28 August 2010

The Prescriptive Framework: System Requirements

A System Requirement is a statement that identifies a necessary attribute, capability, characteristic, or quality of a system in order for it to have value and utility to a user. The entire engineering effort for the California high-speed rail system is prescribed by a long list of technical requirements, which taken together form the system specification. The requirements are prepared by the program management team at Parsons Brinckerhoff, and cover every detail down to the allowable shades of red for the train's tail lights.

The Palo Alto grassroots group CARRD recently made a public records request for this important material. Thanks to their persistence, the system requirements have now been made public:
The document that is likely to be of most interest is the 961-page "kitchen sink" which also contains background information on how each requirement was developed:
A large portion of the requirements is a hodgepodge of existing FRA regulatory requirements (Title 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations), AREMA (U.S. industry) recommended practices, and TSI (European Technical Standards for Interoperability) requirements. The European requirements are featured prominently because there is no existing regulatory framework for very high-speed rail in the United States, and California must blaze the regulatory trail.

As the high-speed rail system comes under ever-increasing scrutiny, these requirements will reveal where and why the CHSRA and its prime contractor (Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas) might resist design suggestions made by communities along the rail corridor.


  1. How many millions of dollars did PBQD get paid to translate (badly, in many cases, and with intent to obfuscate in several) metres and mm into feet and inches?

    Nice make-work if you can get it, for sure.

    Please note that every single piece of equipment that Caltrain and CHSR will ever purchase will be manufactured in metric units, so we get to pay now and continue paying later to have junk customised for 'unique American conditions". And for sure there will be skilled US Transportation Professionals who will have to verify and test that the newtons and pascals rolling off the SiemensKawasakiCAFStalderAlstomBombardierMitsubishiEtc production line are in full agreement with the slugs and furlongs of our uniquely special needs train set.

    Note that even Britain(!!!!!) designs and builds all of its rail infrastructure using regular standard units. The only place miles are ever involved are on mph speed limit signs, for historical network legacy reasons. Caltrain and CHSR could (and should) be pure metric units operations, including the train speeds (it's not as if train drivers have some magic intuition about what 180kmh is regardless of the speedometer in the cab, and it's not as if a single 50mph line couldn't be switched overnight), and we'd save a non-negligable amount over time.

    This is something of a small deal in the overall frame of tens of billions of dollars being wasted by piss-poor design and outright contractor fraud, but it's indicative of how they do the wrong thing, make work for themselves, and bill you for the trouble, and engineer fiscal gifts that keep on giving.

  2. Incidentally, I think I found out why they absolutely don't want freight cars to run on their pristine HSR infrastructure.

    Apparently 49 CFR 213.135 allows freight car wheel treads to have up to 1/4 inch of "hollow wear". To prevent such grossly negligent yet legal maintenance practices from causing derailments on switches, the switch rail is 1/4 inch higher than the stock rail, which causes a slight bump. They don't want that bump for HSR, so freight cars from the general rail network cannot touch tracks built for the high-speed rail system.

    I suspect this is the real reason for the SFFS track arrangement selected for the peninsula, since FSSF would require freight switches to cross PBQD tracks in order to reach sidings.

    It's exactly this my-way-or-the-highway mentality that threatens to give us fully segregated Caltrain / HSR on the peninsula.

  3. While we're at it... why do they even mention "Israel high-speed rail"? Israel has no high-speed rail; it's slowly building a line, but I doubt trains will ever reach 250 km/h there, as the CAHSR documents say.

  4. For a total wheel-rail dynamics noob, can someone explain what "hollow wear" is, what part of the switch is elevated to mitigate this, and how any of this is a good idea as opposed to increasing dynamic stress on one of the more stressed and failure-prone parts of the track structure.

    And Richard, no matter what you do, there's going to be a conversion between metric and inchic somewhere, because California is measured in feet (that is, the survey data for things like propery lines is in feet). Also, most of the legal requirements from the CPUC and FRA and so on are in American units. But I'm sure there's a sensible place to draw the conversion line to make things easiest. And I have to wonder how this was handled with things like the ALP-46, which is basically a European locomotive adapted slightly for US requirements.

