11 January 2010

The Prescriptive Framework

Back in July, the CHSRA issued its annual Program Summary Report summarizing progress to date and laying out the upcoming project tasks. This document contained a comprehensive list of deliverables from the program management team, including a number of engineering technical memoranda and drawings listed on pp. 53-61. These memoranda and drawings have direct bearing on the peninsula rail corridor in that they form the prescriptive framework for all the engineering design.

The Palo Alto grassroots organization Citizens Advocating Responsible Railroad Design (CARRD) requested that these documents be shared with the public. The CHSRA may not have been especially keen to release them, but CARRD's push was persistent and successful.

Keeping in mind that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, a few up-front caveats are in order:
  • These documents are guidelines authored by Parsons Brinckerhoff program management staff, ensuring that early designs for each section (performed by HNTB for San Francisco - San Jose) are consistent and compatible. They are not a "design bible" for detailed 100% engineering.
  • The documents cover the entire state, which consists primarily of 220-mph very high speed, dedicated tracks. The peninsula is a different animal, with 125-mph top speeds in a shared corridor with Caltrain and freight trains, so use proper care when applying to or inferring conclusions about specific peninsula situations. The peninsula-specific memo (TM 1.1.7) is due for initial release in June 2010.
  • The documents are a snapshot in time, as of January 2010.
With that out of the way, here is the raw technical data download:

Document NumberTitleType
TM 0.0aDesign Terms and Acronymsmemo
TM 0.115% Design Scopememo
TM 0.3CHSTP Basis of Design Reportmemo
TM 0.5Coordination with Caltransmemo
TM 0.7Design Submittal Protocol memo
TM 1.1.1Codes, Regulations, Design Standards, and Guidelinesmemo
TM 1.1.2Design Lifememo
TM 1.1.4Mapping and Surveysmemo
TM 1.1.5CADD Guidelinesmemo
TM 1.1.6Alignment Stds for Shared Use Corridor – LA to Anaheimmemo
TM 1.1.8Proposed Methodology for Demarcation of Territorial Subdivisions and Milepost Numericsmemo
TM 1.1.8Subdivisions Milepost Mapmap
TM 1.1.10High Speed Equipment Structure Gaugesmemo
TM 1.1.18Design Variance Guidelinesmemo
TM 1.1.1915% Capital Cost Methodmemo
TM 1.1.21Typical Cross Sections for 15% Designmemo
TM 1.1.21Typical Cross Section Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM 2.1.2Alignment Design Standards for High-Speed Train Operationmemo
TM 2.1.3Turnouts and Station Tracksmemo
TM 2.1.7Intrusion Protectionmemo
TM 2.1.8Turnouts and Yard Tracksmemo
TM 2.2.2Station Program Design Guidelines (Policy)memo
TM 2.2.3High-Speed Train Passenger Station Site Design Guidelinesmemo
TM 2.2.4Station Platform Geometric Designmemo
TM 2.2.4Station Platform Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM 2.3.2Structure Design Loadsmemo
TM 2.3.3Design Guidelines for High-Speed Train Aerial Structuresmemo
TM 2.3.3Aerial Structure Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM 2.4.2Basic Tunnel Configurationmemo
TM 2.4.2Tunnel Configuration Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM 2.6.7Earthwork and Track Bed Design Guidelinesmemo
TM 2.7.4Utilities Requirements for 15% Designmemo
TM 2.9.1Geotechnical Investigation Guidelinesmemo
TM 2.9.2Geotech Reports Preparation Guidelinesmemo
TM 2.9.3Geologic and Seismic Hazard Analysis Guidelinesmemo
TM 2.10.4Interim Seismic Design Criteriamemo
TM kV Autotransformer Systemmemo
TM Power Supply Sitesmemo
TM Power Supply Sites Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM Power Supply memo
TM 3.2.1Overhead Contact System Requirementsmemo
TM 3.2.1Overhead Contact System Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM 3.2.3Pantograph Clearancesmemo
TM 3.2.3Pantograph Clearances Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM 4.1LOSSAN Concept Level Operation Feasibility Studymemo
TM 4.1.1Justification for Two Track Station Configuration – LA to Anaheimmemo
TM 4.2Phase 1 Service Planmemo
TM 4.3Full Build Service Planmemo
TM 4.3 Apx A1Full Build Service Plan, Stopping Patternsappendix
TM 4.3 Apx A3Full Build Service Plan, String Linesappendix
TM 4.3 Apx A4Full Build Service Plan, Equipment Cyclesappendix
TM 5.1Terminal and Heavy Maintenance Facility Guidelinesmemo
TM 5.1Terminal and Heavy Maintenance Facility Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM 5.2Maintenance Of Way Facility Directive Drawingsdrawing
TM 5.3Summary Description of Requirements and Guidelines for: Heavy Maintenance Facility, Terminal Layup/Storage & Maintenance Facilities, and Right-of-Way Maintenance Facilitiesmemo
Rolling Stock
TM 6.1Selected Train Technologiesmemo


  1. One of the questions that was brought up before was whether the authority was planning on ballasted or slab construction, the diagrams show both, however there is this gem buried in section 2.1.2:

    It is anticipated that the high-speed tracks will be of some form of concrete slab type construction.

