02 February 2013

Caltrain Should Use High Platforms

Incompatible platform,
by tracktwentynine
The recent news that CHSRA is considering a joint train procurement with Amtrak could settle an open question about high-speed rail in California, with important ramifications for the peninsula: the selection of a platform interface standard.

A Possible California HSR Platform Standard

Amtrak will procure high-speed trains that conform to its long-established platform interface standard for the Northeast Corridor (NEC), where the platform edges are located 48 inches above the top of the rail and offset laterally by 67 inches from the center line of the track.  While this "high platform" standard dates to the 1930s, it happens to be approximately consistent with the floor heights of the majority of the latest products from big names in high-speed train manufacturing such as Alstom, Bombardier, Hitachi, Hyundai, Kawasaki, Siemens, etc.  For all the mockery that a joint procurement with Amtrak has triggered, it turns out that Amtrak's NEC high-platform standard is, at least dimensionally speaking, quite reasonable for California's high-speed rail system.

If Amtrak and CHSRA do end up pursuing a common fleet procurement, then the California HSR platform standard will be 48 inches above the rail and 67 inches from the track center line.  Even if not, the HSR platform standard is still likely to end up around 48 inches above the rail.

The Need For A Common Platform Standard

So far, Caltrain and CHSRA have demonstrated no sign of coordination--let alone any desire for it--around a common platform interface standard.  All plans so far show stations that are 100% segregated with separate-but-equal tracks and platforms for Caltrain and HSR.  This leads either to elephantine station designs or, when space is at a premium, to severe under-utilization of precious infrastructure and extreme engineering solutions.  In all cases, taxpayers are fleeced and passengers are impeded.

On the other hand, the blended plan envisioned for the peninsula recognizes that shared infrastructure is a worthy goal, to minimize cost and impacts on communities, and to extract the maximum utility from a given investment in new infrastructure.  Taxpayers are spared and passengers better served.

As has often been argued here, Caltrain and HSR should use the same platform interface standard to enable mixed operations even within stations, such as is routinely practiced in European high-speed rail systems.  This would further cut costs and community impacts, increase infrastructure utilization, and maximize operational flexibility--the resilience of the system to disturbances caused by the inevitable failures that happen now and then.  If such an operating concept had a slogan, it would be "any train, any track, any platform".

A Clear and Present Opportunity

Caltrain has an immediate and pressing need to replace its aging fleet, as part of the electrification project.  The majority of the existing fleet dates from 1985 and is nearing the end of its useful life, with breakdowns causing increasingly frequent service disruptions at a time of record demand.  This will only get worse, and Caltrain will have to define a specification for the new trains, including platform interface dimensions, within the next year or two.  While the electrification project will be completed a decade or more before HSR arrives on the peninsula, the new electric trains will be good for at least three decades of service, to about the year 2050.  There is a small window of opportunity to make smart decisions about Caltrain's platform interface in the next year or two that will have far reaching consequences for several decades into the future.  It all comes down to this:

Caltrain should begin a system-wide conversion to high-platform level boarding, starting now.

