09 July 2014

The Path to Level Boarding

The California High-Speed Rail Authority recently abandoned its plan to procure trains by piggybacking on an Amtrak order of new trains for the Northeast Corridor.  This news isn't all that surprising: the two have such different requirements that it never made sense for California to hitch its cart to the wrong end of Amtrak's horse.

The effect is to free California from the prescribed platform interface in use on the Northeast Corridor, where the platform edges are located 48 inches above the top of the rail and offset laterally by 67 inches from the center line of the track.  An earlier recommendation that Caltrain should use high platforms to ensure compatibility with high-speed rail, especially in highly constrained stations like San Francisco Transbay, still stands.  The specific dimensions of the platform interface, however, can be optimized for California at a height less than 48 inches and offset greater than 67 inches.

Let us briefly review the Unique Local Conditions present in California:
  • "blended" commuter / HSR service
  • bi-level commuter rolling stock, both in the north (Caltrain) and south (Metrolink)
  • single-level HSR rolling stock, at the CHSRA consultant's insistence
  • a strict requirement for level boarding, per Americans with Disabilities Act, unlike Europe
  • no pre-existing level boarding standard, unlike Amtrak's NEC
  • a very tall (17 feet, AAR Plate F) loading gauge, unlike Amtrak's NEC
These conditions have direct implications for the upcoming procurement of Caltrain EMU trains.  Caltrain recently sent out a Request For Information to train manufacturers.  This RFI discusses the platform interface issue but considers only a high option (~50") and a low option (~25").  Are those really the only options?

Future trends in high-speed train design

Stadler EC 250, with a 760 mm floor
Europe, where "blended" high-speed rail is the rule rather than the exception, is gradually standardizing around two platform heights: 550 mm (21.7") and 760 mm (29.9").  Accessibility laws are becoming more stringent, forcing train floor heights to match the platforms for seamless level boarding.  The traditional single-deck high-speed train designs now operating in Europe, including recent models designed in the last decade such as the AGV and Velaro-D, still don't allow level boarding. Two or three steps are necessary depending on platform height, to the increasing dismay of advocacy groups for persons with reduced mobility.  The next generation of single-deck high-speed trains, of the sort that California might order later this decade, are designed for level boarding with entry floor heights of 760 mm; for example, the Talgo Avril and the Stadler EC 250 (shown at right).  Accessibility requirements will eventually leave the big three manufacturers (Alstom, Bombardier and Siemens) with no choice but to follow suit and offer high-speed trains capable of level boarding, most likely at 760 mm.

Not too high, not too low, just right

760 mm is a good compromise platform height because it satisfies two conflicting requirements:
  1. it is low enough that a Caltrain or Metrolink double-deck EMU could be designed with entry doors on the lower floor without making the train excessively tall, and
  2. it is high enough that a single-deck high-speed train can be designed with a continuously accessible floor with no interior steps throughout the entire length of the train, per ADA requirements.
Floor heights lower than 760 mm quickly become impractical for providing accessibility throughout all cars of a single-deck high-speed train, as required by Federal Railroad Administration regulations that implement the ADA (specifically 49 CFR 38.175).  The train's floor must rise over wheels and traction gear that can be significantly taller than 760 mm, so lower floors lead to impractically long interior ramps or lifts to enable wheelchairs to move about between train cars.

Floor heights higher than 760 mm are not practical for boarding and alighting from the lower level of a bi-level EMU, and push the entry doors out over the wheels at the ends of train cars, resulting in unevenly-spaced doors that may impede passenger flows on station platforms and increase station dwell times.

Stepping up to 760 mm (30 inches)

The transition to level boarding, regardless of the selected platform height, will not take place overnight.  For logistical and financial reasons, there will be a period of several years during which commuter trains will serve a mish-mash of old and new platforms at differing heights.  To allow uninterrupted service through this transition, the trains will require built-in movable steps to serve both heights.

This isn't a new problem.  Numerous trains worldwide have been designed to address it, as seen in the image and videos below.
YouTube videos of moving steps:

Step deployed for a low platform on a Paris
commuter train. Photo credit: Poudou99

This is however a deceptively difficult engineering problem, because the step mechanism and controls must be incredibly reliable to prevent trains from breaking down and disrupting service.  Consider that a single train opens a dozen doors at every stop; if 100 trains a day make an average of 16 stops each, there will be about 20,000 door cycles per day.  If each door cycle has a failure probability of just 1 in 100,000, we are still left with an 18% chance that one or more doors will fail and disrupt service on any given day.  That's why even a 1 in 100,000 failure probability is not acceptable for a door mechanism, as a number of operators have found out the hard way.

The lesson is clear: these mechanisms must be designed with the utmost simplicity and reliability.  For Caltrain's new EMU fleet, that could be nothing fancier than a single step deploying from each door, as shown in the cross-section diagrams below.  Train floors are drawn in dark red.

The EMU steps, shown in the third diagram from the top, are a bit taller than one would like with an 11-inch rise.  That's 1 inch taller than today's first step, but probably acceptable for a temporary transition period until all platforms are raised and the step mechanisms can be permanently retired.

