09 November 2014

The Train that Shouldn't Exist

The debate over level-boarding is one that needs to happen now, before trains are purchased.  Wherever it leads, this debate must be rooted in facts.

Over the years, Caltrain staff and consultants have often opined that a high-capacity bi-level European EMU train would be incompatible with high-platform level boarding because:
  • All European off-the-shelf bilevel EMUs are designed for boarding from low platforms, and Caltrain needs something off-the-shelf.
  • It would be impossible to provide ADA-compliant access for the disabled
While these points may have been true in the 1990s, there are examples today that directly contradict them.  That doesn't seem to be stopping staff and consultants from advancing the same old arguments in recent discussions, perhaps in an attempt to stave off hard choices about level boarding.

Meanwhile, in Europe, the EMU they claim can't be procured already exists!

These images show Stadler's EMU for the Moscow Airport Express, built for level boarding at 51 inches above rail.  It will enter service in the coming months and proves without any doubt that such a design is viable.  You can take a look at the data sheet or check out the latest photos of this off-the-shelf European bi-level EMU train design.

So by all means, let's have this level boarding debate and consider Plan A, Plan B, or any other plan, but please, when briefing decision-makers who understandably don't know any better, let's keep it free of lies and disinformation.


  1. Clem:

    You posted earlier this:

    UPDATE 05 November 2014: HSR lawyers hang Caltrain out to dry by amending the scope of the rulemaking process explicitly to apply only to "25 kV electrification systems constructed in the State of California serving a high-speed rail passenger system capable of operating at speeds of 150 mph or higher, located in dedicated rights-of-way with no public highway-rail at-grade crossings and in which freight operations do not occur." Could Caltrain possibly not have seen this coming?


    Does this not mean than that CalTrail will be unable to electrify in a manner that will accommodate HSR? The two system are supposed to share tracks and electrification.

    Could you please comment?

    1. No, it means that Caltrain will have to conform to another regulatory framework (whether a revised General Order, or a new General Order) to be hammered out over a period of two or three years in another rulemaking process than the one currently in front of the CPUC. Go back to square one.

      The remaining controversial issues, which were avoided by HSR by narrowing the scope of their rulemaking, are described by a UPRR witness in this brief. If you fast forward to Exhibit 3, Question 6 (PDF page 42), you will see UPRR's objections summarized to the following major headings:

      1) employee safety
      2) grade crossings
      3) physical clearances

      Here is the summary verbatim from Mr. Prososki's testimony:

      The technical, safety, and engineering issues related to a blended corridor are completely different than those for a dedicated corridor, none of which have been studied, discussed, or agreed to during the Technical Panel Workshops.

      For example, in a blended corridor, there is significantly increased risk to freight employees, specifically those in the Maintenance-of-Way (“MOW”) or Train-Engine-Yard (“TEY”) departments performing work near or immediately next to a 25 kV electrified propulsion system, including an overhead catenary. The Proposed General Order (specifically, Sections 5 (Clearances and Protection), 6 (Grounding and Bonding), and 8 (Safe Working Practices)) does not address the needed safety measures to protect freight railroad employees. Again, this is because the parties intend the scope of the General Order to be limited to dedicated corridors.

      As an additional example, there could be significant public safety risks resulting from impacts from a 25 kV electrified high-speed rail project on freight signal systems. I have reviewed the California High-Speed Train Project EIR/EIS Merced to Fresno Section. In Chapter 3.5: Electromagnetic Fields and Electromagnetic Interference, CHSRA acknowledges that its train system could cause EMI that could result in false activations of railroad crossing warning systems. Right now, CHSRA has provided Union Pacific with maps of points from Merced to Fresno, and Fresno to Bakersfield, where CHSRA anticipates its right-of-way will be adjacent or near Union Pacific’s right-of-way. In these specific segments, CHSRA has shared with Union Pacific its proposals relating to road and at-grade crossing closures, and that its intent is to “seal” its corridor so that there are no at-grade crossings. Again, because the parties intend the scope of these proceedings to be limited to a high-speed rail train operating in a dedicated corridor, none of the parties at the Technical Workshops studied, discussed, or agreed to any proposed safety rules governing EMI risks on a shared corridor. To protect the public, employees, and safety equipment, the final General Order must reflect that scope.

