27 June 2009

Baby Bullet: Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

In June 2004, after a period of falling ridership and revenue, Caltrain began operating a limited-stop express service, known as the Baby Bullet. Express trains used newly installed passing tracks in Sunnyvale and Brisbane to overtake slower local trains (as illustrated in the photo at right by Dan Klitzing). The start of Baby Bullet service marked a turning point for Caltrain, with weekday ridership rocketing from 25,000 to about 40,000 and farebox recovery ratio increasing to the mid-forties.

It was a welcome change to see Caltrain's transformation from a plodding public transit operator to a more strategic, business-oriented organization putting passenger service first. As evident in ridership statistics, Baby Bullet express trains consistently score the highest passenger load factors and are the greatest source of fare revenue for Caltrain.

Meanwhile, the California High Speed Rail Authority intends to transform the peninsula corridor into a four-track operation, with the slow pair of tracks shared by Caltrain locals and freight trains, and the fast pair of tracks shared by Caltrain expresses and high speed trains. The Memorandum of Understanding signed in April 2009 between the CHSRA and the Peninsula Corridor JPB (Caltrain) envisions "mixed traffic from Caltrain commuter rail and the high speed train service capable of operation on all tracks".

What exactly does that mean for Baby Bullet service?

Some Numbers To Connect

  • 31% of ridership: Baby Bullets are Caltrain's highest-revenue trains, accounting for 31% of weekday ridership but only 22% of trains. There is a demonstrated market for rapid commutes along the peninsula. Will a private HSR operator attempt to cherry-pick this market away from Caltrain, leaving the publicly-funded agency on the hook to operate less profitable local trains?

  • 4.8 million passengers: The CHSRA is under great pressure to show that its business plan "pencils out" and will allow funding of system extensions (to Sacramento and San Diego) partially through revenue bonds. The Authority estimates in its ridership and revenue forecasts that by 2030, 3.7 to 4.8 million passengers a year will ride HSR between peninsula destinations (San Francisco, Millbrae, Redwood City / Palo Alto and San Jose), accounting for about 9% of the entire system's ridership, and 2% of its fare revenue. That level of intra-peninsula ridership amounts to nearly half of Caltrain's entire 2008 ridership. Does this imply HSR intends to take over Caltrain's express commuter service and associated revenue?

  • 9 or 10 tph: According to the same ridership and revenue forecast, which serves as the foundation for the analysis of design alternatives, the peninsula corridor will be sized for a traffic of 9 or 10 high speed trains per hour, each way, by the year 2030. When all trains travel at the same speed, a pair of tracks can support about 20 tph each way, but when speeds differ (as they might between HSR and express commuter trains) the capacity can drop into the low teens. With little spare capacity assumed for express commuter trains, will the CHSRA conclude that sharing tracks is not beneficial after all?

  • 2'1" platforms: The CHSRA and Caltrain have so far shown no intention of coordinating on the crucial issue of platform height. Quite the contrary, details emerging from the Transbay Transit Center project in San Francisco indicate that the two systems will operate with different and incompatible platform heights (3'6" for HSR and 2'1" for Caltrain--a difference of two steps). The implication is that high speed trains will be unable to use Caltrain platforms, and vice versa. Will this restrict the number of locations where express commuter service can be provided?

  • 2 dedicated tracks: The environmental impact work in southern California is a bit more advanced than on the peninsula, and a design alternatives analysis has already been released for the Los Angeles to Orange County section. (By the way, we should see one for the peninsula before 2009 is out... that's when the can of worms officially gets opened!) The LA - Anaheim route is similar to the peninsula in that it will have a mix of HSR and commuter traffic. The CHSRA analyzed several scenarios involving mixed commuter - HSR operation, and rejected them all in favor of dedicated tracks for HSR, stating on pages 36 and 37 that "the Dedicated HST Alternative was identified as the only alternative capable of accommodating the peak demand forecast for all classes of train service at acceptable levels and on-time performance." In other words, commuter trains can't be allowed to gum up the HSR timetable. In case there was any remaining doubt, they really drive it home: the dedicated alternative "provides for a safer environment (no mixing of FRA-Compliant and Non-Compliant trains), and does not require a waiver from the FRA." The result is a train-size Jersey barrier between the high speed tracks and lesser trains, as shown in the figure at right. Will the same, unimaginative "Dedicated HST" logic be applied on the peninsula?