Note also that as drawn here, the extra width of the new cars would place the new platform edge 70 inches from the track center line, a full six inches outside of the nominal Plate F loading gauge.  This dimension might ease any concerns from Union Pacific that high platforms would interfere with freight service, or from the government about STRACNET clearances.

This is a compromise solution, and as such it isn't ideal under every criterion:
  • the floor height is a bit higher than one would like for a bilevel EMU
  • the floor height is a bit lower than one would like for a single deck high-speed train
  • there is a failure-prone moving step mechanism
  • the step height is awkwardly tall
Nevertheless, this compromise, or one very similar to it, provides the only viable path toward a high-speed rail system that is seamlessly interoperable with Caltrain and Metrolink in Southern California.  The guiding principle of "any train, any track, any platform" will pay off with billions in infrastructure savings state-wide, more efficient utilization of station platforms, and valuable minutes saved on every connecting trip.

Gradual Transition Strategy

Getting from today's 8-inch platforms to 100% level boarding isn't something that requires a mega-project right after (or worse, during) electrification.  It can be done piecemeal, on a station-by-station basis as funding becomes available for each, exactly like the 37 platforms built in the last 15 years.  The timeline can expand or contract to match any budget.  Here's the simplest way to get from here to level boarding:

Thinking about this transition ahead of time, and designing the EMU fleet around the new platform interface, has essentially zero up-front cost.  In the long run, doing it right the first time saves money because we won't have to do it over in order to achieve the numerous benefits of level boarding.

Caltrain may not fully realize this, but their decision about the platform interface for their upcoming EMU procurement could set a generational precedent for the entire California rail system.  Will they give it the consideration it deserves?


  1. What can we do to actually make this happen? Do we know when the new level boarding heights will be decided, and if there will be a public comment period?

    1. The new boarding height will be decided in the next few months as the EMU RFP is prepared, and it remains to be seen whether Caltrain staff will even be aware of having made a choice--never mind the far-reaching implications of that choice for decades to come. I sincerely hope this key decision will be given the careful and deliberate attention it deserves.

  2. The norwegian version of the Stadler Flirt is built with an floor height of 800 mm and is also widened to the larger loading gauges of Scandinavia, allowing 2+3 seating. As already mentioned, this is the way the European market will go. If California doesnt choose the high floor Shinkansen model, wide body trains with low to medium height platform is the way to go.

    The Scandinavian version of the Flirt will also run as a high speed (200 km/h) service between Stockholm and Gothenburg starting in 2015. It will only be One step up from the 580 mm swedish plaform height, and a small ramp for wheelchair passangers. (you can find more information about this new service here: http://www.mtrexpress.se/english)

    Greetings from Sweden

    1. Here is a more detailed view of how a low floor wide body TGV may look like in 10 to 20 years. As you said, "Accessibility requirements will eventually leave the big three manufacturers (Alstom, Bombardier and Siemens) with no choice but to follow suit and offer high-speed trains capable of level boarding, most likely at 760 mm."


      Greetings from Sweden

    2. Thanks Erik. I think it's important that Caltrain make the effort to go all the way up to the 760 mm standard, because that's the direction in which the entire European HSR market is going. This will enable seamless interoperation with HSR at SF Transbay, Millbrae and San Jose--not to mention Burbank, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

      "Blending" is more than a buzzword, it is a good idea that must be implemented correctly and completely. There is no room for half-measures.

    3. Clem,

      "Blending"is a political slogan; no more, and no less.

      "Blending" is a polotiical exercise, about politicians in the Peninsula exercising their political power to force early (mis-) "investment" in the so-called "bookends"..

      You know and I know that this "early investment" is INCOMPATIBLE with high-speed rail. The signalling system which Caltrain had pre-selected, and will install on the "Blended" segment, is INCOMPATIBLE with the requirements for *any* HSR signalling system.

      You know that, I know that, and you know that I know that. You and I both know that Caltrain's "Modernization' staff is incompetent: so incompetent, that when the issue of incompatibility is raised to them, they reply that "hsR wouldn't have given us the money for CBOSS if it was incompatible".?
      Yet the two signalling systems *ARE* incompatible. (In many ways, more so than AM and FM radio are incompatible. Just in case the CalMod "director" is reading).

      So, Clem: . just *why* do you think Caltrain will care about "compatible" platform heights? Especially given CHSRA's Technical Memoranda, which clealry dictate airline-style "ground-side" and "air-side' separation. Complete with space for airport-style, captive-market, "mezzanine" (read: monopoly rent extraction) retail on the "air" (train) side?

      Please explain how platfform-sharing is acheivable under that regime.
      Because *I* cannot see how it can be accomplished.

      i mean, we're talking airport-style secured, segreated areas; versus the (cost-effecitve and sane) Caltrain "Proof-Of-Payment" system. Those are incompatible. They cannot be reconciled.

      And that incompatibility is the *ONE* thing on this blog, which a public-policy graduate, who did community outreach for a new BART station, is most likely to understand.

      On the dark sid,e perhaps such concrete-intensive, transportation-industrial-complex profit-making, segregation of passengers, is seen as desirable. Who knows......

