18 November 2010

Still No Compatibility In Sight

The high-speed rail authority's program management team, of Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, recently published an Operations & Maintenance Concept for peer review by the many foreign HSR operators with which the California High-Speed Rail Authority has signed collaboration agreements.

Besides regurgitating much of the same information already available in the various EIRs and technical memoranda, the peer review document states a number of operational assumptions that have far-reaching implications for the peninsula rail corridor. The first one on the list:
1. The HST system is assumed to operate on dedicated tracks, independent of any other passenger or freight rail services, except in the following locations:

a. Peninsula Corridor – approach tracks leading to the two terminals at Transbay and 4th and King Streets (shared between CHST and Caltrain commuter trains)
Note the added emphasis, that only the approach tracks would be shared, namely north of Brisbane. And then, this:
8. (...) Train operations at the San Francisco end of the network will be complex, linking the two terminal stations, each with mixed HST and commuter traffic, with the San Francisco‐area storage and maintenance yard, as well as the four‐track main line that has high‐speed trains on two dedicated tracks and commuter trains on the other two tracks.
While the document does briefly entertain the alien notion of shared platforms, as well as a "proof-of-payment" fare system where POP must be provided in the paid area of the station (talk about not getting the concept!), what is abundantly clear here is that high-speed rail is being planned on the peninsula without regard to integrating operations with Caltrain--in flagrant disregard of the MOU with Caltrain, and of many successful shared corridors around the world, including even in New Jersey. In this vision, Caltrain is confined to two tracks, and relegated to the role of an operational nuisance on the approach into San Francisco. Any synergy that might arise from Caltrain express trains sharing tracks with high-speed trains is wasted.

Change The Assumptions, Before It's Too Late!

These operating assumptions have dire implications for local commuter rail service on the peninsula.

Caltrain has so far demonstrated a total lack of ambition on the operations front, and has utterly failed, ever since Proposition 1A passed in 2008, to think outside of the two-track box known as Caltrain 2025. There are ways to provide better service with fewer trains, provided that integrated planning is performed up-front by the Peninsula Rail Program, pursuant to the memorandum of understanding (which the above operating assumptions directly contradict).

The high-speed rail program management team is also uninterested, in the first place because their charter is to provide high-speed long-distance service, not commuter service, and secondly, because the same firm built BART. While this can only be alleged, Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas likely has zero interest in improving Caltrain, and every financial interest in receiving another several billion dollars of taxpayer's money to complete BART's manifest destiny to ring the Bay.

Foreign peer reviewers will have little interest in questioning the operational assumptions, since doing so might rock the boat and compromise their future ability to obtain contracts to build and operate California's system.

So just who does that leave to do the right thing, hopefully before any concrete is poured?

Residents and city governments should push hard for Caltrain to integrate its operations with the high-speed rail system, going for maximum flexibility, striking the appropriate balance between local and long-distance services, and enabling the optimal allocation of scarce resources, (such as track capacity at rush hour, platform space at terminal stations, station area footprints in developed areas, etc.) in response to actual demand patterns as they develop. For planning purposes, that means any train should be able to use any track, and stop at any platform.

If peninsula communities are going to bear the considerable disruption of HSR construction and operation, they should have every interest in getting at least a little bit of trickle-down service benefits in return. Otherwise, they may become the rail equivalent of fly-over country.

(thanks to CARRD for obtaining the O&M peer review document)


  1. Sounds like Caltrain needs to give its 30 day notice to pull out of the MOU unless the Authority makes good on its responsibilities.

  2. CalTrain doesn't give a shit about its own best interests either.

  3. Clem, you're assuming here that the cities and residents who "care" about Caltrain are actually interested in doing anything other than cause delay for HSR. They're not interested in how Caltrain integrates with HSR. They just want HSR to go away and not bother them. I predict absolutely zero effort by the cities on Caltrain's behalf.

