17 May 2015

CBOSS Headed for Trouble?

The button we may soon have
to press. Photograph by
Sander van der Vel
Caltrain's new Positive Train Control (PTC) system, known as CBOSS, appears to be running into serious technical difficulties just as the program enters its most challenging phase: testing and commissioning.

The system was originally proposed to be built on top of GE Transportation's Interoperable Incremental Train Control System (I-ITCS) technology, an approach that was touted as advantageous for being "off the shelf."  There are subtle signs that things aren't going so well:
  • This month's CBOSS project status update states rather cryptically that the top challenge for the project is GE software release delays.  These delays could be related to the recent purchase of GE's Transportation arm by the French firm Alstom, which already offers a range of PTC technologies that could make the ITCS product line redundant.
  • The technical requirements for the electrification RFP state (see PDF p. 251 of 2,840) that CBOSS is built on Wabtec's Interoperable Electronic Train Management System (I-ETMS), the main competitor to GE's I-ITCS.  Switching from ITCS to ETMS would be like changing the foundation of a house after the roof is completed.
  • Section 4.13.1 of the electrification RFP document describes the electrification project scope, stating that "The Contractor shall provide the signal, train control and grade crossing systems"... a definition of scope that overlaps significantly with the CBOSS project.
  • Section of the electrification RFP document further describes items that are in the scope of the electrification program, including:
    • System-wide track circuit replacement
    • Manufacturing and assembly of signal enclosures, including installation and wiring
    • Installation of signal enclosures, wayside signals, cables, and cable infrastructure
    • Field testing of the signal system and integrated testing with the electrification, EMU, CBOSS/PTC and other interdependent systems
    • All work associated with the modification of the signal system required for the Project, including the CBOSS/PTC system as necessary and as required by all regulatory agencies, including the FRA, MUTCD and CPUC. The Contractor shall ensure that its wayside CBOSS/PTC systems are 100% compatible with the existing CBOSS/PTC systems that its systems will interface with.
  • The electrification RFP document continues for dozens of pages, describing how an almost entirely new signaling system will have to be installed as part of the electrification project.  What CBOSS was supposed to "overlay" will be largely replaced.
Is there a major architectural change in the CBOSS project that Caltrain staff failed to disclose to the board?  The entire CBOSS budget of $231 million (an astronomical sum for just 50 route-miles of railroad) having already been appropriated and mostly spent, are we about to see large cost overruns get squirreled away in the small print of the electrification RFP?  Is the respective scope of the CBOSS and electrification projects sufficiently well delineated to preclude spending money twice on the same item under two separate contracts?

A faint odor of fish wafts over the whole affair.


  1. Maybe they're expecting HSR to swoop in and pay for ETCS.

    1. You think CalTrain staffers even understand what ETCS (or ERTMS) are? Or how those differ from, CBOSS-- which has apparently degenearted into a marketing catch-phrase, not an actual spec for a signalling system?

      Public pronouncements by Caltrain staffers strongly suggest otherwise. Close paraprhase; "Of course CBOSS is compatible with CSA HSR, CHSRA woouldn't give us money for it, if it wasn't".

    2. There would certainly seem to be a strong stench emanating from what appears now more than ever, a huge FU. Is this the reason Scanlon, rather suddenly left the ship and his over $400 K salary.

      The new leader, Hartnett, an attorney whose only qualification was he knows all the right people, having been involved in local politics for decades; who failed to meet all the prescribed qualifications and experience required for the position, now finds this disaster on his plate. Well he has a 5 year contract at over $400 K per year, so he has job security of some sort.

  2. I'm honestly wondering whether the staffer who wrote the relevant part of the electrification RFP accidentally wrote "ETMS" instead of "ITCS", given that the May 7 CBOSS update at the BOD meeting still states "Received FRA Conditional Type Approved for I-ITCS", with no mention at all of ETMS. Given that everyone seems to state that Caltrain staffers are incompetent, this could just as easily be a typo/slip-up, not an actual change.

  3. There is a related article in the Wall Street Journal

    To read, to a Google search on

    "How Congress Railroaded the Railroads"

    which should gain one access to the full article.

    @Clem: Do you agree with most of this article's conclusions

    1. Hi! As a modern American conservative, I have a basic, simple belief that everything the government does is bad. Since I don't really engage with reality, I'll now make up a bunch of stuff to prove I'm right. I don't really understand anything about technology, but I like google maps, so obviously we can just assume that cell phone gps will be sufficient to overlay some sort of PTC-like technology.

      Also, how hard is it to drive a train anyway? I mean, I could look at how many train wrecks are caused by operator error, but, again, I'm very lazy. in addition, I could look at best practices around the developed world, but, again, that would involve work and besides it might go against my pre-determined ideological conclusion. Since I'm just a hack and not paid to think anyway, I might as well just make up some bullshit.

      The only problem with not doing any research is that now this article is too short. I guess I'll have to bring up some basically unrelated issue where the government accused Toyota, a major corporation, of doing something wrong. Clearly, this cannot be the case, since the government is bad, and corporations are good. To prove it, I'll pull an argument out of my ass, one which nobody has ever been able to demonstrate. Also, it's apparently perfectly possible for drivers to mix up the gas and the brake, but not for train drivers to make errors.

      In conclusion, it's a good thing the WSJ needs editorial writers to blather inane, business-friendly drivel, because otherwise I'd be pretty much unemployable.

    2. Beware of Poe's Law. And of r Alan "crunchy frog" Morgan's corollary of Clarke's third law.