  5. @ Clem -

    wouldn't a freight train have to cross HSR tracks regardless of track order, in on or the other direction? There are freight customers on both sides of the right of way, though most appear to be located east of it.

    Are you implicitly assuming that both of the slow tracks will be used in both directions at night?

  6. @Rafael

    Yes I suspect that is what he is assuming. In spite of what some Peninsula special interests might have us believe, there is nowhere near enough freight traffic on the Peninsula to necessitate double tracking.

  7. @Rafael
    I recall Clem explaining that freight may be able to cross at some point where F and S are grade separated.

  8. @ James

    I don't think that grade-separating the slow from the fast tracks is even in the picture anymore, except in very few width-constrained sections.

  9. " the switch rail is 1/4 inch higher than the stock rail, which causes a slight bump."

    I too would like to hear more about that. You must not mean the wheels are rolling over a 1/4-inch bump (which wouldn't be slight at all)-- so, what is 1/4 inch higher than what?

  10. The 1/4 inch higher switch rail would explain the hellacious thumps when going over switches or watching a Caltrain sway like mad back and forth while crossing switches when pulling into Diridon.

  11. Does PCJPB have the legal right to insist on more stringent geometry tolerances for freight locomotives and rolling stock than FRA does?

  12. Rafael - the number of active freight spurs on the West side of the ROW can be counted on one hand with fingers to spare. If it boils down to either making significant operational and cost sacrifices to accommodate them or just closing them, the latter would be preferable.

  13. @James, Rafael, I believe they are planning a track order change from SFFS to FFSS at Bayshore. Spurs on the east side of the corridor are served on the northbound leg of the milk run, and west side on the southbound leg. North of Bayshore it's freight nirvana since HSR would disappear into a separate tunnel.

    @Rafael, any limitation on the sort of freight cars that can operate on the peninsula would quickly run afoul of the trackage rights agreement.

    Just another reason why the PCJPB should agree with UPRR to just put an end to freight on the peninsula and get sued by the remaining customers. It's in their best financial interest, they just don't know it yet. With no freight, raised switch rails are the least of your worries... 3% grades are possible for low-impact grade seps, and billions can be saved by not duplicating tunnels 1 - 3.

  14. What does Amtrak do on their 125-150 mph sections? Do Amfleets and Acelas have no problem with the "bump"? Do they just accept the maintenance cost of whatever extra rail wear is caused by the "bump"?

  15. @Clem:

    You write:
    "Just another reason why the PCJPB should agree with UPRR to just put an end to freight on the peninsula and get sued by the remaining customers. It's in their best financial interest, they just don't know it yet."

    Are you implying the UPRR would like to abandon freight service on the Peninsula, but won't because they would get sued by their customers?

    Boy that is not my understanding.

  16. Morris, yes that is correct. What is your understanding?

  17. It's actually a good document, *except* for the bizarre choice of converting metric to English rather than vice versa.

    However, it also highlights what this blog has already noted: they need to get exemptions from CPUC general orders NOW, not later. Numerous vital things say "This CPUC GO is not relevant (or not appropriate) to the high speed rail system".

  18. The number of freight customers on the west side north of Redwood City appears to be *zero* -- there's only one siding in situ and it doesn't look functional.

  19. Caltrain First31 August, 2010 11:17

    UPRR doesn't make any profit off Peninsula freight service, what tiny amount there is left. The key reason SP sold the Peninsula line in 1991 was because it wasn't a profitable freight operation anymore and was losing money for SP.

  20. @Clem:

    My understanding is UPRR considers track rights their most fundamental of all rights. They don't care to give them up and I never heard expressed anywhere, (expect for today), any desire on their part to give them up.

    They could have just played dead and rolled over to the Authority, claiming they could no longer provide service because the line was being taken over. That surely would have insulated them from customer lawsuits. They have not, and I don't believe they have that position at all.

    They abandoned passenger service because it was a huge money loser; freight service is a different matter.

    Also since they own inter-city passenger rights on the Peninsula, I don't think they will give those up for nothing either.

  21. Clem, in a previous post you stated that most the Caltrain corridor is wide enough for four tracks. Did you mean four tracks as you envision them or four tracks as the CHSRA envisions them?

