10 September 2014

Compatibility, Done Backwards

Steps from an 8-inch platform
into a Bombardier bilevel car
with a 25-inch floor.  The first
step is 10", the second 7"

Caltrain justifies its desire to procure a new EMU fleet with 25" floor height thus:
With a 25” floor threshold, the new fleet will still be compatible with the existing fleet and platforms and could transition to level boarding over time.
"Existing fleet" in this context means the Bombardier bi-level cars, known to the layperson as the red Baby Bullet cars.  Caltrain plans to keep these cars for a few years after the new EMUs arrive.  The Bombardiers already have a floor height of 25" above the rail, although  existing 8" platforms currently require two steps up, as seen in the photo at right.

The statement above sounds like a genuine interest in compatibility, and at first reading seem to make sense.  But let's analyze Caltrain's ideas about compatibility more closely.

Compatibility with Existing Fleet

Suppose for a moment that we planned to "transition to level boarding over time" at 25 inches, because we think it's smart to match the floor level of the Bombardier cars so that we can keep using them after the conversion to level boarding.  Is that even a feasible scenario?

The "before" and "after" cases are straightforward.  Before transition is just the way things are today.  After transition is complete, the entry steps are easily modified to match the interior floor height, achieving gap-free level boarding just like this photo of Utah FrontRunner Bombardier cars docked at 25-inch platforms.

It's the "during" case where things fall apart: because the step modification involves a one-time visit to the shop, there is no way for a Bombardier train (or any other train in Caltrain's existing fleet!) to serve an evolving mix of high and low platforms in daily service during the "transition to level boarding over time".  There would be a 7-inch deep, foot-wide trough between the platform and the car floor that would qualify as a serious tripping hazard even for an able-bodied passenger.  This configuration would be illegal under a number of federal regulations.  The Bombardier fleet would have reduced utility for the duration of the transition to level boarding, likely to be several years.  So let's say it again:

Bombardier cars cannot serve an evolving mix of 8" and 25" platforms during a transition to level boarding over time.

Once the transition to level boarding is complete, maybe in the mid-2030s, the Bombardier cars will be at the end of their useful life.  Given the limited remaining lifetime of the Bombardier cars, their inflexibility during transition, and their dwindling residual value, there is little value in matching the new level boarding platform height to the Bombardier cars.  There may even be negative value in doing so.

Compatibility with Existing Platforms

Mini-high platform built on top of
8-inch platform.  The top of the
mini-high is at 22 inches ATOR.
This is primarily an issue of wheelchair boarding.  Matching the new EMUs to the 25-inch floor height of Bombardier cars allows Caltrain to procure EMUs without vehicle-borne wheelchair lifts, which are expensive to purchase and maintain.  Instead, the EMUs would re-use the existing mini-high platforms to perform wheelchair boarding, using a bridge plate to span the large gap between the mini-high platform and the train.  (Recall this ~3-foot gap is present in the first place because of a California PUC regulation on side clearances for freight trains).

To ensure that a wheelchair user can safely navigate across the bridge plate, its maximum slope is set by ADA law under 49 CFR 38.95 as follows:
  • 1-in-4 for a height change of less than 3 inches from platform to train
  • 1-in-6 for a height change between 3 and 6 inches
  • 1-in-8 for a height change between 6 and 9 inches
  • 1-in-12 (similar to building wheelchair ramps) for a height change greater than 9 inches
Suppose for a moment that we planned to buy EMUs that have to make use of the existing mini-high platforms, which are built 22 inches above the rail and set back 8 feet from the track center line.  What we have is a geometry problem: the ADA slope regulations constrain the vehicle floor height that is reachable from the existing mini-high platforms.  The maximum reachable height is about 27 inches, which (after accounting for a bit of margin) may explain Caltrain's fixation on 25 inches.

But then consider also: each mini-high platform is worth (generously) about $150k to replace.  On a system with 27 stations, 54 mini-high platforms will cost about $8 million to replace.  While that sounds like a lot of money ("Eight Million Dollars!") this sum is a pittance on the scale of the investments being contemplated.  Eight million dollars is two percent of the cost of the new EMU fleet, and less than a percent of the cost of the electrification project.  Put simply, the mini-high platforms have insignificant value and are a trifle to replace.  Designing Caltrain's future around them is certainly penny wise, but quite possibly pound foolish.

Thinking Inside the Box

While Caltrain is no doubt very attached to its growing collection of mini-high platforms and its expanding Bombardier fleet, neither of these items should drive the design of the future platform interface for level boarding.  25 inches is a fine platform height, but selecting it on the basis of these two perceived "constraints" could prove very unwise in the long run.