    4. I think it is slightly presumptuous of you to tell me what I know and don't know. That being said, I prefer to focus on the future and try to affect the decisions that are yet to be made. The new platform interface is one such decision, and it will be made very soon. That is where long-term value can be added.

    5. Clem,

      I apologize, sincerely, for presuming to you what you do or don't know. I was thinking of issues like signalling -- where CBOSS is incompatible with HSR. I think we agree on that much.

  3. I would just like to say that this is a well-written, clear, concise, informative, informed and useful article.

    It is 10000 times as useful as anything that has ever come out of Caltrain or CHSRA.

    Thank you.
    Well done.
    That is all.

    I could end on some downer about being ignored here on this critical issue as on all the other points, but let's all pretend the future will be different from the past, shall we?

    1. Plus c,a change, plus c'est la me^me chose.

  4. @Clem, like you said, 760mm is a compromise solution. Certainly 50inch is much more desirable for HSR trainsets because it enables all the mechanical and electrical components to be put underfloor and thus have lower center of gravity.

    The cost difference of building platforms to either 760mm or 50inch would be small for existing stations, and next to nothing for new stations. Caltrain had built many temporary stations for its various projects in recent years, the transition from existing 8inch to 50inch would be no different: build temporary platforms next to existing stations for older trainsets while rebuilding existing platform to final height.

    The advantage of bi-level passenger cars is marginal due to the need to include stairs. So instead of arguing for 760mm platform height just to enable Caltrain to order bi-level cars and put the doors at lower level, perhaps convincing Caltrain to order single-level trainsets is a better choice, which has the added advantage of conductors needed to walk through the cars once to check tickets.

    1. Interesting thought.

      If the advantage of bilevel cars were truly so marginal, then they wouldn't be such a ubiquitous solution to capacity limits in so many cities around the world. And you can be sure that Caltrain will be severely capacity-limited once HSR is blended into the corridor. So I remain convinced that a large bilevel train (making full use of the generous clearances available on the peninsula corridor) is the right solution for Caltrain to make the most of what track capacity will be left.

      As to conductors checking tickets, what century is this? POP fare inspectors usually work in roving teams, with one person taking each floor.

    2. There is actually room for some components under the floor. 760 mm is more like a medium height, about 400 mm higher than the bottom floor of the TGV Duplex. As the 760 mm standard mature there will be components designed specifically to fit this space. Not all will fit but a lot.

      In a high floor car up to 100 persons with luggage is moved up about 500 mm compared to a 760 mm car, that also affects the center of gravity. A low floor design may also reduce the overall height thus reducing drag and increasing wind stability.

    3. Unless you want to close down Caltrain for a few years while they build all of the platforms there's going to be a transition period while the level boarding platforms are built, whatever that height turns out to be.

    4. Reality Check15 July, 2014 14:53

      50 inches is just too damn high, so I vote for 760mm (30 inches).

      Easier, less costly transition and doesn't preclude bi-levels.

      Ticket checks (POP or otherwise) work just fine on bi-levels, so that's a nonsense argument for 50 inches or the single-level cars that height implies.

    5. There are bi level cars that go to 48 inch platforms

    6. Reality Check15 July, 2014 15:22

      Which ones and where are they in use today?

      How do wheelchairs board and where on the car are they accommodated?

    7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E4_Series_Shinkansen

      They flit about in far off exotic New Jersey a lot and are fairly often spotted in Montreal, Boston and soon Baltimore and Washington DC.

      They board from the platform and ride inside the car?

    8. Reality Check15 July, 2014 16:11

      Looking at this photo, it appears you can only move past the door vestibule via stairs. If so, the E4 doesn't work for wheelchairs, does it?

      Shinkansens don't "flit about" anywhere in North America, so what cars are you talking about and how many and where on-board are wheelchairs and riders unable to use stairs accommodated on them?

      The original point was that 48-50 inch doors are too high to allow bi-levels wherein wheelchairs and non-stairs-capable riders can reach the lower floor. You'd either have to build a car with internal ramps or put the doors on the mid-level of tri-level cars such as Caltrain's Bombardiers. Neither sounds like a great option.

      That's part of why I think 30-inch platforms are so much better for Caltrain than 50-inch.

    9. Reality Check: The doors aren't all the way at the ends of the cars, so there's some area which is level with the platform at the ends of the cars. That's where disabled passengers sit. It doesn't allow them to traverse the train, but that's true of nearly any bilevel design with a few exceptions - gallery cars and the Talgo 22 concept.

    10. Reality Check15 July, 2014 18:40

      Ah, OK. Thanks Joey.

      So it's a tri-level car with 3 levels. The doors are on the mid-level as can be seen in this video of an E4 departing.

      I also found a video showing seats being turned (holy crap, they appear to be powered!).

      And (FINALLY!) -- a hard-to-find POV video traversing the interior of an 8-car E4... with a combination of lower and upper floor car traversals. Owing to the tri-level design, you'd have to negotiate 2 sets of stairs per car traversed. Not the most wheelchair- or disabled friendly train ... but still not totally unserviceable as long as they reserve some mid/door-level seating and spaces for those folks.