Objections Abound

Converting to high platforms is a major change.  All major changes bring about the fear of change itself, and unlock myriad reasons why something can't or shouldn't be done.  To play devil's advocate, such objections might include the following:
  • The high-platform standard is wrong for Caltrain; instead, HSR should use low platforms shared with Caltrain.  While this argument has technical merit, it is highly unlikely that a small agency like Caltrain would be able to sway a larger agency like the CHSRA away from the high-floor train architecture that is prevalent in worldwide HSR systems and already built into numerous ADA and FRA regulations and CHSRA documents.  Politics trumps engineering on this one, and it's better for Caltrain to follow HSR to a high-platform standard than to pursue a more technically pure approach (low-platform bi-level EMUs) at the cost of platform incompatibility.
  • Bi-level EMUs are hard to design for high platforms.  This also has technical merit, in that few commuter rail examples exist other than in Sydney and Paris.  None of the common European-style bi-level commuter EMU products on offer from Alstom, Bombardier, Siemens, or Stadler (and often seen in Caltrain electrification brochures) are compatible with high platforms.  A high-platform, bi-level, ADA-accessible EMU could be a challenge to engineer and would break from an "off-the-shelf" procurement philosophy--although some innovative solutions do exist that could meet this constraint.  In the end, if Caltrain asked for a solution, rail vehicle vendors would probably offer it.
  • Caltrain's Bombardier diesel bullet fleet is young, should be kept around, and can't work with high platforms By the time the new EMUs arrive, nine locomotives and 25 Baby Bullet train cars will have reached only about half of their useful life, still quite young in railroad terms.  Caltrain has plans to retain these diesel sets for express service, to reduce the required quantity and cost of the initial EMU fleet procurement.  While this sort of thrift can be expected from an agency that is continually starved of funds, the old trains have an entry floor height of 25 inches and cannot use platforms higher than that.  However, because these trains are of a standard design, they can fetch excellent prices on the second-hand market.  Sell them!
  • A transition to high platforms is nearly impossible to pull off without interrupting service.  This objection assumes not only that the old fleet would be incompatible with the new platforms, but also that the new EMU fleet would be incompatible with the old platforms.  If that were the case, an extended service shutdown could be required to rebuild all the existing platforms to the new standard.  It doesn't need to go this way: the new EMU rolling stock can enable the transition, by providing both high and low doors during the transition period.  After all the platforms are converted, the low doors would be removed and replaced with seating.  Again, if Caltrain asked for a solution, rail vehicle vendors would probably offer it.
  • It is much more difficult to implement level boarding at 48 inches than at 24 inches.  Level boarding is not something that Caltrain can avoid forever.  The operational advantages (brief and predictable station dwell times, not to mention better accessibility for all) are just too great to ignore in a blended scenario.  Inescapably, every last Caltrain platform will have to be rebuilt--including dozens of new platforms built just 8 inches above the rail in recent years.  Regardless of the final platform interface selection, level boarding is going to be a big construction project; whether the platform height is raised by 16 inches or by 40 inches is going to be a rounding error in the final construction budget.
  • Level boarding is a huge change, on the same order as electrification; let's only do one big thing at a time.  No debate there: level boarding is a big investment.  At $5 million per platform and about 70 platforms, the tab comes easily to a third of a billion dollars.  That's not an easy sum to scrape together; however, procuring EMU trains that can serve both high and low platforms during a multi-year transition period could spread or delay this cost.  In the medium to long term, level boarding is not optional.  The cost effectiveness (in minutes of travel time saved per dollar invested) is at least on a par with electrification, and the performance improvement is necessary for blending seamlessly with HSR.
  • Even if Caltrain converts to high platforms, HSR will be kept on separate platforms for security reasons, so why even bother with all this compatible platform trouble?  While all station facilities in the California HSR system are being planned with airport-like security, adopting a common platform standard at least allows a rational discussion of platform sharing as practiced in Europe.  The terror fears are real, but entirely misplaced.  The worldwide history of train terror has demonstrated two basic facts: trains are not as vulnerable as airplanes, and commuter trains are equally vulnerable as high-speed trains (Madrid 2004).  Security theater should not take priority over efficient operations.
  • Caltrain must be compatible with freight, and freight trains can't go past high platforms.  This can be immediately dismissed as an ignorant, California-centric argument. Leaving aside for the moment the many good reasons for banishing freight trains from the peninsula rail corridor, the only obstacle to high platforms--and level boarding of any sort regardless of platform height--is regulatory, not technical.  On the East Coast, freight trains can and do operate on tracks with platforms 48 inches high and 67 inches from the track center line; here is proof on YouTube.
These numerous counter-arguments all have varying degrees of merit, if considered in isolation.  But they cannot be considered in isolation.  Each one of them, if followed to its logical conclusion, leads to a world where Caltrain and HSR must use separate platforms, blending like oil and water.  Now is the time to exercise a little bit of vision to make the idea of a blended system actually work in practice, and shared platforms are a key part of that.

What Caltrain Should Do Now
  • Make it policy to include blended station platforms as part of the blended system
  • Establish an agreement with CHSRA on a common platform interface specification
  • Ask EMU vendors to propose technical solutions for high-platform EMUs and solving the platform transition issue.  This can be in the form of a request for information (RFI), before the electrification EIR or any procurement activity is underway.
  • Stop clinging so desperately to a remnant fleet of diesels after electrification is built.  Saving a few tens of millions of dollars up front is not worth the resulting decades of operational inefficiency.


  1. Do you have a link to the 67" part? The train width in the Northeast is not 134" but 124", and the ADA mandates a maximum 3" gap. Even on legacy platforms, new trains have to abide by the 3" gap rule. The railroads and transit operators routinely ignore ADA accessibility regulations, but this seems sufficiently cut and dry that someone would notice that the regulations for platforms and rolling stocks are incompatible?

    1. Here is one, see Exhibit 2 on PDF page 20.

    2. Thanks.

      It's annoying that some railfans (and rail agency officials!) claim it's impossible to build curve platforms because of ADA requirements, when even on straight track the train-platform gap is much higher than the maximum allowed by the ADA.

  2. Talked to Jayme Ackemann this week at Caltrain. She said that level boarding isn't in the plans for 2019 electrification.

    When I nudged her about level boarding she replied:
    "we cant add things that weren't funded through the original proposal"

    1. To be clear: I'm not asking that level boarding be part of the 2019 electrification plan. They don't need to fund the station platform reconstruction just yet.

      What I am asking is that there be some forethought and policy on the issue of level boarding, rather than just the occasional lip service. Such forethought and policy could have an influence on the EMU procurement, although this wouldn't need to be part of any environmental analysis. This needs to be thought of now because you don't buy a new fleet every decade. The next chance to do something is around 2050.

      Without level boarding, Caltrain's dwell times are long and unpredictable, which will prevent realizing the full potential of electrification. They keep (correctly) pointing out the importance of faster acceleration / deceleration to improve service and enable HSR blending, but level boarding isn't far behind with its advantages of shorter and far more predictable station dwells.