  2. Another point of discussion was minimum curve radii.

    Minimum curve radius: Based on use of no less than 190 m radius in Europe and 200 m radius in Japan, and the use of 190 m radius in Taiwan with Japanese equipment, and Japanese concerns that were not backed by any technical analysis that anything under 200 m would cause difficulties with the equipment.

    So they seem to think the Shinkansens shouldn't have a problem with European-level minimum radii.

  3. "Work process" documents like this represent a whole truck-load of billable consultant hours by America's Finest Railroading Professionals. (I've met a couple of them -- their ignorance, utter insularity and lack of intellectural curiosity cannot be overstated.)

    Somebody got paid a lot of money to incompetently and inconsistently turn mm into inches and the obfuscate the sources, the justifications, and the rationales.

    And then round up, because we're bigger and fatter and bad-ass, and there's no way we should make do with weenie train stuff. And, well, bigger costs more, frankly.

    And then shit random AREMA freight crap on top, because in the end that is all that they know and all that their soon to be subcontracted friends know.

    Another globally unique "standard", driving up procurement costs, and, most importantly, guaranteeing employment for the otherwise unemployable and contracts for the otherwise uncompetitive is what this whole exercise seems to be about. (Contrast with the dead Florida FOX project, which at least attempted to just copy a known working set of standards. Or contrast with Spain, which simply adopted foreign standards without change when starting out from nothing.)

    Highball on the CBOSS! Amp up the thrysistors to eleven slugs per degree of curvature!

  4. Yeah, I wonder how much of the line will be ballastless track?

  5. I wanted to write an acerbic comment about the service plan, with its byzantine train patterns and the greater amount of service offered to Gilroy than to Burbank and Sylmar. But then I remembered that LA has no plans to construct connecting transit in the Valley, so Burbank and Sylmar may not deserve high service levels.

  6. Thanks for posting!

    The PCC website also has the information up - along with the LAO report:


  7. Adirondacker1280012 January, 2010 18:43

    obfuscate the sources

    Apparently Wikipedia in some cases. Maybe it's me but if somebody at Parsons calls somebody at Bombardier and says "we're going to be spending a billion dollars sometime in the near future, could you send me some spec sheets?" I'm sure they would be sent.

    Dya' notice that the preferred platform height is 915 MM the same as the UK and only the UK?

  8. They don't have a preferred platform height. TM 2.2.4 section 6.1.4: Since the type of equipment is unknown at this time, the platform height above rail us unknown at this time. The height of the platform above the top of the closest rail will be established when the rolling stock criteria are known.

  9. Adirondacker1280012 January, 2010 21:05

    Which is immediately followed by

    The following guidance on the platform height is provided insofar
    as it may help to design station facilities.
    • Desirable: 3’ - 0” (91.5 cm)
    • Maximum: 4’ – 5” (134.6 cm)
    • Minimum: 2’ – 0” (61.0 cm)

    Desirable, preferable aren't all that much different. 91.5 cm last time I looked was the same as 915 mm. 915 mm is the platform height in the UK which is given special consideration in EU regulations. Wikipedia quotes them as:
    Section 7.3.4. Passenger step (Section 4.2.5):

    "Specific case for British lines: The passenger step for those trainsets intended to serve the British network shall be optimised for the 915 mm platform height on that system in accordance with Section 4.2.5.

    I'm spoilt rotten. This questions was resolved over 100 years ago here on the East Coast and everybody who uses the national network uses 48" platforms and 10'6" wide trains.

  10. Much can be explained if you consider that many involved are reported to have no working knowledge of or interest in anything outside the English-speaking world.

    (If you don't read Japanese or German, less so French, you really can't be technically on top of passenger rail. It's one place where English hasn't homogenized all yet.)

    The UK is a great big exotic stretch. They have high speed rail there (don't tell anybody that it built to a pure Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey design -- CTLR1&2 are literally LGVs extended into London), you can fly from New York and see it without dealing with non-Anglophones, so if the PB Boys need something exotic, look there.