      Oh, and here's the cherry on top: the E4s have even got an on-board wheelchair elevator, as this POV video shows. Unbelievable! To be avoided if at all possible!

    11. They had a legacy system to cope with. they figured out how to do it which means they could do it in California too. Since trains in California aren't going to be running in Japan it would be wise to explore other options but that doesn't stop the trains in Japan from running. Or the ones in far off exotic Maryland. or ones in California if California examines all the options and decides to use Shinkansen platform heights.

    12. The way I see it, there are a number of circumstances that set Caltrain apart from other rail operators:

      1) a non-negotiable requirement for short and predictable station dwell times. Successful sharing of track infrastructure with HSR requires high average speeds for Caltrain, and the best way to speed those up is to attack the slowest portions of the trip, namely when the train is stationary. Every second counts. That's why level boarding is so important, and why we need to think about smoothing passenger circulation both on the platforms and on the train for all kinds of users (pedestrians, wheel chairs, bikes, strollers, lugguge, etc.). It makes sense to have doors spaced evenly along the train with spacious access inside rather than cramped vestibules, unlike all the examples cited above.

      2) It's not just about wheel chairs. Caltrain has an unusually large portion of riders who bring their bikes on board to complete the first mile / last mile portion of their trip. I believe the figure of ~6000 daily bike boardings (over ten percent of overall ridership) is unmatched anywhere else in the nation. To keep dwell times low, the new level boarding interface must lead directly into spacious areas where a large number of bicycles can be quickly stored. That's why boarding on the lower level makes sense, and it's also a reason why extra-wide trains make sense.

      California has no legacy system, and it didn't necessarily make any sense to extend the Pennsylvania Railroad's legacy all the way out here. There is an opportunity here to adopt a new standard that meets the specific needs of California, needs that aren't particularly pressing in places like the Northeast Corridor or Japan.

      As for HSR in California, they have clearly stated that from a regulatory and commercial standpoint they will go with a single-level architecture. The E4 Shinkansen, while an interesting feat of vehicle packaging, is not relevant. What is needed is a platform interface that meets every operator's requirements, and 30 x 70 inches may just be it.

    13. If Caltrain ordered 6-car or 3-car fixed sets, full-width and door-less gangways can be included in the design, similar to newer rapid-transit trains. Perhaps this would provide enough space for wheelchairs and bikes.

    14. And doing something different than the rest of the country will be doing will be okay because just like trains from Japan won't be running California, except for the daily land cruise that toddles in, the trains from Chicago won't be running in California either. That doesn't make the trains in Japan or Pennsylvania evaporate.

    15. Clem: How to keep dwell times short when 10% to 15% of your riders have bicycles? Put a bicycle rack for two, one above the other, on both sides of each level-boarding door-way pair. The car-length aisle would be off-center opposite the door-ways (bicycles are about 6 feet long) but still would leave enough room for easy transverse passage. The location of an arriving train’s open bike-carrying positions determined with bike-rack-occupation-sensors could be transmitted to stations ahead. When informed about the location of open-bke racks an experienced commuter could board a train with his bicycle without breaking stride.

    16. In the Northeast, single-level (and some bilevel) trains with 48" entry height have doors with trapdoors revealing steps for serving low platforms. Instead of having two double-wide quarter-point doors, they have a single double-wide mid-car door, without a trapdoor, and two single-wide car-end doors with trapdoors.

    17. How are the trapdoors operated? Knowing Amtrak, someone probably has to come through and open each one manually.

    18. The MBTA trapdoors are manual, and I think so are the NJT and SEPTA trapdoors, but I remember seeing a YouTube video of an automatic trapdoor on a train in South Korea.

      One hitch, though: all the Northeastern examples I know involve unpowered cars, rather than EMUs. It is possible, albeit unlikely, that the trapdoor requires space that isn't available at a motorized bogie.

    19. One of the perennial complaints about SEPTA is that they seem uninterested in suburban level boarding. The Silverliners go to high and low level platforms. So do Arrows.
      I'm sure someplace on railroad.net there is a thread scores of pages long about how they work. Or don't work.

    20. The danger is of course that Caltrain and its rolling stock consultant may not look further than the Northeast Corridor. Such myopia would be terribly unfortunate when much better solutions exist.

    21. one would hope that Caltrain look no further than whatever HSR decides on. Whatever solution or solutions California comes up with doesn't stop the doors from opening at low level SEPTA stations. That are mostly served by EMUs.

    22. "one would hope that Caltrain look no further than whatever HSR decides on"
      Something about tails wagging dogs.

      Vaporware tails, for that matter, wagging real dogs.

    23. ...not sure why I forgot that SEPTA runs EMUs.

      Never mind.

  5. Clem, you express your concern that retractable steps must be very reliable. JR East uses retractable steps on all their mini-Shinkansen series to bridge the gap to the platform. Given the limited number of doors and the short dwelling times of those mini-Shinkansens and the bad weather conditions they sometimes operate in, you can trust them to be very reliable. In fact, the newest E6s still use the same basic step construction that the first 400 series had.