Caltrain appears to have an uncomfortable relationship with the level boarding issue: it's a distraction from their current big project to electrify the railroad, it's logistically far more challenging to plan for than just stringing up some wire, it involves fighting clearance regulations that are dear to the freight railroads, it isn't funded, and they'd rather not think about it right now because the issue gives them a headache.

But what sort of modernization is this if level boarding becomes a careless afterthought?


  1. So how about this:

    Prior to putting EMUs in service, add a series of 25-inch "mini-level" platforms to existing platforms to precisely line up with EMU and Bombardier train doors. Yes, there would need to be ADA-compliant ramps to them -- or at least up to one per platform. The others could have a combination of non-ADA-compliant ramps and/or stairs.

    Bombardier trainsets would (initially) be stopped such their doors line up with original 8" ATOR platform height areas between the new mini-level platforms.

    From in-service-day #1, new EMU trainsets would be stopped such that their doors all line up with the new mini-level platforms. This way they never require any doorway conversion work and offer level-boarding from day one.

    Begin converting Bombardier car doorways one trainset at a time -- perhaps over weekends -- to the new 25-inch mini-level platform height. Converted trainsets would -- like EMU trainsets -- be stopped so doors line up with the new mini-level platforms.

    Once all (or enough) Bombardier trainsets are converted, begin incrementally raising the 8-inch ATOR platform areas to match the mini-level platform heights ... when done: voila! -- you have a level boarding system.

    This, or some variation of it, just might be do-able _IF_ (yes, a very big if!) EMUs can be specified such that their car-lengths and door-spacings match that of Bombardier cars. The mini-level platforms will need to be built such that they function well and safely and still allow for pre-conversion Bombardier trainset car doors to be spotted at 8" ATOR gaps between them during the transition.

  2. Three observations:

    1. It must be obvious to eveyone that there is no way (NO WAY!) to effect any transition to level boarding without either

    (A) Some on-train adaptation, whether that be "trap doors" (the horror), moving steps (like Muni, another horror), or extending steps (as Clem's excellent article suggested, and very widely deploted around the world)

    (B) A years-long (YEARS LONG) total shutdown pf the line while all platforms are rebuilt and an all-new train fleet is introduced.

    There isn't any other alternative. If Caltrain excludes all of the solutions (A), it means that they do not and never will provide level boarding on Caltrain until long after the furture EMUs are scrapped, and that they are lying to the PCJPB Board representatives and to the when they state that they have, are, or will consider level boarding in their plans. Obvious perjury.

    2. Clem has shown that level boarding is worth half of the advertised service speed-up that Caltrain promises will come from electrification. (Far more would come from SERVICE RELIABILITY from slashed at-station delays, things like faster schedule-able run times, timed transfers, timed overtakes, less quadruple track needed.)

    Given that electrification is ballooning to more that a two billion dollar spend, level boarding, just as a speed increase, should be seen as having a BILLION DOLLAR VALUE. Level boarding that saves even a mile of tricky overtake tracks, or makes more service happen cheaper, might be worth more than a billion more.

    In this light, the costs of level boarding (extending steps, phased platform rebuilding) seem insignificant.

    Look at Caltrain capital spends in terms of SERVICE PROVIDED, and the question isn't "WHETHER to have level boarding", or to study level boarding in the far future, but "WHY DO ELECTRIFICATION AT ALL until the high-return "low hanging fruit" of level boarding is in the bag?"

    (Of course it is better to do both at once, because of billion dollar Caltrain fleet replacement, but the point stands.)

    Electrification without level boarding is insane. There's no way anybody should ever have suggested, or that Caltrain PCJPB public officials should allow it.

    3. Maybe the only hope is the Americans with Disabilities Act lobby, because we can see that Caltrain does not care about service, Caltrain does not care about planning, and Caltrain does not care about value for money, and Caltrain seem to be free to lie about their intentions.

    Only big ass lawsuits and public shaming by a sensitive lobby group can save us from a two billion disaster. Sad sad sad but what else is there?
    Unleash the hounds! (Please, somebody.)

  3. @anonymous:

    You write:

    "Given that electrification is ballooning to more that a two billion dollar spend"...

    Where do you get your info that the CalTrain project is now a $2 billion project? I have not seen such statements, although they might well be valid.

  4. I don't think transition from the current 8'' platforms to 25'' would be that difficult.

    One, Caltrain can retrofit the Bombardier cars with retractable steps for use on 8'' platforms.

    Two, the new EMU can have different spotting locations from Bombardier cars, so EMU doors would line up to 25'' mini-platforms.