    Is it still wide enough for the more concrete plans that are coming to light?

  22. In Menlo Park there are areas in the downtown that certainly cannot support 4 tracks wide. The number the City has "currently" been given by the Authority's engineering staff is 81 feet are needed. Just north of the train station, the ROW narrows to 55 feet. Many area are at 75 feet.

    In addition there is needed extra width to accommodate construction "shoo fly tracks" and other needs.

    Clem is right that "most" of the corridor might support 4 tracks. "Most" in Menlo Park doesn't work without significant taking of extra land in very important commercial as well as residential areas of the City.

  23. Sure, but most of the property takes would be limited to strips of backyard. Also, most configurations are relatively easy to construct two tracks at a time, eliminating the need for shoofly tracks (trenching probably being the major exception.

  24. Adirondacker1280001 September, 2010 09:56

    Joey, strips of parking lot if the aerial images on the maps the Caltrain Right of Way maps here are correct. I'm going to assume they are give of take a few feet.

    Morris, the ROW does narrow down north of the station. For the parking lot of the 7-11. Does parking for the Menlo Park 7-11 have great cultural and historical significance? If parking is that tight for the 7-11 why is parking under the tracks so much worse than parking next to the tracks?

  25. Morris is just gettin' all hot and bothered because the ROW is only 75ft at Stone Pine Lane, directly across from his house. Oh Morris!

  26. Adirondacker1280001 September, 2010 16:10

    that means that the tracks are going to overhang the street by a whole 5 feet or the street is going to 5 feet narrower. The horror of it all, losing parking on one side of the street or it becoming a one way street. Absolutely awful. Terrible. Makes me want to rend my garments.

  27. Facts, not wishes01 September, 2010 19:17

    Caltrain First said...

    UPRR doesn't make any profit off Peninsula freight service, what tiny amount there is left. The key reason SP sold the Peninsula line in 1991 was because it wasn't a profitable freight operation anymore and was losing money for SP.

    False on both counts.

  28. Facts, not wishes01 September, 2010 19:30

    Somewhat tangential, but perhaps interesting, including 3rd generation Cal cars:


    75 tons per bi-level. Still 125 mph max, but loco specs upped to 125 from the current 110.

  29. Sorry, I'm about 600 feet from the tracks.

    The maps you are looking at must not be accurate. They narrow area is north of 7/11. You're are talking about our downtown, not residential. Between the tracks and 7/11 is Alma street.

    A bit off subject, at today's Board meeting (9/01/2010), vanArk claimed they had had very fruitful talks with the UPRR. It will be really interesting to see just what that means. How many times have we heard the Authority claim this.

  30. What are you and Transdef going to do when there is an agreement with UPRR? What's your next lame argument going to be?

  31. Adirondacker1280001 September, 2010 21:09

    The maps you are looking at must not be accurate.

    These maps.


    Specifically the ones for Menlo Park. And more specifically this one


    The narrowest part is between Oak Grove Ave and Glenwood Ave. Most likely need to take space on the west side of the tracks to keep it within the same envelope as the wider parts on either side. The west side of the tracks is parking lot. What is the historical and cultural significance of those parking lots? What sort of social destruction will take place if those parking spaces are no longer available? If they are desperately needed can they be replaced by parking under the new railroad?

  32. @Morris

    Don't be so modest. Google Earth identifies you as 400' from the Caltrain ROW.

    Incidentally, Morris is on the record as strongly advocating parking spaces over landscaping.

    Trading off landscaping for blight-inducing pavement? Sign me up!

    Trading off landscaping for blight-inducing rails? How dare they!

  33. Would Morris' needs be met if we placed parking beneath the aerial going past Stone Pine Lane?

  34. Seriously, if they removed parking on Stone Pine Lane in order to even out the ROW width to 85 feet, they would only need to take 10 feet from Stone Pine Lane and they could accommodate parking beneath the aerial.

  35. Hell, a 4-track aerial might take up only 78.5 feet, according to the typical cross-sections. They'd only have to take 3.5 feet from Stone Pine Lane. Possibly wouldn't even touch the street.