  6. The San Francisco Peninsula’s fragmented transit market suggests variable capacity consists are needed to efficiently address Caltrain’s current and potential traffic. For example TCRP’s Travelers’ Response to Service Quality data clearly shows that commuters are far more likely to use a transit service during peak-demand-hours if frequent late-evening runs are offered when total demand is often low. Major transit agencies are clearly responding to this insight. Chicago Metra’s hourly service until 12:40 am on the same lines that provide 2 hour mid-weekday headways is responsive passengers’ concern over lengthily waits while away from home. Five of Los Angeles’ light rail and subway lines offer 7-day 10 minute headways from 8 pm until mid-night even though they offer only 12 minute mid-day headways.
    A gradual introduction of EMUs presents an opportunity for Caltrain to complement their current uniformly slow accelerating moderate capacity rolling stock with light-weight quick accelerating level-boarding- finely adjustable length one operator EMU trains. Adding such EMUs to Caltrain’s rolling stock set would present a golden opportunity to recast Caltrain service to a form more responsive to SF peninsula riders desires. For example there are consistently strong ridership numbers when express trains are deployed. An initially modest number (Considerably less than half the current peak load requirement.) of Caltrain EMUs could be most profitably deployed (Meaning developing the greatest reduction in system operating subsidies possible.) with only one employee on each run which has the most stops during all SF Peninsula service hours. Since all-stop runs have fewer riders, especially when there are competing express trains operating during the same hour, these local trains could all be short requiring less than 200 feet of high-level-platform at each stop.
    During the initial electrification period when both diesel and EMU trains would be operating during peak demand periods:
    (1) Diesel runs should only support skip-stop service.
    (2) EMUs should only be used for all-stop-service during peak demand periods and local plus skip stop runs during off peak periods. Since express service is always in greater demand at least two to four times more skip-stop than all-stop runs should be offered between peak demand periods−a service pattern now affordable with only one paid employee on board each EMU train.
    (3) In order to minimize the number of operating personnel required to deploy many independent trains EMU passengers should pay fares through a platform barrier system.

  7. Clem, totally off topic, but how much travel time and distance of track will be saved if the rail authority decided to tunnel under the San Gabriel Mountains, from Burbank to Palmdale? Instead of following highway 14 through Soledad Canyon.

    1. 12 minutes minimum
      34 miles shorter
      10+ fewer miles of tunnel
      20 fewer miles of bridges
      $5 billion cheaper to build
      $175 million/year more profitable to operate.

      Check his post here: http://www.cahsrblog.com/2013/06/the-truth-about-tejon/

    2. Caelestor, I was not talking about Tejon, I was talking about the new alternative brought up recently of a tunnel from and area around Burbank to somewhere around Palmdale


    3. Highway 14 doesn't go through Soledad Canyon. The previous preferred alignment was Soledad Canyon but that got moved to the more tunnel-intensive SR-14 because of environmental concerns.

      In any case, the time difference would probably be pretty trivial. Speed is limited largely by the ability to stop while going downhill and start from a standstill going uphill rather than by curves. A pointlessly long tunnel could conceivably have a shallower grade but not by much.

    4. It's about 10 miles saved over the baseline SR-14 alignment by taking a straight shot from PMD to BUR. Compare that to 34 miles saved over the baseline alignment by taking Tejon pass instead. Almost the entire 10 miles is saved in the San Fernando Valley, where it is unlikely that trains could exceed 150 mph due to residential noise impacts. So this tunnel would save about 4 minutes of travel time.

  8. Europe is going towards 550mm height even for high-speed rail ( in particular Finland and Switzerland ).
    Talgo currently offers double-deck trains with the entire lower deck at 550mm height ( but 'only' for up to about 120 mph ) - http://www.talgo.de/download/Talgo22D.pdf .

    1. Europe is divergating. Germany, The Netherlands, Spain and Norway has selected 760 mm on new builds and upgrades. The rest mainly towards 550 mm. But don't forget that Germany is the biggest country in Europe.

      The Talgo 22 project is dead, but the concept is really interesting and I hope it will materialize in the future.

      As the european loading gauge is quite limited, and will continue so even with the larger GC gauge, 550 mm platforms is actually better for double deckers. But in California (and US generally) these limits is not valid. There is no problem designing double deckers for 760 mm platforms.

    2. Europe is slowly going to 550 and 760 mm, sometimes mixed together in the same country, with some exceptions. The Swiss train shown in the opening photo has 760 mm floors, with a couple of doors lowered to 550 mm so it can serve both heights (Switzerland and Germany) with level access for passengers with reduced mobility.

      Erik is correct that we have more room to play with, which is precisely why I advocate the 760 mm compromise as a common interface for single- and bi-level trains.

  9. That last Swedish research paper is a good reference on this topic, I have added it to the virtues of width article. Thanks for doing my research for me.

  10. Richard,
    you live a sheltered life. A medium-to-large Schabel is not that cool That one the ABB Uiic 84 74 997 2000-5. And the Lok is a NOHAB T43.

    "Kewl" would be Uiic 839. I have the Trix HO model. I shudder to think what the minimum radius of a 1;32 model would be.

  11. All I want to know is if what Richard thinks is cool isn't nearly as big as what kiwi.jonathan thinks is cool, does that make Richard or kiwi.jonathan cooler?

