18 November 2011

ERTMS Coming To California

The CHSRA recently added to its collection of technical memos a White Paper on train control technology for California's high-speed rail system.  The selected train control system will likely be deployed on the peninsula rail corridor later this decade or in the early 2020's, regardless of what "solution" Caltrain may pursue in the interim.  The CHSRA's experts looked far and wide for the best technical solution, and as longtime readers of this blog may have guessed, they conclude as follows:
The sole technology that is fully compliant with all of the CHSRA project and technical requirements is the European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 2 with Global System for Mobile Communications – Railway (GSM-R). ERTMS is service-proven and its attributes are highly applicable to CHSTP automatic train control (...)
The biggest technical obstacle for importing ERTMS to the U.S. is the lack of available radio frequency spectrum.  The White Paper delves into great detail about possible ways to overcome this, making several important policy statements along the way:
  • The choice of train control technologies will be limited to solutions that have been successfully demonstrated at high speeds for a period of at least 5 years, to minimize implementation risk and enable a strong safety case to be made to the FRA.
  • The CHSRA requires that it not be locked into a single source for procurement, bidding, and supply. Interoperable, interchangeable, open standard and multi-vendor solutions are required and will provide the CHSRA with several sources of supply for extensions, upgrades, and maintenance spare parts in the present and future, thereby lowering risk and cost. (Are you listening, Caltrain?)
  • Other alternatives to ERTMS are not technically compliant, not compliant with the project requirements, or present too much risk to implementation.
As it happens, the coveted ERTMS / ETCS Level 2 is transparently compatible with ERTMS / ETCS Level 1, which the White Paper describes as follows:
ETCS level 1 is designed as an add-on to or as an overlay on a conventional line already equipped with wayside signals, and possibly as a fallback solution from ETCS level 2. Communication from the track to the train is ensured by dedicated balises located on the trackside adjacent to the wayside signals at required intervals, and connected to the nearby interlocking and/or wayside signals.. The balises have a data connection to the ATC equipment which provides movement authorities for transfer to the train. Receiving the movement authority through balises, the ETCS onboard equipment automatically calculates and indicates to the train engineer maximum permitted speeds of the train and the next braking points if needed, taking into account the train braking characteristics and the track description data. This information is displayed to the train engineer through a dedicated screen in the cabin. The speed of the train is continuously supervised by the ETCS onboard equipment.
This is of course precisely the same thing as CBOSS, which Caltrain and their vendor Parsons Transportation Group are now kludging together for us for a hefty wheel-reinvention fee.

We've already seen Caltrain work with FRA bureaucrats to avoid re-inventing a double-deck EMU train.  Why can't they also work with CHSRA, FRA and FCC bureaucrats to avoid re-inventing a train control system?  The CHSRA is already putting together a plan for scaling the regulatory mountain, with more detail on radio frequency spectrum acquisition provided in TM 300.03 EMT Radio Frequency (RF) Spectrum Acquisition Strategy.

It's no longer just a blogger saying it (bloggers don't know what they're talking about): the high-speed rail project is now firmly on the record as preferring ERTMS as the sole solution, and is already working with government and private entities to obtain the necessary radio spectrum to deploy GSM-R in California.  ERTMS is the best solution for the peninsula, because it would allow high-speed trains to use Caltrain tracks with no special equipment or modifications.  As a side benefit, it would also allow Caltrain to meet their PTC requirement at minimal cost and risk.

ERTMS is coming.  Your move, Caltrain.

12 November 2011

Business Plan Impressions

The CHSRA's Draft 2012 Business Plan is out.  First impressions:

Sticker Shock.  In apples-to-apples 2010 dollars, the cost has soared from $4.7 billion (2008 Business Plan) to $5.4 billion (2009 Business Plan) to a jaw-dropping $13.6 billion (2012 Business Plan).  And that's just the start.  The $13.6 billion estimate is for Option A from the Alternatives Analysis, which is the all-viaduct-and-no-tunnel option.  Community demands for trenches and tunnels will only bid up the price from there.  Toss in the San Francisco DTX tunnel and convert to YOE dollars, and the cost goes right off the charts.  Amazingly, the business plan does not actually specify how the new peninsula costs break down.  The changes in each sub-total have to be backed out from available information, as shown below from 2009 to 2012:

Until Hell Freezes Over.  Under the phased implementation plan described in the Business Plan, the peninsula rail corridor might not get improved until the late 2020's, so any hope that Caltrain had to get HSR money for capital projects, blended or not, is pretty much on hold for a long, long time.  A solid plan B will be required for Caltrain, without relying on the HSR tooth fairy.

Three Things: Concrete, Concrete, and Concrete.  The most significant cost increases, on the peninsula and statewide, are due to a breathtaking increase in the scope of concrete-pouring.  The $13.6 billion peninsula figure includes $3.9 billion for viaducts, $3.1 billion for tunnels, about $2 billion for buildings and stations, and nearly a billion for earthwork and retaining walls (the dreaded berms).  Oh, and by the way, the business plan was prepared based on cost estimates from civil engineering firms, firms that get to define the scope of the project on which they may later bid.

Atherton Real Estate is Cheap.  The feared eminent domain battles for whatever corridor expansion might be planned barely show up in the bottom line, with a mere $830 million or six percent of the peninsula budget allocated to Right of Way acquisition.

The Astronomical Cost of Accommodating Caltrain.  While the current paradigm may be that HSR would operate in the Caltrain corridor, the business plan cost numbers (and especially the must-read cost increase numbers) suggest quite the opposite, with Caltrain cast in the role of the expensive interloper.  There are surprisingly high cost numbers built into the 2012 Business Plan to build over/under/next to Caltrain even while it continues operating.  For example:
  • $2.3 billion (2010$) of additional viaduct construction expenses, "associated with staged construction, loss of efficiency, and allowance for force account and premium pay - all to account for continuous support of rail operations in the corridor."
  • $1.9 billion (2010$) for a single-track tunnel to squeeze four tracks through Millbrae between neighborhoods, planned developments, and BART, in an area where "soils are very poor"-- a tunnel that would have no reason to be built without Caltrain.  The cost of this tunnel was previously decried at $0.5 billion, but this is something else entirely: the single-track tunnel, built in the same "very poor" soils as the triple-track Millbrae BART tunnel, would cost significantly more than the entire BART to SFO extension project.
  • $0.75 billion (2010$) to build a duplicate set of tunnels along the Bayshore Cutoff into San Francisco-- multiple tunnels that would have even less reason to be built without Caltrain.
You can see the planets slowly starting to line up: in due course, somebody, somewhere is bound to point out, in the upcoming "Value Engineering" phase, that a $5+ billion premium to keep Caltrain operating is far more expensive than simply extending BART down the peninsula from Millbrae to Santa Clara to ring the Bay.

That a peninsula BART extension would be suggested as a cost-saving measure is flabbergasting indeed, but this Business Plan fairly well guarantees it.