27 November 2016

What Level Boarding?

Caltrain disagrees with itself regarding which exact platform height to adopt for level boarding. Is it 50 inches or is it 25 inches? You be the judge. Consider the evidence:

Exhibit A: the Electric Multiple Unit conformed contract documents specify that the new level boarding platform height will be 50 inches:
Section Future Level Boarding 
CHSRA trains will run over the same alignment and stop at some of the same stations as JPB trains. The bi-level EMU must therefore have the same interface with the infrastructure as the future High Speed Rail cars, including clearance envelope, and platform boarding height. 
JPB plans to raise platform heights to approximately 50.5-50.75” ATOR (to interface with a vehicle threshold height of 51” ATOR), initially at San Francisco, Millbrae, and San Jose stations. Other station platforms on the JPB system may ultimately be raised to the same level. These requirements will likely require two sets of doors – one at high level and one at a lower level. 
To facilitate the scenario where all platforms are raised to the ~50.5” ATOR level, it must be possible for JPB to easily de-activate the lower level doors and add additional passenger seating in the lower level vestibule area. 
Section 3.3.3 Threshold Height / Platform Interface 
EMUs shall be compatible with JPB’s existing platform height (8 inches ATOR) and existing mini-highs (22 inches ATOR). In addition, EMUs must be compatible with JPB’s future level boarding platform height of approximately 50.5 to 50.75 inches  ATOR.   Each car shall be capable of serving both platform heights during the transition from the existing platform height to the future platform height.

Exhibit B: slides from a November 22, 2016 study session of the Mountain View Transit Center master plan, held to solicit input from the city council. In this document, we find out on page 14 that Caltrain plans to adopt a new level boarding platform height of 25 inches:
Design platforms for future level boarding operations, which will begin after the Caltrain fleet is converted from diesel to electric trains. Level boarding at a 25” height (versus the current 8” height) will shorten boarding time for all passengers and meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. 

Exhibit Cslides from an October 18, 2016 meeting of the Citizen Working Group advising San Francisco's RAB (Railyard Alternatives and I-280 Boulevard) feasibility study. On slide 11, we learn that Caltrain plans to adopt not one, but two level boarding platform heights. Platforms at 4th/King will be rebuilt to 25 inches, while platforms at Transbay will be built to 50 inches:
For 4th/King it is likely that Caltrain and HSR will operate at different platform heights 
• HSR will operate at 50-inches, Caltrain at 8-inches top of Rail (TOR). Therefore, there will be dedicated platforms for Caltrain and HSR at 4th/King 
Caltrain may change height of their platforms at some time to 25-inches from TOR but still will be different than HSR 
All platforms at TTC to be constructed at 50-inches. Caltrain will use 2nd set of doors at TTC and utilize any platform/track at TTC
This sort of inconsistency would be amusing if level boarding wasn't the most important modernization step that Caltrain must take after the electrification program is completed... and if the EMUs that Caltrain just ordered from Stadler could actually serve a 25" high platform.

The Stadler EMUs won't work with 25 inch platforms

Barring a contract change order and significant technical modifications, the EMUs as specified by Caltrain and as recently ordered from Stadler will not be capable of boarding or alighting passengers at a 25 inch platform.

First, there's the little issue that the floor height of the lower level of the new EMU was not specified in Caltrain's contractual documents. Stadler went with the standard 22" (550 mm) above the rail, according to their specs. Stepping down from a 25" platform into a 22" rail vehicle is frowned upon by regulators. But leave that aside and imagine the trains actually had a 25" floor level that matched a 25" platform.