  12. Caltrain's new High-Performance Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) trains web page just went active yesterday.

    As you will see, it includes a link to the "Electric Multiple Unit Procurement Update" (PDF, 504KB) presented at yesterday's board meeting.

    1. So they will have space capacity issues -- but staff still wants to waste space for bathrooms. Hopefully the conductors will allow the bathrooms to be used for overflow bike storage.

    2. I ride Caltrain for upwards of an hour on a daily basis, and, oddly enough, have been known to drink coffee before getting on the train, resulting in occasional visits to the bathrooms. If Mr. Drunk has his way, apparently I'm supposed to use the bike racks.

    3. I don't wanna carry a pee bottle, let alone try to figure out how to discreetly use it without making a mess or getting thrown off the train or arrested for indecent public exposure!

    4. Get a grip. It's the over provision of toilets that is the problem, not that the trains have them.

      One toilet per train unit (3 or 4 "cars"): appropriate, perhaps even necessary.

      One per ~25m of train length (each "car", as today with Bombardier cars): a waste of space and cost.

      PS Tens of thousands of people ride for "an upwards of hour" on BART every day (no toilets at any of the most used stations any longer. note), and drive alone "upwards of an hour" commuting, without in-vehicle toilets. Big F____ing Deal. It turns out that it can be done.

    5. I ride Caltrain for upwards of an hour

      After electrification and HSR, your trip should not be taking 1hr. If it still does, then we have bigger problems than bathrooms.

    6. I'm not holding my breath (or my bladder), waiting for my daily commute to get significantly shorter, I'd be happy to just get a bit more frequency.

    7. They are considering 3-car option for offpeak and weekend service. Do we expect BART like frequency in Caltrain?

    8. Should we expect 15 (peak) and 20-30 (off-peak) frequency on Caltrain? HELL YES.

      Will Caltrain, the Commuter Railroad Agency that freely chooses to be FRA regulated and chooses to require 2 or 3 or more crew per train when one would do, and refuses to countenance either overtakes or timed transfers in service planning, and chooses 15+ minute turnbacks and 90 day COTS inspections, etc, ever deliver BART like frequency to the people who are paying two billion dollars for "modernaization"? OVER THEIR DEAD BODIES.

    9. Do we expect BART like frequency in Caltrain?

      I'm not. If I just miss a mid-day or evening train, it sure would be nice if I didn't have to wait 60 minutes for the next one.

      And, by the way, normal BART frequency to Millbrae is crap, thanks to half of the trains south of SF going only to SFO. I live in the East Bay, and it is quicker for me to take a bus to Transbay terminal, walk well over a mile to the Caltrain station, then ride Caltrain south, than it is to take BART's slow roundabout route to Millbrae and wait for 15 to 30 minutes for Caltrain, due to lack of any schedule coordination between the agencies.

    10. "normal BART frequency to Millbrae is crap"
      No it isn't. The headway (20 minutes worst case) is just fine, especially given the low ridership.
      It's the circuitous travel route which is the problem.
      (Aside from the total lack of any notion of regional schedule or fare coordination.)

      Gee, who would ever have predicted that?

      Oh, and coordinating any sort of fixed-headway transit schedule with Caltrain? Good luck with that, given that Caltrain's timetable is pretty much random and is only going to get worse and more and more arbitrary under all their advertised "blended" plans.

  13. I suspect most commuter rail services make some operating profit on ‘rush-hour’ operations but lose a lot of money maintaining hourly service with slow all-stop runs during mid-days, evenings, and week-ends. Unless they skimp on the frequency of their off-peak service runs. For example the BNSF commuter line between Chicago and Aurora has an 89% operating ratio partly because there are two hour service gaps between trains after their morning ‘rush-hour’ till early afternoon weekdays and all day Sunday.
    But with a prospective near-term essentially clean-sheet electrification design Caltrain has a golden opportunity to approach break-even operating costs while simultaneously improving speed and frequency. If Caltrain’s initial EMUs served only level-boarding platforms one operator per EMU train would be sufficient to meet ADA wheel-chair accommodation requirements. Doubling average speed; due to level boarding, acceleration rates, a greater proportion of express runs, and shorter end-of-run schedule recovery periods; would enable a 9 train-per-hour schedule to be operated with the same total number of rolling stock operating personnel now required to run a one train-per-hour ADA compliant service with today’s diesel trains and 8-inch platforms. A nine-train-per-hour minimum service schedule, 3 all-stop and 6 expresses per hour, would initially require a maximum of two EMUs per train needing less than 200 foot long high-level platforms. A ten minute service frequency would be possible. During high demand periods the EMUs should concentrate on multiple-stop runs while the remaining diesel trains should only be placed on express runs. A bond sale backed by increased revenue from this improved service quality would surely generate enough money to fund a capital program to extend high-level platform lengths and purchase more high-platform compatible rolling stock.

  14. I don't see why no consideration has been given to inter-operation with San Jose's light rail system. Unlike BART, it uses standard railway gauge for its tracks, so with appropriate electrification of CalTrain, the SJ light rail cars could run all the way to S.F. The tracks are right next to each other at the Castro St. Mountain View station.

