18 November 2011

ERTMS Coming To California

The CHSRA recently added to its collection of technical memos a White Paper on train control technology for California's high-speed rail system.  The selected train control system will likely be deployed on the peninsula rail corridor later this decade or in the early 2020's, regardless of what "solution" Caltrain may pursue in the interim.  The CHSRA's experts looked far and wide for the best technical solution, and as longtime readers of this blog may have guessed, they conclude as follows:
The sole technology that is fully compliant with all of the CHSRA project and technical requirements is the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 with Global System for Mobile Communications – Railway (GSM-R). ERTMS is service-proven and its attributes are highly applicable to CHSTP automatic train control (...)
The biggest technical obstacle for importing ERTMS to the U.S. is the lack of available radio frequency spectrum.  The White Paper delves into great detail about possible ways to overcome this, making several important policy statements along the way:
  • The choice of train control technologies will be limited to solutions that have been successfully demonstrated at high speeds for a period of at least 5 years, to minimize implementation risk and enable a strong safety case to be made to the FRA.
  • The CHSRA requires that it not be locked into a single source for procurement, bidding, and supply. Interoperable, interchangeable, open standard and multi-vendor solutions are required and will provide the CHSRA with several sources of supply for extensions, upgrades, and maintenance spare parts in the present and future, thereby lowering risk and cost. (Are you listening, Caltrain?)
  • Other alternatives to ERTMS are not technically compliant, not compliant with the project requirements, or present too much risk to implementation.
As it happens, the coveted ERTMS / ETCS Level 2 is transparently compatible with ERTMS / ETCS Level 1, which the White Paper describes as follows:
ETCS level 1 is designed as an add-on to or as an overlay on a conventional line already equipped with wayside signals, and possibly as a fallback solution from ETCS level 2. Communication from the track to the train is ensured by dedicated balises located on the trackside adjacent to the wayside signals at required intervals, and connected to the nearby interlocking and/or wayside signals.. The balises have a data connection to the ATC equipment which provides movement authorities for transfer to the train. Receiving the movement authority through balises, the ETCS onboard equipment automatically calculates and indicates to the train engineer maximum permitted speeds of the train and the next braking points if needed, taking into account the train braking characteristics and the track description data. This information is displayed to the train engineer through a dedicated screen in the cabin. The speed of the train is continuously supervised by the ETCS onboard equipment.
This is of course precisely the same thing as CBOSS, which Caltrain and their vendor Parsons Transportation Group are now kludging together for us for a hefty wheel-reinvention fee.

We've already seen Caltrain work with FRA bureaucrats to avoid re-inventing a double-deck EMU train.  Why can't they also work with CHSRA, FRA and FCC bureaucrats to avoid re-inventing a train control system?  The CHSRA is already putting together a plan for scaling the regulatory mountain, with more detail on radio frequency spectrum acquisition provided in TM 300.03 EMT Radio Frequency (RF) Spectrum Acquisition Strategy.

It's no longer just a blogger saying it (bloggers don't know what they're talking about): the high-speed rail project is now firmly on the record as preferring ERTMS as the sole solution, and is already working with government and private entities to obtain the necessary radio spectrum to deploy GSM-R in California.  ERTMS is the best solution for the peninsula, because it would allow high-speed trains to use Caltrain tracks with no special equipment or modifications.  As a side benefit, it would also allow Caltrain to meet their PTC requirement at minimal cost and risk.

ERTMS is coming.  Your move, Caltrain.


  1. Dare we say it, dare we hope, that the much-maligned rail authority is really competent?

  2. The more interesting and germane question is how much more time and dollars will Scanlon-led Caltrain continue to needlessly piss away on CBOSS before swallowing their pride and admitting it was as dumb and ill-advised a project as Clem and many others here have persuasively argued for years now ...

    With Bob "CBOSS daddy" Doty gone, and now that HSRA is clearly going with ERTMS ... Scanlon/Caltrain now have sufficient "cover" to cut their (and our) losses on this CBOSS misadventure.

  3. The CHSRA requires that it not be locked into a single source for procurement, bidding, and supply. Interoperable, interchangeable, open standard and multi-vendor solutions are required and will provide the CHSRA with several sources of supply for extensions, upgrades, and maintenance spare parts in the present and future, thereby lowering risk and cost.

    Is this the same Authority?

