21 September 2011

Port Scores Pork

The Port of San Francisco recently received $3 million from the FRA to upgrade the 1-mile Quint Street lead track that connects the port to the peninsula rail corridor.  The government's press release states (with emphasis added) :
Port of San Francisco, California – Quint Street Yard Track and Signal Improvements – $2,970,000 to improve an approximately one mile-long spur connecting a Caltrain mainline track to the San Francisco Rail Yard. The mainline is under consideration for use as part of the California high-speed rail project, and the current condition of the spur track limits the frequency, weight and length of trains that can use the track, causing delays. The improvements will allow freight trains to operate at higher speeds and clear the mainline more quickly, significantly reducing delays to Caltrain commuter trains and future high-speed rail trains.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Caltrain has been granted a waiver of compliance from certain FRA crashworthiness regulations that enables the operation of lightweight electric rolling stock from European manufacturers.  The same waiver would presumably be extended to any high-speed trains that might use the peninsula rail corridor.  The FRA's waiver decision letter states (with emphasis added) :
JPB additionally explains that the Caltrain 2025 program will temporally separate freight and passenger operations between San Francisco and Santa Clara, CA (Mileposts 0.2 to 44.6).  Temporal separation between these mileposts will be achieved by limiting freight movements to the exclusive freight period hours of midnight - 5 a.m.
That's right, temporal separation means that freight trains will not operate in the same hours as passenger trains, making the need to "clear the mainline more quickly, significantly reducing delays to Caltrain commuter trains and future high-speed rail trains" nothing more than a specious pretext.  Nice play for $3 million, nonetheless!

Temporal separation, by the way, is the best way to avoid the expenditure of millions upon millions of dollars to make Caltrain's positive train control system compatible with Union Pacific freight PTC (and thus, incompatible with the HSR train control system).


  1. Don't feel bad. Rhode Island just got $26 million to three-track the least busy part of the Northeast Corridor in order to improve capacity. Nothing in the state is even on the NEC Master Plan list of congested segments now or in the future.

  2. "clearing the mainline" faster translates to increased throughput. this is a benefit even during the "freight hours" by letting them send more trains through in the same length of time. not a complete waste of money.

  3. You must not be familiar with the level of freight rail traffic on the peninsula. The Quint St. lead sees one northbound freight and one southbound freight per day, nowhere near any sort of track capacity constraint.

    But hey, any excuse to nab $3 million.

  4. Except that this is actually being built, whereas Caltrain's fancy European EMUs and electrification remain just a far-off dream with no committed funding. Regardless of whether you wish that to be the case, or what you think of the wisdom of the policies that lead to this outcome, that's how things currently stand.

  5. So If i read this right, UP gave up (forever ?) rights to move freight along the peninsula except from Midnight to 5 AM.

    All they got for this was a $3 million upgrade on track they don't even own. Sounds like a pretty cheap sell out to me.

    Will this allow UP to not have to implement PTC on their freight trains in this region?

  6. @arcady: touché.

    @Morris: the midnight to 5 a.m. freight window is provided for in section 4.3 of the trackage rights agreement. That section also stipulates at least one mid-day 30 minute window. I'm not sure how much UPRR and its customers will care about this.

    As to PTC, every UPRR locomotive will be equipped with UPRR's PTC system. But given the interoperability costs and challenges, it's not crazy to imagine that the peninsula rail corridor could be operated without regard to PTC or signaling between midnight and 5 a.m., as a section of unsignalled "dark territory".

    Not that any of this matters. Caltrain will bend over backwards as far as necessary to accommodate UPRR PTC--the exact opposite of the "go fish" attitude they display towards HSR.

  7. @Clem:

    Much thanks for pointing this out.

    It is interesting that UP does move freight currently, but not very often, outside the Midnight to 5 AM window.

    Last evening for instance, at around 9 PM there was a freight train coming through MP.

