19 June 2010

Strange Bedfellows Indeed

The June 2nd CHSRA Operations Committee meeting audio recording included some interesting information that was neither in the agenda nor in the PowerPoint slides, regarding the relationship between Caltrain and the CHSRA.

The True Meaning of Track Sharing

The following exchange took place between Rod Diridon, board member of the CHSRA, and Tony Daniels, the program manager for the entire technical effort--a sort of godfather figure of the HSR project. They had been discussing and praising Caltrain's recently obtained FRA waiver, which allows Caltrain to operate European-style electric trains provided that certain conditions are met. Here's where the discussion went next:
Diridon: The joint track waiver that FRA is going to be giving now to Caltrain, is for them to use diesel and electric, their electric, not our vehicles, on their track.

Daniels: Right. Compliant and non-compliant is the best way to look at it.

Diridon: I understand. But to be more graphic here, it's the difference between using diesel locomotives and the lighter European or Asian type electric powered vehicles.

Daniels: Only for passengers. No freight.

Diridon: For passenger service, on the same track.

Daniels: Not freight.

Diridon: Right, and of course that assumes positive train control.

Daniels: Yeah.

Diridon: Have we thought about using their tracks for our … locomotives, or…

Daniels: We are. We are doing it…

Diridon: I meant their double-track system for our system.

Daniels: We are doing it.

Pourvahidi: Instead of our tracks, instead of having our tracks?

Diridon: No, I don't see in our alternatives any place…

Daniels: No no just, sorry, (…) it's not that we can't run on it, we can, if it was necessary, in the same way as the Caltrain trains can run on ours, our so-called tracks. It's just that there's not the capacity.

Diridon: Well I understand capacity.

Daniels: Right. But you can't work on either. We're planning to keep them separated except when you come in from Bayshore into 4th & King and ultimately Transbay, we have to mix ourselves on the track. As we go into Transbay, for example, we'll use the same track going in.

Diridon: Though we certainly wouldn't prefer it. But if we were stuck along the peninsula someplace with no more than a two-track system, … have you thought about that?

Daniels: Uhhh, it would change completely the whole plan. Right now, we're kind of…

Diridon: I'm not proposing it. Don't misunderstand me.

Daniels: We looked at it operationally, at 60,000 feet, and just… we're talking 22 trains an hour. That's not on, you can't turn around.

Diridon: You mean at maximum, there's 22 trains an hour. Not to begin with.

Daneils: No, but ultimately, when you're starting, you're going to be on the order of something like 18 trains an hour. Then you've got to turn them around at the other end. That's where the difficulty is, not running them on the tracks.

Diridon: You're talking about Caltrain now?

Daniels: Yeah. You can't turn that number of trains around at the terminal end.
The key nugget is highlighted in red. Despite Caltrain's dogged insistence to the contrary, the CHSRA does not, repeat, DOES NOT, plan to share tracks with Caltrain on the peninsula. Their plan is to have their own pair of exclusive-use tracks all the way up to Bayshore. Those HSR tracks could only be "shared" by Caltrain under rare circumstances when another track is out of service--a sort of breakdown lane, and certainly not a mixed-use corridor that would allow Caltrain to provide both frequent AND fast service.

This can and should be construed as a downright rape of Caltrain. HSR is going to be brutishly rammed up the peninsula corridor without due regard to the enormous benefits that a truly shared corridor could provide for peninsula commuters--whether they ride the train or drive.

Keep Your Hands Off My Stimulus

Another interesting exchange occurred regarding the $2.3 billion of federal stimulus funding that the FRA has awarded to California. As noted repeatedly at the operations committee meeting, the late 2011 deadline for stimulus funding is extremely tight, with environmental clearance (a.k.a "shovel readiness") of the peninsula high-speed rail project unlikely to be obtained, let alone litigated. Sensing the possibility that this time-critical federal funding could slip away to other parts of the state, the Bay Area congressional delegation is supporting Caltrain's effort to jockey for some of the HSR bacon.
Diridon: Also, when would be an appropriate time to talk about the impact of the attempt by the Caltrain system to acquire ARRA funds directly.