  4. @Joey:
    that's from a PB report for the CHSRA. Avoiding single-source and "vendor lock" apparently applies to train control systems recommended by PB.

    Is that different from having CSHRA vendor-locked to PB for its "engineering design" work? I suspect PB may see the two in an entirely different light.

    I do wonder how much PB was paid for this report, and how many billable hours of PE time it represents.

  5. ERTMS may be fine for HSR and upgraded Caltrain, but what about interoperability with UP freight, ACE, Amtrak, possible steam excursions, the Circus Train, etc? And don’t forget service to Gilroy…

    Caltrains reasoning behind CBOSS is that freight RRs are already developing/using PTC and it needs to be compatible to allow interoperability on the Caltrain tracks and on other (UP) systems.

  6. If Caltrain desires to maintain full UP compatibility, why not just use ETMS as the "interim" solution?

    Wabtec ETMS (or some interoperable derivative thereof) is the system that has been chosen by all major freight railroads in the US. Every commuter railroad in the country outside of ACSES territory is also planning to use ETMS, except Caltrain. This includes Metrolink.

  7. Caltrain doesn't need any PTC freight compatibility.

    Caltrain's unprofessional rent-seeking staff and Caltrain's unethical rent-seeking consultants wrote freight compatibility into their contract specs in order to prevent any technical competition with their in-house cost-plus "solution" and in order to pre-determine the outcome of the "bidding" process.

    That is the way these things always work: control the terms and you control the outcome. (See also: non-shared HSR/Caltrain-Metrolink platforms: never ever decided in public, never any rationalisation, never any analysis, just a fiat via internal staff memo, with tens of billions of dollars of negative consequences for the tax-paying suckers.)

    The agencies and consultants involved are not acting in your interests, ever. Not remotely. The sheer unprofessionalism and the extent of the breach of fiducial responsibility are breathtaking.

  8. Jeff: Amtrak, ACE and UP should be 100% separate from CalTrain south of Santa Clara. There's plenty of room for this and no benefit to having mixed traffic. As for UP operating on the Peninsula, it would be after hours anyway, so it might not even matter. It it did, UP could just use a dedicated set of locomotives for the Peninsula (maybe even electric). And honestly service to Gilroy is so trivial at this point that it might as well not exist. Terminate Gilroy runs in Santa Clara. Or fit a few trainsets such that they are interoperable. The corridor should be designed around the vast majority users (CAHSR and CalTrain SF-SJ), not some trivial number of runs to Gilroy or the virtually nonexistent special event steam trains you talk about. If they are to continue to exist, they need to adapt to how the rest of the traffic on the corridor operates, not the other way around.

  9. @ Joey

    Much easier to terminate Gilroy runs at Diridon (a billion more platforms than Santa Clara).

    Agree with everything else.

  10. "Much easier to terminate Gilroy runs at Diridon (a billion more platforms than Santa Clara)."

    In a a remotely rationally planned world, FRA platforms and platform tracks (two of 'em, vs ~5 for Caltrain+HSR combined) would be a bit of a premium at SJ Cahill Street Station.

    Given that FRA trains would be required to run through the station to terminate and reverse (yes, I know that I argue against "tail tracks", all other things being equal, which they aren't here), there's some attraction to running Gilroy shuttles through to Santa Clara, or even Great America. It all depends. Potential extra ridership vs extra cost and extra runtime.

    This is all Altamont dependent. Given Los Banos HSR, there's no remotely rational reason to operate any FRA passenger trains to Gilroy or through Gilroy. (One guess what Caltrain's visionaries not only propose but require by edict.)

  11. @Jeff Carter: tell me what's wrong with this picture?

  12. Even if interoperability with UP and FRA equipment is the main goal (which, as Clem's graphic points out, is ridiculous from the beginning) CBOSS still doesn't make sense.

    Wabtec ETMS is what UP will be deploying across the entire rest of its network. It is also what Metrolink will be deploying as well as numerous other commuter operators such as noMetra and Tri-Rail. What does CBOSS offer tht ETMS does not? ETMS is an existing solution that is already having all the bugs worked out on somebody else's dime.

  13. Clem: I can tell you what's wrong with that picture. It contains one rather sizable piece of vaporware.

    No, not CBOSS (although I am in full agreement that it's a waste of time and money).

    I mean the CHSRA.