  8. Adirondacker1280024 September, 2011 15:04

    Last evening for instance, at around 9 PM there was a freight train coming through MP.

    I'm sure the clanging bells, blaring horns and diesel exhaust lent a bucolic charm to the suburban utopia. All of which goes away if the ROW is improved.

  9. From what I understand, freight now actually operates between 8pm and 5am although the agreement only covers midnight to 5am.

    This is part of the concerns of PFRUG (Peninsula Freight Users Group) with HSR since they would like to continue to have the flexibility to run trains after 8pm since that represents the reality and not just what the agreement actually says.

  10. For the amount of freight on the peninsula, that restriction should be mostly trivial.

  11. Yeah, but that would require admitting that freight service on the Peninsula is and will always be trivial.

  12. If the Port of San Francisco ends up with a LOT of freight, then they might struggle to "clear the mainline" by 5 AM.


    Yeah, sounds ridiculous. But have you looked at the Port's projections for future business? I think they may just be ludicrously optimistic.

  13. The days when there were some hundred or more freight spurs up and down the peninsula are gone. Must we keep beating the dead horse? SP started letting the branches rot and die many decades ago. They cannibalized the remaining profits and liquidated the property and let operations starve to death laughing all the way to the bank. Freight has retreated to what is profitable. California rail infrastructure has fallen back to a few active main lines. And commenters on these blogs wonder why California rail is in such poor condition? SMART in Sonoma Co. is rebuilding a road that has been falling apart for 30 or 40 years. If it isn't hauling freight, it needs to be rebuilt (and many that do haul minimal freight need to be rebuilt). The handful of passenger operations are limited exceptions. Back when the steam engines wore down the rails they were replaced continuously. Now mostly the main lines get enough attention.

    If we can survive the political leeches, inexperienced managers, and obstructive neighbors, we have a slim chance of pulling the pieces together to hopefully form enough of a system to be of use to riders. In spite of the snide comments, Californians can figure out a schedule, once we have one.

    You can tell me of the wonders of New Jersey and Long Island until Pt Reyes is in Mendocino and it will not change the fact we have work to do to repair the lifetime of neglect.

  14. Being a cautious sort, I would consider any comments about what UPRR will or won't do, speculative unless and until they make a public statement to that effect. We know, for example, that their signature is required for any inter-city rail operator to have access to the Caltrain corridor, per the trackage agreement. I find it hard to believe that the hour reductions of midnight to five am are adequate and acceptable to either UPRR or their customers.

    UPRR must realize that anything they now relinquish, including time of access to track use, will be permanently lost. Their CEQA comment responses letter, signed by Jerry Wilmuth, made it quite clear about what their requirements would be. That certainly does not sound like they will willingly permanently reduce their track access hours. Nor do we know that HSR has their authorization to join Caltrain and UPRR on the rail corridor.

    If there exists UPRR documentation that supports any of these discussions, I would appreciate seeing it.

  15. @ Martin Engel

    UP has already agreed to "permanent" reductions through the trackage agreement. That Caltrain permits the occasional train at other times says nothing about an expectation that UP will continue to be permitted to use the corridor outside the agreed-upon hours.

    Also, UP has shown some willingness to work with the Authority, see their grudging acquiescence about running adjacent to their right of way between Merced and Fresno, compared with outright refusal to accommodate them between Fresno and Bakersfield.

    There is no reason to expect them to be unpractical about them "permitting" high speed rail to use the Caltrain corridor. They just want to protect their already-existing rights to use the corridor so that they can continue to serve their very few customers on the Peninsula.