  • More than 4 tracks: Before the wording of the MOU between the CHSRA and Caltrain was altered, it stated that the peninsula corridor would be four tracks wide and that "In some places the corridor may consist of more than four tracks." Does this amount to leaving the door open for the possibility that HSR tracks could be completely segregated from Caltrain, with additional tracks (beyond four) as required to operate express commuter service?

  • 70 minutes: If Caltrain service were operated by electric multiple-unit (EMU) trains, an all-stops local would need 70 minutes to travel between San Francisco and San Jose. (Refer to a presentation describing Caltrain's Project 2025, made by their "Rail Transformation Chief" Bob Doty last September: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) While this is much faster than 91 minutes achieved by diesel locals today, it is still 13 minutes slower than today's best Baby Bullet timing of 57 minutes. Express service will be needed even with the fanciest EMU technology if today's run times are to be preserved, let alone improved upon. Might Caltrain settle on 70 minutes as "good enough"?

  • 9 board members: The nine-member board that governs Caltrain is composed of appointed county officials with little knowledge of rail operations and greater allegiance to the interests of their home county than to the specific interests of Caltrain. In practice and through no fault of their own, their accountability to current or potential commuters is limited to little more than good will and personal dedication. Furthermore, funding sources for Caltrain are unreliable. In political clout or financial wherewithal, the PCJPB is far outclassed by the CHSRA. Supposing they tried, could Caltrain protect its own interests with much vigor? Will the CHSRA wave the electrification bill over their heads to get whatever they want?

  • 30 days: while the MOU signed between the CHSRA and Caltrain envisions "mixed traffic from Caltrain commuter rail and the high speed train service capable of operation on all tracks," either party can unilaterally cancel the MOU upon 30 days' notice.

  • Zero: the CHSRA's desire to navigate the byzantine process to obtain from the Federal Railroad Administration a "mixed operations waiver" is likely zero. Such a waiver would be required if HSR service were operated on the same tracks as heavy trains that are fully "compliant" with FRA crash safety regulations. Caltrain is taking the lead on this complicated issue and making good progress, but what if this effort falters? Will the lazy answer be dedicated HSR tracks, strictly off-limits to Caltrain?
Implications for Peninsula Commuters

One doesn't need to wear a tinfoil hat to view the above points as possibly suggesting a "Dedicated HST" scenario on the peninsula corridor, with high speed trains operated entirely separately and independently from Caltrain. Why would this be bad for peninsula commuters?

  • There would be no flexibility in adapting the stopping pattern of express trains to actual demand. If express service were taken over by HSR, the intermediate stops would be Millbrae and Redwood City / Palo Alto, due to platform incompatibility. Need to get from San Mateo to Mountain View in a hurry? Today, there's the Baby Bullet. Tomorrow? Forget about it and take the local.

  • The opportunity to create transfers between local and express commuter service, across a common platform, would be lost. The HSR tracks would occupy a large portion of the right of way, making it difficult to create a four-track, cross-platform commuter interchange station. Cross-platform transfers are extremely useful in creating feeders for express service and cutting journey times even for riders who do not live or work near an express stop.

  • Any spare capacity of the HSR tracks, such as might result if the ridership forecast was optimistic, would be wasted since it could not be taken up by other services such as express commuter trains.

  • Incidents (e.g. suicides) would cause more disruption and reduce operational flexibility, since commuter / HSR trains could not use each other's tracks to circumvent the location of the incident. "Single-tracking" around an incident is far more disruptive to a timetable than detouring four tracks into three, as would be possible in a shared-track scenario.

  • A common fare system where a single fare covers the trip from point A to point B, regardless of the transit operator or speed of service, would be less likely.
Anyone who cares about flexible and efficient express commuter service--regardless of who provides it--should hope that shared HSR / Caltrain operations on the peninsula corridor aren't just empty talk. Making it happen will require more coordination and possible regulatory complication, but failing that, the Baby Bullet's days may be numbered.