    In Japan, they marked the door locations of different type of rolling stocks used on different type of services on the platform, so people would know where to line-up. Even Caltrain has "4-car spot" and "5-car spot" signs on its platforms to help engineers spot their trains.

    Three, Caltrain can just build temporary platform adjacent to the existing one during the transition. Caltrain did this all the time during the various grade separation projects, and there is no reason it cannot do the same for platform height transition.

    1. "One, Caltrain can retrofit the Bombardier cars with retractable steps for use on 8'' platforms."

      But it won't. Caltrain is not interested in any on-vehicle equipment, on old equipment (which is difficult as well as wasteful) or on new equipment (which is super easy and exists everywhere.)

      Hence, no level boarding, forever. Caltrain is making a promise!

      "In Japan, they marked the door locations of different type of rolling stocks used on different type of services on the platform"

      Caltrain drivers are incapable of stopping a train within 20 feet of a repeatable location, except at super super low speed approach to SF terminal stops. But even if they could, think about it! You end up with this craziness:

      "add a series of 25-inch "mini-level" platforms to existing platforms to precisely line up with ...:"

      First Caltrain and "precisely" does not compute.
      And think about it!
      ~75 foot cars with doors approximately evenly spaced.every ~36 feet that are ~5 feet wide.
      Each of the dozen(!) up-and-down teethed platforms will by ~18 feet long, meaning every stop has to be made with a precision of ~13 feet, in practice much better Good luck.
      And think about what this "platform" will look like. All the up and down steps!

      "Caltrain can just build temporary platform adjacent to the existing one during the transition"

      No it can't. Think about it!

      The only two possibilities remain
      (A) some sort of moving step equipment on-trains. This is the thing that everybody else does, with success.
      (B) years-long system shutdown.
      (C) No level boarding, forever.

      Catlrain chooses (C). (Along with CBOSS.)
      Everybody else in the world chooses (A). (And not CBOSS.)

    2. Building lots of temporary platforms (there are 27 stations...) is probably not a very cost-effective solution, and may be downright impractical in some locations. Caltrain said they don't like vehicle-borne solutions because they add cost ($). Building lots of temporary platforms and doing everything with wayside construction staging will add cost ($$$) not to mention making a big mess of the railroad for years.

      Then there is the fun issue of vehicle dynamic clearance envelope... will the EMUs be capable of (a) passing by a platform edge at 110 mph and (b) stop at the same platform edge with an ADA-compliant three inch gap? This isn't a can you can kick down the road, and the engineering for that has to be figured out up front as part of the EMU procurement.

      I am starting to become suspicious that Caltrain is paying lip service to level boarding with no realistic plan for actually implementing it. Not planning for level boarding will quickly morph into planning for no level boarding.

    3. Clem, what's the typical gap for world wide HSR systems with level-boarding?

    4. It's a tricky question, because there is no worldwide typical gap. Most of the European HSR network doesn't even have level boarding to begin with. I don't know the gap specs for China, Japan, Taiwan or Spain, the only HSR countries with level boarding (and Spain only gets partial credit, for 760 mm Talgos)

      That being said, ADA 3 inches horizontal by 3/4 inch vertical is a very tight spec. If I had to guess, 4 to 6 inches is more typical, but that's only a guess so don't quote me on that.

    5. Wow, 3 inches? Sounds like a compelling reason to use doorway-mounted gap-fillers.

      Anyone know what BART's platform gap is?

      But even a snug-looking BART-sized gap "may be difficult for some wheelchairs".

    6. In New York, the MTA routinely violates ADA gap specs, and wheelchairs get stuck. There are videos, some with measurements, here.

      In Vancouver, I think the gap on SkyTrain was around 2 cm vertical and 5 cm horizontal; I measured with fingers rather than a ruler or tape measure, so don't quote me on that. I saw people get on with wheelchairs without trouble, and when I asked on Skyscraper Page, people said that they too never saw anyone in a wheelchair have trouble getting on.

  5. Tis amusing how "The Path to Level Boarding" will work so elegantly with 30" platforms, but is clearly going to be a total clusterfuck with 25" platforms.

    1. This amusing how little you seem to have read for understanding.

      The same transition could work with either height. It is CALTRAIN that is the problem, it is CALTRAIN isn't interested in the transition to level boarding at ANY height.

      The point of 30 inch (760mm) is that there will be a large market for HS trains compatible with that height.
      Lower than 760mm (Caltrain's unique-in-the-world 25 inch "standard" for example) and you're requiring double-deck HS equipment.

      I happen to believe that 100% double-deck HS equipment is not only appropriate but critical for California (and several CSHRA peer review operators agreed), driven most by catastrophically bad train slot constraints due to the Transbay Terminal disaster "design" and to guaranteed Caltrain shit-level "blended" service, but that's an even harder sell.