  4. Peter - that is just patently false. There are multiple efforts to help Caltrain right now to "save Caltrain." There is a "leadership group" that includes the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Mayors of various cities (including Pat Burt of Palo Alto who helped start the movement). In addition, there is a Friends of Caltrain group (which includes Bay Rail Alliance, Drive Less Challenge and CARRD among others) that has been meeting regularly to do a summit in January in order to work on getting Caltrain dedicated funding. You can learn more about it here: http://www.greencaltrain.com/

  5. I'm not talking about "saving" Caltrain. I'm talking about INTEGRATING Caltrain with HSR. Finding a dedicated funding source for Caltrain is not the same as improving it and implementing a rational plan to integrate HSR into Caltrain's operations and vice versa.

  6. Again, how can you help integrate when you can't get access to the information you need to provide constructive technical feedback?

    Clem's entire blog is an attempt to help integrate and if we had to score this game, I'd say poor Clem is losing!

  7. sorry - I missed writing my name on that last comment

  8. I agree you need information to integrate the two systems properly. And I agree that that information needs to be provided. I'm not a cheerleader for PB or the Authority. I want a good result from the HSR design program. I just disagree with obstructionist lawsuits such as the ones over the Program EIR. The latest one will come to nothing.

    But that has nothing to do with finding a reliable funding source for Caltrain. Caltrain is going to need a reliable funding source no matter if it is integrated with HSR or not.

  9. Any effort to find a funding source for CalTrain, so long as they continue with the alliance with the HSR Authority should, and will be strongly opposed.

    Basically,"Friends of CalTrain" is a Palo Alto movement, led by Yoriko, who conceals her true identity of being a strong HSR supporter, regardless of the consequences to the peninsula cities and regardless of looking at what a statewide boondoggle the HSR project represents.

    CalTrain, is on a public relations effort, trying to convince the cities they have this funding problem and have done everything they can to stop the bleeding. They gave a presentation a few weeks ago to the Menlo Park council.

    Of course, there is the $400,000 / year salary given to Scanlon as well has steep raises granted over the last couple of years.

    Why should anyone believe that if HSR comes to the peninsula, offering competitive service between SJ and SF, that CalTrain would survive by itself. This is not facing reality. CalTrain has been boasting for years about how the bullet train service has been so profitable to them. Bring on a competitor, and bullet trains will soon fade into the oblivion.

    Then you continually have van Ark saying, HSR will run on dedicated tracks. So on the Peninsula we are going to have a minimum of 4 tracks or somehow, UPRR and CalTrain will just have to disappear. Yet CalTrain tries to deceive with statements to Belmont and other councils, that 4 tracks are not really needed, at least not for quite a while.

    CalTrain got left in the dust by what is now taking place with the HSR project. No money for the Peninsula; HSR service from LA to SF is fading fast. The new republican congress will not allow further funding, at least as long as they have control of the house of representative, and that is at least for the next 2 years and most likely for much longer.

  10. Peter, I have to agree with Nadia - your statement is patently false. It was a number of us activists/NIMBYs/whatever you want to call us, that started this whole dialogue, both publicly and privately, about interoperability. It is insanity not to plan for an integrated system and everyone I know except Caltrain and the HSRA seems to recognize this.

  11. Ok, I'll partially retract my statement and say that most residents care about integration.

    The exception is Morris Brown, as you can see directly above.

    I stand by my statement that the integration debate is not the same as the funding debate. They should not be conflated, as Morris and his ilk are attempting.

  12. I talked with the HNTB lead at the RWC Peninsular Rail Program meeting. He stated that the current plan of record is to have 24" boarding level (up from 9") but that would still have an 18" differential with the planned high speed rail platform.

    Their thinking is that it may be possible to have a shared platform, but still have separate boarding heights (platforms are not interoperable).

    Of course, I asked that the platforms be interoperable and they seemed to recognize this, but not acknowledge they are pushing for it.

    Seems like a grass roots effort is needed to push HSR to have same platform heights as Caltrain.