Daniels: I think that's a separate matter for the authority, I think, to try and resolve what… is Steve Schnaidt [legislative affairs consultant] here? Because he brought this up as an item that we need to try and resolve, because there is some conflict between what the peninsula wishes to do and what we're doing on the high-speed rail, and that has not been cleaned up yet, I don't think.

Diridon: Can I ask a further question there, sorry to take so much time. [Friendly banter about Diridon taking so much time.] It seems to me that the environmental clearances that the Caltrain system has, that they want to fund, are based on a Caltrain type of service.

Daniels: That's right.

Diridon: Not on a four-track system.

Daniels: Correct.

Diridon: As a consequence, if you're talking about attempting to use ARRA funds to do their electrification on a two-track system, or to do grade separations on a two-track system, it's counter-productive to our objectives. Is that not a factual statement?

Daniels: It is and it isn't. It's not a black-and-white answer. I mean you could structure it, if you could do it under the environmental, our high-speed rail environmental process, it would help ultimately the building of our piece of it. You could state it that way, but …

Diridon: I absolutely understand that we could meld their clearance into ours and modify their clearance to include a four-track system instead of a two-track system or elevated or whatever ours is going to be. But the clearance that they have now, that they're trying to rely upon in order to qualify for ARRA funds directly, is based on a two-track system--on-grade, two-track system--which may not be what comes out of our study.

Daniels: It's very unlikely it will. We will be, we know already from everything we're doing that it's a four-track system to make it work for both sets of operations, commuter and high-speed rail.

Diridon: So, at some point Mr. Chairman we need to have a conversation on this subject. Because if ARRA funds go in to build for example an undercrossing for a two-track system, we then come along at a point in the future with a four-track system, that has to be accommodated by the undercrossing, we have to rebuild the undercrossing. That's the worst kind of government. We don't want to be tearing up brand new projects in order to change something.

Daniels: Well here's the answer to that movie, Rod. The question that we raised right at the beginning of them having some guidance from the FRA about how we're going to put these ARRA funds together will include whether we can or cannot do what you've said. On first glance, I don't think you can, because the ARRA funds are supposed to be for high-speed trains, and a two-track commuter line is not a high-speed train.
Let the games begin. As a clarification, Caltrain board has not actually certified the electrification EIR just yet. That action, unexpectedly held up last April, is reportedly slated for early July.

A Compromise Solution?

One of the many strings attached by FRA to their Caltrain waiver is that positive train control must be installed, tested, and FRA-certified before Caltrain can carry even a single passenger on an electric train. That puts PTC in the critical path. Unfortunately, Caltrain's PTC plans do not jive with high-speed rail's PTC plans. That lack of jive makes it exceedingly unlikely that ARRA high-speed rail money will be allowed to fund Caltrain's PTC project. In these lean times, just where is Caltrain going to find $230 million (opening bid!) to build something that's incompatible with high-speed rail?

A far better approach would be to grant Caltrain some ARRA money to become the first installation of ERTMS in the United States, blazing the path for high-speed rail. Everybody wins: Caltrain gets a lower-risk, timely PTC solution with funding to back it up--and HSR gets the bureaucracy of importing and tailoring ERTMS taken care of early, a state-wide benefit that is far from a parochial peninsula interest. With a viable PTC program in place, it might even make sense to start thinking of funding some Caltrain electrification infrastructure--infrastructure that would be quite useless without PTC. See the Catch-22?

When you're in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.


  1. Clem's account brings to mind this memorable Diridon-Daniels exchange from last year:

    Daniels had just finished a five minute talk detailing the studies the Authority had done to determine required operating speeds, and asked the board if they had any questions.

    “The point,” said Diridon, “is that I wouldn’t want someone to say, ‘oh, it’s going to go 200 mph through Morgan Hill.’ Well, that’s not the case. And we want to make sure that … everybody knows that these are examples. They’re not actual situations, they’re not proposed situations.”

    Daniels gently tried to tell Diridon the speeds were real: “It’s against the best information we have. The traction motor curves are real. The alignment is the best alignment we have to date. We will continue to evaluate those, you’re correct, as we move forward. But we’ve used this, and you’ll see in the next couple slides, as the basis upon which we’ve drawn a very detailed timetable and operational plan from which we got the ridership. Okay?”