    2. "I'm not asking that level boarding be part of the 2019 electrification plan."

      Perhaps the 2045 plan, then? Or the 2107?

      Where on earth does Caltrain find such highly qualified planning staff?
      Perhaps they're specially bred in vats in some facility, because no normal human being could be so limitlessly and remorselessly stupid.

      Somebody else's problem! It's all somebody else's problem and we can't do anything about it. Ever.

      Seriously: what problem is this Caltrain electrification supposed to solve?

      It's not saving money. (A billion dollars or more down the crapper, plus the $250 million "required" by CBOSS.)
      It's not making the trains run faster. (See the DEIR.)
      It's not making the trains run on time. (NO LEVEL BOARDING.)
      It's not making the trains run cheaper. (See the DEIR. Kiss the FRA. Love the UTU.)
      It's going to make every future construction project vastly more expensive. (See the NEC.)
      It's not returning anything of any value to the public.

      Why is it happening?

      They're literally pissing away money, without reason, without justification, without any sort of planning of any sort.

      I don't see how there's any solution to Caltrain other than terminating anybody who has ever been associated with it in any way. It's worse than hopeless, because every single action they take, without exception, makes things worse.

  3. Clem, in addition to the equipment you cited, I'd like to point out that Metra Electric uses high-platform bilevel EMUs, and that the LIRR, MARC, and NJT all also run high-platform bilevel coaching stock (and also to remind you and others that historically coaches have been refitted to EMUs and vice versa--e.g. the Keystone Service ex-Metroliner cab cars).

    So, not only can it be done, it is done, both here and elsewhere--Paris being a cardinal example.

    1. The Metra EMUs aren't bi-levels, they're gallery cars. What Caltrain is contemplating (to replace its own fleet of gallery cars) is a bi-level EMU with two full-width floors.

  4. In your first "Objections abound" bullet, you mention that Caltrain is too small to make a difference. But how about Metrolink that just bought new cars (low-floor double-deck)? How about ACE? Then you throw in Capital Corridor. Collectively, they represent a good chunk of rail transportation on west coast. One could argue that we should push for TGV Duplex, as that Any Train, Any Track, Any Platform across all of California.

    Also, are we complicating the San Jose terminal by forcing different platform heights? If HSR, Caltrain, Capital Corridor, ACE stick with low floor trains and platforms, then we optimize for everyone, but HSR (unless you get TGV Duplex).

    1. Metrolink and ACE have an entry floor height of 25 inches ATR, same as Caltrain's Baby Bullets. Capitol Corridor is lower, at 17.5 inches ATR. (Amtrak complicates everything, as usual.) USDOT once had a mistaken notion (since abandoned) of mandating all west coast operations use 15 inch platform height.

      TGV Duplex is getting long in the tooth, although some newer generation of bi-level high-speed rolling stock (similar to the Swiss Twindexx from Bombardier) might work well. There is little doubt that if California asked for it, the vendors would respond... but there is also little doubt that they won't deviate from their high-platform single-deck policy already enshrined in Technical Memo 6.3 Trainset Configuration Analysis. Again: California HSR will use high platforms, period.

      Yes, we are complicating the San Jose terminal by forcing different platform heights--did you notice they are planning a massive double-deck station? This sort of craziness would not need to happen if Caltrain and HSR shared platforms. You could have one island platform at 8" or 15" for ACE, Capitols, etc. and the rest for Caltrain/HSR at 48". The double-deck Diridon pan-galactic mega-complex design by itself would pay for a good chunk of Caltrain's high-platform conversion!

      I've been meaning to write about the San Jose HSR plans (and associated miles of viaducts and iconic bridges hewing rigidly to the painstakingly crafted visual design guidelines) but it is a rather dispiriting topic.

    2. CLem,

      I call bullshit. you know and I know that CHSRA's current designers would design separate-and-nonequal platform areas for HSR and Caltrain, even if the two shared a common platform height. Access to the HSR platforms would be constrained by airport-style security choke-points and unnecessary mezzanines. And the HSR portion would have the signature style spelled out in the relevant CHSRA Technical Memorandum.

      N'est-ce pas? If not, please let me know what I am missing.

    3. I had indeed anticipated this argument (see article) but I find it rather defeatist.

    4. Let's pursue this more optimistically, then.

      Let me pose the following redux of your suggestion: Caltrain should spend a few hundred million dollars to standardize on high platforms at the same height as CA HSR. This expenditure will give Caltrain increased operational flexibilty -- should HSR condescend to let Caltrain use "their" (HSR's) platforms -- and could save HSR a billion or two.

      In other words, Caltrain should spend an awful lot of money (by their standards) to save HSR a modest amount of money (by HSR's standards). And htis in a world where CalTrain management's understanding of technical and operational issues is conspicuous its absence. (Exhibit A: CBOSS.)

      Clem, I'm genuinely looking for a positive outcome here. But I'm darned if I can see a way to get there, short of having Jerry Brown bang some heads together. And if the "Book-End" political compromise is a positive example of such head-banging, I'm not holding my breath for a common platform height.

