18 July 2015

News Roundup, July 2015

Cost of Dual Height Boarding: with its industry review of the EMU draft RFP, Caltrain sought feedback from vehicle manufacturers regarding the cost and feasibility of delivering vehicles with dual boarding height capability.  According to the latest EMU procurement update, the feedback received indicates that vehicle cost would increase by just 3 to 5 percent.  This small premium (roughly $20 million) all but ensures that the HSR project will be able to pay for this important compatibility feature.

New Rules for Electrification: the California Public Utilities Commission has released General Order 176, the Rules for Overhead 25 kV Railroad Electrification Systems for a High-Speed Rail System.  The new GO, effective as of 26 March 2015, will also serve as the regulatory framework for Caltrain's electrification project, despite the peninsula corridor not qualifying as "high-speed rail" as narrowly defined in the document.  Three major issues remain to be hammered out with regulators and freight railroads: (1) grade crossing warning systems, (2) vertical clearances, and (3) freight personnel safety and training for operating freight trains in electrified territory.  These three issues are minor and unlikely to require a new rule-making process.  The release of GO 176 is timely for Caltrain's electrification project.

Cap and Trade Maneuvering: at least two lines of attack are being pursued by opponents of Caltrain electrification and the high-speed rail project.  First, there is or will be legal action that seeks to deny the use of Proposition 1A HSR bond funding to pay for Caltrain electrification, based on the (quite defensible) argument that electrification isn't high-speed rail and won't meet the legal restrictions of the bond measure. Prop 1A high-speed rail funding accounts for the lion's share of the funding package for electrification, a contribution of $600 million.  The underlying calculus is that denying this funding would kill the electrification project. Second, there is or will be legal action that seeks to deny the use of Cap and Trade funding to pay for high-speed rail, based on the (quite defensible) argument that the greenhouse gas reductions from HSR will only occur far in the future, well beyond the time frame required by CnT legislation.  Both of these legal challenges can be neutralized in one fell swoop, by substituting HSR CnT funds for the HSR Prop 1A funds. According to Caltrain's EIR, electrification will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80,000 metric tons per year initially, increasing to 190,000 metric tons by 2040, largely by cutting automobile traffic.  It doesn't get much more short-term than that, and CnT funds come with far fewer strings attached than Prop 1A funds.  Look for the funding swap to occur this fall, when the nine-party MOU is revised to reflect the growing electrification budget.

HSR Business Plan Machinations: due to the lack of funding to build the extremely expensive mountain crossings, there are indications that the 2016 business plan for HSR will call for service to begin in the SF and LA areas several years before the Central Valley is linked to anything.  This should be of some concern to Caltrain because it would put HSR in direct competition with Caltrain for affluent tech commuters, no matter what they say.  If Caltrain is elbowed out of the lucrative express market, the loss of revenue will be entirely HSR's gain.  While this Bay Area mini-HSR might show an operating profit (as required by law), it could only do so with a hidden subsidy, provided in the form of extremely scarce and valuable rush-hour track capacity.  Competition is great, but the market mechanisms for sharing the peninsula rail corridor "fairly" (whatever "fair" means to each stakeholder) would need to be carefully developed.  Then again, this silly idea might just wither on the vine, since the letters 'H' and 'S' would be absent from HSR.


  1. Folks might also be interested in a podcast interview I did with Eric Eidlin, a German Marshall Fund Fellow who did his research on French and German HSR - http://usa.streetsblog.org/2015/07/16/talking-headways-podcast-high-speed-rail-lessons-from-france-and-germany/

  2. @Clem

    You have written before the suggestion that exchanging Prop 1A funding with C&T funding would solve legal problems and predicted this would happen.

    I seriously doubt this will ever happen. To begin, this would take an action by the legislature to change the funding which was approved in SB-1029. The last thing the Authority wants now is to go back to the legislature for such a change, and certainly CalTrain, itself, has nowhere near the political clout to effect such a change. New leadership in the Senate by deLeon, would push for more funding down south, and less up north.

    Such an exchange of the source of funds, would seriously impede the Authority's use of Prop 1A funds. These funds now frozen at least until an approved "second" funding plan is created and approved, are still by far and away the major possible source of funding for the project. Yet all Prop 1A construction funding must be matched by other funding. To date the only other source of matching funds has been Federal grants ($3.2 billion), and the now appearing C&T funding. Take away a couple years of projected C&T funding, to fund CalTrain and projects down south, you take away these matching funds for Prop 1A bond revenues. The Authority will never allow this to occur.