    HSRA Chair Curt Pringle weighed in on Diridon's side, to try to protect HSRA from charges it has predetermined its plan before project EIRs are complete: “Okay, we understand that this is a maximum speed defined by physical conditions but not an operational plan. You’re just suggesting that this is what things to consider in terms of what could physically occur but it’s not the operational plan of the system. Got it.”

    Daniels’ jaw visibly dropped at the willful misinterpretation, but he still continued to try to explain: “It’s likely to be. It’s close. You’ll see when we go to the timetable and then the operational plan … it IS close—” Pringle interrupted him at this point, clearly perturbed at his refusal to endorse Diridon’s cover story: “—could you just proceed with your presentation as you’ve prepared it. Thank you.”

    When CHSRA public-relations says one thing, but the Program Director says the exact opposite -- is that lying or just further evidence of agency dysfunction?

  2. By law, CAHSR has to do LA-SF nonstop in under 2:40. The current stimulus projects make it clear that this figure won't be achieved by curve modification.

    In other words: Diridon either is lying or has no idea what he's talking about.

  3. It's the dysfunction one. But seriously, what did you expect given the structure of the Authority, the bond act, and the politics around all of it?

  4. Tony Daniels is planning to run the HSR trains close to the speed limits imposed by the track geometry. With delicate environmental reviews going on, CHSRA board members aren't interested in full public disclosure of the noise impacts that would entail.

    What CHSRA isn't doing at all is analyzing total travel time and hassle from the customer's point of view, i.e. door to door. You can easily spend silly amounts of money on gaining an extra minute on the HSR train only to lose much more than that to iconic bridges over freeways, poor station approach layouts, long pedestrian transfer paths, lack of integrated reservations/ticketing, lack of integrated timetables etc.

    The point of running HSR trains fast is to generate high ridership. Allow enough of the little things to fall through the cracks and you've got an overpriced, under-achieving "solution" on your hands.

    In the specific case of the SF TBT, the ideal would be a run-through station served by a TBM-bored single loop track via Main St inbound and 3rd St (i.e. not 2nd St) outbound. That's the only way you're going to get run-through tracks for both Caltrain and HSR at the TBT site, which SF voters just made clear yet again is the only one on the menu.

    A very large, optimized head-end station (e.g. Stuttgart) can deliver high throughput, but only at the expense of a large land footprint in the downtown area. That's why that city and other, e.g. Vienna, are now biting the bullet and building run-through stations.

    All I see right now is bureaucrats desperately defending their turf and refusing to revisit decisions that no longer make sense in the present context - if they ever did. If I were FRA or the state legislature, I wouldn't be handing out any prop 1A nor ARRA funds to TJPA, CHSRA and PCJPB until they come up with an optimized integrated plan for day-to-day operations of HSR and Caltrain in downtown SF.

    Only then will there be any chance of reaching throughput levels high enough to justify even considering full quad tracking throughout the peninsula.


    As for FRA, CHSRA will anyhow need a "rule of special applicability". The state should offer to compensate FRA for a senior headcount stationed in Sacramento and dedicated to rail safety issues in California. Give him/her a CPUC sidekick while you're at it.

    Note that FRA will anyhow be the agency disbursing whatever federal funding Congress decides to make available for HSR nationwide. That means FRA's remit now stretches well beyond rail safety. For better or worse, it is now charged with driving federal rail policy, specifically capital investment in various levels of HSR.

    Having a staff member on site could make it easier for California to get its ducks in a row on future applications, when the competition from other states won't be caught unprepared.

  5. The agencies are evidently killing themselves by impairing service of the other one.

  6. "we're talking 22 trains an hour"

    And there you have the problem.

    The PB dude and the former Bechtel good ol' boy at Caltrain lie outright about ridership and capacity, and use this to drive the most expensive (= most PB-Bechtel-Sopranos profiting) and stupidest conceivable capital projects, thus guaranteeing them and their buddy boys lifetime employment, all with no personal consequences when it goes to hell after they're comfortably retired and/or moved on to the next disaster.

    Hey wait a minute, haven't we seen this movie before?