    5. I'm not suggesting Caltrain foot the entire bill for these improvements. After all, converting Caltrain to level boarding with high platforms shared by HSR creates the following secondary benefits for HSR:

      1) a billion plus saved at Millbrae (no tunnel platform track under the station)
      2) a half billion saved at San Jose (no viaducts, no grandiose double-deck station, no iconic bridge)
      3) a few tens of millions saved at Redwood City (one set of shared platforms)
      4) greater operational flexibility at Transbay and Mission Bay, likely the biggest capacity constraint on the entire HSR system
      5) faster Caltrain, thanks to shorter and more predictable dwells, freeing more track capacity for HSR without expensive quad-tracking

      There are huge synergies that would make level boarding essentially pay for itself through cost avoidance alone. As long as we have *civil* engineers (guys who like a bigger bridge and a wider outrigger bent) running this show, those synergies are not going to be pursued.

      But it doesn't hurt anyone to point them out.

    6. Martin,

      I agree 100% with you. "Low" (circa 550-650mm) platforms, with level boarding into the lower level of bi-level trains (and full compatibility with contemporary low-floor European single deckers eg Stadler FLIRT, Siemens ML) is the optimal solution for Caltrain, Metrolink and for California HSR.

      Unfortunately, Caltrain is run by sub-morons who can't even understand the concept of reliable timely operations, and PBQD=CHSRA is staffed by sub-morons who think that NY Penn Station is the hub of the universe.

      High floor platforms for Caltrain+Metrolink is all cost, no benefit.

      High floor boarding for CHSRA means single deck trains forever: which means PBQD does not believe its own (manifestly fraudulent) over-the-top inter-city HS ridership projections.

      As usual where America's Finest Transportation Planning Professionals are involved, we're heading for the very worst possible outcome, at the very highest possible price. (CBOSS is just a warm-up exercise!)

    7. To paraphrase Rumsfeld, "As you know, you design with the sub-morons you have, not the sub-morons you might want or wish to have at a later time."

      This is America. This is the best way to deal with it. Making a perfectly round wheel is not feasible, and all we can do is round off the corners on our square wheels. That being said, I like a round wheel just as much as you do.

    8. Richard, I understand you think every decision made by CHSRA is automatically wrong simply by virtue of it being made by CHSRA, but every once in a while they make a decision that is correct (whether intentionally or by accident.)

      In this case, regarding single level high speed trains, they are 100% spot on. The need for (and capacity benefit of) double deck trains is vastly overstated. Plus they suck for passengers - lower ceilings, less space to stow luggage, stairs to climb and schlep luggage up and down. Lots of space is wasted on extra circulation. Never mind the letter of the law regarding ADA; people with mobility impairments can't circulate in such a train.

      Take a trip to Japan. The Tokaido Shinkansen, by most (every??) measure the busiest high speed rail line in the world. Not a single bi-level train is to be found.

      How does that work again?

      TGV duplex: 512 passengers / 200m = 2.56 passengers per meter
      700 series Shinkansen: 571 passengers / 200m = 2.85 passengers per meter.

      You know a lot about this stuff so you'll probably recognize that 4 of the 8 cars in a 700 series Hikari Rail Star trainset have 2+3 seating. Convert that to 2+2 and you lose 1/9 of the train's capacity. Therefore:
      700 series Shinkansen (2+2): 506 passengers / 200m = 2.53 passengers per meter

      Where's this supposedly huge benefit of using bilevel trains? It doesn't pencil out. The costs don't outweigh the benefits.

    9. "Take a trip to Japan."
      I have. I've found it extraordinarily interesting, at a superficial tourist level of course.

      "he Tokaido Shinkansen, by most (every??) measure the busiest high speed rail line in the world. Not a single bi-level train is to be found."

      The question to consider is whether the present train and platform configuration would be that which would be optimal in a blank slate design in 2010 (recalling, as you of course do, that that is what Shinkansen was in the 1950s).

      I think the answer to that hypothetical is far from clear. ("Maglev" is one answer, if not mine: Chūō!)

      "How does that work again?"

      By making excellent and world-class use of legacy infrastructure. Admirable. I've done and continue to do a great deal of admiration.

      It works the same way they make excellent and world class use of legacy terminal capacity, legacy track alignment, legacy overtake track lengths, etc, etc, etc, and have made excellent and world-class upgrade and improvements to those parts of the infrastructure that can be done compatibly with the impossible to alter without unacceptable disruption and cost.

      Your implication that I am ignorant of or in any way opposed to best practical real world engineering is not a useful one.

      Plesee do feel free to discuss what is "best" and "practical" and "economic" , however. That's at least potentially (as if blogs rather count more than greased contractor palms!) productive.

  5. I've tried to find the cost of high level platforms, where does your 5$ million figure come from? Would that be a full-length 12-car platform, an island or side platform, and does it include facilities like roofs, and elevators? I wonder also how quickly these could be built. I feel like it should be possible to create a temporary platform really quickly, and replace it later with a permanent one. Or one could build it out of pre-fabricated building blocks.