      Finally, in a blended service corridor, freight and commuter railroads will operate within the same railroad right-of-way. There will need to be enough physical space within that right-of- way for both an electrified commuter system and a conventional freight system to maintain clearances as currently required by Union Pacific standards and General Order 26-D. If this General Order could be interpreted to apply to blended service corridors, Union Pacific has concerns that it would not be able to maintain safe side and vertical clearances due to the placement of catenary poles and wires in a blended corridor. Minimum clearances are necessary to ensure employee safety and the safe movement of trains.

    2. "No, it means that Caltrain will have to conform to another regulatory framework"

      Maybe it is somebody's financial interest to "have to" accommodate multiple regulations.

      Exactly as it was clearly in somebody's interest to "have to" design globally unique CBOSS and "have to" interface with freight PTC and "have to" interface with HSR ETCS/ERTMS.

      More frameworks = more everything (... except less public money ... except train service ...) More cowbell!

    3. "
      For example, in a blended corridor, there is significantly increased risk to freight employees, specifically those in the Maintenance-of-Way (“MOW”) or Train-Engine-Yard (“TEY”) departments performing work near or immediately next to a 25 kV electrified propulsion system, including an overhead catenary."

      This is irrelevant, because "freight" employees in those departments will never be working next to the 25 kV system. The passenger railroad will be doing the MOW, the freight yards won't be electrified. Geez, UP, why are you making up nonsense?

      GO 26-D needs to simply be repealed. Now.

    4. What’s with UP running a number of TV commercials lately?

      I have never seen UP run commercials but in the last 2-3 months they seem to be popping up frequently.

      Do they have an image problem?

      Is it some kind of PR campaign? Perhaps due to their anti-passenger/HSR position?

    5. It shouldn't be a problem even if the freight yards are electrified. JR Freight has been loading/unloading containers under the catenary wire for years:


  2. Moscow Airport DD EMU is not 25kV ac and therefore has space above trucks for doors where the main transformer would be.

    1. That's a very good point. One would imagine, though, that a 60 Hz transformer would be quite a bit smaller than the 16.7 Hz transformers in all other existing models of the KISS EMU. The large transformers would wipe out two pairs of doors per EMU consist, unless another packaging concept were found. A packaging challenge, certainly, but I doubt it's a complete show stopper especially if they can make full use of the loading gauge.

    2. Are you guys saying E1 Series and E4 Series trainsets do not exist?


    3. For anon: this Alstom brochure shows a good layout view of the MI-09. The main 25 kV transformers (TFP or transformateur principal) are located in the end trailers next to the 2m wide high-floor doors, all above the trucks.

    4. Normally, the transformer sits in one of the cabinets behind the cab in a Stadler EMU (KISS or FLIRT). This has practical reasons, as it allows to keep the passenger space together. However, there is space in electrical cabinets at the other end of the end vehicles, because with the same overhang as the cab side, you have about 2 m more in length. So, a transformer can be placed there (as it is the case with the MI-09 rolling stock).

      And if everything fails, we might have to wait a few more years for the PETT to become commercially available (PETT: Power Electronic Traction Transformer). This is a component where the low frequency AC is converted to medium frequency AC, using power electronic components, and then stepped down in a medium frequency transformer to be rectified again and sent to the 3 phase AC traction converters.

      In a proof of concept, a multisystem switcher provided by SBB, the PETT (plus rectifier block) provided by ABB, replaced a main transformer and rectifier of twice its weight. The DC output was set to 1500 V DC, which corresponded to the French electrification reaching Genève. During about 2 years this switcher showed that the concept works, doing about 10'000 km. After the temporary operating license ran out, it got phased out, and can now be seen in the Swiss Transportation Museum in Luzern.

      This concept shows its greatest effect with low frequencies (such as the 16.7 Hz of the Swiss network); the weight reduction would be less in a 50/60 Hz environment, but they still expect it to be at around 30%.

      Such a concept might actually be interesting for EMUs around New York, providing (maybe, eventually, some day) through-running.