Unless every single Caltrain platform were to be raised overnight from 8" to 25", a logistical feat that is exceedingly unlikely to be within Caltrain's financial means or capital project planning ability, the conversion to 25" level boarding will necessarily entail a transition period during which EMUs will serve an evolving mix of 8" and 25" platforms. This has technical implications described in the EMU contract documents:
For compatibility with the existing platform height, vehicles will require an intermediate step between the platform height and the lower level boarding threshold height, at approximately 16 inches ATOR.  This intermediate step must be either removable or retractable to support conversion to a high-door-only modification once all JPB platforms have been raised to 50.5 to 50.75”. The vertical face of this intermediate step will be located at approximately 61 inches from car centerline. In addition, a ramp or bridge plate must be provided to interface with JPB’s current mini-high platforms to load wheelchair passengers.  The ramp or bridge plate must comply with 49 CFR 38.95. The entire platform interface system must also be usable during the transition from the current platform height to the level boarding platform height. 
This "intermediate step" is identical to the step arrangement currently found on Caltrain's Bombardier bilevel cars. As long as the intermediate step is present (at 16 inches above top of rail and 61 inches from car center line), here's what the situation looks like at a "level boarding" 25 inch platform, during the transition period:

This is a fatal flaw. A level boarding solution must be structurally and operationally feasible, which this 9" deep by 16" wide gap is not.  This is not a simple matter of welding some plates over the step wells, since the intermediate step would remain in use throughout the transition period, likely several years.

The end goal must be unassisted level boarding at every station, fully compliant with the ADA gap specification of 49 CFR 38.93(d)(1).  Manually operated bridge plates are not okay; conductor-assisted level boarding won't cut it for a punctual and reliable blended system where HSR and Caltrain must share primarily two tracks.  This means Caltrain should either drop any talk of 25" platforms, or modify the EMU contract post haste with the same retractable bridge plates at the low doors as will be fitted to the 50" high doors.

Level boarding requires a carefully engineered solution and a crisp strategic plan for how to get there. The documents cited above suggest that Caltrain still needs to get it together.


  1. If you want systemwide 50 inch platforms, tell Caltrain to cancel the contract and ask them to buy single level cars or Metra Electric gallery cars. You dismissed the safety and dwell time impact of having bikes moving up and down the interior steps when trains are moving.

    There's a very good chance that HSR could be dead. Jerry Brown will be termed out in a couple of years and the Orange Anus isn't going to provide any more federal funds. So there's a very good chance that high doors you insisted on would be a waste too.

    1. Metra Electric gallery cars is antique-heavy FRA and have only 1-door. It is very difficult to handle the ridership. There are many single level EMU option from Europe and from Asia.

    2. All I have been doing, and will continue to do, is to draw attention to the constraints of the problem and the flaws in the solutions. There are different flavors of level boarding, and the particular flavors that involve conductors manually installing bridge plates to board a wheelchair (such as is done for Utah's FrontRunner, where 25" platforms are used with 25" Bombardier cars) should be forcefully rejected.

      Caltrain still appears to view level boarding as a sort of a nice-to-have passenger comfort amenity, rather than the enabler of system throughput capacity that it actually is. For every two minutes of run time saved by electrifying the system, another minute of run time can be saved by level boarding. Electrification saves time while the train is in motion, and level boarding saves time while the train is stopped. Each minute saved is a minute saved.

      I've said it many times before: short and predictable dwell times are THE key to a successful blended system. A half-hearted approach to level boarding with no clear strategic plan, let alone a basic understanding of the purpose and benefits, is a recipe for continued mediocrity.

      As to your point that "HSR could be dead", it amounts to denial of one of the constraints of the problem we are trying to solve. Once you've gone there, you are no longer contributing to the discussion.

      I don't care about 25" or 50" or whatever. I only care about unassisted conductor-free level boarding, which doesn't seem to be in Caltrain's plans let alone organizational comprehension.