    One way to operate trains while converting to high platforms is to use Bombader Multilevel Coaches, that are used by NJTransit and the AMT. they have high floor and loor floor entrances. These could be purchased, or possibly leased from existing agencies for short times. If purchased, it would be done ideally with extra wide high platform doors so that they could be useful later for loco-hauled limited stop service.

    1. I think it's about what the MBTA is spending per station on new lines with high-platform stations, like the Fairmount Line upgrades.

  6. Clem, playing devil's advocate, I must question the necessity of "any train, any track, any platform", as it seems it is the driving point of common platform height. Supporter of this concept all cite common European practices, but in Japanese and much of Eastern Asia, passenger of different lines (trunk and spur lines) are most often served by separate, dedicated platforms. I agree the current Transbay design is sub-optimal that can only be relieved by making it a through station.

    In practice, because people are animal of habits, same train will arrive/depart from the same platform everyday, or risk creating huge confusion and people would start boarding the wrong train much more often. It is because of this I continue to believe Caltrain and CAHSR each would need 4 dedicate platform faces at San Jose, thus requiring the two-level station as it is current proposed, some detail design can be optimized of course.

    As "Owen E" stated in the "Transbay Update" comment, "any train, any track, any platform" leads to long and complex throat design, which leads to more points of failure as compared to shorter throat design enabled by dedicated platforms. If we have dedicate platforms, then common platform height become less important, level-boarding, however, would still be as important, but dedicate platform remove the dependency between different lines and different operators.

    1. There also exist separated trains in Europe - for example Berlin's S-Bahn is (almost) completely separated from mainline trains. Those trains and the rest of the network have completely different services. Regional trains, however, run on the same tracks as interregional, sleeper trains, and high speed trains - they are compatible in terms of speed, within the urban area, and service frequency.

      The same can be said about Caltrain. It's basically a regional line, not a rapid transit line, and it is possible to operate Caltrain and CHSR on the same rail network. That is, I believe, the whole point of this blog, exploring the possibilities of sharing operation between Caltrain and CHSR.

      Any train any time any platform should still result in pre-defined schedules that include tracks: as long as there are no significant delays, it is known months in advance which track a train will be on. Also, in many cases where platforms are shared, there would be two island platforms on a station, for the two directions. It doesn't matter which of the two tracks on the platform the train stops, because it's still stops at one known island platform.

    2. It is because of this I continue to believe Caltrain and CAHSR each would need 4 dedicate platform faces at San Jose, thus requiring the two-level station as it is current proposed

      Hey William,
      Why stop at two levels? If San Jose sees 200 trains per day, then by golly it should have 200 platforms. Because if there is one thing that helps the newbie find his way, it is building stations as big as frickin possible.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. @Drunk Engineer
      If one can't come up with a serious critique then mock, right?

      Assuming separate platforms for Caltrain and CAHSR, the only way to do San Jose in one level is to give each 2 platforms, but that takes away the capability to have two trains from the same direction arrive at the same time...

    5. "If one can't come up with a serious critique then mock ...
      Assuming separate platforms for Caltrain and CAHSR ...

      Consider yourself mocked. "Separate platforms" is no a serious suggestion that could be made by a thinking individual.

    6. "As "Owen E" stated in the "Transbay Update" comment, "any train, any track, any platform" leads to long and complex throat design ..."

      Segregated and dedicated tracks leads to two entirely separate terminals in San Francisco, neither of which is useful, and dumping the majority of train riders short of their destination, consuming two full blocks of city real estate on a useless duplicate terminal, and wasting four billion public dollars on a bullshit Transbay Terminal transportation/economic catastrophe.

      Oh, and the grotesquely non-functional "professional" Transbay station throat "design" from America's Finest Transportation Planning Professionals at PTG (with "input" from CHSRA PBQD and ARUP) is longer (3714 All-American FEET from end of tracks = 1132m) than what anybody with half a brain could come up with (965m).

      So, you're down four billion dollars and 167 metres. There's a job waiting for you at Caltrain!

    7. Well Richard, I don't mind TBT only served by Caltrain and CAHSR only serves 4th&Townsend, as CAHSR is an inter-region service that being in downtown is less important. However, if both service want to serve TBT, coupling with the assumption of dedicate platforms, making TBT a through station is the best way to increase its capacity, e.g. the loop back track, which I believe, was deferred since the current design provide enough capacity for initial operation.

      On the platform sharing part, of course it can work if Caltrain and CAHSR shared the fare structure between SF and SJ, or even to Gilroy. But the question would become whether to charge the same ticket price on Caltrain and CAHSR for the same distance?

    8. The loop track (which loons at PTG and ARUP still present as being "feasible") never is and never was feasible, because you can't fit two 200m radius curves and a 400m platform into a space (eastern edge Second Street to the western edge of Main Street) that is less than 740m wide.