  36. @Morris: freight service abandonment is no mean feat, and requires approval from the STB. The STB will listen to peninsula customers and deny the abandonment unless somebody (exactly who is the bone of contention, but I argue it ought to be the PCJPB) pays those customers a handsome amount of money to go away. That would be money very well spent, even if it is many millions. In the meantime, it is more financially advantageous for UPRR to continue serving the peninsula with a poor bottom line, rather than get embroiled in an expensive legal fight.

    @facts not wishes, it would be nice if you could elaborate on your claim that UPRR makes a profit on its peninsula operations, or even that UPRR wishes to continue the operation. I have it from reliable sources that they do not.

    @everyone: stop taunting Morris please, this isn't a school yard. Keep telling yourself that if he can't kill HSR, he will have made it better.

  37. Actually, I think Peter's point is quite astute, even if raised in a humorous manner. The land beneath the aerials has a number of potential uses. Parking is one. PCJPB/CHSRA could "gift" the spaces to the local community rent-free as a gesture of good will.

    The land still has fewer potential uses than if there were a tunnel. But the land value in these areas is nowhere near high enough to justify tunneling.

  38. I guess nobody wants to tell me about hollow wear and the wheel rail interface. Oh well. You can all go back to picking on Morris Brown and ranting about incompetence.

  39. Arcady, here you go. Some reading for you.

  40. Ooops, sorry. That ^^^ last link needs to have a subscription to read the abstract. Here is another article for you to read on wheel/rail interaction.

  41. I just picked up this link:


    with the title

    New Standards for High-Speed Railcars Unveiled

  42. About that quarter-inch-- I guess Clem figured we could get off our butts and learn about it ourselves. Try this


  43. @ Morris

    Are these new standardized bi-level cars supposed to be the same ones from facts, not wishes' link earlier?

  44. @Tim: thanks.

    @Morris, Facts, those specs are for 125 mph bilevel cars. Sort of a Chevy Tahoe, compared to the Porsche Panamera of high-speed rail.

    Nevertheless it is worrisome that FRA is circling the wagons to protect US manufacturers. That sort of regulatory protectionism (on top of the existing Buy America rules) will only make a commodity product even more expensive for us taxpayers. Remember the CAHSR fleet will only be about 100 trainsets, probably not even worth setting up a new factory.

    As for right of way in Menlo Park, it's a yawner. The necessary strip of land on the west side will be acquired, bada bing, bada boom, as simple as that. MP is the least of the challenges ahead.

  45. Adirondacker1280004 September, 2010 10:51

    Nevertheless it is worrisome that FRA is circling the wagons to protect US manufacturers. That sort of regulatory protectionism (on top of the existing Buy America rules) will only make a commodity product even more expensive for us taxpayers.

    There are no US manufacturers of passenger cars. The MTA, NJTransit, SEPTA etc. pay world prices from world manufacturers for cars assembled in the US. Amtrak and the FRA aren't aiming for California's or Florida's High Speed rail. They are aiming for cars that can run on track that is good, right now, for 125. The NEC for instance and the bits and pieces connected to the NEC or Chicago.

  46. Thanks for the links, I think I get the switch issue now. I agree, it seems ridiculous that they allow and accommodate that kind of hollow wear. But why not just have the bump on the curved switch rail, and achieve the same effect on the straight switch rail by dipping the curved stock rail? That also builds in a certain amount of cant into the turnout route, which might be a good thing, and the precision of the track geometry matters a lot less at the very low speeds typical of turnout routes at siding switches.

  47. Sure there are US manufacturers: US Railcar, plus the North American divisions of Kawasaki, Bombardier, and Alstom. Those get a leg up on companies without factories producing FRA-compliant equipment, for no good reason. The NEC doesn't need unpowered coaches weighing 150,000 pounds; it needs EMUs weighing 90,000 pounds.

