19 January 2018

CalMod 2.0: Three Things to Watch

UPDATE, from Caltrain TIRCP funding application
  • CalMod 2.0 is now formally known as EEP or Electrification Expansion Program
  • 100% state-funded through cap and trade program (TIRCP)
  • Consists almost entirely of option buys of 96 EMU cars for $600M
  • 17 x 8-car EMU fleet planned for start of electric service (if $$ awarded)
  • No 4-car EMUs (this is super important for future off-peak service)
  • No third bike cars.  Extra money for station bike parking
  • No level boarding.  Can kicked down road
  • Broadband internet on the EMUs at start of electric service, for a cool $14M
  • Diesel bullets redeployed to SJ - Gilroy - Salinas in unspecified future project

Caltrain was recently reported to be seeking another $630 million grant from California's cap and trade program to eliminate diesel trains entirely and to increase the passenger capacity of the new EMUs a decade earlier than previously envisioned. A previous board agenda alluded to a $756 million program known as CalMod 2.0, consisting of:
  • Full conversion to 100% EMU + capacity increase ($440M)
  • Broadband ($30M)
  • Maintenance facility improvements ($36M)
  • Level boarding and platform extensions ($250M)
While the amount reported in the press doesn't match the CalMod 2.0 tally, there may be other funding sources on tap and we are probably looking at the same package of improvements. The EMU fleet expansion is an exercise of the fully priced option for 96 additional EMU cars under the existing contract with Stadler.

There will be three important issues to keep an eye on:

1) Level Boarding

Level boarding is the logical next step after electrification, and a perfect complement: where electrification reduces time in motion, level boarding reduces time at rest. Every second of trip time saved is equally valuable, which is why cutting station dwell times is enormously important.

Not all level boarding solutions are created equal, and it's not enough for the height of the platform to equal the height of the train floor. To enable dense "blended" traffic on the peninsula corridor, what Caltrain needs is unassisted level boarding where persons of reduced mobility can board without the help of a conductor across an ADA-compliant gap. That means NO bridge plates, NO exterior lifts, and NO conductor assistance.

While the new EMUs will have the ability to dock at 51" platforms, staff and consultants evidently do not agree on a path forward towards system-wide level boarding. With a nine-figure amount being contemplated for platform extensions and level boarding under CalMod 2.0, the approach and transition strategy needs to be straightened out, and soon, to avoid enormous "do over" costs. And we should not let Caltrain claim that platform extensions for 8-car trains will cost a lot: the real price tag for that is in the range of $25 million.

2) Short EMUs for Frequent Off-Peak Service

Base order (blue) and option order
(orange) show fleet composition
for 100% electric service
The sort of service that Caltrain wants to run in the future, currently being discussed in the context of a nascent business plan, will determine the specific composition of the 96-car option order, i.e. how many of what EMU car type to buy. The wrong fleet decision could very well preclude service patterns that may be deemed preferable once the business plan effort concludes, which is why CalMod 2.0 needs to be carefully considered not to overtake or conflict with the business plan effort. That being said, you don't need an army of consultants to figure out what fleet Caltrain will need.

Use case #1: during rush hour, to run a 70 minute SF Transbay - South San Jose schedule at 6 tph per direction with 20 minute turns at each end, you need (70+20)/60 * 6 * 2 = 18 trains in service, plus one extra train available at each end of the line to protect against cascading delays, or 20 trains available for service. Allowing for a couple of trains to be down for maintenance, we need 22 trains total @ 8 cars each.

Use case #2: off-peak service running at 80 minutes SF Transbay - South San Jose at 3 tph per direction with 20 minute turns at each end, you need (80+20)/60 * 3 * 2 = 10 trains in service, plus one extra train at each end, or 12 trains available for service. Throwing in another two trains down for maintenance,  we need 14 trains total. Because it's very expensive to haul around empty seats, these must be short 4-car trains.

Supporting both of these use cases within the overall size of the Stadler order (96 cars base order + 96 cars option) requires the option order to consist primarily of 4-car EMUs, as shown in the figure at right. At peak times, 4-car EMUs would operate in pairs, mixing with the rest of the 8-car subfleet. If needed in the long term, EMUs could be extended to 12 cars by coupling 8 + 4 cars.

3) Just Say No to a Third Bike Car

Bringing a bike on Caltrain is one of the finest ways to commute; your author has done it hundreds of times. The bikes-on-board community is already gearing up to pressure Caltrain into adding a third bike car to the future 8-car EMUs, deeming the two bike cars in the base order 6-car EMUs to be inadequate. The typical argument goes that any bike "bumped" is a paying customer left behind, which is a logical argument when spare capacity is available. However, with trains at standing room only peak loads (by design!) there are plenty of potential non-bike passengers left behind. They are not "bumped" in the literal sense, since they don't even show up at the train station. Here's why: when the cost of enduring a crowded train trip becomes unbearable, the invisible hand of supply and demand pushes more and more potential riders to drive instead.

Under SRO conditions, every free bike space on the train displaces a paying passenger, a sort of "reverse bumping" effect that explains quite elegantly why, for example, the Paris RER does not and should not have dedicated bike cars. Caltrain has gone quite far enough in providing free bike space on board, and should not have a third bike car in 8-car EMUs, in everyone's interest of maximizing peak passenger capacity. In the long term, bike commuters will benefit more from world-class bike parking.