      Looking for "clusterfucks"? Don't look at Clem's reasoned, clear, straightforward, plan-ahead, cost-effective, implementation-friendly, consistent articles, look at the people wasting billions of your tax dollars.

    2. Who said that the transition strategy that I described wouldn't work with 25 inch platforms? It would work perfectly with 25 inch platforms.

    3. Richard,

      You are assuming that Caltrain and HSR are going to have the same platform height.
      I see no evidence for that. Note that I'm not talking about the merits of a common height and loading gauge; I'm talking about actual evidence of what CalTrain and CHSRA are planning.

      So I see no reason for a Caltrain height of 25in, to constrain HSR platform height or rolling stock. Remember CHSRA is planning what you call a "flight-level-zero" airline: separate "ground" and "air" side, with ticket inspection, possible security theater, etc. Not compatible with Caltrain proof-of-paymen and open boarding.

    4. My comment was more in response to some of the other commenters, rather than Clem's post. The moment Caltrain decided to go ahead with the purchase/refurbishment of the surplus Metrolink Bombardier cars, it became clear that if level boarding happens at all, it will be at 25 inches. They wouldn't have gone that route without an expectation that the cars will remain in service for 20 years or so. There is still the expectation that loco-hauled trains will be needed past the arrival of electrification and EMUs. Caltrain can't come out and say they'll abandon service to Gilroy, as that would screw with their already tenuous funding. Maybe some other deal will be cut later, but they can't plan around "maybe".

      The obvious solution is to retrofit the new cars, and eventually the rest of the Bombardier fleet, with a retractable/folding step. There is plenty of room, I'm sure Bombardier could come up with some sort of kit, or it could done by someone else. Whether or not they manage to see that this step is necessary is another question entirely, all bureaucracies tend to work in strange ways. What Caltrain clearly wants to avoid is the kind of Rube Goldberg mechanisms used for the wheelchair lifts on the gallery cars. I've arrived at work an hour or more late on more than one occasion, when they could not persuade a lift to retract back underneath the car.

      As for 25" vs 760mm, Caltrain has examined their tradeoffs, and for the moment favors 25". What is quite clear to me, anyway, is that CHSRA picked 48" from the very beginning, and has never given the slightest indication that they intend to do otherwise. Independent of whether other European manufacturers manage to come up with true 760mm floor 350 km/h EMU sets (note that Avril is, in fact, loco-hauled, and the rest top out at 250 km/h), choosing 760 mm will likely knock the Japanese, South Korean, and Chinese manufacturers out of the bidding. Using a higher platform also casts CHSRAs turf in concrete at the shared stations, I doubt they want to have to negotiate platform access with Caltrain and/or Metrolink at some point in the future. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the easiest way to guarantee that CHSRA will go with 760mm, is for Caltrain to announce they were going with 48"...

    5. Retrofit is always more expensive than designing it in from the start. And the retrofit that Caltrain envisions for the EMUs they are about to order (just weld some plates over the step wells) isn't going to meet ADA requirements for level boarding (3-inch gap) if they want to still run express service past level boarding platforms. Maybe their plan is to do what FrontRunner does in Utah: while they have "level" boarding a wheelchair still requires a small bridge plate due to the >3" gap.

      I just don't get it... they know they are going to need a cheeseburger, but they are ordering a hamburger with the idea that they will just add the cheese later. Why not just order the cheeseburger?

    6. " The moment Caltrain decided to go ahead with the purchase/refurbishment of the surplus Metrolink Bombardier cars, it became clear that if level boarding happens at all, it will be at 25 inches."

      I don't know how you came up with this line of reasoning, but, regardless of landing some fire-sale-priced rolling stock (fire sale until you add in Caltrain staff and contractor overheads, that is), their plan is still the same: total fleet replacement over time. (Also think about things like the costs of locomotive overhauls and general diesel maintenance facilities just to save on 20 years old passenger cars with a residual value of $100k each or the like.) In fact, the cheapness of the equipment adds to its disposability.

      More fundamentally, it can't be stressed enough that Caltrain has no plans whatsoever to do any sort of platform conversion in any sort of timeframe (we're talking decadal here) less than the service lifetime of the legacy Bombardier fleet.

      Any 25 inch platforms that America's Finest Transportation Planning Professionals ever build will be a bizarre atavism, "compatible" with an extinct and unremembered evolutionary dead end.