      But those are reality-based concerns, please continuing your dream of loop tracks: there are reality-free idiots (aka America's Finest Transportation Planning Professionals) who have been paid several hundred million dollars (and counting!) not to be aware that 800 > 740.

      As for "through tracks" at Transbay, somebody or other understood that there is a real problem, developed, and got into the the only feasible through track arrangement tacked onto the EIR as part of the scoping process.
      Unfortunately, Tony Bruzzone (now sucking down wages at ARUP) and our friends at TJPA and PCJPB decided that doing "analysis of alternatives" wasn't something that needed to happen, and the through track incompatible alternative with the lowest train capacity and the lowest platform count and the most contraints and the least everything was the only one ever considered by America's Finest Transportation Planning Professionals.

      As for your insane plan that HSR and TTT go to separate an unequal terminals, well, you have plenty of insane company -- you guessed it, America's Finest Transportation Planning Professionals. Your idea that it might be HSR Flight Level Zero Airline and not Caltrain With Many Times the Number of Passengers that gets shafted and is forced to stop outside the CBD is one that has no company, however.

      As for the same ticket price? Why the hell not? Why make things complicated? It works perfectly in Switzerland. Without smart cards, without fare gates, with a standard platform height, with excellent timetable adherence, with dozens of different operators, with perfect inter-modality.

    9. It's worth noting, for the purposes of academic discussion, that it would be possible to loop CalTrain but keep HSR in a terminal configuration. So you'd end up with something like 4 terminal tracks, hopefully with 400m long platform faces, and two through tracks with 250-300m platform faces. Assuming that you share platform heights, there's still some operational flexibility as regional trains could still use the terminal tracks and shorter intercity trains could use the loop. Of course it would require an underground flying junction at Mission Bay (and possibly another under 2nd street depending on how it was designed).

      But like I said this is purely academic. A six track terminal station with a well designed throat, shared platforms, and schedule integration is both cheaper and adequate.

    10. This comment has been removed by the author.

    11. Well Richard, I'll take your word for it on the TBT design history. But hey, if there is a need there is a way, right?

      I continue to believe the current 4th&Townsend location is adequate for HSR, given the central subway and various connections.

      About charging the same ticket price for same station pairs between CAHSR and Caltrain, it is people's habit that complicate things. Given the same ticket price, it is not hard to imagine most SF-SJ/Gilroy load would shift to CAHSR, filling up the train, but possibility leave the train mostly empty south of Gilroy because seats are sold-out between SF-SJ/Gilroy... This might spell the end of Caltrain unless it is fold into CAHSR operation, or this is what you are advocate for?

    12. Joey, not so. The brilliant PTG/ARUP/PCJPB/PBQD/CHSRA Transbay configuration has the dedicated Caltrain-only non-level-boarding platform on the north end of the site, not the putative "loop" side, with 295m and 415m long Caltrain-only tracks.

      The entirely fictional loop tracks would have to be off the the two (of four) southern-most HSR-only platform tracks, shortening those from 413m to well under 300m -- more likely 275m or shorter.

      So you'd be left with four stub tracks (north to south):
      1 Caltrain-only-non-level-boarding of sub-HSR-standard length 295m
      2 Caltrain-only-non-level-boarding of 413m
      3 HSR-only 413m
      4 HSR-only 413m
      and then fairy-tale of-use-to-nobody Caltrain(???)-only non-level-boarding loop tracks
      5 Caltrain-only-non-level-boarding of sub-HSR-standard length <275m
      6 Caltrain-only-non-level-boarding of sub-HSR-standard length <275m

      "Best" case is to convert (ka-ching$$$$) the the northern platform to HSR-only height, resulting in three full-length HSR stubs, one 295m sub-standard (so truncated because the "architects" and "engineers" responsible for TTT design are sub-moronic losers with no redeeming human attributes, no other reason) and three 400+m standard; along with two short (<275m) Caltrain-only through tracks with no possible operational or economic justification "connecting" to a loop tunnel that can't and shouldn't be built.

      So even in the "academic" case and throwing billions more at unnecessary tunnelling, the fundamental civil engineering and structural element placing at the Transbay Terminal ("terminal" as in "the end of it all -- sanity, hope, intelligence, honesty, etc") creates an irreparable four billion dollar catastrophe.

      The only possible solution is to blow up the project and those responsible. It can't be salvaged in any way once the 6 foot diameter columns every 42.5 feet go in. World Class!

      Death really is too kind a fate.

    13. Well yes, my scenario assumed the CalTrain tracks were on the southern end (which IIRC was the original configuration), not to mention a bunch of other design changes implemented before completion of the train box excavation. But like I said, academic.

  7. Richard,
    You do know that the Japanese (who are the best in the world at running HSR) use 49.2" (1250 mm) platforms for double deck HSR trains and have for over 20 years, right? They also have lovely high platform bi-level trains, both for narrow gauge and standard gauge track. 48" is a fine platform height. It gives you easier to build trains, is compatible with a wide variety of existing equipment (although not superliners, which won't be running on Caltrain's tracks anyway). Really, the key is to pick a height - if you want to attack the CAHSR/Amtrak joint purchasing plan, then attack it on the basis of the requirements of the routes being pretty different (tilting equipment might be the best choice for the NEC while very fast equipment is a requirement for CA). Don't attack the powers that be for being incompetent when their decision (high platforms) is defensible and maybe even right, do it when it's really obviously wrong 9CBOSS)

    1. Thanks for the novel suggestions.

      "You do know that the Japanese ..."