  13. Convince them they don't need bilevel trains. That would solve the platform height problem.

  14. @Morris: blaming Caltrain for collaborating with HSR is not going to go anywhere except eventually killing off Caltrain. They are damned if they don't, and according to you, damned if they do. Could you offer a constructive suggestion of just what exactly would you want them to do? Hopefully not just go away forever?

    @anon: 24 inches is 1" short of the floor height of the Bombardier cars, probably on purpose. It seems absurd, provided that Caltrain might go through the considerable trouble of a platform height transition for Caltrain, to end up at a different height than HSR, all in the name of compatibility with a totally disposable sub-fleet of commodity rail cars that would fetch excellent prices on the used market.

    @Peter: Caltrain is now obsessed with bilevels because that underpins their FRA waiver. Their justification is that there are no bilevel FRA-compliant trains available on the market, hence the need for a waiver. If they go single level, their thinking is that the waiver rationale falls apart. However, there are some interesting developments on the bilevel high-platform front, that I'll cover in an upcoming post.

  15. @Clem

    I don't understand your point, that they are damned if they don't cooperate with HSR.

    They have been operating for years without them. They are not going to get funding from HSR now if ever, until many years into the future.

    Peter, I believe was right in his original post about most of the cities on the Peninsula when he wrote:

    "They just want HSR to go away and not bother them. I predict absolutely zero effort by the cities on Caltrain's behalf."

    That is not true of Palo Alto and is not true about the CARRD group, but I certainly believe it is true about the other cities in the consortium.

    Presuming that a new tax will need 2/3 voting majority to pass, I think chances of that are very near zero, unless CalTrain wakes up and decides to lookout for its owners and the Cities to which it serves.

  16. Adirondacker1280019 November, 2010 18:35

    Their justification is that there are no bilevel FRA-compliant trains available on the market, hence the need for a waiver.

    Not that Caltrain should be aiming for FRA compliance in their electric fleet .... Metra Electric has FRA compliant MUs. Locomotive hauled trains make little sense for suburban service but there are lots of FRA compliant bi/multilevels running around. Bombardier would be more than happy to spit out a 100 or so built to the same specs as NJTransit multilevels.... not that NJTransit multilevels make sense anyplace but through the North River Tunnels.

  17. There is no such thing as a self-propelled, bilevel EMU in the US. The Chicago stuff isn't bilevel (it's gallery, without sufficient vertical clearance for two full floors). The east coast stuff is all locomotive-hauled.

    @Morris: the funding package for electrification does not exist, and has largely evaporated on the expectation that HSR would pick up that tab. It's a shame, really, because it would cost less than one quarter of BART to SJ, and provide double the benefit across three counties.

  18. @Morris - Peter is talking about Peninsula cities, not PCC. Besides, even for PCC that is a false statement. Burlingame was at the Caltrain meeting and they would have violated the Brown Act if any more PCC folks had attended given that Mayor Burt was at the meeting too.

    Find me a public statement where any of the cities said to forget about Caltrain and just block everything. You can't - because they all recognize the value. Don't confuse your desires with what the cities are actually working towards.

  19. Clem, aren't high-floor bilevels like the MI 2N fairly routine nowadays?

  20. @Nadia

    I made no comment about the PCC and what ever action or recommendation it might make.

    My comment was what I believe will be the opinions of various cities and their residents along the Peninsula.

    Quite simply, CalTrain made a huge mistake by allowing the Authority to use its ROW, and they as yet, are not ready to "reset" and kick them off, even though all the promises that were made to them, haven't occurred, and are at the very best, years away, if ever from being realized.

    How many times is CalTrain going to be kicked in the teeth, before they come to their senses.

    How many more revelations about the HSR project and the Authority have to come to light, before it is killed off.

    I tried to post this before, but certification of the peninsula project level EIR is being pushed back.


    Robert Doty, director of the Peninsula Rail Program (a partnership of Caltrain and the rail authority), released a statement Friday afternoon saying that the decision by the FRA and the rail authority to give Central Valley the priority "will likely impact the prioritization of the environmental review process for all high-speed-rail sections currently under study."