    3. Actually, this "orange anus" supports High Speed Rail, so he falls outside party lines on that point. Here is my source http://time.com/4247162/donald-trump-trains-infrastructure/

  2. Sharing platform between Caltrain and HSR is questionable. Both Caltrain and HSR need to align fare collection policy, Either Caltrain to install fare (like UK and Asia) gate or HSR to introduce POP (like continental Europe).
    San Jose and 4th&King have enough platform. Transbay will have 3 platform and 6 tracks but is not necessary to share the tracks, if both HSR and Caltrain can archive short turn around time.
    JR east's Shinkansen terminal, Tokyo station, have only 2 platform and 4 tracks and handles 300 train/day. (Peak period arrived Shinkansen every 4 min) Tokyo station is also terminal of JR Chuo line and there are 27 train/h (departure and arrival) with just 2 tracks. The E233 EMU used for Chuo Line has slower acceleration (3.0Km/h/s) compared with BART (4.0Km/h/s).
    For me, building EMU with different door height looks more difficult than short turn around.

    1. The one flaw with this argument is that the U.S.A is not Japan, and never will be. In American safety culture, you are taught early and often that rushing anything to meet a schedule is fundamentally dangerous.

    2. Clem, this is extreme case. Here in US, we can still archive 30~50% of such extreme case. BART (Fremont and Richmond) handles turn around of 8 train/h plus coupling/decoupling just with 2 tracks.
      Considering conflict between arrival/departure, does Caltrain (~6train/h) still need more than 2 tracks?

    3. And does BART do this 8 trains/hr with coupling/decoupling, under FRA rules that require full-train Westinghouse brake tests after coupling/decoupling? I mean, all trains use only Westinghouse brakes, don' they (sarcasm)

      (I don't know of such rules firsthand, but Ive read them here and on That Other Blog, from people who I trust)

    4. Brake test is not required for BART system as this is not under FRA.
      Will HSR and electrified Caltrain still need break test?

    5. CalTrain operates under FRA rules. As does Metrolink. And so will CA HSR, when it rns on FRA-controlled track (which may include HRS-only track; I don't recall for sure.)

      Caltrains waiver still require Caltrain to put US-freight grab rails on their rolling stock. And, infmaously, to paint an (F) for (front) on the front of their "locomotive" EMUs.

  3. I think the reason behind this "confusion" is that Caltrain wants to find a way to keep the Bombardier cars during platform height transition, so they come up with the idea of raising the platforms first to 25", then to 50" if Bombardier cars are no longer needed and CHSRA will pay for raising the platforms again.

    I don't see platform raising to 50" can happen when Gallery and Bombardier cars are still needed. Of course all this problem will go away if Caltrain can find the money to exercise the 96-car option.

    1. There is no way to keep the Bombardier cars during the platform height transition, because of the same fatal flaw pointed out above for the EMUs. Besides, the value of Caltrain's entire Bombardier fleet is a tiny rounding error next to the modernization budget. When the time comes, sell!

      Since the Bombardier cars are only being retained for express service, with the EMUs being pressed into service on the stop-and-go locals, one way to approach this is to convert all the non-express platforms first, where Bombardier cars do not call.

      One small improvement that Caltrain could make is to craft a new strategic plan, since their existing initiatives are woefully inadequate and uncoordinated. What will Caltrain do next and what will it do for riders? What is the vision? Is there even a vision?

    2. To misquote Clem....

      Why pay to do something once, when you can pay for it twice?

    3. Clem,
      You may well delete this comment; feel free.

      I read your opening post as based on a assumption: namely, that the Caltrain staff have both the understanding, and the desirel, to create a well-organised, coherent transportation system. From the current system, to "blended", to .. whatever comes after that.

      Now, this will sound like I;m going full-on Richard Mlyarnik. But just *look* at the cunstruction fencing on the northeast side of El Camino Real and Holly St in San Carlos. The exact spot where shoo-fly tracks *have* to go, for any non-trivial change to the San Carlos station.

      Then, look at the embedded-in-160-of-concere curve a San Bruno. Fixed at 65 mi/hr forevermore.

      Is that assumption=, about understanding and will, warranted? I don't know. I sincerely hope so, but the evidence doesn't point that way.