      Yes, a freely admitted downside of lower-level platforms is that it's saying no to existing Shinkansen designs. (I'd bet that for various "cultural" reasons, as well as Japanese integrated system engineering reasons, that no remotely off-the-shelf Shinkansen will run in California or anywhere else in the US.)

      "48" is a fine platform height"

      For legacy systems, or new systems built before the 1990s, no doubt about it.

      At present, unclear.

      In the moderate-term (15 to 25 years, which is the earliest date at which California HSR would be putting high speed trains into service), it's very very far from clear indeed.

      "if you want to attack the CAHSR/Amtrak joint purchasing plan"

      There is not one positive thing that can possibly be said about such a plan. Platform height is hardly worth mentioning in the scale of that wrongness.

      "Really, the key is to pick a height ..."

      Hey, never through of that!

    2. The thing that makes me unsure about platform height is Metrolink compatibility. They already have a large fleet of low-entry cars, which they are in the process of replacing with new low-entry cars. Between Sylmar and Anaheim, HSR will share a lot of track with Metrolink, and by extension, a large number of stations. And many of these stations are in constrained locations (Fullerton, which may or may not be a stop but probably should, and LAUS, though it's not nearly as constrained as they would have you believe). And that's to say nothing of the possibility of cross-platform transfers.

    3. Japan's rolling stock is mostly single-level. The bilevel Shinkansen are a technological dead-end, and are to be retired early. The regional trains are very rarely bilevel, and those are usually just green cars, in which seating capacity is more important than rapid boarding and disembarking.

      I also think this is the right solution for the US, for other reasons: the crowding levels are much lower, but trains disgorge riders at just a few CBD stations, so fast egress is critical. It's HSR-compatible, which the Japanese legacy network isn't - and contra what Richard says, I don't think designing around a hypothetical future bilevel HSR EMU is a good idea. It also offers the possibility of fully walk-through trains, which has advantages for perceived passenger safety and reduces the capacity advantage of bilevels in regional service. Low-floor bilevels can have a walk-through upper deck, but many of the otherwise best designs aren't.

  8. @ Joey:

    What makes you think that "HSR will share a lot of track with Metrolink, and by extension, a large number of stations."

    HSR plans on dedicated tracks, at least between Sylmar and LAUS, and does not plan to use Metro Link tracks on that section.


    1. Okay, you make a valid point. I meant to say HSR should share a lot of track with Metrolink, particularly because a fast, frequent regional service from Santa Clarita to LA is desirable. It's worth noting though, that UP has demanded a dedicated FRA track in the SFV (I don't think they particularly care if it's shared with Metrolink or not). HSR will share track between LA and Anaheim, which is a significant segment on its own, and we don't know what alignment the Inland Empire route will eventually take.

    2. HSR will share track between LA and Anaheim

      Nope. Unless you mean the little bit between Fullerton and Anaheim, where I suppose it would be possible. LAUS to Fullerton is part of the BNSF Southern Transcon and handles 80+ freight trains every day. All the published plans show HSR as totally separate. Metrolink has expressed some vague interest in operating express commuter trains from Anaheim to LAUS along HSR track, but if this ever comes to fruition it would be newly purchased stock designed to whatever standard CAHSR comes up with.

  9. I have one question related to the possibility of gradual transition to high platforms: Do automatic trap door solutions exist? If yes, that could make it possible use high floor cars with trap doors now and install automatic trap doors. Then high and low floor platforms could be serviced as they are being replaced. This would allow boarding via multiple doors at high and low platform stations, without needing conductors to operate the traps.

    1. Yes, on the Nuriro medium distance express EMUs used by Korail. These trainsets are based on Hitachi's A-train design. The Korean railway system has many high platform stations in the Seoul metropolitan region, while other areas have low height platforms. There may be other examples elsewhere.


    2. Even glorious TGV have those, not mentioning billion of other trains.

    3. Moving steps like those -- aside from being failure-prone and heavy -- only work at the extreme ends of conventional two-bogie vehicles, or inbound only on single-level vehicles.

      Clustered doors at the vehicle extremities, not evenly spaced along platforms, are something that all equipment should avoid if possible, most especially for urban/suburban equipment which should be (but won't under any Caltrain "what is `dwell time' and why should anybody care?" scenario) designed for fast loading and unloading and minimized platform congestion ("what is that and why would anybody care? NY Penn Station 4eva!")

      XAN: Trap doors on TGVs? Um, no.