  1. I've said this several times before, and I'll say it again. HSR should not be in the business of hauling commuters. The requirements for long distance and commuter services are just too incompatible: with long distance service, passengers probably have reservations for a specific train, everyone should get a seat, and there needs to be room for plenty of luggage. For commuters, you should be able to take any train, and the railroad will want to pack in as many people as will fit on a train, with some not getting a seat, and in Caltrain's case, a good number of passengers have bikes as well. And for HSR, local commuters are not necessarily a good thing: someone buying a seat from SF to SJ means that that seat can't be occupied by a SF-LA passenger, who would provide much more revenue.

    The other aspect of all this is whether HSR and Caltrain services are compatible timetable-wise. I'd say that they are, given that HSR will have a top speed of 125 on this segment, but HSR trains generally have somewhat worse acceleration, and HSR stops will have longer dwell times. Plus, with a four track system, Caltrain expresses can get out of the way of HSR trains if there are enough slots on the local tracks, and even with 15 minute headways for the locals, that's plenty of room to let in an express that's moving out of the way of the HSR for a few stops (such as Millbrae-Bayshore or Mountain View-San Jose). Really, though, what we need here is a simulator so that we can see how well various timetable options will work.

  2. Also, a few more things. The situation here is different from SoCal, in that Metrolink has no plans for either electrification or non-FRA trains, while Caltrain plans both. Thus, the shared track there would be shared with Surfliners and Bombardier bilevels pulled by F59s, while here it will be shared with EMUs. I imagine that made at least some difference in the planning process.

    As for fare compatibility, I don't think Caltrain and HSR tickets should be interchangeable, but I definitely think you should be able to buy a single ticket that will get you from LA to, say, Sunnyvale with a connection in San Jose. Or even from San Bernardino to Redding, via Metrolink, HSR, and Amtrak bus (or maybe by then Amtrak train).

  3. Will the lazy answer be dedicated HSR tracks, strictly off-limits to Caltrain.

    Caltrain will be replacing it's fleet. Why can't the lazy answer be "We'll replace it with non-FRA compliant stock, nothing FRA compliant north of San Jose" ?

    Really, though, what we need here is a simulator so that we can see how well various timetable options will work.

    A simulator would be nice but all you really have to do is look at timetables for three track or four track railroads.

    Something like these perhaps?


  4. I've said this several times before, and I'll say it again. HSR should not be in the business of hauling commuters.

    What constitutes a commuter? What constitutes intercity? With HSR, the distinction is completely blurred. SJ-Fresno is a 1hr trip, shorter than a current Caltrain end-end ride. If CAHSR tries to make this distinction (which sadly seems all too likely), it would be very counterproductive.

    And for HSR, local commuters are not necessarily a good thing: someone buying a seat from SF to SJ means that that seat can't be occupied by a SF-LA passenger, who would provide much more revenue.

    The simple solution (as practiced throughout the world) is that someone who buys a SF-SJ ticket doesn't get a seat reservation. Or has to pay a huge markup for guaranteed seat.

    Note that the cost of the fixed HSR infrastructure is unbelievably enormous, whereas the incremental cost for accommodating extra standees at the tail end of a HSR run is minuscule, so let's not be penny wise and pound foolish. Caltrain and the CHSRA can just calculate local trip ticket revenue and divide it up accordingly.

  5. Commuters are people travelling to or from work at peak times in large numbers. It's not a bright line distinction, but it's there none the less. As for the price of the infrastructure, that's why it's best to build shared tracks and have Caltrain (mostly) serves the commuter market while HSR (mostly) serves the intercity market. And hey, bikerider, what about bikes? If HSR replaces the Baby Bullets, the bike riders are going to whine to get their 40 bike spaces per train back, but most of those spaces are likely to be empty for the intercity part trip, leaving the incredibly expensive HSR train with a half empty car, or a lot of angry bike riders. Ultimately it's about market segmentation, and providing the best service for each segment if you can, rather than trying to make some compromise that pleases nobody. Anyhow, I'm sure Caltrain will insist on getting rights to the express tracks on their own ROW, so there won't be any problem in the end.