    "This means that the scheduled December 2010 release of the Draft EIR/EIS for the San Francisco to San Jose section will need to be rescheduled for a future date," wrote Doty, who is responsible for the design of the Peninsula segment.

    He did not specify when this document will be released.

  21. How many times is CalTrain going to be kicked in the teeth, before they come to their senses.

    A lot more apparently, because almost as often as not they are kicking themselves in the teeth. Sure, the CHSRA doesn't care about CalTrain's well being but CalTrain doesn't seem to care about CalTrain's well being either.

  22. AND since the city of SanFranciso also own the Caltrain ROW we have a say in the way Caltrain works with the HSR..and that is get it built up to SF

  23. First off, I'd like to correct a misconception: Caltrain is not a person and this means it can not, as Joey put it, "give a shit" about its interests. It certainly has those, but it's up to the various people running it and generally in its vicinity to look out for its interests. This includes the Caltrain Board (which consists of members from 3 counties not always in agreement), the Caltrain staff, Caltrain's biggest contractor Amtrak, and even the riders. And much the same is true for High Speed Rail as well, with the added bonus that there's nobody really looking out for the interest of high speed rail's operations yet, aside from the people on this blog (if there were, they'd probably be pushing to avoid expensive things like faregates and elaborate stations that cost money to operate and maintain).

  24. The other things I want to say are ones I've said before, but I think bear repeating. I think the big mistake being made here is that multiple entities have different and to some extent mutually incompatible plans for the same piece of railroad. I think the right way to deal with this would have been to have Caltrain really take ownership of the ROW and the planning process, and offer HSRA access to the ROW, letting them pay improvements to gain increased access.
    But I doubt the HSRA would stand for that sort of thing, and Caltrain has no reason to insist on it either. I think this this is symptomatic of a problem with the way transportation planning is done, by Caltrain, HSRA, and others in the Bay Area. Their approach is based around discrete projects, which is the fundamental unit of construction, and the summation of those projects ends up forming some kind of system, though not a very integrated or functional one. This also tends to lead to "big bang" projects, which ultimately founder under their own weight, as Caltrain electrification seems to be doing, and HSR may still do.
    But there's an alternative: plan at the system level, and make each project be some contribution toward the ideal system you envision. This is also a more operations-driven approach, since planning the system is really planning what sort of service you'll be providing and how you'll be operating it. And I think this approach will ultimately be more successful, because it can help to identify minimal cost capital improvements that can save operating costs and allow the agencies to provide a better service. It'll also lead to more tangible improvements sooner rather than bloated big-bang projects. But I don't have high hopes of this ever happening, and I doubt the Caltrain board, when approving capital projects, ever knows or thinks to ask about the impact that project will have on the operating costs.

  25. Caltrain's interests, meaning Caltrain's staff's interests, meaning Caltrain's contractor's interests, are exclusively concerned with landing earmarks and spending earmarked funding.

    In a very direct fashion, the worse the project the better for them, because they'll be the ones who will land further earmarks to do the same stuff over and over again, the wrong way every time. Look at the Millbrae "intermodal" station for just one example! They knew it was wrong the first time around, but that's going to turn out very well indeed, with tunnels "forced" by the "need" for BART yards and the "need" for incompatible and separated HSR and Caltrain stations in addition to the separate and incompatible three track BART station.

    Doing it wrong is its own reward. This isn't just a slogan: it means billions of extra dollars of revenue. Billions of dollars have a way out affecting outcomes.

    Look at CBOSS. The worse they do it, the more make work the more profit the more consultant time the more important the Peninsula Rail Program honcho.

    Caltrain rider's interests, Caltrain taxpayer's interests and Caltrain's neighbors interests simply don't enter into these equations at any level.

    It's a perfect, air tight, self reinforcing positive feedback race to the bottom with no way to break in short of total agency fiscal implosion and disestablishment ... and even not then.