    What appears to be a really big stretch to Taiwan in some of the referecnes is no stretch at all. American engineering companies had their paws all over it.

    Oh yes and speaking of which ... CTRL and THSR are both collosal white elephants. Nice trains, some nice civil engineering, but miserable cost control, and, by any rational analysis (see: "opportunity cost"), they are titanic economic disasters.

  11. last time i looked the CTRL [HS1] (which runs underneath my house) was delivered on time and on budget (over two stages). sure you can question the value of shaving of 20 minutes (or whatever the saving was) and I'm sure the [channel] tunnel was either late or over budget (or both) and our means of financing it were a disaster....

    a lurking limey......

  12. CTRL as built is is OK civil engineering, and I've enjoyed the ride under your house a number of times. But ...

    CTRL costs were several times those of comparable construction in Europe.

    The cost profiles resemble the disaster of the WCML, not High Speed Line line construction in France, Spain or Germany (that famously cheap and corner-cutting nation.) It seems to be a British disease, or an Anglophone disease, not an inherent high speed rail disease. Maybe Britain has something in common with Italy though... (Tony, meet Silvio.)

    To anticipate quibbling, there are bridges and tunnels on new train lines outside the home counties, and there's even gruyère urbain outside London. CTRL1&2 are still off the charts.

    This was a prestige grand project with extraordinarily high costs undertaken despite, not because of, value for money.

    Emulate Madrid, not London.

  13. I'm guessing Clem (and many others) will be pleased that they seem to be looking poles instead of headspans.

  14. CTRL costs were several times those of comparable construction in Europe.

    Yes, but isn't that the case in general for typical US/UK public works project?

  15. Yes, it is... just look at the projected budget for HS2. $55 billion for about 700 kilometers, without complex mountain crossings. California at least has good reasons for higher than usual construction costs.

  16. Alon,
    I don't disagree that HS2 projected cost is ridiculous. And yes, the cost to re-open old freight line for new DMU service is very cheap in Germany.

    But look what it costs to deliver any public works project in US/UK. We see similar cost escalations for airport terminals, runways, and bridges.

    For extreme example: San Francisco will spend more on legal costs for its bike plan than what it costs to actually build a comprehensive bike network in similar sized European city.

  17. DE,

    I gave the Zierke link because it argues that consultant-ridden projects always cost more than projects done with in-house experts. As an extension of this point, the use of PPPs causes cost escalations as well.

  18. CHSRA/Caltrain combine the worst of both worlds: highly paid outside consultants who are about as ignorant and incompetent -- the the track records to prove it -- as it is possible for anybody to be.

    True story: the very senior and undoubtedly nose-bleed expensive and influential CHSRA "Operations and Maintenance Manager" was unaware, three eyars ago, and quite possibly still today, that "commuter trains" existed in Germany. (He also believed that tail tracks -- not approach speed, not approach route conflicts, not platform interchangability, not progressive route release, not approach block length, not train reliability, not platform passenger clearance time, not train turnback time -- is the key to terminal station capacity. After all, trains are supposed to break down all the time, and trains run inbound in the morning and outbound at night, so the most important thing is to dig tunnels to store dead trains in. Simply mindboggling, but true.)

    Moral: hire the worst, allow them to do the worst work without any adult (ie non-US, professional) supervision and you get the worst possible results. You'd almost think that this was the desired outcome, wouldn't you?

  19. Adirondacker1280017 January, 2010 10:14

    ...and it's all got to work together with this...


  20. Let's keep score here.

    * Globally unique track standards. Check.

    * Globally unique electrification standards. Check.

    * Globally unique track and electrification geometry and hence, vendor-specified, vendor-captive cost-plus "expertise" in design software and consulting? Check.

    * Globally unique, completely arbitrary train-platform specification? Check. Multiple ones? Check.

    * Globally unique signalling system, whose necessity is determined by the same rent-seeking parties that will "design" and then "implement" then "test" the resulting "system"? Check.

    * Decades of extremely lucrative vendor lock-in on proprietary signalling and control systems? Check.

    * Decades of extremely lucrative, incessant Engineering Change Orders for proprietary signalling and control systems to Make It Worth, This Year, This Time, For Sure? Check.

    * Globally unique vehicle dimensions? Check.

    * Globally unique vehicle structural requirements? Check.

    * Globally unique vehicle "amenities"? Check.

    * Extensive local consultant "input" required to "specify" and "test" and "validate" the globally unique vehices? Check, you'd better believe it.

    * Fantastically, fabulously, laughably, insanely, ludicrously impossible ridership "predictions"? Check. Oh, check, check, check, check, check, baby!