    Morris Brown

    1. The amounts involved are a rather small portion of the HSR CnT revenue stream. If HSR is allocated about $500M per year (an amount that is more likely than not to rise) Caltrain's $600M would amount to about 20% since it will be spread over roughly 6 years (2015 through 2020 inclusive). I believe the Authority is free to allocate this funding as it pleases.

      The Prop 1A money was authorized for the bookend projects, but there is no obligation to actually spend it. I believe that a return to the legislature to alter the actual funding mix would not be required, unless more bond funding became necessary, something I consider unlikely.

      Alternately, we may see a mix where the bond funds are reduced and matched with CnT. Spending CnT up front and delaying the HSR bond funds to 2019-2020 would allow construction to proceed while litigation runs its course.

      CnT is HSR and Caltrain's ace, and you can be sure they will play it to side-step any taxpayer lawsuits. Furthermore, Senator Hill has introduced legislation to make a significant slice of CnT funds (beyond the 25% already allocated to HSR) available for transit projects, which may help Caltrain in the out years of the electrification project.

      We shall find out quite soon!

  3. @Clem

    If you read SB-852 (2014), you see the C&T funds (25% of the total revenues), were allocated for High Speed Rail. Yes, they have no requirement for matching and are therefore under less restrictions. But you really have the same problem --- is CalTrain electrification a High Speed Rail project or not? If not, then certainly a return trip to the legislature will be needed to fund CalTrain's project from C&T

    morris brown

  4. I'm sorry if this question has already been answered, but will construction on Caltrain's system (ie, 2 -> 4 tracks and electrification) be able to start and continue despite the lawsuit from Ahterton?

    As far as I am aware, construction of the actual tracks and catenary will begin early next year as the trackside power and new signalling systems are mostly complete. From my understanding, they are also looking to push grade separation in Redwood City which seems like the most complicated part engineering-wise. I know that that they're likely to keep the at-grade crossings in San Mateo due to the 92 overpass.

    1. First, something super important to realize is that Caltrain does not propose to build any new tracks. Future expansion to 4 tracks for high-speed rail is not yet on the agenda and the environmental clearance process for that has not yet begun. The only project that is environmentally cleared is the stringing up of electric wires above the existing tracks.

      The Atherton lawsuit will not stop the project unless a judge issues an injunction to stop construction until the lawsuit is resolved. The lawsuit (in my opinion) is quite unlikely to succeed, since Caltrain will have very little trouble arguing that electrification is a standalone project that does not amount to piecemeal HSR. The attempt to make funding sources into an issue will likely fail. Electrification of Caltrain has been studied since 1992, well before HSR became real, and has many analogous examples around the world... even here in Denver!

      You bring up a number of points regarding grade separation.
      This article describes how I think the process will unfold; the corridor will ultimately become 100% grade separated, with or without HSR. Redwood City is not the hardest location to grade separate from a technical perspective, although it may be pursued soon to create a long four-track overtake section on the mid-peninsula. The most difficult location by far is the San Mateo Narrows. As you can see in the San Mateo overview, the Route 92 overpass is in no way a constraint on what ultimately gets built through downtown San Mateo. Even now, reconstruction of the four bridges just north of downtown San Mateo seems to point to an eventual above-ground solution.

    2. Thank you for answering my question, especially so promptly.

  5. Reported in the San Mateo Daily Journal :

    CalTrain is hoping to get $20 million annually from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. This will hardly solve CalTrain's funding problems for electrification which is already $450 million over budget, and the start of construction is not yet started. Pretty much par for the course on these kinds of projects. Quite obviously CalTrain is looking everywhere for funding for the project. If CalTrain loses the over $600 million allocated from Prop 1A, it will be one very long time before this will ever get constructed.

    Morris Brown

    1. On the other hand, obtaining $100M of funding ($20M times 5 years) to use as matching funds for further federal funding would be quite an accomplishment, and could be viewed as a very positive development.