    1. VTA LRT uses common 750v DC electrification -- which is inappropriate for Caltrain and HSR, which will use 25kv AC.

      VTA LRT would have to be retro-fit with Caltrains new CBOSS signalling system too. There are plenty of other areas to worry about having to do with technical standards, loading gauges & clearances, etc.

      There would no doubt be a big inter-agency and regulatory mess to negotiate between VTA, Caltrain, HSRA, UP and at least the FRA, FTA and CPUC.

      What compelling benefits do you see for the cost and trouble of making this work ... and who do you propose would pay for and do the work?

  15. Clem,

    You commented a bit about this elsewhere, perhaps you would be more willing to discuss these issues here:

    1. All single-level HSR cars, worldwide, currently have a floor height of roughly 48" ATOR. The diagram you have of a HSR car with a 760mm floor is something you apparently hope will someday exist, nothing more.

    2. If HSR cars are built with 760mm floors, they can't be single level, as the trucks, bolsters, and couplers are inevitably going to require a higher floor to clear them. At minimum, there will have to be a set of stairs at each end of a car, and to avoid much wasted space, at least some seating will have to be on the higher floor level.

    3. The ADA has explicit requirements for "high-speed rail cars" (see section 1192.175), in particular, it seems to pretty much require "single level" coaches. There are also some interesting requirements with respect to accessibility and the presence of food service and lounge cars, which I assume CHSRA is likely to provide.

    CHSRA has never (too much knowledge) indicated that they would consider anything other than single level cars with 48" ATOR floors, and associated platforms, I assume for some or all of the above reasons. It may or may not make sense for Caltrain to consider 760mm as opposed to 25" lower level floors in their cars, they are completely unlikely to consider 48" floors, as it would confine level boarding wheelchair users and bicycles to either special single level cars, a short 48" subfloor at each end of the car, or require that Caltrain be willing to switch to entirely single level trains.

    How would you reconcile these conflicting requirements?

    1. In addition, I'm also assuming that both Caltrain and CHSRA want their platforms at floor (seating) level, so they can avoid wheelchair lifts or inside elevators.

    2. This is a existing low floor HSR design by the spanish company Talgo:


      No steps anywhere in the train. Not even a ramp.

    3. Point conceded, Talgo does indeed make the Avril, which would meet some (but not all) of CHSRA requirements (including a 380 km/h speed rating), yet has a consistent 760 mm ATOR floor. But, they use rather proprietary technology to achieve that. How likely is it that others will show up in the next decade?

    4. "How likely is it that others will show up in the next decade?"

      Dead certain. There were three bidders (Talgo, Stadler, Alstom) for the EC250 contract. (250km top speed because that's what the client ordered, not because the floor height dictates it.)

      Accessibility regulations are only going to get tighter Europe-wide, and there's no chance that any of the high speed network will ever be Japanese/NEC/British-style high floor.

      I suspect that the current round of ICE-X and things like high-floor "Railjet" inter-city coaches may be among the last large orders for inaccessible equipment.

      Look at what has happened to the European regional passenger market (or trams!): there will remain some pockets of high platforms around some RER/S-Bahn networks rebuilt in the 1970s and 1980s (all of Holland counts as one RER!), but everything else is heading to level boarding at 550mm or about 9 inches above that.

      Also consider this: TGV Duplex outnumber any other type of high speed train in Europe, and SNCF has no plans to buy anything else. No high floor platforms for TGVs in France, ever. (On the contrary: 760mm is too high.)

      Also consider: all inter-city platforms in Germany, the largest European country, are going to end up at 760mm, and are never going to be any higher.

      There will be a wide variety of vendors for 760mm level boarding trains if and when ("when" is not today and not even in ten years) that California needs very high speed trains. Admittedly the Shinkansen builders aren't likely to be bidding, but they are very unlikely to be bidding anyway, having a massive preference for building integrated systems of track, signals, electrification, control, trains, etc (see Taiwan HSR) and avoiding the sort of mess of made-up "standards" that California is inventing. And the US will exclude Chinese bidders by whatever means necessasry.

    5. Let me point out that 760 mm is just 5 inches higher than 25 inches, which Caltrain favors because it matches the Bombardier cars.

      They may not quite have thought it through, because there is no way to transition to level boarding without deployable steps (short of taking all the Bombardiers out of service during the transition). If the Bombardiers are basically useless for level boarding, then there is no technical reason for new EMU rolling stock to match floor height with the Bombardiers. Or am I engaged in a strawman argument?

    6. No, you're just assuming rationality and competence on the part of Caltrain staff.
      Consider: a capital program which (at Caltrain's inflated prices) will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Caltrain has *already* decided to replace the Bombardiers with EMUs.
      Clearly, it is obvious that the right decision is to plan for a "level boarding" height which matches the Bombardier cars -- cars bought second-hand from Sound Transit near Seattle. Even though the Bombardier cars will be withdrawn from the Caltrain-owned right-of-way before Caltrain actually begins level-boarding construction. And desipte the fact that the capital-expenditure for level boarding (at Caltrain-inflated prices) is likely to exceed the value of the Bombardier fleet.