    5. Many of the components in the 25Hz system were in installed in the 1930s and need to be replaced. With the replacement of the SEPTA's Silverliners all of the rolling stock is capable of 60Hz operation.
      In the long run it's much cheaper to convert it all to 60hz 25/12.5kV. It eliminates all the technical problems and compromises with different frequencies. It eliminates the losses in the converter stations and the expense of the converter stations. Less expensive to replace, less expensive to operate and less expensive to maintain if it all gets converted to 60Hz.

  3. OK everyone, if Caltrain is so bad and corrupt and their projects CBOSS/electrification are so pork laden, then why don't you do something about it? Richard Mlynarik, Clem, Anonymous?

    Could it be that your accusations/arguments don't hold any water?

    Or are you people just afraid to bring this out in the open, real world, instead of these obscure internet blogs?
    Report it to the GAO, the Civil Grand Jury, the Legislative Analyst, NBC 11 Investigative Unit. This has been suggested before and nobody does anything about it!

    NBC 11 is interested as they have already investigated questionable accounting practices at Samtrans/Caltrain.

    I have mentioned it to them but I don't have the technical expertise that you guys do. They did tell me that they reached out to Clem but never heard back.

    1. That's quite a straw man you're attacking!

      You'll be hard-pressed to find accusations of corruption in this blog. Incompetence on occasion, yes, but not corruption. And I neither control nor endorse the views expressed in the comments, other than occasionally censoring the more egregious contributions.

    2. I apologize to you Clem. You are always very civil with your writings. Some of the comments are a bit too harsh, but as you say; you have no control over what other people say. I just feel that given you technical expertise in these matters you could have a worthwhile discussion with NBC 11 or another concerned oversight organization. But then we are dealing with the Transit Industrial Complex problem and not much can be done about it.

    3. If anybody at PCJPB, its consultants, its contractors, or its political "oversight" board has any evidence that CBOSS is not an outcome of pure systematic, outright, egregious, unambiguous, unquestionable, rent-seeking fraud, they should feel free to sue.

  4. The new Alstom MI09 for the RER or the decades old VIRM in The Netherlands comes to mind.

    1. The MI-09 is an excellent example, it has 25 kV transformers AND enormous doors on the mid-level at the end of cars. A direct example of what the anonymous contribution above seemed to imply would be impossible!

    2. Not impossible - only pointing out that the EMU that Caltrain needs doesn't yet exist off the shelf. And MI09 with a 'possible' max 88mph doesn't check all the boxes either.
      VIRM, although supposedly designed for 25kV, was never supplied as a 25kV vehicle.

  5. The Stadler KISS shows up in a CAHSR presentation to the SF Board of Supervisors to be given this afternoon. Looks like someone at CAHSR is reading your blog!


    1. Thanks for the link. The most interesting part is near the end: the trade-off assessment is slated for January - February, with a policy decision on shared level platforms due March - May, with an "update of the funding commitment." Presumably that means HSR might kick in some funds to make it happen.

      This appears to be a vehicle-centric analysis, so I'm wondering how it jives with Caltrain's plans to issue the vehicle RFP early in the year. I do hope it will consider detailed operational implications, as alluded to in the TJPA slides: Start-up staging storage, Improved delay recovery, Greater Caltrain capacity and HSR phase-in flexibility. (I would leave their "no curved crossovers" aside: they're still wrong about those)

      I also hope it will consider the capital cost implications of building enormous segregated stations in Millbrae, Redwood City and San Jose. Those need to be weighed against the minuscule O&M cost of the various vehicle-borne solutions.

    2. Having Caltrain's and TJPA's inexplicably-unindicted consultants "study" "solutions" to the "problem" that they, and they alone, created, is very much the same as paying Dick Cheney millions for a study on how to "fix" Iraq.

    3. "As you know, you go design transportation systems with the consultants you have, not the consultants you might want or wish to have at a later time." -- while we're making fun of Bush administration officials.

    4. With Transbay (as with Iraq) it would have been far better to not have gone at all than to have engineered something that is worse than nothing.

      Transbay with the consultants you have looks like a $4 billion impediment to Caltrain and HSR which cannot be moved, altered, or destroyed.
      No Transbay might at least have had a chance of working.

    5. Right. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. Too late! The interesting thing about the future is that it is constrained by the present. The past is irrelevant. I know it's very hard to think this way, but it's the only way to deal with Bay Area transit without losing your sanity.