  16. Rail Freight on the Peninsula:
    In the brave new world of tomorrow when Caltrain’s rolling stock is transformed into light-weight electrified MU’s which per the FAR waiver agreement may not run between Santa Clara and 4th & King from midnight till 5:00 am what will late night and early morning service look like? Even a 20 kw/ton,(Note: The original BART cars had a 600 hp maximum continuous traction power rating with a 65,000 lb empty weight which is equivalent to 15.1 kw/metric ton.) 110 mph top speed, 3 miles per hour per sec^2 maximum acceleration and braking rates a 20 second average dwell time, all stop MU’s between these waiver geographic limits could not improve much on a 50 minute running time. (A 3.33% schedule pad is included in this run time calculation.) Therefore the last train out 4th & King must leave by 11:10 pm (Under the current schedule the last train leaves the SFT at 12:01 am.) and the first northbound train must leave Santa Clara no earlier than 5:00 am. (The present schedule shows the first northbound train from Santa Clara leaving at 4:35 am).
    Mainly due to competition from road transport over the last 60 years the usual operating ratio, the proportion revenue devoted to operating trains, for U. S. rail freight transportation has risen from the mid 50% range to the mid 80% range. This shrinking revenue trend has left a far lower revenue proportion available for track maintenance. Railways can sustain themselves financially by abandoning low traffic density lines and depending on road and sea transportation to feed their remaining high traffic density lines. Many of these about-to-be-abandoned low traffic density lines have been financially supported mainly by governments, in order to sustain local interests.
    But recently there have been major improvements in long distance rail freight service quality between the west coast and the central and eastern sections of the U. S. Especially since the early 1990’s rapid growth of high value transcontinental rail freight demand to and from the Bay Area, centered in Oakland, has caused the UP and BNSF the to increase the speed, reliability, and frequency of their long distance freight services. (See Trains Magazine’s November 2011 issue Intermodal Report) Therefore the competitive position for the long distance rail shipment of time sensitive freight of interest to peninsula residents such automobiles and other high value manufactured goods often shipped on double-stack and other high overhead clearance specialized freight cars has been improving in recent years. However actual peninsula rail freight trains have continued to transport mostly scrap and bulk materials. A more direct connection to transcontinental routes and higher peninsula overhead clearances would permit a more profitable peninsula rail freight traffic mix. Rerouting peninsula rail freight over a revived Dumbarton Rail Bridge and along the 101 freeway center to a new inter-modal Bayshore terminal could shorten rail freight running time and distance, permit an increase in peninsula rail freight overhead clearances, and eliminate temporal restrictions south of Bayshore. These operational flexibility enhancements could make high value potentially profitable time sensitive peninsula freight service a practical reality. A profitable peninsula rail freight operation well clear of any likely passenger rail service development would help assure continued peninsula rail freight service.

  17. If, as described in the previous comment, all peninsula rail freight trains were detoured around all passenger rail stations south of Tunnel #4, next to the Bayshore Station, along the San Francisco – San Jose passenger rail tracks ADA compliant level boarding passenger platforms could be provided at all passenger loading doors without cumbersome conversion provisions required in order to comply with CPUC mandated freight train side clearance regulations. The recently opened San Diego County Sprinter is an expensive to build and cumbersome to operate result of simultaneously conforming to CPUC platform clearance regulations for freight trains and providing ADA compliant level boarding platforms along one track. ADA compliant passenger loading platforms are retracted manually one section at a time after evening passenger operations cease in order to conform to CPUC mandated freight train track side clearance regulations. This mostly single track at grade combination passenger DMU and freight line (no track electrification) cost nearly $40 million per mile to construct.

  18. Adirondacker1280004 October, 2011 13:46

    conversion provisions required in order to comply with CPUC mandated freight train side clearance regulations.

    You are assuming that railroads and their unions allow crew to dangle off the sides of cars outside of yards. It's frowned on inside of yards. It would be a lot cheaper to change the regulations.

