they are that cunning, though.

  65. 17 feet is not the minimum. 22.5 ft is the minimum. The minimum should actually be 23ft, but we can only hope for CPUC G.O. 95 to get us the necessary minimum. The future of freight relies on taller wire height. If HSR is being built for 100 years of service, freight should get the same treatment. It is not realistic nor is it environmentally beneficial to cut either one short.

  66. Hi,
    Sorry for bumping up the thread, but the issue of clearance has just come up in Montreal. The proposal by the commuter rail agency (AMT) to electrify was rejected by CP and CN, based on clearance issues, supposedly. I think they don't want any life wire above double stack containers, but let's just assume we can hang them high enough. Then, as your article mentions, we run into the issues of bridges that are too low.

    Now I am wondering, wouldn't it be possible to have gaps in the electrification line where bridges are. For example for third rail electrification, along intersections, there will be gaps in the third rail. Usually trains are long enough so that one shoe always hits some third rail. That is not always the case, and train just rolls through the gap. But nowadays that shouldn't be necessary. Even at slow speeds, passing a bridge shouldn't take more than ten seconds, so if the gap in the power supply would only be 10 seconds or so. A large capacitor should be able to handle that.

    Has this ever been considered, or is this technically infeasible?

    1. Yes it is feasible. One of the bridges on Metro North's New Haven line is not electrified. The trains coast across it. I'm sure there are other examples like it. In other places, trains coast through neutral sections everyday - the sections of unpowered wire separating two substations.