      As for your "rube goldberg" lifts remark, avoiding this is the entire point of level boarding. I don't know of anybody anywhere who has suggested on-board wheelchair lifts. Interim use of extending steps -- the exact same mechanism that are deployed unproblematically millions of times a day on tens of thousands of trains a day around the world -- and interim use of wheelchair ramps -- are the real world incremental implementation way to achieve that goal.

      Also consider, as Clem has hinted several times, that in reality some sort of extending gap filler at each door is, in the real world, mandatory for meeting ADA's nigh-impossible mandates while allowing trains to pass platforms at more than trotting speed. No agency or contractor that actually cared about or understood about or was serious about implementing level boarding would make the argument that their new vehicle fleet can have no mechanical step-like things to be deployed at each door at each stop.

      As for the 760mm HSR market, there's a snowball's chance in hell that anybody but the large European builders (DBA US shell corporation subsidiaries) are going to be allowed to "complete". So in practice a 760mm door height HST put out to "bid" in 15 years will draw exactly as many bidders and designs as an 1100mm one.

  6. Retrofit is always more expensive than designing it in from the start.

    More expensive than what, buying an entirely new fleet of unpowered coaches with retractable steps in the interim?

    And the retrofit that Caltrain envisions for the EMUs they are about to order (just weld some plates over the step wells)

    You are certain that is their plan?

    I just don't get it... they know they are going to need a cheeseburger, but they are ordering a hamburger with the idea that they will just add the cheese later. Why not just order the cheeseburger?

    What is ordering a cheeseburger in this case? Does that mean Caltrain should replace its entire fleet with EMUs and new coaches with some sort of dual mode retractable steps and gap fillers (for 760mm platforms, of course) before starting implementation of level boarding? Will any of us live that long?

    1. Retrofitting EMUs is more expensive than buying them with retractable steps. I'm not talking about the Bombardiers, those will reach end of life before there is a need for them to have retractable steps.

      You are certain that is their plan?

      Positive. I went to one of the little information sessions they held last week and Dave Couch stated it very unambiguously.

      What is ordering a cheeseburger in this case?

      The cheeseburger is EMUs with retractable steps. Whether for 25 or 30 inches (what's five inches between friends?) All in order to follow this transition strategy which requires no further changes ever to the Bombardier fleet.

    2. I'm confused, is that diagram your transition strategy or Caltrain's?

    3. Mine. Caltrain doesn't have a transition strategy.

      What they have is a vague notion of building 27 temporary stations with 8 inch platforms while the existing ones are raised. I am appalled at how half-baked it all sounds. If you had to summarize their approach, it would be "we're too busy right now to give level boarding any serious thought."

  7. How about only modifying one door per side on the Bombardier cars during the transition? One unmodified door for 8 inch platforms, and one door with the gap filled.

    1. You would also need to modify the door controls to decide which set of doors to open. You wouldn't want a 17-inch step or a 7-inch trough to suddenly appear... And good luck with dwell times.

    2. Still likely cheaper than some alternatives. And dwell times can't be any worse than the Gallery cars.

  8. This makes it sound like Caltrain would prefer to modify the cars -- not the stations! Sooo confusing!
    Caltrain begins collecting public feedback on modernizing car interiors

    Though not an issue directly addressed as part of the system modernization, "level boarding" of trains was a key topic discussed by audience members at the two public meetings at SamTrans headquarters on Monday, Dunn noted.

    Some stations require passengers to board a short flight of stairs to embark the train cars, which can extend boarding times and be difficult for passengers in wheelchairs. While some have suggested correcting the issue, Dunn said such a change is not considered feasible because it would require modifications to the stations themselves, not to the cars.

    "We have 27 stations, and all of the stations are unique and different. Some of them are historic, and right at this time, we don't have the funds to change all of the stations to be able to accommodate level boarding," she said.

    1. No, they clearly want to modify the stations, and the convenient fact that they are all different and sometimes old and undocumented makes this a Problem Requiring Further Study, which clearly cannot be resolved in the short time frame before the new rolling stock procurement.

      It's a quick and dirty excuse for not thinking about, planning, or doing anything about level boarding. Actions speak louder than words.

    2. It really is infuriating how dreadfully long it takes agencies like Caltrain to "study" and figure things out (years and years -- literally!) that competent, intelligent and most of all -- interested & motivated lay "civilians" could do in their spare time in a tiny fraction of the time (days or weeks).

      Scanlon could and should just crack the whip and make it happen, but having announced his retirement ... he's a lame duck now. So will we get someone who will grasp the importance of this once in a lifetime hurry-up-and-do-it-now golden opportunity to move to level boarding before it's too late?

      We shall see ... but I'm not holding my breath.