  19. Adirondacker 12800: If one wishes to develop a firm grip on reality as it bears on a long term optimal design for the SF peninsula rail corridor, the subject of this blog, it is useful to base one assumptions and opinions on trustworthy observations analyzed by applying clearly established facts such as Newton’s second law of motion (F = ma), and generally well understood analysis procedures such as arithmetic and algebra. (Calculus is a convenient and an extremely useful analysis tool for designers but piecewise liner addition with the aid of a programmable calculator, which is nothing more than an arithmetic procedure and is the academic approach for introducing the subject, will yield substantially the same answers as integral calculus.) Taking the opposite approach being long on assumptions and short on support leaves one in a position akin to taking a long walk on a short pier.
    You are correct to question my implicit assumption that the CPUC freight train side clearance regulation is an immutable never to change in the foreseeable future fact. After all you clearly have observed current railway personnel practices and attitudes along with having a considerable fund of logic and common sense to support speculation that this absurd rule will soon be repealed. After all doesn’t the Long Island Railway feature high level platforms and freight service on the same tracks?
    Unfortunately the present California freight train side clearance regulation has been on the books since 1948. The Altamont Commuter Express, Los Angeles’ Metro Link, the San Diego County Sprinter, and especially Caltrain all host freight trains on their tracks. All these passenger train services could reduce running times and operating personnel costs by using fixed level-boarding-platforms that would not require manual intervention in order to activate as is the case for most New York suburban stations. Based on these observations I assume that logic and common sense will not prevail. Changing this California clearance rule will not occur in the foreseeable future. Therefore dealing with this rule by devising a method for going around it on the peninsula would be a useful exercise.

  20. This has been mentioned before and I do not recall a conclusive answer; would not a gauntlet track serve the purpose of moving the freight trains away from the platform?

  21. James: yes, it would. Very expensively and cost-ineffectively, but it would.

  22. This is expensive? A simple spur?


    not the type used during construction.

  23. To clairfy, the photo I quickly posted moves the passenger cars to the platform. I was thinking to leave the passenger line as straight or high speed as practical and move the freight over on the gauntlet.

  24. Get a grip people!

    There is and never will be, under any circumstance, any need to move out-of-gauge freight (petrochemical cracking powers, aircraft fuselages, power station primary transformers, etc) on the Caltrain line.

    Never. Under any possible future.

    Stop the contra-factual nonsense!

  25. A spur seems like a cheap solution to an unreasonable local rule. I am not trying to move 737s to Boeing. I do not work in the railroad industry so I cannot tell what is contra-factual nonsense and what is foaming hyperbole. Your rant reminds me how much I appreciate talking to engineers all day at work. It would be nice if the political and emotional dross could be separated from informative technical discussions and questions that seek understanding.

  26. Adirondacker1280005 October, 2011 23:50

    Changing regulations is cheaper than building gauntlet tracks but gauntlet tracks aren't terribly expensive.

    Here's what 25 million gets you complete with gauntlet tracks, island platform and a lush station building.


    Foamers love to go down there and video the freights thundering through. Searching YouTube for "Union NJ Freight", brings up lots of videos.

  27. The point is that spending $25 million on gauntlet tracks on an unprofitable freight line is too much. It's all about relative benefits. $25 million is no big deal for Second Avenue Subway; it's a huge deal for a low-traffic line.