  6. Translation: This is the way PRR did it and it's the way Amtrak+NJT do it, so that's the only way it can be done.

    The very idea of the same ticket working on different types of vehicles operated by different operators could only be some sort of socialist plot by bureaucrats in Brussels designed to destroy our way of life. They hate us for our freedom!

    Commuter Railroading was divinely revealed to the Founding Fathers. You can have my ticket punch and my hat checks when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers.

  7. This is the way PRR did it

    When I started to commute my monthly ticket was good on any coach. Couldn't get on the all parlor car train to Long Branch or the all parlor car trains to Chicago or the west coast but anything that wandered in that had coach seats on it, I could board. Time it right and the commute home includes a bar car... well back then regular everyday commuter trains had bar cars.

    The very idea of the same ticket working on different types of vehicles operated by different operators could only be some sort of socialist plot by bureaucrats in Brussels designed to destroy our way of life

    I realize bureaucrats in Brussels have little say over Japan. Does that mean a monthly commuter ticket is good on a Nozomi?

    Why then does raileurope.com have this in their FAQs?
    "Generally most high speed trains require reservations, as do scenic and overnight trains. Whenever possible, Rail Europe will include the price of your reservation in the quote we provide. For your reference, here’s a listing of trains that always require reservations: AVE, TGV, Thalys, Eurostar, Eurostar Italia, Artesia, Cisalipino, Lyria, Talgo, City Night Line, Elipsos Train Hotel, Glacier Express, GoldenPass, Bernina Express, Chocolate Train and the William Tell Express. The ICE requires reservations on any Sprinter train. Additionally the X2000 in Scandinavia will require reservations and most trains in Spain (Renfe)."


    "Can I make a seat reservation with a 2nd class ticket?

    Second class tickets imply first class tickets doesn't it?

  8. Richard: the TGV has a separate fare structure from the rest of SNCF. The Shinakansen requires a separate ticket with a surcharge. The way Switzerland does things, at least as I understand it, would be the equivalent of having fully interchangeable fares between, say, Amtrak and Metrolink/Coaster on the LA-SD section, and being able to buy a ticket that includes HSR segments as well as other non-HSR rail services. But I'm pretty sure nobody allows you to use a plain old commuter ticket on an HSR train, because HSR is a premium service. Anyhow, why am I arguing with you? To you it's "this is the way SBB does it, and that's the only way it should be done." Because clearly we live in a small mountainous european country with a population of 7 million.

  9. Again what this tread fails to address, is that the UPRR still owns inter-city passenger rights on the San Jose to SF corridor. UPRR doesn't own the ground, they don't own commuter passenger rights, but the do have freight rights and they do own the inter-city passenger rights. They never sold off those rights when they sold off the corridor.

    When this fact was brought up by me and others to the JPB, it was basically brushed off with comments like "we have had successful negotiations with the UPRR before." Well the UPRR wants to protect its freight operations.

  10. I want to use my bus pass to ride HSR. Now that would be something.

  11. Hey Morris, I asked that question on some railroad forum and they started to answer but then they started talking about the damn Crescent so who knows.

    If both sides think they are in the right, then hey, throw another lawsuit on the pile I suppose.

  12. Clem,

    Caltrain is predicting a huge increase in ridership after transbay is open. I think ridership could go up 2-3x. How does that impact this analysis?

    Also, why on earth would baby bullets not go up to 110 mph? If they are on grade separated tracks, I don't think there is anything holding them back legally.

  13. Run thousands of empty seats between SJ and SF at peaks because that's the way the Pennsylvania Railroad did it, thus requiring hundreds of millions of redundant infrastructure to accommodate excess trains = ... profit!

    Mix different traffic classes on the same set of tracks for the longest possible distance (ie Redwood City to San Jose), against all global engineering precedent, thus maximizing the amount of unnecessary and nose bleed expensive infrastructure = ... profit!

    Run express trains on the inside tracks, meaning turnbacks (eg San Jose) require hugely expensive and otherwise unnecessary flyovers or tunnels and entire extra aerial levels of station = ... profit!

    Build the lowest capacity possible turnback at Transbay, thereby requiring a $100+ million peripheral terminus (of a type seen nowhere else in the entire world) = ... profit!