    3. Scanlon crack a whip?

      He's had fifteen years to transform (his words) Caltrain from a "commuter railroad" and the outcome is
      the San Bruno grade separation, CEMOF, CBOSS, one hour or worse headways outside weekday peak, and mini-high platforms forever.

      All that profound transformation in a short fifteen years.

      Crack that whip!

    4. Scanlon's other big achievement -- other than cutting back bus service to a fraction of what it was in 2000, including killing all the express routes -- was to sign the final SamTrans-BART agreement that effectively bankrupted the agency and steals its ongoing sales taxes.

      You know, the one that would deliver profits to San Mateo County. The one that was the final "back out" in case some agency got cold feet about a crap deal that some predecessor CEO had signed.

      He was also happy to kill both Dumbarton Caltrain (draw out, after spending tens of millions on consultants) and Altamont HSR (quickly.)

      Crack stuff.

  9. Clem mentioned Utah Frontrunner and their Bombardier cars. The amusing thing about their stations is that they have two platform heights. This photo shows a train with a single low entry ex-NJT Comet car parked at a low section of the platform, while the Bombardier cars are at the higher section. Here is another photo showing a Bombardier car parked at the low end of the platform ramp, note the "PUSH TO OPEN" light is on, so an exiting passenger would get a bit of a surprise...

    1. Thanks Marc! More shots of what Caltrain riders apparently aren't going to get, because, um ... it's too hard?
      Dual platform height shown at Farmington station

      Excellent high-res shot of bicycle level-boarding into a Bombardier car:
      Bike rolling into Frontrunner "Bike Friendly Car"

    2. Be nice, now, the way to get Caltrain to do the right thing is to be persistent about it. Those of you who actually ride Caltrain, have you filled out your EMU survey, yet? No surprise, it asks no questions about level boarding, but there is a comment field where you can let your thoughts be known. Also, just about every time In run into a Caltrain staffer (there are always two on every train, plus several management types travel to/from San Carlos), I ask them about it.

    3. By the way, the narrated of the recent EMU Procurement Updated presentation provides more verbal discussion about the level boarding trade-offs seen by Caltrain management. Worth a listen, if you weren't there...

  10. Marc, don't confuse on-board personnel with Caltrain staff. Entirely unrelated animals from completely different organizations ... they do not share bosses or management or much of anything.

    1. And the only time any of the staff that might any influence over level boarding rides the trains is as an incognito passenger or for a photo-op of some sort.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  11. Let me do that again, I didn't like my last comment. I know perfectly well that the train personnel do not work for Caltrain, but if you talk to them, you'll find that they have the ear of a couple of operations managers at Caltrain. They complain about stuff to them all of the time, and one thing they, too, want is level boarding. As for actual Caltrain staffers, several of them take the train home to San Francisco from HQ in San Carlos, and it's easy to figure out who they are, starting with the fact that they are well known to the conductors. I've been been riding the train on a near daily basis for 10 years, I have a decent idea who is who...

    1. Ok, great ... good to hear you know the difference between staff and crew! (Lots of people don't, and your prior comment allowed me to assume you were among them.) Now I knew some staff ride (commute) because I recognized them ... but I wasn't aware any of planning staff did.

      Chatting with crew who say they "have the ear of a couple of operations managers" may be a fine form of the old game of telephone, but not comparable to communicating with planning staff.

      I've ridden on and off since the late 70s -- sometimes daily, sometimes not, sometimes not at all. Putting up with the bikes on-board hassle (clusterfuckage, bumping, etc.) is probably my biggest deterrent to riding more frequently nowadays. The convenience:hassle ratio was more tolerable on my SF commute, but now my commute is too short to make it worthwhile and the trains are way more packed now. Driving -- with all its downsides -- is just less painful right now and requires a lot less discipline (clock-watching, etc.).

    2. Oh, I saw Michelle was leaving. Has she left and been replaced yet? She probably had one of the worst chronic knee-jerk cases of "it can't be good if it wasn't my idea" I've ever encountered.

    3. If Michelle is the person I think you're referring to, indeed, I haven't seen her on the train in a while, and she wasn't much worth talking to when she was. As for whether a given individual is planning staff, or not, for me it's more about making sure that enough Caltrain folks hear complaints about the lack of level boarding that perhaps it won't be so easily forgotten.

      Sad to say, the presence of someone in a wheelchair at a stop pretty much means a 2 to 5 minute delay when they get on, and a similar delay when they get off. There there's the silly gallery car dance at places like Redwood City and Palo Alto, when large numbers of people try to go up and down the stairs at the same time while carrying bicycles. And, yes, I watch the clock, as on the trip home I catch an AC Transit bus with a 30 minute headway, a 5 minute delay (all too frequent) means I'm waiting for the next one.