    * Immensely over-scale yard, storage and maintenance requirements? Check.

    * Arbitrary yet always somehow maximal infrastructure build-out while completely ignoring operations?

    * No operating plan of any type? Check. Check, in spades.

    * Bizarre, easily mitigable constraints ("low hanging fruit") uniformly left unaddressed while heroic, over-the-top engineering resources are thrown where they have no effect. Check. Check! Check!!!!

    * Bizarre, feather-bedding, globally unique, cost-ineffective, hugely costly maintenance and operating practices left unaddressed despite "new" (consultant-developed) technology? Check.

    * Run by a bunch of old BART farts from the 1970s? Check.

    Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to BART.

    An exercise for the reader: try to name just way (other than the completely spurious once-a-week contaminated soil train from the toxic waterfront of the "Port" of San Francisco, which oh so conveniently just happens to make things even more "special needs") that this "Caltrain" line or this "high speed rail" line is anything but a pork barreling exercise in cost maximization, regulation gaming, market manipulation, and vendor lock-in of the type that define the BART system perfectly from top to bottom?

    Same garbage in. Same garbage out.

    Same cast of garbage doing the planning and specifications. Same cast of garbage taking home the bacon.

    How could anybody imagine that we're getting a "world class rail system" running like those bullet trains they rode on vacation or saw on television.

    What we're getting is BART. Nothing more (other than cost), nothing less.

    Suckers, all of us.

  21. * Globally unique track standards. Check.

    * Globally unique electrification standards. Check.

    Excuse me? Have you ever taken a peek outside of your cave?

  22. "* Globally unique track standards. Check."

    "Maximum Virtual Transition Rate at switch point: 5.0 inches/second"


    "Angle at Theoretical Point of Frog


    "* Globally unique electrification standards. Check."

    "Maximum span length 210 feet".

    "Excuse me? Have you ever taken a peek outside of your cave?"

    Seen a lot of HSR systems around the world designed in feet and inches with AREMA crap (that's all we know, so it must be good) sloppily crapped in random spots all over the place, and with arbitrary, unjustified local ad hoc dimensions pissed on top just for fun?

    I haven't. Doesn't look at all like Madrid-Sevilla, that's for sure. Nor Tokyo-Osaka. Nor Folkestone-London, if it comes to that.

    Qui bono?

  23. Adirondacker1280018 January, 2010 18:34

    Doesn't look at all like Madrid-Sevilla, that's for sure. Nor Tokyo-Osaka. Nor Folkestone-London, if it comes to that.

    Won't look like the New Haven either. From an abstract of an IEEE paper titled "New Haven line catenary replacement"

    One major constraint was the existing support structure spacing of 300 ft. The pantograph study indicated that all existing and proposed pantographs were compatible with the existing system as well as with all of the proposed replacement systems.

    Maybe they need to call in the guy from Metro North who wrote the paper....Metro North....

  24. Yeah, we should switch to metric. What else is new?

  25. "* Fantastically, fabulously, laughably, insanely, ludicrously impossible ridership "predictions"? Check. Oh, check, check, check, check, check, baby!"

    Which SNCF pretty much has signed off on with similar estimates of their own.

    "The documents indicate that SNCF “Believe[s] the United States is ideally suited for HSR: it features large metropolitan areas that are relatively far apart, a highly mobile population (2.5 times the European average), and a fast-growing awareness of the importance of the environmental challenges HSR can address.” In addition, SNCF’s response was conditioned on viability: it suggests that high-speed rail investment should only occur where operating and maintenance costs would be covered by rider revenue and that socio-economic benefits offset initial public investments in the system. Based on its conclusions, the corridors it has picked for study would meet those guidelines. This is a wholehearted endorsement of U.S. rail investment from the point of view of a very successful European rail company."

    About California's plan specifically.

    "SNCF’s plans for the California corridor diverge little from those already put forward by the California High-Speed Rail Authority


    SNCF proposes an Anaheim-Los Angeles-San Francisco link by 2020, with extensions to Sacramento and San Diego by 2025, with a total cost of $37.5 billion in 2009 dollars. The organization would set fares at 50% of air travel costs, and expects to attract up to 65 million passengers by 2040; that’s about a third lower than the state currently expects. There is little new analysis here because we’ve already seen so much from the state organization, but the SNCF study does reaffirm the project’s economic viability even with lower-than-expected ridership."

    It would appear that they even looked at Pacheco and didn't seem to care.

    Quick, someone email the link to the "Follow the lights" crap to the French.

  26. Spokker:
    The quid-pro-quo was pretty blatant. SNCF got a juicy consulting contract in exchange for 'validating' CHSRA ridership analysis.