    22 trains an hour! You've got to build in capacity for future needs! You can never pour too much concrete, lay too much (operationally useless) track, or spend enough on CBOSS, ETCS and BART AATC (separately!), can never and you can never ever ever ever EVER have too few parallel, incompatible, redundant services running alongside each other stopping at redundant, incompatible and inconvenient separate stations (Millbrae, Transbay, Santa Clara, ...).

    22 trains a hour! It's the law. It elimates all alternatives. It exterminates all rational thought. It is simultaneously beyond belief and beyond question. And don't you ever forget it.

  7. Yes Richard....

  8. IS anyone on here a "real" rail transit grad?? not being a wise guy ?

  9. CBOSS and the Caltrain corridor operations plan explained (first of five parts):


    Within weeks, he and his graduate student, Justin Kruger, had organized a program of research. Their paper, “Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties of Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-assessments,” was published in 1999.

    Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

    It became known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect — our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.


  10. So, did anyone turn down a request to peer review the Dunning-Kruger paper?

  11. HSR/Caltrain non-communicating bifurcated brain damage explained (second of five parts):


    What did contrast with the apparent preservation of intelligence of this patient was that she seemed to ignore the existence of a nearly complete hemiplegia, which she had been afraid of for many years. Never did she complain about it; never did she even allude to it. If she was asked to move her right arm, she immediately executed the command. If she was asked to move the left one, she stayed still, silent, and behaved as if the question had been put to somebody else.


    Did the anosognosic patient have absolutely no knowledge or some limited knowledge of her left-side paralysis? Was there a blocked pathway in the brain? Was the anosognosia an organic (or somatic) disease? Or a derangement of thought? Was she in some sort of trance? Babinski also noted that many of his anosognosic patients developed odd rationalizations.


  12. While we all enjoy making fun of Caltrain now and then, can we please go easy on the anonymous sniping? Either don't snipe, or sign with your name.

  13. Rafael, I don't understand the question. The paper was peer-reviewed and published.

  14. (I'm no an "anonymous sniper", I'm merely relaying Erroll Morris.)

    Caltrain's breakdown of technical and executive management competence explained (third of five parts):

    The notes, written on yellow foolscap, contain an assortment of limericks and anecdotes, drifting into seeming nonsense.


    As Grayson leaned in to hear the soft, indistinct voice of the president, was the president trying to reassure him? Were the limericks examples of light-hearted humor in the face of unblinking adversity? Or manifestations of limitless dementia?


    the outstanding feature of the President's behavior was his denial of his incapacity. Denial of illness, or anosognosia, literally lack of knowledge of disease, is a common sequel of the type of brain injury received by Wilson. In this condition, the patient denies or appears unaware of such deficits as paralysis or blindness ... To casual observers, anosognosiac patients may appear quite normal and even bright and witty. When not on the subject of their disability, they are quite rational; and tests of their intelligence may show no deficit.


    Their actions leave open the further question: when does out-and-out prevarication shade off into self-deception and denial? Did the president's immediate advisers convince themselves that Wilson was in possession of all his faculties despite evidence to the contrary? Did Edith Wilson cynically decide to grab power; was she in denial; or did she become anosognosic, as well, truly believing that there was nothing wrong with her husband?


    "I just found it so unbelievable that they would have toyed with the fate of this country, the welfare of this country, these two irresponsible people, certainly this lady was. Perhaps, we could excuse Mr. Wilson a little bit, that he really had no idea of how sick he was. The doctor came out and said that he was irreversibly damaged. And then that was dismissed. There’s such denial."


  15. The Disqualify Everyone but China Act23 June, 2010 20:32

    Anyone else wonder if and how much compensation has passed from China to Blumenfield?


  16. Caltrain's in-house PTC engineering development processes explained
    (fourth of five parts):


    [Y]ou suggest that anosognosia is not an underlying neurological condition; it's about our lack of knowledge of something caused by an underlying neurological condition. About our not-knowing things that we should know --- not knowing that we are not making any sense, not knowing that we are paralyzed, not knowing we are missing limbs.

    ... Are they feigning a lack of awareness? Are they truly oblivious? Or is that knowledge buried somewhere in the brain? Do we live in a cloud of belief that is separate from the reality of our circumstances?