    Invent your own signalling system, with years of "development", infinite scope for mission creep, and tens of millions of opportunity for oversight and other engineering management services = ... profit! Ditto for your own overhead, power, SCADA, etc, etc. This is going to be a great swill-fest!

    I think we're seeing a pattern here.
    How surprising, given the cast of characters involved.
    Just what are the odds that the obviously technically wrong but most expensive decision could be made every single time?

    Bad engineering continues to be its own very juicy reward.

  14. "I want to use my bus pass to ride HSR. Now that would be something."

    Indeed it is.

  15. I don't see a huge problem with HSR serving some commuter needs. I'm assuming the seating will be higher quality with more amenities, and combined with the fact that it should be faster there will be a number of people willing to pay higher fares for an HSR commute. I would predict the majority of daily commuters would still use Caltrain as it should be cheaper than HSR.

    I definitely think it would be a bad thing for both systems if they do not share tracks, but it seems that they may have to if Caltrain does not adopt the same platform height at HSR.

    The issue of different speeds does present a problem though if tracks are shared, I'm not sure what a good solution to that problem would look like

  16. As far as UPRR is concerned I believe it's not a major discussion item here because most people understand that UPRR is using it's resistance as a negotiating point to get more cash or concessions from HSR/Caltrain. If UPRR is honestly against any track sharing that would of course be a major problem, but I think the likelihood of that is extremely small.

    The other reason it's not discussed is that there's not really any much that can be discussed. Either they will play nice with HSR or they won't, not really anything to be discussed beyond that.

  17. Richard: why do you assume there will be empty seats? You'd still be able to buy a ticket on HSR from SF to SJ even in the rush hour, it would just cost exactly as much as needed to ensure that everyone gets a seat. My prediction is that this will be considerably higher than regular Caltrain fare, because a whole lot more people commute between SF and SJ than ride between LA and SF. That's how it works in places where Amtrak shares a line with commuter rail. And hey, that's apparently how it works on Deutsche Bahn too, at least as far as I could gather from a quick search for ticket prices.

    As for the technical superiority of the PRR, the pulse-coded track circuit system is still technologically superior to the various intermittent ATS systems used in Switzerland, Germany, and Austria, and much better on a high traffic density line than even ETCS L1 (because continuous cab signals can step up in the middle of a block, while with intermittent system you have to wait till you get to a balise or inductor).

  18. Why do you assume there will be empty seats?

    You are advocating an "airline" model of seat pricing. That doesn't make sense if you want to achieve major mode shift away from cars to passenger rail.

    Most notably, you can forget about walk-up customers, and anyone else who has access to a car and doesn't like planning their entire day around a train arrival.

    My prediction is that this will be considerably higher than regular Caltrain fare, because a whole lot more people commute between SF and SJ than ride between LA and SF.

    For southbound trips departing out of SF, you have to keep seats open anyway for people boarding further down the line, in places like Gilroy or Fresno. Or are you suggesting that CHSRA artificially inflate Gilroy fares too, because they are going to "steal" potential revenue from a SF-LA rider?

  19. Why can't the lazy answer be "We'll replace it with non-FRA compliant stock, nothing FRA compliant north of San Jose" ?

    That would be the smart way to do it, now, wouldn't it?

    Freight is in the picture because freight interests are deeply entrenched, and FRA-compliant freight will require very complex (and profitable) engineering along the entire peninsula. I'm not even sure if that's the reason, or if the even more lazy answer is that freight is in the picture "because it's there".

    What an odd system we have.

  20. Caltrain First29 June, 2009 23:16

    Thanks, Clem, for this analysis of what might happen to the Baby Bullet. It's a major concern, and the signals are mixed so far. It's interesting that the MOU is not an iron-clad contract by any means; it's simply a set of discussion points.

    I honestly don't think the freight interests are so entrenched on the Peninsula ROW. Politically, they don't have much of a dog in this race. After all, hardly any freight moves along the corridor, and SP found the freight service unprofitable several decades ago. Sure, the Port of San Francisco and the Port of Redwood City have delusions of grandeur, but they can't seriously substantiate their future freight dreams. I don't believe UPRR gets any profit from running freight on the Peninsula, and I think they would be glad to be relieved of the obligation to this paltry level of freight business on the Peninsula.