    Where's the profit in spending less? One station instead of two, 2 or 3 tracks instead of 4, working PTC instead of a consultant welfare handout, fewer trains spending more time running instead of more trains parked at terminals? Who cares? Not the Caltrain staff. And the chances that a majority of the Caltrain board will have the time or inclination to learn enough to care to do anything but what the expert staff direct are exactly zero.

    Caltrain isn't any different from other "public" agencies in these respects. The "representative" board of elected or appointed officials approve the agenda submitted by staff, either unanimously or by an 8-1 or 7-2 type of vote if by some mistake a fig-leaf token touble-maker got him or herself appointed to a position of outvoted powerlessness.

    Control of spending, projects and agendas always rests with the interests which are represented by agency staffers (revolving door or otherwise), and those are never the interests of the public.

    This isn't going to change. Nobody is going to make Caltrain (or MTC, or BART, or CTC, or CHSRA, or etc etc) their highest political priority. Transportation agencies can and consistently do get away with murder because limited attention span elected officials give more attention to non-figurative murders, imploding education systems, etc.

    The staff are limitlessly and objectively corrupt. The board members don't and can't care. You're screwed.

  26. @ Morris Brown @ 18:10

    Again, I was not referring to the cities engaging in trying to find operational funding for Caltrain. I was SOLELY referring to efforts by the cities to have HSR seamlessly integrate into Caltrain operations.

  27. The document is not all doom and gloom, there's repeated mention of clock-face schedules, and a couple paragraphs after the ones you called out there's this one that mentions shared platforms on the peninsula are "highly desirable":

    AccesstoPlatformsServedbyHigh‐SpeedandNon‐High‐SpeedTrains–Atcertainstationlocations, particularly in the shared use corridors south of Los Angeles and north of San Jose, stations may need to be configured in a way that allows tracks and/or platforms to be shared by both CHST and commuter or Amtrak trains and passengers. If the Operating Plan and passenger‐handling procedures allow for simultaneous occupancy of platform zones by CHST passengers and the passengers of other railroad operators, then track and platform configurations could be kept relatively simple – such as island platform configurations with HST trains operating on one side of the platform and other trains on the track on the opposite side of the platform (a possible configuration in the Caltrain Corridor), or simple side or island platforms serving tracks where HST and other trains operate one after the other (a possible configuration in the corridor between Los Angeles and Anaheim). On the other hand, if CHST security, fare control and passenger‐handling procedures require that platforms be dedicated to the exclusive use of CHST passengers, then more complex track and platform configurations might be required at certain stations to provide the appropriate level of physical separation between CHST and other rail passengers.
    Sharing of platform tracks and platforms by multiple train services becomes significantly more difficult if the trainset types have either different car widths or door heights. Standardizing these rolling stock dimensions is highly desirable for shared operations.

  28. They are maintaining the retarded 40 minutes turn-around time.

    This is not a bloody airliner. On all long-distance trains I've been on, some cleaning was done en-route.

    And why the hell does it take 15 minutes for people to board a train at a terminal station versus 2 minutes to exit or board at a non-terminal station?

  29. "And why the hell does it take 15 minutes for people to board a train at a terminal station versus 2 minutes to exit or board at a non-terminal station?"

    You've not been paying attention to the unmitigated, 100% avoidable and 100% predicted train and passenger circulation disaster that is the four billion dollar Transbay Terminal, have you?

    This Peninsula Rail Program approved ARUP "designed" clusterfuck is going to make the appalling NY Penn look like Berlin Hauptbahnhof in comparison.

    It really is that bad. No, it's worse than that. Really.

  30. Adirondacker1280023 November, 2010 15:41

    And why the hell does it take 15 minutes for people to board a train at a terminal station versus 2 minutes to exit or board at a non-terminal station?

    All passengers get off at a terminal station. Terminal stations tend to be important destinations with high passenger counts.