    I'm increasingly of the opinion that California's project is unlikely to be built, given that the feds killed off HSR funding last week and California is likely too broke to take on the expense without Uncle Sam's help.

    Now, as to interoperability: I have long held the conviction that cutting San Francisco and the Peninsula off from the national rail network is shortsighted given highway congestion issues. I keep seeing Union Pacific this and Union Pacific that around here, but those trains wouldn't exist if they didn't have customers. Here's a list of the trains and their customers; scroll down to "South San Francisco." I've long considered one of Caltrain's advantages over BART to be the very fact that their tracks can accommodate more than just Caltrain.

    Way I see things, if you're going to wall off the Peninsula from everything but Caltrain; if you're going to take away the flexibility plain old standard-gauge rail provides; well, then, we have Reason No. 11 to just BARTify the Peninsula and get it over with.

  14. Drat. Sorry about the broken link. Try this one.

  15. Compare:

    * Optiona A: Foamer-style interoperability: an Amtrak a day to Watsonville! A spine car full of lumber a week! Coast Starlight (running 7 hours late)!

    * Option B: Real-wold interoperability: procurement multi-vendor, global standard signalling. Procurement of multi-vendor, globally standard rolling stock. Halved operating costs for each of the hundreds or so Caltrain runs a day. Greater energy and crewing efficiency for 99% of the traffic: the gift that keeps on giving every day.

    The COMPATIBILITY advantage of 1435mm (and 25kv and ETCS and 550mm platforms and UIC track and ...) isn't that Amtrak or UP can screw up everything, forever. The real COMPATIBILITY is with the global passenger rail market.

    Of course. Caltrain's grossly unprofessional and systematically mendacious staff and consultants can and will and have done everything to exclude competition on all fronts. "Compatibility" = "business as usual" for the world's worst under-achievers and their likewise competition-protected contractor buddy boys.

  16. Kevin:

    The extent of what can be run over existing infrastructure in California is so trivial. Anything that amounts to more than a couple of runs per day (i.e. anything that actually counts as service) is going to require new infrastructure, and thus you might as well select the global standards Richard just mentioned, given the benefits they have.

  17. @Kevin Hecteman: you can cross another UP customer off the list you posted a link to: Diageo closed their Menlo Park bottling plant.

    Diageo bottling plant to close after 54 years

    I see on www.diageomenloparkshutdown.com that UP shipping costs may have had a role in the shut-down:

    "The reason they gave us for the shut down is that it has became to costly to send raw materials from back east to the west coast and to send finish goods from west coast to back east."

    Their spur was off the Dumbarton line just east of the bridge over Hwy 101.

  18. From midnight to 5 AM, the peninsula corridor can be dark territory. Time separation is mandated in Caltrain's FRA waiver, so the trains won't EVER get in each other's way on the peninsula. Of course this disrupts the narrative behind the basic CBOSS architectural choices, namely that it must absolutely be compatible with freight in order to facilitate mixed operations between milepost 44.6 in Santa Clara to milepost 51.9 in San Jose.

  19. Parsons to Design, Implement Caltrain Communication System (CBOSS)

    "The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board has selected Parsons to complete the design and installation of a $138 million interoperable communications-based overlay signal system positive train control.

    The board, which operates the Caltrain commuter rail between San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara, Calif. counties, has contracted Parsons for a four-year project in which Parsons will test, design, install and provide warranty services to PCJB.

    The PTC system will be interoperable with PTC systems implemented by Caltrain tenants, including Union Pacific Railroad, Capitol Corridor, Altamont Commuter Express and Amtrak.

    Upon completion of the Caltrain CBOSS PTC, the system will be capable of preventing train-to-train collisions, misaligned switches and excessive speeds. The contract aslo includes Federal Railroad Administration requirements compliance.

    “The Parsons team will ensure that Caltrain can continue to improve safety through the application of technology for its passengers and tenants,”said Tom Barron, Parsons group president.

  20. http://www.chinapost.com.tw/taiwan/national/national-news/2011/11/24/323886/Wandering-goat.htm

    What went wrong there was that they lacked PGC.
    Positive Goat Control.

  21. @ Martin Engel

    Hahaha. It probably hopped the fence by first jumping onto something near the fence and then jumping over. They're escape artists.

    That train must have been going REALLY slow.

  22. Positive sheep control -- that would be these guys?

  23. Sheep are stupid, and have to be driven.

    Goats are intelligent, and have to be led.