      You write later: "What is the vision? Is there even a vision?"
      Who do you think would have that vision? Someone whose prime (only) qualification, was ... community-outreach for a new BART station. What "vision" would you expect?

      To be clear, I don't question the goodwill of people at CalTrain. But there does seem to be an issue with "connecting the dots"/ At a level where careful attention to high-school physics should suffice. (Pre-calculus physics, where I went to high school.)

      I don't expect CalTrain staff to read Paechl's text. But Caltrain staff are making multi-billion-dollar engineering decisions. Personally, I wouldn't trust them to change the oil in my car. Would you? What does your answer say about those multi-billion dollar decisions?

  4. Caltrain should focus its effort on securing funds to exercise the EMU option, in order to facilitate earlier retirement of the Gallery & Bombardier cars. Re-building the platforms first to 25" then to 50" does not help level-boarding nor is cheap.

    The question then is to what should the platform height be on the stations that potentially will go into construction in the next few years, such as the new Hillsdale, South San Francisco, etc... They most likely need to be at 16" ATOR, as indicated in Clem's diagram, but with provision to be raised to 50".

    1. Anything above 8" would require waiver of CPUC General Order 26-D

    2. Building to 50" makes no sense, except in places where Caltrain is sharing platforms with HSR (which for all practical purposes is only at the TTT). Providing access through the lower door means wheelchairs/bikes/etc don't have to deal with the internal stairs and lift. I am sure Stadler can figure out a solution to the platform gap issue.

    3. "Building to 50" makes no sense, except in places ..."

      Building to 50 inches makes no sense for any non-metro rail line anywhere in the USA west of the narrow strip of Democratic-voting eastern seaboard states, and then only in a small part of those.

      It's bat shit insane in California, unless you happen to be LTK/PTG/PBQD/etc and the only "railroad" you have any familiarity of any sort of with is the North East Corridor, your sole aim is to maximize costs, and you have total contempt for quality of outcome.

      High speed rail is not happening in California. "Compatibility" (not just with a tail wagging the dog, but an imaginary tail) is a bullshit "requirement".

      The correct platform height for High Speed Rail in California (which is not coming before 2050, or later!) is in the 500-760mm range. Oh, and look what's cheapest and level boards at 760mm with 2+3 seating in a 3200mm wide body.

      The correct platform height for the Caltrain corridor always has been and always been in the 500-760mm range.

      Enjoy your dual door EMUs, costing 50% above the going rate, larded to hell with outright LTK-profiting fraud "requirements", to be service delayed for years due to "unexpected" CBOSS compatibility problems, running at hour headways, stopping at Broadway and Atherton and Hayward Park, carrying three conductors, and not providing level boarding at any height at any location, ever.

      Death is too kind a fate for anybody involved.

    4. You make some great arguments but you really throw your credibility in the crapper with your repeated hyperbolic statements wishing death upon people. Come on.

    5. Minnesota is on the East Coast?

    6. @Richard, your argument would make perfect sense if HSR didn't actually exist or if low-floor high-speed trains were actually prevalent. You're basically wishing away some constraints of the problem.

    7. Clem, California High Speed Rail DOES NOT EXIST in any relevant fashion that affects anything other than the profits of PBQD and allied consultants.

      It doesn't exist on the Caltrain corridor, it's not going to exist in any relevant fashion (ie anything that doesn't bolster the profits of PBQD and allied consultants, perhaps including useless and unused isolated stranded high floor platforms at massive centres of activity like Millbrae Interglactic and San Jose Pandimensional.)

      I'm not the one "wishing away constraints". You're the one bending over for the ones that somebody else -- somebody dreaming of great successes like SEPTA or MBTA Commuter Railroading -- dreamed up out of nothing, purely for their own corporate profit.

      Caltrain with its idiot multi-door narrow-body bi-level EMUs (running hourly or worse off-peak, stopping at Atherton and Hayward Park, never providing level boarding at any height, ever) is MBTA with pantographs on top, or SEPTA with double-deckers. It's got nothing at all to do with imaginary HSR in any way. It's all about North East Corridor Commuter Railroading.