  27. Hi Spokker,

    I have $100,000 that says that CHSR ridership will not come within 50% of PBQD/CHSRA's ridership "predictions" a year after opening.

    Are you on for a little bet?

    It's not as if exactly the same grotesquely unprofessional, grotesquely fraudulent, grotesquely corrupt private-public mafia hasn't made it really easy to put my money where my mouth is. Same house, same call.

  28. I have $100,000 that says that CHSR ridership will not come within 50% of PBQD/CHSRA's ridership "predictions" a year after opening.

    Ridership never meets projections a year after opening. It usually takes about 5 years to build ridership.

  29. "Ridership never meets projections a year after opening. It usually takes about 5 years to build ridership."

    Sure. Right.

    In the Bay Area it takes 40+ years to build ridership to match "predictions" made at alterantives "analysis" and project funding shake-down time by PB/Bechtel/Soprano.

    Consider BART -- initial system or any of the extensions -- or consider VTA Light Rail.

    There's absolutely no reason to imagine BART-VTA HSR will be any different.

    As the man said, "same house, same call."

  30. "The quid-pro-quo was pretty blatant. SNCF got a juicy consulting contract in exchange for 'validating' CHSRA ridership analysis."

    It's all a rich tapestry of conspiracy.

  31. There's absolutely no reason to imagine BART-VTA HSR will be any different.

    There do exist parts of California further south than San Jose. Parts where ridership projections sometimes do match reality.

    In either case, nowhere in the world does a starter HSR line attain projections within one year. The LGV Sud-Est took about 3-4 years and that's a line that came way above projections at the end. It didn't attain 50% in a year. So whoever bet Richard $100,000 that CAHSR will even come 50% within attaining projections within a year is really stupid. I wouldn't make that bet with 4:1 odds, and I do think that CAHSR will attain its 2030 projections in 2030.

  32. The European way of doing things is frequently lauded around here. But when a European rail company validates the California system's ridership and cost estimates, they are suddenly in on the scheme. Pathetic. SNCF's opinion of the project is valid and deserves consideration.

  33. Spokker:
    Perhaps you've heard the saying "The customer is always right."

  34. In the case of SNCF's consulting gigs, usually the customer really is right. The projections are vindicated, except when the HSR operator raises fares in response to low first-year ridership. As long as everyone remembers that it takes a few months to start making operating profits and a few years to reach ridership projections, everything should be fine.

  35. Glad to hear Pringle doesn't think tunneling is too expensive. What's good for the goose must be good for the gander, eh?

  36. Alon:

    Just a couple of notes on the SNCF numbers. The data that they used appears to double count the San Jose region population which makes a big difference (the SF MSA actually inclues San Jose and a lot of other areas).
    The model used was also a gravity model. This is a fairly simplistic method. It works okay to predict ridership changes in response to a new level of service for an existing mode but it has been totally discredited when you try and predict ridership for a new mode. A gravity model was used to predict BART ridership and it basically failed miserably.

    It is one thing to predict demand for a market that you know inside and out (like SNCF and France) and another to do so for California.

  37. Yes, I know the SNCF numbers double-count San Jose. The effect is to create a larger LA-SJ market than there actually is, which is a small effect.

    On the other hand, the population projections SNCF uses assume lower growth rates than are currently observed.

    The model wasn't just a gravity model. It was a combination of gravity to predict induced demand, and logit and probit to predict diversion from other modes of transportation. Besides which, gravity models actually make sense for intercity travel. For commuting, the dominant models are based on travel time, with appropriate transfer penalties.

    I'm not sure how important the foreign-country effect is here. SNCF has experience doing foreign consultations, e.g. in the Middle East.

    Also: Pringle makes me wish Kopp were still in charge.

  38. "In the case of SNCF's consulting gigs, usually the customer really is right. The projections are vindicated, except when the HSR operator raises fares in response to low first-year ridership. As long as everyone remembers that it takes a few months to start making operating profits and a few years to reach ridership projections, everything should be fine."

    Try telling that to Eurotunnel investors, who had to take a 50% haircut.

  39. Eurotunnel was in the special position of having very little auto traffic to divert, or business ties between the cities based on ground transportation.

    Besides which, Eurostar did have to hike prices, obscenely, in response to high interest rates on its debt. Thatcher had ensured the project would have no access to low-interest loans, hence the rush.

  40. Korea's high speed train system initially missed its ridership projections by more than half.

    But then again, the thing has a 63% share of intercity travel against roads, airlines and conventional trains so people clearly enjoy riding the trains.

    It's a strange world.