    - Small Gods, Terry Pratchett

  24. It seems JR East knows a lot less about running trains than do our local PTG. HNTB, PCJPB, CHSRA and PBQD brains trusts.

    California High-Speed Train Project Report on Operations and Maintenance
    Peer Review

    ... Mixed Service with Other Rail Carriers

    Based on JR East's experience of operating conventional train and Shinkansen train on the same track, following three aspects should be carefully considered.

    First, the timetable should be carefully planned. The shared operation segment is likely to be the bottleneck of the high speed train timetable since delay in the conventional line will affect the entire high speed trains network. Therefore, if transport capacity is required, 'parallel' timetable (that is, High Speed Train and conventional train operate at the same speed) or increase the capacity of the commuter trains and reduce the frequency will be the solution. To establish a more flexible timetable, additional facilities will be required both in high speed train and the conventional lines. For example, siding tracks are required in stations in this segment, commuter train vehicles with good acceleration should be implemented, speed restrictions on curves should be reduced, more signals should be allocated, etc.

    Second, rolling stock should be taken account. If the High Speed Train vehicle width is different from that of conventional trains, platforms must be trimmed, and/or boarding steps must be installed either on the high speed train or on the commuter train. These boarding steps may exceed the loading gauge at some areas, so they should be stowed away while the train is running. The difference in height of the doors of the rolling stock should also be taken into consideration.

    Finally, compatibility of Automatic Train Control system for high speed train and conventional train should be considered. Since the safety equipment is indispensable for either train, multiple safety equipments must be installed on the rolling stock, and radio communication system must also be shared. These must be switched at the border station. Preventing malfunction both on the wayside and on-board is also important. Yard Track Layout at San Francisco Station

    To ensure robust and flexible operation around San Francisco station, several measurements should be taken into consideration: install flying junction to avoid route conflict (at level junction), shorten the turnover time to utilize platform as much as possible, enable every platform to accommodate high-speed trains, etc. JR East operates 4 minute headway at Tokyo Station that has only 4 tracks and 2 platforms.


  25. Would ERTMS / ETCS Level 2 be compatible on the Northeast Corridor? How difficult would it be?

  26. Michael re ETCS on the NEC: Anything is possible given enough money.

    But given that the big blow-outs with signalling typically involve multi-system interfaces, and given the existence of ACSES, FRA freight, Amtrak, and a roughly a billion actively non-cooperating and technically incompetent passenger rail operators along the NEC, the scope for failure when introducing another new system, one whose deployment would be "managed" by local US "experts", is close to infinite.

    Likewise CBOSS. Failure is completely guaranteed (just look a the budget! failure has already happened, by a factor of more than two. Look at the technical and implemention record of all of the parties involved!)

    Success is not an option.

    Maybe it should have been done on the NEC, but it wasn't, and it's hard to make the argument today that ETCS could be introduced, given the far more intractable organizational and regulatory disaster under which it labours.

  27. PS Of course ETCS deployment into an existing multi-operator multi-legacy-PTC network several hundred times more complex than the NEC is more than possible given competent technicians and planners.

    The entire Swiss standard gauge network, the most densely used in the world, is to transition to ETCS-1LS by 2017. Info here in DE, FR and IT, but not EN.

    Compare their costs, even in sky-high CHF, for their 3600 route km and 600 stations and a zillion junctions and interlockings, against Caltrain/PTG's bottomless cash black hole for our insignificant baby shuttle line of 80km 25ish stations a whole 16 trains in service and, uh, no junctions and you can see why a rational person might wish the worst possible fate for anybody in any way involved in this catastrophe of rent-seeking and systematic large-scale fraud.

  28. I shoulda saved the link. ETMS or whatever they are calling the Class 1's PTC system this week is interoperable with ACSES. So the integration costs are going to be relatively low.

  29. So, the Swiss railways are replacing their technically obsolete PTC system with a functionally equivalent and not technically obsolete system that provides no capacity improvements by itself, and taking a mere decade to do it? I don't understand how this is an example of anything, other than maybe something for Metrolink since they had some trouble buying ATS inductors. Or maybe they're just trying to get some minimal compliance with EU standards, actually creating a new level of minimal compliance below the existing lowest one.
    Also, Richard, your foreign languages neither impress nor intimidate me.