      It's all over. Trap doors! Assisted boarding! LTK Engineering Services dictating rolling stock and operating practices forever and ever and ever and ever. They got exactly what they wanted. There will never be quick dwell times, Taktverkehr, low (or even lower) operating costs, level boarding, none of it. They've made this as clear as anybody possibly could. Why are you cheerleading for this?

    8. No matter how bad you think it is, there's always a way to make it better. If they want to do level boarding at 25" platforms in addition to 50" (and why not), they need to get the transition details right, and there needs to be a structurally and operationally feasible path towards ADA-compliant conductor-free unassisted level boarding at 25". We don't have bellhops in elevators anymore because all elevators have safe, gap-free level boarding, and that's what we should all be striving for.

      The cheapest way forward, in the relative sense of U.S.-transit-industrial-complex cheapness, would be to ask Stadler to add an automatic gap filler at 25" as well. And @Drunk, for all their smarts, Stadler will not do this unless asked by their customer. And their customer will not ask unless they understand the need.

      It's not all over; it's just the beginning. And yes, I am unapologetically cheerleading for level boarding, an improvement that I view as the most important thing Caltrain can possibly do after electrification.

      It's hard for an organization that has been pushing towards electrification since the 1990s (a quarter century!) to turn on a dime and strive for the next thing after that... they just didn't have their collective mind on what comes next, and probably still don't.

  5. Regarding platform stuff.

    50" level boarding can't really begin construction at any existing stations until the EMU's fully replace both gallery and bombardier units.

    25" boarding "could" begin today since it would work with Gallery, Bombardier and EMUs... it's clearly a wasted effort if you're going to later transition to 50".

    However, in new stations that will still serve the diesel fleet - like the new Hillsdale station - they will enhance passenger convenience in the short term. Building a new station with 8" or 24" platform costs roughly the same.

    1. You appear to have missed my point that 25" platforms will not work with the Bombardier cars, will not work with the gallery cars, and will not work with the EMU cars as specified and ordered.

    2. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

    3. Gotcha.... I somehow missed the Bombardier tripping hazard in your initial email.

      I think the mismatch you illustrated above drivers the point forward the following:
      * Level-boarding can't be done as part of electrification or EMU upgrade.
      * Any level boarding to only 25" results in lost seating capacity of 96 seats per 6-car EMU set

      Level boarding needs to be to 50", which also leads to the following conclusion for Richard and others:
      * The only way that Coast Daylight can work here is if they reserve an 8" platform at 4th & King. Else, it's not looking easy.
      * Caltrain only plans to change 75% of fleet to EMU. Until that becomes 100%, we can't begin work on level boarding. Perhaps that is why Caltrain doesn't yet have a plan for level-boarding... Such a plan can't be executed at the current funding level.

    4. I wonder how much it would take, or if it is possible, to add a high-level door on each of the Caltrain's Bombardier cars...

    5. @Martin: not having the funding is no excuse for failure to make a detailed plan. Caltrain did plenty of planning for electrification before they amassed the funding. Right now it seems the dog has finally caught the mail truck, and is confused about what to do next.

      @William: not just a door, but also an automatic bridge plate to span a one-foot platform gap. There's no way that could ever pencil out other than as a clean sheet design.

    6. said "planning" being directed, for the lsat few years, by someone whose sole qualification for directing a multi-Billion-with-a-B engineering project, was... community outreach for a new BART station. (That may sound harsh, but it's a fact, an ineluctable fact).

      Do CalTrain employees do any actual quantitative planning; or do they pay contractors to do that on their behalf? (serious question)
      Note, I exclude union work-rule compliance computations, from "planning".

      Clem, seriously: what degree of planning do you *expect* from the team who signed on the dotted line for CBOSS? (As if they'd never heard of the AATC fiasco. So much for hiring BART experience!)