      The strategy of opponents, to knock out the HSR bond funding, is both transparent and misguided. It will likely fail, even in the event of a tactical victory, because there are alternate sources of funding--as amply illustrated by the linked article. There are far more egregious wastes of our transportation dollars here in the Bay Area to get worked up about.

    2. Yes, "very positive development". $100m in C&T funds, with $100m in hypothetical matching Federal funds, might just cover both the already-occurred and the highly-predictable cost overruns in CBOSS.

      Any matching Federal dollars for CnT funds,, given current Congressional dysfunction over a transportation (or "highway") bill, seem highly unlikely. Clem, why even suggest the idea?

  6. There is not much talk of this but one casualty of construction of the electrification infrastructure will be the already dismal weekend service. The plan is to go from 60-minute headways to 90-minute headways. This is in order to allow working windows for construction crews so they can work safely. Otherwise with hourly service the crews would get set up to do their work and then have to get off the ROW because a train is approaching. So we will have to endure several years of ultra-shitty Caltrain weekend service.
    There has got to be a better way…

    I don’t know how construction is handled in the real world or if this is unique only to Caltrain?

    1. The general disregard for riders and taxpayers is fairly unique to the U.S. In other countries where rail service is considered more important, trains run on the dot and work windows are tightly managed. Sometimes those efficiencies are even enabled by that newfangled electronic PTC thingy... but I don't really have my hopes up for CBOSS to do that here.

    2. That's because in the US transit is kind of a discretionary convenience toy for those who can drive if they had to ... and welfare for poor losers who can't drive if they had to. Those losers will just have to wait (because they're losers and don't have a choice ... they should just be glad there are any trains at all!). The rest can always just drive if they don't like years of piss poor service for the convenience of the work crews.

    3. Convenience of management. If the crews are out there working in the dead of night there might have to be managers someplace somewhere.

      If you don't maintain the system eventually the work crews stop interrupting the trains because the trains stop running.

    4. It is pretty depressing that disregard for customers/taxpayers is so widely accepted here in the US.

      I was recently chatting with a friend who was hosting visitors from Germany, they were travelling in the US on Amtrak and their opinion of it was that Amtrak is unbelievably pathetic. The conversation was like: The Zephyr was two hours late---their response was: that is not possible in Europe. They questioned why doesn't Caltrain and BART run all night? We told them that they have to perform routine maintenance on the tracks, etc and the only time for maintenance is during late nights when there are no trains running. Their response was that if a rail operator said that in Germany, they would be laughed off the face of the earth.

      Convenience for the management, operator, contractors, everybody but the poor customers, no wonder our transit system is f****d up. A Caltrain conductor once told me the best way to improve weekend ridership would be to cut out half the stops and the ridership would “skyrocket.” We don’t need to run more trains, we probably run too many now it would be better to run fewer trains with fewer stops. This attitude is so self-serving. It make less work for conductors, shorter trips, more free time in between trains, all for the same rate of pay.

    5. The Zephyr was two hours late---their response was: that is not possible in Europe.

      Partly because you run out of Europe before a train can go that far.

      They questioned why doesn't Caltrain and BART run all night?

      They must be very very disappointed when they get to the Ubahn or Sbahn station and find out it's bus in the very early morning. .

    6. @ Adirondacker12800: “”The Zephyr was two hours late---their response was: that is not possible in Europe.””

      “Partly because you run out of Europe before a train can go that far. “

      So it’s totally acceptable for trains to run late because we are in the good old USA and it’s a long run?

      Good day passengers, we are running two hours late, but that’s alright, we’re Amtrak, this is a long run in the USA, schedules don’t matter, you are just passengers, you are not important.

      Everyone I have spoken to, including my friend that was hosting them, (He has been to Europe 10 times in the last 40 years), say that late trains are extremely rare in Europe.

      The point is that trains run on time in Europe unlike here in the USA.

      @--- “”They questioned why doesn't Caltrain and BART run all night? “”

      “They must be very very disappointed when they get to the Ubahn or Sbahn station and find out it's bus in the very early morning. . “

      I am just going by what we were told…. The point being that the excuse for ending service at midnight is pretty lame.

    7. @Jeff Carter, in the presentation, Caltrain said they can keep the 60-minutes headways in off-peak/weekend, but construction would cost more and last longer.

    8. It is difficult to understand why it takes longer construction. Current 60 min headway should provide most of SJ-SF to be single track operation.