    More likely, the trickle of freight on the Peninsula is a useful and convenient justification for unnecessarily segregating traffic and quad-tracking the whole corridor (as opposed to just dealing with two main tracks with strategic passing tracks at stations) to keep CHSRA's very expensive "dedicated" tracks that will carry the hourly intercity train. Yes, HOURLY! During the full build-out peak, HSR tracks might carry four trains per hour AT MOST, but even then the regular off-peak load will be hourly trains, perhaps even one every two or three hours. The inter-regional demand simply doesn't justify any more trains. I can't help but chuckle at the claims of 12 HSR intercity trains per hour with headways of 5 minutes! That will be a lot of empty trains. Of course, Caltrain will be moving at least four times as many trains and passengers as CHSRA. CHSRA obviously hasn't heard of the classic "gravity model" from transportation geography...

    A Caltrain engineer recently incorrectly stated at a public meeting that the corridor moved "lots of freight" without any evidence to support such a claim, and it suggests that "all this freight" is being used as a false necessity to overbuild the corridor. Also look at the SMART proposal in Marin: they are talking about how all this freight will materialize and require special gauntlet track engineering, but the freight will be marginal at best. They are talking about moving wine! It's all an excuse to overbuild, giving great profits to the planning/engineering companies and the bill to the public. This also cripples the effectiveness in achieving functional transportation goals.

  21. Ideal freight scenario:

    UP screams and stamps its feet about how vital and profitable its freight business is and demands hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure to accommodate it.

    Ports of SF and Redwood City likewise. Big important agencies get to swing their big influence around! And don't forget the CPUC!

    Mush-brained foamers and "environmentalists" are happy to play along -- after all, this all costs less than the invasion of Iraq, and, diesel trucks are like totally evil!

    Subsequently, and ideally just after most or all of the wasteful infrastructure has been paid for (by you and me), UP lets it be known that although there is absolutely nothing it would like less than being thrown in the briar patch of peninsula freight abandonment -- remember that it is very very very very profitable! -- there's a number involving a lot of trailing zeroes, which, if written on a check payable to bearer, just might help it remember that it mightilytries to get out of the short line carload business everywhere other than the SF Peninsula. Key observation: the longer the hold out, and bigger the pay off.

    For full effect, Caltrain rail vehicle selection and Caltrain platform design will have been drastically and expensively compromised by the "need" to coexist in "mixed traffic". The US Railroad Professionals involved in "designing" the corridor's service will have fully concurred about this (thousands of billable hour justifying) "need". (Look at what is happening to SMART.)

    End result: maximum "design" and construction expense, large payoffs to ensure that the construction isn't used, and, the designs having been being the products of US Railroad Professionals, the corridor's passenger operations will inevitably be kneecapped for decades to come.

    It's another win-win scenario for everybody involved -- other than those suckers paying the bills.

    Just look at Quentin Kopp and PBQD's (the same team bringing Los Banos!) last effort with BART to Millbrae: ruinously expensive, basically unused, a failure fully predicted in advance, and an operational cost and physical impediment that will keep on giving for decades to come.

    Stupid unused expensive stuff is good! Digging holes and filling them again can be done over and over with profit at each step.

    Past performance is a perfect guide to future performance.

    PS One guess how often this vital freight facility has been used since it was constructed at public expense.

  22. Caltrain First30 June, 2009 00:21

    And don't forget about BART in these future scenarios. BART is never one to miss out on any gravy train.

    Fifty years from now, after CHSRA has segregated its dedicated tracks from Caltrain, which as been reduced to slower all-local service, BART finally gets to San Jose and Santa Clara, and some "leaders" and BART and MTC break out their "Plan X" to replace the all-local Caltain service with BART from Santa Clara to Millbrae! It will conincide just as the Caltrain EMUs have reached the end of their service life and are up for replacement. The long-held dream of BART ringing the Bay can finally be realized!!!! MTC makes the grand claim that by 2070 BART ringing of the Bay will finally make transit effective in the Bay Area. They neglect to inform the public that BART takes over three hours to go around the Bay and is functionally useless in transportation terms. Such reason has never stopped BART and MTC before.