    4. Not trap doors, but rather a RC-retractable metal step, but the effect is quite the same.
      I wasn't able to found a close-up of TGV, but here some 220 km\h tilting Swiss train - http://4rail.net/ch/sbb-icn-zurich-311207.jpg

    5. XAN, that's a huge difference.

      That ICN (RABDe_500) train in the photo is a single-level, high-floor (and attractively styled) 200kmh active tilter, with two full sized fixed steps within the interior (total of three steps up from standard Swiss 550mm platform to the 1120mm interior high floor. (And US ADA step riser maximum is 180mm.)

      "Gap fillers" the bridge the horizontal space between train doorways and platform edges are universal on new Swiss rolling stock, all of which is now designed for level boarding at 550mm whether single or double decker.

      They also help with the transition from old sub-standard platforms before they're brought up to 550mm level boarding, by providing an interim step onto the train.

      Stadler double-deck "KISS": SBB RABe 511, RABe 511, 200kmh Westbahn KISS, Westbahn, Westbahn, Westbahn.
      Single deck "FLIRT": NSB, SBB RABe 524, BLB.
      Double deck "IC2000": IC2000, IC2000, IC2000.

      Level boarding into the lower level of double deck trains is the way to go.
      The alternative in reality is no double deck trains, ever, in which case Caltrain and CHSRA are wasting hundreds of millions to billions on unnecessary clearance.

    6. Level boarding is always the best, as the single platform height across the system.
      But if it can't be achieved due to different platform height, automatic retractable step is the best solution. For example PESA 620M, wich shoul be able to operate both at 1000 mm platforms, as well as low platforms use two retractable steps - http://reverse.kiev.ua/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/620M-001_3it04.jpg

      But anyway it's the Caltrain who should have level boarding across the bay area, if CHSR and Caltrain can't come to agreement. French TGV have level boarding at dedicated LGV stations, but may use retractable step at legacy stations.

  10. Cool, thanks! That's a really neat solution.

  11. Well, when Russians asked Simens to convert low-entry Simens Desiro design for high 1000 mm platforms, Simens just did it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siemens_Desiro#Desiro_RUS

  12. It's true, high platforms back east are usually around 67 inches from the track centerline, so the gap between car and platform is about 7 inches (everybody's? cars are 120 inches wide at floor level). So are Amtrak's new cars going to be wider than today's cars, to comply with ADA?

    1. Acela's are 124 inches at the thresholds. Amfleets are 126 and the commuter cars usually are too. They've been noiminally 126 inches ( 10'6" ) for a over a century.

    2. Amfleet and Northeastern commuter cars are 126 inches wide somewhere around armrest level; they're 120 inches wide at floor level. Dunno about Acela-- somebody look at the platform gap sometime. Is it two inches less for them than for all the other cars?

      (The 126-inch width started... late 1960s? The traditional streamliner car was 120 inches wide, except for handholds that were always above floor level.)

  13. Single-deck high level door EMU designs leave plenty of room for installing, maintaining, and cooling heavy-noise-prone systems near the track-way while simultaneously enhancing stability and noise suppression. Also single deck Caltrain EMUs, relatively unconstrained by stability concerns, could be readily be designed to enable low cost height adjustments in order to match any last minute CHSR platform height changes. These height adjustable design provisions might include wide-range air suspension adjustable height-set-points and/or shims added or removed at bogy-car-body support points. Of course a concurrent platform or track elevation height adjustment potential would also need to be incorporated into station designs.
    The range of major transit quality improvements possible by designing transit right-of-ways to accept “any train on any track” goes far beyond the inherent redundancy offered by similar platform heights for all passenger trains in order to enable continuing operations when a train is stalled. Especially in this era of strong automobile competition nearly everywhere a successful transit system must provide destination stations that are a short walk from high density commercial, transportation, and entertainment centers. Some examples would include a Downtown San Jose Market Street Subway to a Caltrain/CHSR/BART/VTA LTR Station beneath the Cezar Chavez Park, and a Caltrain/CHSR/BART/VTA LTR cross-platform-transfer subway-station 30 feet below the center of the San Jose Airport Terminal.
    Low profile single deck trains could help reduce the current absurdly high CHSR 23.5 foot overhead clearance requirement. The extremely high cost estimate for DTX Extension tunnel sections would likely be cut in half with the help of third-rail electrification by cutting 10 feet off the present CHSR overhead-clearance requirement. The proposed Mission Bay Development short-cut would almost certainly be required to cross the UC San Francisco Mission Bay Research Campus below grade. This open-cut section should connect to a nearby large capacity 3rd & King Elevated Station featuring level pedestrian bridges to the baseball stadium seats. North of King dropping down below 3rd Street into a low overhead-clearance cut-and-cover-subway would avoid expensive hard-rock mining through Rincon Hill under Second Street.

  14. One thing of note that's relevant in platform height debate: CAHSR's technical manual specify a train with Shinkansen width, which is 3.38m or 11.1ft wide, which is 0.38m or 1.2ft wider than current Caltrain passenger cars at 3.0m or 9.9ft. Unless either CAHSR ordered 3.0m wide cars or Caltrain ordered 3.38m wide cars, bridging plate would still be needed for share use platforms.