  28. Thanks Adirondacker and Alon.

  29. Building gauntlet tracks for the 18 stations from Sunnyvale through So. San Francisco would add 76 switches to mainline tracks which would significantly add to derailment risks unless carefully operated and maintained. Adding a third center track along the entire route would with fewer switches significantly improve run time and reliability especially for Caltrain’s present highly variable stopping patterns. But spending $450 million for 76 additional mainline switches only in order to comply with a questionable safety rule but would instead decrease overall safety and certainly increase maintenance costs makes no sense.
    It is instructive to examine the sequence of events during the recent German Federal Railway’s hsr accident with the loss of 98 lives. The accident sequence began with a disintegrating wheel. Initially traveling at 160 mph the derailed train stayed on the track-way until a switch was encountered. After hitting a switch the derailed section veered off to the side and destroyed the support of a massive overhead bridge where following cars suddenly stopped. On the other hand a few years ago a TGV train derailed at over 100 mph but did not encounter a switch or leave the track-way. Nobody was seriously hurt.
    Switches are remarkably easy to implement and safe to use on conventional rail compared to any other guided transport. And they are a vital aid for effectively responding to perturbations affecting service to a multiple train network. For example BART’s core system has very few parallel tracks for by-passes or crossover switches for single-tracking around delayed trains or track maintenance during service hours. Their system’s schedule reliability could be significantly improved by extending the triple track-way of the western approach to the Oakland wye plus one additional crossover switch set would reduce the chance of a Trans-bay tunnel back-up due to a single branch delay and/or provide a temporary storage track for disabled or gap trains. Yes switches can be quite useful but adding 76 switches along the 29.5 mile stretch from Sunnyvale to So. San Francisco for $450 million? The result would be a somewhat less safe system that costs more to maintain.
    Reviving the Dumbarton Bridge rail crossing and detouring freight trains down the center of the 101 freeway would likely cost less and eliminate the temporal service separation limitation. The initial cost for starting passenger service over the same bridge was estimated to be nearly twice the estimate above. But the passenger service proposal included several grade separations, a train collision avoidance system, stations, and track upgrades adequate for a reasonably fast a passenger train operation. If sticker shock gets to be too much dropping peninsula freight service should be considered.

  30. There's something insidious about attributing an accident that was fatal because and only because the bridge collapsed on the train to a switch.

  31. @Alon. A billion miles off topic, but: the proximate turnout-overbridge combination (along with turnout-tunnel portal, turnout-underbridge, turnout-platform, even turnout-mast) is recognized by the industry (at least outside North America) as a risk multiplier that should be avoided at the design stage if alternatives are available. This is hardly "insidious"; it's widely accepted and adopted, in no small part due to Eschede. It's even written into official state regulations.
    Turnouts all by themselves are a failure-prone maintenance-intensive high-capital-cost high-install-csot site of heightened derailment risk; they're only installed, with justification to project management, when the operating benefits outweigh drawbacks, including the objective safety dangers.
    To try to close on topic: gauntlet tracks are nuts!, no question. No relevance to Caltrain at all. They seem to show up in North America because somebody (maybe signal interlocking contractor, maybe track contractor, maybe marginal struggling freight shortline) thinks he can get something for nothing, not because they are useful, necessary, or cost justified.

  32. Anonymous: Your discussion about avoiding risk multipliers at the design stage if alternatives are available is precisely the approach needed for developing a safe CHSR-Caltrain rail infrastructure. A FSSF with a cable center barrier track configuration in open cut grade separations plus magnetic track brakes would minimize the chance for head-on collisions during earthquake induced derailments and assure rapid emergency braking in spite of wet leaves and/or oil on the tracks. (Note: Cable center barriers on interstate highways have been advocated as an efficient method for preventing out-of-control heavy trucks from crossing median stripes into oncoming traffic.)

  33. Adirondacker1280008 October, 2011 13:06

    Alon, John, the 25 million dollars included building a station where there was none before. Parking lots, improved access roads, bus stops, elevators to the new island platform, TVMs, restrooms etc. The gauntlet track was a small part of the budget.

    Anon, they are rare in North America.
    ... and they seem to be much more popular in Europe than they are in the US.

  34. Adirondacker 12800: From your web reference: For the proposed single-gauntlet-single “the rails for the two tracks for the two tracks do not need to cross so no frog is required.” Good point; less noise and far less cost than appeared at first glance. But there are far more pressing concerns that banning freight from peninsula passenger rail tracks would address. I will discuss those concerns later.

  35. It is becoming increasingly clear that without more federal funding from an increasingly obstinate Congress, HSR in California is pretty much done.

    I supported the Central Valley alignment under the expectation that more federal funding would be forthcoming, but even the President threw HSR under the bus.