  23. I do think you're on to something interesting here, Clem.

    One of the real tragedies of the last decade at Caltrain, when, as far as anybody outside the organization could tell, the people inside the organization weren't actively working to sabotage their own system (unlike their predecessors through the BART-and-nothing-but 1990s, that absolutely nothing strategic has been done to fundamentally transform the nature of Caltrain service.

    The "Caltrain 2025" business, for all its merits (which in practice don't seem to amount to anything more than "FRA rolling stock isn't the answer", plus the usual "state of good repair" harping that issues constantly from the mouth of every US railroad baron -- all well and good, but of limited public and political interest), never makes any concrete statements about what service should be run and what needs to be built in order to run that service.

    In contrast, if you look at real transportation planning agencies, their first and foremost presentation is "here is what we will provide to the travelling (and taxpaying) public at Stage 1, and here is Stage 2", and so forth.

    For each increasing stage of of service, they say what sorts of infrastructure and rolling stock are needed, and what sorts of capital and operating expense they will require.

    There's a good political story: we have a plan that involves improving public service; we have a realistic and incremental set of stages or phases to achieve the vision of that plan; the stages build upon each other; and at each stage we will deliver significant and customer-visible improvements in service.

    In contrast at Caltrain, there's "let's rebuild the platforms in Atherton; oh, never mind, let's not. But let's rebuild the platforms in South San Francisco. Or maybe not. But hey aren't these cute platform shelters in Burlingame great? How about some State of Good Repair money for a radio system? Oh and by the way we're cutting service. Hey, how about spending $300 million in San Bruno!? That will be awesome!"

    If anybody at Caltrain gave a flying fuck about radically improving the service -- which means selling the idea of doing so -- the very highest priority would have been a program to build a multi-track section in the middle of the line for same direction overtakes via timed transfers of express and local trains in Hillsdale. (Previously mentioned here)

    There's a real story here about how the nature of the service would change, one that can be told to people who aren't APTA members. (ie "An express every 30 minutes. A local every 15 minutes.") There are a set of steps that lead to it ("A local train every 30 minutes"). The steps don't contradict each other, unlike nearly everything Caltrain does.

    But instead we've frittered away more than a decade and hundreds of millions of dollars, and what we have to show for it are basically a lot of 8 inch high platforms. And CEMOF. Let's never forget CEMOF.

    There are more trains running -- at least for a while, until the operating subsidy cuts and those assistant assistant sub-ticket-puncher wages really start to bite -- but they're such a completely random collection of limited stop services that nobody except rush hour commuters either knows or cares about it.

  24. [...]

    There's never been any story that says "this 96 train schedule, with all its randomness and compromises, is stage 1 of this clear plan that will eventually allow you, the resident of Randomdinkypeninsulatown, to go down to the station and have a train show up within X minutes that will get you to any other place on the line, or deliver you to Sanjosecenteroftheuniverse or Northernsatanicdestination within Y minutes of boarding."

    So in the end when a bunch of rent-seeking CHSRA shyster consultants show up and say "we're going to take over your train set", there's no reason to say "hey look, we already know what we're doing and here's where we're going and this is where we can work together and here's what you'd better not mess with because here's what we've promised our constituents and we're already 37% of the way there. Oh and we'll always have 3 times as many riders as you, so play nice or go home."

    Instead it is just "Oh great. Now we can reprogram the randomthreeletteragenyacronym grant money for building 8 inch high platforms in South San Francisco to building 8 inch high platforms in Santa Clara. That will keep us busy for a while. How about a new crossover somewhere random? State of Good Repair!"

    Basically, if Caltrain ends up running a local train every hour while CHSRA does its lets-be-all-modern-and-Amtrak express thing on its super-duper-central-express-tracks, nobody will notice the difference, and worst of all, nobody will even have an idea of what better alternatives might have been possible.

    All the local and regional cities and agencies are going to say (and are saying) is "Great! We don't have to listen to Caltrain go on about STA/Section 5301/RTP/blah blah blah any more. More pork for BART!!!!" All the local citizenry are going to say (and are saying) is "Great! Trains with pointy noses like I saw in Japan! Get rid of those stinky clanky slow schoolkid-killing smoke-belching dinosaurs that I never take because driving 280 is twice as fast."