    4. Bouchard left several months ago to join BART and now heads up the Oakland Airport Connector. Not sure if that's a step up or down?

  12. More Caltrain TODish news today:

    Development slated for Hayward Park station: Caltrain seeking building partner for parking lot in San Mateo’s transit corridor

    Another transit-oriented development is in the works near the Hayward Park train station in San Mateo and this time, Caltrain’s at the helm of building in the booming area.

    Approximately 2.7 acres of Caltrain’s surface parking lot at Concar Drive and Pacific Boulevard is available for development and the transit agency is in the process of finding a builder with which it will offer a long-term lease, Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said.

    “We have issued a request for statement of qualification, basically we’re looking for developers who can present propositions that are in line with how we’d like to see the property used,” Ackemann said. “We own the land, we’d like to see it put to better use. One that’s in line with our organization’s vision for transit-oriented development.”


    1. Doesn't CalTrain plan on closing Hayward Park?

    2. Given what Caltrain says in the above-referenced article published yesterday, why do you ask?

    3. No, they don't plan to close it. Despite the trivial ridership. Despite the future Hillsdale (moved a couple of blocks north) being just a stone's throw away. Despite the station constraining the flattening of the reverse curve that it sits on.

      About the only redeeming quality of Hayward Park is that it serves as a good delay for northbound overtakes on the future quad-track mid-line overtake.

    4. I recall how proud staff was about their forward-lookingness in designing the newly-relocated Hayward Park station platforms to more readily accommodate an extra track (only one extra -- not two, IIRC).

  13. Apparently UTA's FrontRunner doesn't have level boarding at all stations either. Their doors must have some sort of extendable step, too. Perhaps Caltrain could adopt a similar system for the transition?

    1. There's no point expensively retrofitting anything mechanical on the unpowered Bombardier cars.
      They're going to be scrap for 10 or 20 years by the time level boarding happens. (ie WHEN HELL FREEZES OVER, per "don't bother us, we're the professionals" of Caltrain.)
      Even if hell froze over tomorrow, there's only one remotely feasible transition strategy that anybody has ever shown, and that is still not going to be completed within the economic lifetime of the Bombardiers.
      Also consider: cost of retrofitting anything, including Caltrain "agency overhead" and a hundred of their consultants, is going to be close to the value of the entire car! ($300k today as we know from Metrolink cast-offs; even less tomorrow.)

      In contrast, there is a huge point in building in some SIMPLE level-boarding mechanisms into a brand new half billion dollar order of EMUs.
      First because the EMUs will be around when CPUC-non-platform to real level-boarding transition finally happens.
      Second because the EMUs will require some sort of gap filler for ADA even after all platforms are at level-boarding level.
      Third because designing things in (that's called "planning", and is something that Caltrain has never ever once done) is always cheaper and simpler and more reliable that trying to mess with stupid legacy messes.


      The only place we get to see any of that is in the articles of this blog.

  14. Regarding the cost of mini-highs...

    PCJPB award 4 December 2003
    $266,893 to William P. Young Construction, Inc. of Concord
    Contract "04-PCJPB-C-015 Fabrication and Installation of Mini-High Platforms at Various Stations"
    for a grand total of 9 (9-ish) mini-high platforms:

    Millbrae (2)
    Palo Alto (2)
    Mountain View (2)
    SJ Cahill (3, counting a "double-wide" serving both sides of island platform as two.)

    So about $30k each in 2003 dollars, installed. I was high by a factor of five!!

    1. How do they manage to spend $30k on those things? It's a slab of concrete with a couple of railings.

  15. 1) put a 10" step along all platforms, along the full width (basically just a bunch of boxes). From there it's a 7" step to new 25"-equipment, and and it's flush with the lower stop of existing Bombardier equipment.
    2) convert all the Bombardier equipment to 25" without step (i.e. just raise the lower step to the car-floor height)
    3) convert all platforms from 8" + 10" step to 25".

    1. A CPUC waiver would still be required, of course. The steps could be broken up into precast sections, with pins cast into the bottom of the steps that match holes drilled in the existing platforms, making them relatively inexpensive and non-disruptive to put in place. The one issue is that while such steps would also be flush with the lower steps of the gallery cars, they would interfere with the operation of the wheelchair lifts. A gap could be left at the existing (gallery) wheelchair loading areas, which (conveniently) won't match up with the doors on the Bombardier cars or future EMUs. As the (stepless) EMUs are delivered, the gallery cars could be seamlessly phased out.

      Nice idea, but likely far too simple for anyone at Caltrain to take seriously, I have to admit...