    Ramachandran has used the notion of layered belief --- the idea that some part of the brain can believe something and some other part of the brain can believe the opposite (or deny that belief) --- to help explain anosognosia. In a 1996 paper, he speculated that the left and right hemispheres react differently when they are confronted with unexpected information. The left brain seeks to maintain continuity of belief, using denial, rationalization, confabulation and other tricks to keep one's mental model of the world intact; the right brain, the "anomaly detector" or "devil's advocate," picks up on inconsistencies and challenges the left brain’s model in turn. When the right brain's ability to detect anomalies and challenge the left is somehow damaged or lost (e.g., from a stroke), anosognosia results.

    In Ramachandran's account, then, we are treated to the spectacle of different parts of the brain --- perhaps even different selves --- arguing with one another.

    We are overshadowed by a nimbus of ideas. There is our physical reality and then there is our conception of ourselves, our conception of self — one that is as powerful as, perhaps even more powerful than, the physical reality we inhabit. A version of self that can survive even the greatest bodily tragedies. We are creatures of our beliefs. This is at the heart of Ramachandran’s ideas about anosognosia — that the preservation of our fantasy selves demands that we often must deny our physical reality. Self-deception is not enough. Something stronger is needed. Confabulation triumphs over organic disease. ...

  17. @ Anon

    WTF? Can you please stop posting junk?

  18. When the right brain's ability to detect anomalies and challenge the left is somehow damaged or lost (e.g., from a stroke), anosognosia results.

    Anosognosia is extremely common, and I suspect will be traced to genetic disorder in the Y chromosome.

    Some common symptoms:
    male answer syndrome
    fear of asking for directions when lost

  19. Why the Peninsula Rail Program will never even understand they are in the bottom quartile of transportation planning (fifth of five parts):

    ... Psychologists over the past 50 years have demonstrated the sheer genius people have at convincing themselves of congenial conclusions while denying the truth of inconvenient ones. You can call it self-deception, but it also goes by the names rationalization, wishful thinking, defensive processing, self-delusion, and motivated reasoning. There is a robust catalogue of strategies people follow to believe what they want to, and we research psychologists are hardly done describing the shape or the size of that catalogue. All this rationalization can lead people toward false beliefs, or perhaps more commonly, to tenaciously hang on to false beliefs they should really reconsider.

    Venn Diagram of cluelessness, self-deception and denial.

    The road to self-insight really runs through other people. So it really depends on what sort of feedback you are getting. Is the world telling you good things? Is the world rewarding you in a way that you would expect a competent person to be rewarded? If you watch other people, you often find there are different ways to do things; there are better ways to do things. I'm not as good as I thought I was, but I have something to work on. Now, the sad part about that is -- there’s been a replication of this with medical students — people at the bottom, if you show them what other people do, they don’t get it. They don't realize that what those other people are doing is superior to what they’re doing. And that’s the troubling thing. So for people at the bottom, that social comparison information is a wonderful piece of information, but they may not be in a position to take advantage of it like other people.


    In philosophy of science there is a myriad of concepts designed to explain why researches are "blind" to certain kinds of data -- from Kuhn’s paradigms to Hanson's theory-laden observations. What is fascinating about Dunning and Kruger's work is that it suggests our brains are constituted in such a way as to provide a limit to our understanding of the world. That we literally walk around with blinders on. There is always the possibility that we are in the bottom of quartile of something.


  20. I think Caltrain does a pretty good job.

  21. I have to say, I respect Diridon for complaining about Daniels's "two unrelated pairs of tracks" proposal. Maybe he can light a fire under them to build an actual four track system?

  22. "In the specific case of the SF TBT, the ideal would be a run-through station served by a TBM-bored single loop track via Main St inbound and 3rd St (i.e. not 2nd St) outbound."

    *Actually* the ideal would be a run-through station connected to the Second Transbay Tube and continuing to Oakland, with yards on the surface somewhere east of Oakland. But that was rejected early on, because it doesn't give enough benefit for *HSR*. The side benefits for the rest of the Bay area didn't figure into the computation.

  23. Anyway, that signalling issue is critical. The current US PTC plans range from low-grade to beyond stupid. Let's get rid of this not-invented-here attitude. Let's get ERTMS.

    The sooner we get ERTMS on one line, the sooner we can get PTC nationwide. What can we do to lobby for this?