    Yeah, so no Caltrain "Baby Bullets". That's going to affect, what, 10,000 people? All of whom have cars anyway. Think of the Greater Good of CHSRA awesomeness. And if you even suggest otherwise, you're a crank or a NIMBY.

  25. Why can't the lazy answer be "We'll replace it with non-FRA compliant stock, nothing FRA compliant north of San Jose?

    That would be the smart way to do it, now, wouldn't it?

    From page 1 of the Draft Scoping Report: The HST would operate in this area at speeds no greater than 125 mph and would share tracks with Caltrain express commuter trains.

  26. Richard, I don't have a car. Therefore, your whole is invalid : )

    Actually though, what you say makes some sense, and I think it all really comes down to the fact that there's no systematic planning going on on the scale of the state, the Bay Area, or even just the Caltrain corridor. Caltrain can't do long term planning because they don't have long term funding, because the size of their service area encompasses several counties, but it much too small for the state level, and the only intermediate thing is the MTC. Having a steady source of funding would allow for a long term plan of service improvements, which is what Caltrain needs to get credibility.

    As for freight, don't be too eager to cut off San Francisco from the national freight network. Europe is spending billions of euros to build up its freight rail network to get at least a bit closer to what America has. Why throw away something that others are trying desperately to get? Ultimately, that's what the AlpTransit project is about, and a big part of the justification for ERTMS and the like: cross border freight.

  27. I would think the commuter vs intercity rider issue will be solved mainly through which station you're getting on at. Obviously someone getting on or off at any but a couple of stations will even have the option of HST, and presumably those with the option will choose whichever ticket price and amenities suit them. Case in point, look at the NE Corridor shared by Amtrak's Acela and the commuter agencies like NJ Transit and MARC. Sure I can go from NY to Newark or Trenton on either one, but do I pay $30 for the Acela one way or $5 for NJ Tranist (note prices may not be exact).

    What I'm more interested in is if/how they'll go for dedicated HST tracks. Assuming Caltrain could run their expresses on the dedicated tracks, and perhaps allowing for crosovers in a few places if we're really worried about interference with HST, a four track system could still work, though you might need six tracks at stations where Caltrain expresses stop (or maybe that's where you provide crossovers, though that could hamper operations on the Caltrain side).

    Whatever they do, I just hope they have common height platforms. I can understand Caltrain might be trying to protect their turf, but what happens when they have a breakdown and have the possibility of running around the issue on HSR tracks? Oh wait, can't run by HST's platforms. Drat...

    As for freight on the peninsula, has the increased MOW from the extremely heavy, flat wheeled, somewhat maintained cars been taken into accout in how it might affect either Caltrain or HST? Unless they've got section gangs checking the ROW every night, I can envision the freight track getting bumpy very quickly for the express riders.

  28. Perhaps it is time to change the name of this Blog.

  29. RRRgh. Can we fix the damned FRA "must be inefficient and dangerous in crashes" regulations, and replace them with something from, oh, the 20th century?

    Caltrain's "noncompliant" designs are actually safer in crashes with freight trains than FRA-compliant designs. It is beyond moronic that something like this could cause trouble. Seriously, if I were Caltrain I would consider suing the FRA for causing injuries if it refuses to let them use *safer* technology!

  30. "Again what this tread fails to address, is that the UPRR still owns inter-city passenger rights on the San Jose to SF corridor."

    This means jack.

    They've failed to exercise said rights -- for decades. If they actually try to prevent someone else from doing so based on their supposed ownership of said rights, the legal proceeding to eliminate those "rights" would take approximately 10 seconds and result in no payment to UPRR. I can think of three or four separate legal theories with which to do so, but eminent domain is the most reliable.

    The *freight* rights, which they actually exercise, are another matter.

  31. Caltrain will be replacing it's fleet. Why can't the lazy answer be "We'll replace it with non-FRA compliant stock, nothing FRA compliant north of San Jose" ?

    Concrete Cutting Los Angeles