    2. No many how many times different people write the same thing, it still can not work.

      Look at the diagram in this article.

      See Stage "2 During Transition. We have a problem."

      Think about it.

      The problem exists for every platform height and exists unless there are either extending steps on either the new and/or the old equipment during transition. (OK. The platform itself could move instead ...)

    3. Forget the diagram for a second, you seem to be missing something. Adding a 10 inch platform step simply places it flush with the first step for both the gallery and Bombardier cars. No need for any extending steps during the first stage transition, all existing equipment will work with 8 inch and 18 inch ATOR platforms. Once all platforms have 10 inch steps, EMUs with 25 inch floors can be introduced, without need for extending steps, as they are now only a 7 inch step up from the added platform step. The Bombardier cars can then have their bottom steps removed, no need to do all at once. Once the gallery cars have been replaced by EMUs, and all of the Bombardier cars have had their lower steps removed, 25 inch platforms can be constructed on a station by station basis, again, no need for extending steps, as all cars at that point will be compatible with both 18 inch and 25 inch ATOR platforms.

      There are obviously issues that could be brought up with respect to this scheme, but the need for extending steps doesn't appear to be one of them. Where do you see it needed?

    4. One big issue is that a step at the platform edge increases the already existing safety hazard. The step would likely have to be wide enough that the inattentive would not trip and fall onto the tracks. A railing (with gaps) might be required on the station side of the step. As a result, they would have to be more like mini-platforms than steps, which means they are going to be more expensive and fairly heavy. Building them from precast concrete sections would allow the weight to be reduced, but there would still likely be structural issues with some or all of the existing platforms. And, of course, the resulting mini-platforms would get push back from those wanting to maintain the purity of historical stations.

      South Francisco, Atherton, and possibly other stations would require extensive changes (or closed) as part of any platform raising process.

    5. I was thinking like 25cm x 250cm x 250cm boxes.

    6. Good stuff! The Swiss have done this sort of platform raising. (Yeah yeah I know always the Swiss... but chances are if it has the least bit of innovation, they've done it). I don't see any fatal flaw in this scheme, just some issues to consider like ADA railing and platform strikes, which will ultimately require an extensible gap-filler step on the new EMUs. Whether Caltrain knows this yet or not.

    7. You're not supposed to walk outside the white line while the train is moving. Maybe in the US they would have to mark it in some really glaring way.

  16. SEPTA, SEPTA for gawd's sake, manages to install level boarding, without drama.

    1. For the past century, give or take a decade or two. It's just awful

    2. 1) I don't think I'd take SEPTA regional rail as an example of how to do anything.

      2) We really need a solution that doesn't involve someone having to manually change each door to go from hight to low platforms.

    3. At least SEPTA manages to do something even if it is only once or twice a decade

    4. One by one SEPTA is raising the platforms. (They were pretty much locked into 48" platforms a long time back, by the Pennsylvania Railroad designs for Suburban and 30th St stations.) Eventually they'll all be 48", though they're not sure what to do with some of the problem stations like Tacony (I have no idea how it was originally operated, but it's a nightmare now, with passengers walking across a freight track to board the passenger trains).

  17. FWIW, fully automatic doors/steps for both high level and low level boarding:

    1. Looks like a lot of moving parts. How reliable/maintenance intensive are they?

    2. You'll have to ask Korail. But being that they are designed by Hitachi, they should be reasonably reliable with proper maintenance. Likely no more complicated than plug doors.

    3. looks neat and mechanically simple. Caltrain needs to put retractable steps such as this in the RFI in order to consider the trade-offs and finally enable it to start considering level-boarding transition strategies.

    4. Neat? Maybe. Depends how much a fan you are of elaborate workarounds for self-inflicted problems.

      Mechanically simple? Not remotely.

      Novel? No.

      Capable of being maintained at high reliability by Caltrain's commuter railroading style contractors? Not a snowball's chance.

      (Regular failures of primitive diesel locomotives. Endemic flat spots on wheels throughout the fleet. All with high ratio of out-of-service to in-service equipment and an extremely high ratio of headcount to fleet size.)

      Or look at Muni's experience -- or more accurately at Muni riders' experience with moving steps and mistaken high-level platforms.

      Korea is whole different planet. (And that's assuming their maintenance/reliability/cost is acceptable, which is suggested only by "grass is greener" prejudice, rather than by data.)

  18. Advocates for the disabled consider "recessed mini-highs" to be an abomination. For what it's worth. Nobody wants them.

    I wonder if it's possible to get CPUC's idiotic rule thrown out as contrary to the ADA, since the ADA is a *later* federal law and as such probably supersedes it?