  31. Adirondacker:

    They provide a full 5 minutes for alighting and 15 minutes for boarding at the terminal stations. That 15 minutes includes 10 minutes of "recovery time" (read: schedule padding which could be avoided by streamlining operations).

  32. Adirondacker1280023 November, 2010 19:37

    I didn't say 45 minutes was rational, after all Amtrak manages to get an Acela in and out of Penn Station in 15 minutes.... Amtrak mind you.... just that in terminal stations everybody gets off and then everybody gets on. The dwell time is going to be longer than at midline stations with lower passenger volumes.

  33. @ Richard

    Yes, I have been paying attention, I was just hoping beyond hope that that retarded "requirement" had maybe been dropped.

    @ adirondacker12800

    5 minutes for both boarding and exiting the train would be sufficient at any station.

  34. Peter,

    It's not just fucked-up (ie fabricated from whole cloth in order to justify huge extra capital cost) "requirements" that we're dealing with for terminal turnback time.

    Catastrophically, completely avoidably inadequate pedestrian (and train) circulation capacity is being cast into concrete and steel at Transbay as we speak.

    Single direction single bank escalators! For God's sake!!!

    Those responsible are people (I use the term loosely) who can never have seen any single example of a functioning passenger facility at any time in their lives.

    The result is that they probably can barely even get a train's worth of people on and off the platform level -- which in any case is so encumbered with structural junk that there's no room for passengers anyway -- withing the insane dwell time.

    It really is that bad.

    Worse than that bad.

  35. @ Richard

    Yeah, I agree with you that the TBT has been more fucked up than anything else in the CHSRA plans.

    That includes the rest of the Peninsula Rail Program. BTW, is it really THAT hard to come up with an integrated vision for HSR and Caltrain to intermingle? They're coming up with precisely such a plan for LA-Anaheim, for Christ sake.

  36. So if TTT is still in the demolition stage, there is, in theory, still time to improve the TTT train station design. What would it take, and what are the chances of it happening? After all, it seems bizarre that if it can be clearly shown there are better ways to do the things that are planned, why not fix them while they're only on "paper" instead of very costly hard-to-fix facts in/on the ground?

  37. Adirondacker1280024 November, 2010 14:30

    5 minutes for both boarding and exiting the train would be sufficient at any station.

    Any station designed well. See Richard's comments above.
    Anecdotal accounts about taking Acela through New York say that most passengers get off the train. Amtrak manages.... yes Amtrak.... to get in and out of the station in 15 minutes. The schedule for the special trains Metro North and NJTransit operate between New Haven and Trenton are scheduled to dwell for ten minutes. Westbound almost no one gets off the train. Eastbound almost no one gets on the train. Rumor on the foamer boards says that NJTransit and Amtrak have a few trains that they manage to get in and out of the station in four minutes. .....Amtrak....

  38. Don't forget that there are a bunch of FRA regulations on reversing direction, forcing longer dwells. That's why there's such a big difference between the Keystone's reverse-direction move in Philadelphia and the ICE's various reverse-direction moves all over Germany.

  39. Adirondacker1280024 November, 2010 21:03

    Why it takes them 35 minutes on some trains and 10 or 11 on others is another question. If they really want to cut the time between Harrisburg and New York they should be using the NY-Pittsburgh subway bypassing 30th Street altogether. At least the trains on the former Reading Lines can run on former Pennsylvania Lines and they could all run on former New Haven Lines or former NY Central or former Erie or former CNJ or former...

  40. An Amtrak worker told me once that the absolute minimum time to do an engine change at New Haven was 8 minutes, back when they were doing those. I can't imagine that it would take any longer than 5 minutes for a train to change direction. And the 15 minute dwell time at NY Penn is because it's a singularly inefficient station, with two escalators and one stairway going up and usually just one escalator going down. With a whole train full of people, it can take a while to clear everyone off the platform and then board them through the single escalator. Even so, there's at least a bit of recovery time in that schedule, because either side of Penn has busy commuter lines, one of which has its own dispatchers that don't take kindly to trains missing their schedule slots.