26 May 2012

U.S. Supplier Enters ERTMS Market

In a move that amounts to a clear acknowledgement of the increasing worldwide supremacy of the ERTMS ("European" Railway Traffic Management System) technology standard, General Electric Transportation Systems recently became the first U.S. signaling supplier to enter the ERTMS market.

GE Transportation Systems is the same company slated to supply the on-board and wayside components of CBOSS, Caltrain's new-fangled train control system that will be paid for with HSR funding while being technically incompatible with the HSR train control system.

One could briefly entertain the illusion that common sense might prevail, and that with a minimum of contractual upheaval CBOSS could evolve into the first U.S. installation of ERTMS, a solution that could eventually be extended to the entire California HSR system.  Unfortunately, in the blinkered world of parochial agency interests, spending money (over $200 million of it for SF - SJ alone!) is a higher aspiration than providing a good technical solution.  Compatibility is for sissies; why do it right when you can do it twice?


  1. Repeat after me: It's not about the train; it's about the money.

    Apply to the CHSRA and to the PCJPB (Caltrain).

  2. I have asked Caltrain (at JPB and CAC Meetings) about the compatibility of CBOSS and ERTMS and why can’t they just use ERTMS? They have yet to answer me… other than CBOSS is being used as a generic term for PTC.

    We need others to pose this question at a Caltrain Board Meeting, maybe they will provide a response to numerous inquires.

    1. One tip I read on libertarian anti-census websites: if you come with others to ask the same question and followups, do not sit together. This way the moderators won't know not to call on you to avoid answering difficult questions.

    2. Jeff, you are one of the few stalwarts who shows up at the Caltrain Board meetings regularly (I tip my hat to you). On the rare occasions that I can, I'm frustrated by a process which does not commit the board or staff to respond to any questions, and one definately gets the sense that they can choose to ignore an issue raised in the public comment phase if it is inconvenient. Recently, I've found that I get information and questions answered promptly by emailing the Public Afffairs Officer. Unless the CAC can be persuaded to become slightly more activist in their approach, this is the only avenue left open to us, apparently.
      In general, the level of public discourse initiated by Board members with Staff is worryingly low key.
      Unless, that is, they get their questions handled another way, which would be a violation of the Brown Act, wouldn't it?

    3. Thanks Michael… Sometimes Caltrain will respond if you are persistent.

      Back in post Baby Bullet/Caltrain Reinvented 2004/2005/2006 era, I raised questions regarding the Caltrain dogma of Baby Bullet being mostly (if not solely) responsible for the increases in ridership and revenue. I have studied Caltrain ridership patterns for over 30 years and my contention was the increases in ridership had more to do with raising gas prices than the Baby Bullet. Indeed there were numerous factors helping to increase ridership two of which were increasing gas prices and Baby Bullet. Additional factors were the improving economy, resumption of weekend service, traffic congestion, heavy marketing of the Caltrain Baby Bullet service, to name a few. I raised these questions/issues at a number of Caltrain Board Meetings and produced charts that proved the direct correlation between increasing gas prices and increased ridership. One of the beneficial side effects of rising gas prices was that as gas prices went down, Caltrain ridership did not decrease. This meant that as new customers tried Caltrain they found it to be not so bad and they stayed with the service even in spite of lower gas prices. As I made these presentations it was becoming clear that some on the Caltrain Staff were annoyed with me, probably because I made them look bad and that they were not doing their homework. Well, after my persistent concerns, I finally got a response from the Public Affairs Officer that was rather patronizing. He took my position quite a bit out of context, insisting that I wanted to end Baby Bullet service and I wanted to make Caltrain a “trolley-like” all local service. Evidently Caltrain took a lot of heat for service reductions/suspensions at a number of stations. He went into lengthy dissertation as to why Caltrain is right and I am wrong in my assumptions, and that there will never be agreement between myself and Caltrain. It got to the point of me being told that if I were to continue my arguments in a forceful/argument manner, or for Caltrain to evaluate my position in proper context; that Caltrain staff/management would be instructed to have no discussions with me outside of the monthly Board Meetings. I really must have struck a nerve and for me to provoke such a reaction from Caltrain, my arguments must have been quite valid.

    4. Jeff wrote: "One of the beneficial side effects of rising gas prices was that as gas prices went down, Caltrain ridership did not decrease. "
      That is a documented response - gas price increase push riders to rail and all of those riders do not leave when prices fall.
      Here is one reference.

      The combination of these two results points to the policy of increasing gasoline price over decreasing transit fare to encourage ridership.
      The results also provide empirical evidence that ridership responds differentially between a rise and a fall in gasoline price or transit fare.

  3. This is the only site that I read for info on these projects, so obviously I don't have "both sides." That said, I applaud your clarity and your comprehensive breakdown of the challenges that the hsr experiment faces, and I have no reason to believe that you are slanting the situation in your coverage.

    What I am getting at is this- If CBOSS is absolutely wrong to the point that it is nothing more than a money pit- why is this issue not being more widely reported? These inner workings tend to stay in the dark but if everything is as you say, and we are fighting against an international consensus (ERTMS), why is this not a major issue? Blinkered engineers and selfish agencies only goes so far as an excuse. Where is the press on this issue? I would shout it from the rooftops but I only have a layman's knowledge on the subject.

    1. That's a great question, where's the press? If they spent half as many column inches on CBOSS as they did on Mike Scanlon's compensation package (which is itself 2 to 3 orders of magnitude smaller!!) we might be getting somewhere. Maybe part of the reason is that it's such an obscure subject. It's also easy for them to argue that safety is worth any cost, because this taps into the popular notion that life is priceless. That's no excuse though, we taxpayers are paying through the nose and there is zero accountability. So, yes indeed, where is the press?

    2. I think the best answer is "you are the press".

      The "mainstream" press is utterly broken on a grand scale extending well beyond this issue, and discussion of the ways in which it is broken is an entire blog's worth of discussion. The existing institutions are very resistant to reform, so the most effective way to fix it appears to be to kill the existing institutions and drive educated, newspaper-reading people elsewhere.

      You're more likely to get an article on this into a small free community weekly, which still act like real press, than into the "mainstream press". But honestly? Clem, I suspect the most effective way to get more attention to this issue would be to pen an article which was calm enough to get Robert to feature it as a guest piece. Better odds of getting it republished if it goes through that amplifier than trying to get it directly into the "mainstream press".


    3. Because it's too technical. It requires you to sit down and explain it to slow adults like myself. In other words, it's more than a soundbite.

      Even if people don't understand the Scanlon story completely, they are able to hear Scanlon/ripping off taxpayer. He's taking three salaries. Who has three salaries? Some people have three wages. They are pissed. It's a visceral sort of thing.

      Train control systems? Which one is better? Off-the-shelf? Where's the drama? It sounds like wonky crap no one cares about.

      People will only care if it ever gets to a Big Dig type mess, and by then it'll be too late to prevent it. It'll have already happened.

    4. Is it that hard to simply explain that it's an extra $300 million boondoggle to satisfy Not-Invented-Here syndrome?