  48. Re antediluvian US freight standards and FSSF and screwing over Caltrain and peninsula passenger service, forever, without justification:

    What (should be) most amazing about this (but isn't), is the degree to which the Peninsula Rail Program's extremely ethical and highly skilled US rail transportation professionals will outright lie in their so-called alternatives "analysis" (see Supplemental AA page S-9 and the extraordinary, not-even-appearing-to-try, utterly transparent, trivially contradicted, outright mendacity of Bob Doty's presentation pp 15-16), rather than just come out and say "we're screwing you over because of freight; we don't care about Caltrain; here's the AREMA turnout standard, the one that works so awesomely for connecting grain silo spurs tracks to the main line in Nebraska, so suck it down." Why even bother at all with the ridiculously easily seen through lies about narrower rights of way and clear implications of significant additional private property takings?

    Perhaps they just enjoy putting out transparent lies for the hell of it, or enjoy putting out laughably bullshit justifications as taunting sport (Check this out! we said 124' is narrower than 104' and we actually got away with it! Yuck yuck yuck! Or how about this one? We said that running HS trains to San Francisco rather than stopping them in Fremont will lose riders and the judge bought it! Try to top that!) rather than coming out and saying that what their intent is (screw regional transportation; maximize cost) and providing "technical" justifications in their "analyses" that can at least withstand the effort of 15 seconds with a pocket calculator.

  49. It took effort to actually locate the trumpeted 125mph Amtrak superdreadnaught standards; for the they-can't-possibly-be-serious horror experience see
    http://www.highspeed-rail.org/Pages/DocsSpecs.aspx and
    (W*rd format documents on M$ servers: always a hallmark of quality!)

  50. Error! Bookmark not found.

  51. "Remember the CAHSR fleet will only be about 100 trainsets, probably not even worth setting up a new factory."

    The companies are not counting on the California high speed rail system as being the only one in the U.S. They expect other lines to be built, even with the current pull back due to deficit concerns. Gas prices will go up again and those companies vying for the all-fat contract are banking on being ready to supply other projects that will be funded once gas prices do increase.

  52. A hundred trainsets is 800 cars. Companies have set up new factories for smaller orders for the New York City Subway.

  53. The system standards were clearly designed to require the minimum number of exemptions from existing regulations.

    That said, Richard's complaints about turnouts appear to be unjustified. There's some very exact analysis of wheel profile, rail profile, and wheel/rail profile -- one of the few places where the standard didn't just say "we satisfied both EU and US rules" -- and the choice of turnout specs is driven by that. Just because it's AREMA doesn't mean it's totally hopeless, it was checked that it was Euro-standard-compliant.

    Half the report from the standards document is comparing different standards.


    The new Amtrak bilevel "standard" was designed even more obviously to meet existing standards without requiring *any* changes, which is unfortunate. It's also quite absurd that they're still planning to prevent wheelchair-bound passengers from reaching the upper deck; this is probably an ADA violation *per se*. It's a deeply unimaginative design. It's basically Superliner III. As such, well, it is what it is, and I had hoped for better.

  54. 100 trainsets? Isn't that a lot? Even if they run trains every 15 minutes, 6 am to midnight, that's only 72 runs, and you figure trains would make two or even three trips...

    I would think that they would have 25 or so trainsets, at least in the beginning, with more as popularity and/or additional lines warranted.

  55. CAHSR plans is to run trains much more frequently than every 15 minutes. They think they'll have about 10 tph peak; with a 7-hour roundtrip, including turnaround time, it corresponds to 70 trainsets.

  56. Right. In a nutshell, trains run both ways. Alai's calculation was for one way only.

  57. Actually, I figured 4 trips/hour*2 directions*16 hours/day / (4 one-way trips/train/day) = 32 trains

    (I used slightly different assumptions the first time)

    Anyway, I was wondering about the ADA. Seems to me if you mandate access to all areas of the train car, you pretty much ban multilevel cars, no? Otherwise you'd need a lift in every car, and the design would be very constrained, which seems unworkable. Does the ADA actually require that, or is it enough that there are available facilities?

  58. Adirondacker1280024 October, 2010 11:51

    Anyway, I was wondering about the ADA. Seems to me if you mandate access to all areas of the train car, you pretty much ban multilevel cars, no?

    There are new ADA compliant multilevels running in the Northeast. Commuter cars but they are used in intercity service now and then. (Amtrak leases them for peak service )

  59. The ADA doesn't mandate access to all parts of the traincar, does it? Just level boarding with wheelchair spaces provided at the entry level.