    9. Adirondacker1280031 July, 2015 21:17

      Amtrak has little control over other railroad's track. Ya get what you pay for and people really shouldn't complain about the gift they get on long distance trains. If they had to pay for what it cost, they could stop running the trains. Almost no one would want to pay those kind of fares. They'd be higher than that if they had to do all the upgrades to make them run on time.

      BART's lame excuse is the same excuse other systems all over the world use for closing down overnight.

    10. The California Zephyr runs almost 2500 miles. No western European train that I'm aware of runs for anything like that long a distance, and certainly not over long stretches of unelectrified single track primarily given over to hauling freight.

      Americans sometimes think that just because you can take trains (with numerous transfers and connections) from, like, Oslo to Barcelona, that ordinary Europeans actually do that. But the average European isn't any more interested in spending all day on a train than the average American is - for longer trips, most of them fly.

      "BART's lame excuse is the same excuse other systems all over the world use for closing down overnight."

      Well, actually in recent years a number of European metro systems have introduced 24 hour operation on weekends. They still shut down overnight during the work week, though.

    11. Probably the longest overnight runs in western Europe would be Paris-Moskwa and/or Nice-Moskwa. The longest day run would be London - Marseille.

      Not just metros, but whole consolidated transit systems successfully added 24 hour operation in the nights from friday to saturday and saturday to sunday; some with an extra "nicht surcharge".

    12. @ Adirondacker12800 [..…]

      So you are telling me that I am being lied to by virtually every European that I have talked to and also by my friend who has been to Europe numerous times and rides trains all over Europe?

      I guess Clem is lying too: Clem27 July, 2015 21:27 “The general disregard for riders and taxpayers is fairly unique to the U.S. In other countries where rail service is considered more important, trains run on the dot and work windows are tightly managed. Sometimes those efficiencies are even enabled by that newfangled electronic PTC thingy... but I don't really have my hopes up for CBOSS to do that here.”

      The size of Europe/countries vs. the US is irrelevant; the fact is that trains in Europe are rarely late. In the US late trains are a daily occurrence.

      Running late night/24 hours could be accomplished by single tacking and properly managing work windows.

      You sound like you are a transit manager? You are quick to defend incompetent olde-tyme USA railroading practices. We are no longer in the steam era, nor are we without modern signaling systems.

      How inept are we at doing things here?

      The transcontinental railroad was constructed between 1863 and 1869. How long is it going to take to electrify Caltrain? How long will it take to build the HSR?

      Golden Gate bridge construction began January 5, 1933, and opened May 27, 1937.

      SF/Oakland Bay Bridge construction began July 8, 1933, and opened November 12, 1936.

      The new eastern span construction began January 29, 2002, and opened September 2, 2013!

      And the eastern span is riddled with problems, leaks in the roadway, foundation bolts exposed to salt water, possible failure of foundation bolts, what an embarrassment.

    13. In the greater scheme of things that a few hundred people taking a four day land cruise had to wait a few hours isn't terribly important. And never will be. West of the Mississippi it doesn't make sense to run intercity trains until you get to the West Coast. There aren't enough cities out there.

  7. Current weekend schedule of hourly locals provide long enough single tracking sections. Train meets both direction happens 3 locations; San Antonio, Hayward park and Bayshore. So, single tracking sections divide into 3 sections: SJ-San Antonio, San Antonio-Hayward Park, Hayward Park-Bayshore.
    Can Caltrain have enough money to start construction work with such long sections?

    1. Single tracking… That’s great if it works.

      But how do you get around the dysfunctional USA rule that prohibits any passenger rail operations when there is any construction/maintenance work going on within ¼ mile of any tracks.

      Everything we do here is utterly bass-ackwards.

    2. Within a quarter MILE? That's just wrong. I see all kinds of work going on very near tracks all the time with trains running happily and normally by. Please cite the rule you allude to.

    3. I was being facetious, to point out how idiotic the plan to reduce weekend service to 90-minute headways is. We had to endure 2 years of the weekend shutdown when Caltrain did construction to make Baby Bullet possible.

  8. It turns out the earlier story that CalTrain would get $20 million annually for its electrification project was in error.

    What was approved yesterday was only $20 million total, to be paid in installments. see:




    morris brown