      Ummmmm. And Caltrain just bought moreused Bombardier cars from Metrolink for under $400,000 apiece. What does that say about the actual value of Caltrain's Bombardier fleet?? (Genuine question: Caltrain is going to spend a bunch more money to renovate the cars, and bring HEP and whatnot up to the standard of its existing fleet of Bombardier cars which are newer than the Metrolink cars).

    7. "$1.236m for engineering/staff"

      "The 16 Bombardier Bi-Level Generation 2 railcars from SCRRA are compatible with Caltrain’s existing fleet of Bombardier railcars"

      Something stinks to high heaven at PCJPB.

      Is it rotting from the head down, from the bottom up, or is there something particularly putrid it swallowed?

    8. This is the same Caltrain orga nization and staff who insist, in public, that CBOSS is compatible with HSR signaling, that CHSRA wouldn't give Caltrain money for CBOSS if the signalling systems were incompatible.

  16. @Erik J, Talgo trains are not and cannot be EMUs due to its tilting mechanism. For trailers it is not difficult to achieve lower floor height, but not for EMUs which must fit all the traction/power/HVAC components underfloor.

    1. @ William.

      * Not all Talgos tilt. It's not 1950 any more.

      * Lots of sub-1100mm floor EMUs out there. (Maybe by now even most current non-Japanese models? Not sure.) It's not 1950 any more.

      * So what if a train doesn't have majority powered axles? More EMU = more Good superficially sounds plausible and "modern" to me, but it's not my profession, and neither is world class rolling stock design and manufacture the profession of anybody at CHSRA. Good procurement specifies essential operational and financial criteria and is agnostic about how those criteria are met. Isn't capitalism supposed to reward creativity or something? Maybe that's too 1950 ...?

    2. ...if it doesn't tilt, is it still a Talgo?...

      some operators did order sub-1100mm EMUs, with manufacturers dealt with the lack of under-floor space with smaller and less-powerful, less-capacity traction/power equipments, and move some components above the roof.

      Please search online on advantages/disadvantages of EMU versus Locomotive driven trains. If frequent and high acceleration is desired, then EMU is the choice.

    3. Train? Yes
      Articulated? Yes
      Lightweight? Yes
      Goicoechea co-founded the company? Yes
      Oriol co-founded the company? Yes

      If you answered yes to all five questions, then it's a Talgo.

      All Talgos aside, most EMUs ordered in Europe in the past five years are designed for level boarding at 550 or 760 mm. The few exceptions (such as high-speed EMUs) are sure to follow, because there is no architectural reason why they couldn't. All that is needed is for a customer to ask for one, and that day isn't far off due to increasing restrictions in European accessibility laws.

    4. @ William

      I can read some european languages. No asian, no russian. So only some of all the trains in the world.

      If you ask like you do "frequent and high acceleration" and for many customers, you get Bombardier "Talent", Stadler "FLIRT", Alstom "Coradia", and some more. Floor underneath 800mm mostly.

      You say "less-powerful, less-capacity traction/power equipments'. You say that, but people with lots of €10000000 (also lots of CHF10000000) say "OK!"

    5. @Anonymous 27 August, 2014 22:59, by the pictures of the train you cited, the lower (760mm) floor train all achieve this by moving power components (transformers, inverters, etc...) to the roof, which is less of an issue for lower speed application, as in the case of all these trains, but undesirable for HSR trains, for the higher center of gravity that can cause stability issue at high speed.

    6. 760 mm is high enough for some components to fit underfloor. As the 760 mm market mature so will these components. 760 mm is also high enough for the low floor to have enough clearance to the wheel axle of a standard diameter wheel. It requires that all traction and braking move to the outside of the bogie. I acknowledge this is a challenge for high speed EMUs, but as everything else, the evolution of bogie design will continue.

    7. You are also making the assumption that the floor has to be level throughout inside the train, which isn't necessary. Short and shallow ADA-compliant ramps are acceptable to get another 100 mm or so inside, and at 860 mm floor height there is sufficient clearance for these little monsters (note wheel diameter in this photo is 920 mm new, 850 mm used). From a vehicle packaging standpoint, 760 mm floors are not such a big deal.

    8. Given the present uncertainty in the likely CHSR rolling stock configurations: the advantages of articulated HSR trains (more graceful derailments, flat without doors walkways between cars, virtually no lengthwise vibration, or individual cars (easy to replace a single defective car or adjust train length as demand varies between runs), or the price offered for each configuration when bidding commences several years from now. Articulated car lengths are usually shorter than individual cars but each car has one passenger doorway. In order to assure CHSR compaaibility Caltrain should choose a constant level boarding platform height for now with platforms and rolling stock designed to accept shims for increased height adjustments in case a current estimate for CHSR platform boarding heights turns out to be incorrect.

    9. Isn't Caltrain planning for CHSR a tail wagging the dog? Caltrain is there, exists and is way overloaded. CHSR may exist some time in the future with uncertain loads and wants to use Caltrain ROW. Something seems wrong in designing Caltain updates around possible future CHSR needs. Not that I'm saying they shouldn't agree on common standards, but the local commuter needs seem to be way more important here.