  1. This is very exciting news. I wonder if this does go through, and level boarding is implemented, if they will do away with the lower set of doors on the trains. I am hoping yes.

    Also, a third bike car would be a tragic waste of potential seating. I hope the bike mafia doesn't strong arm that one. There is something wrong when bikes are filling up half of a car and people are standing in the aisles. Bike lockers and bike shares are the way to go - leave the bikes off of the trains.

  2. 3 TPH off-peak is an embarrassment. Even BART midday service isn't that bad (though not by much).

    1. We’re at 1 tph off peak weekday and 0.66 tph off peak weekends today, so let’s not get ahead of ourselves... that said, the proposed short fleet of 16 trains could be pushed to 4 tph per direction during off peak hours.

    2. If Bures-sur-Yvette manages to get 4 off-peak tph, the cities of the Peninsula could get 4 off-peak tph as well.

    3. Caltrain used to have 2 tph off peak and 1 tph weekend. They reduced service using excuse of finalcail issue or electrification construction cost.
      This frequent service should be introduce with single conductor operation. This seems more challenging for Caltrain management to implement than purchase 4-car consist. So that, we can expect same level of BART service (4 tph off peak and 3 tph weekend)

    4. Agreed that the conductor issue is a thorny one, which means Caltrain will avoid it like the plague!

      The UTU agreement will need renegotiation as a precondition to frequent off peak service.

    5. Besides UTU agreement, the way Caltrain/TASI creates and assigns on-board crew shift could be an issue. There are "full time" crew shifts that are only 4 hours long, and these are not "split shift". Those of who are on the 4-hour-long shift works for 4 hours but paid for 8 hours. I also heard all on-board crews working on weekends and holidays are wholly on over time.

      They are unionized labor force, so it is more expensive and financially inefficient because:
      - They have seniority rule; whoever with more seniority takes those 4-hour-long "full time" shifts, and;
      - They are paid at 1.5x of their base hourly salary on overtime (the whole weekend and holiday works).

      No way they cannot efficiently run trains during off-peak periods and weekends/holidays...

    6. - I also heard all on-board crews working on weekends and holidays are wholly on over time.

      If this is true, I can understand why Caltrain want to reduce weekend service. How about other rail sercive? Do Capitor corridor and BART crew have same working agreement?

  3. I've seen scaffolding used for platforms where lines were being reconstructed in Germany. With existing platforms as the foundation, there should be a cost analysis of going in over a weekend and raising all the platforms with (semi) permanent scaffolding. Then making them permanent, as funding permits, over time.

  4. Clem,
    On the issue of the bicycle car, your comparison to Paris RER is silly. Caltrain is in no way comparable to the constraints Paris RER has to deal with. By way of counterexample, one could list all the S-bahn type systems that have little or no bike restrictions.

    Caltrain has spent (and continues to spend) vast sums subsidizing people being able to park their car at the station all day long. The cost of running some additional peak-hour bike cars is a rounding-error by comparison.

    I do agree, however, that a "dedicated" bike space is not optimal. Better to have a multipurpose area (with flip down seats, luggage racks, etc).

    1. Having bike storage on board means reducing seating capacity by about 1/3 on each EMU bike car. This was not an issue when the trains were not full anyway, but today many Caltrain passengers have to stand so that other passengers can take their bikes on board for free. Providing safe, convenient bike parking should be a high priority to reduce the need to take bikes on board. As Clem points out, the cost of removing seating for people to make room for storage of bikes is reduced potential ridership overall.

  5. Providing bike parking doesn't reduce the need to bring your bike on board if you need your bike at the other end! Unfortunately, the last-mile connections are still woefully inadequate throughout the Peninsula, so the reality is that bike-on-board is a requirement -- not a luxury.

    1. I’m not arguing that on-board bike space should be eliminated; only that it shouldn’t be expanded. Perhaps another way forward would be to charge a fare for carrying a bike during peak ridership hours. By setting an appropriate fare, demand for the 64 bike spaces on 8-car EMUs would be managed, and those who absolutely require bike-on-board would still have the choice.

    2. Under California law, you can't charge for bringing a bike on board. A bike is considered luggage under current law.

      Also, the problem of enforcement comes into play. You'd need an additional conductor in each bike car to verify if a cyclist has the appropriate ticket.

    3. I hadn’t thought of it this way. So my original argument boils down to making more space for people, instead of more space for luggage. Sounds reasonable.

    4. I wanna bring my automobile with me......

    5. https://youtu.be/Zo2uhyWSZtM?t=395

    6. Wasn't this going to be solved by adding a non-EMU towed bike car? Cheap and maximal floor space?

      People are critically dependent on there being bike space available. I think this summer is expected to be an utter bike catastrophe for Caltrain, considering that almost all commute-time trains are now shoulder-to-shoulder.

  6. This is certainly true for many people. However, Caltrain has done studies that show that some passengers don't really need a bike on both ends but take their bike on board anyway because of the lack of secure convenient parking and because it's free. The question here is whether to add even more bike storage or more seats when buying additional EMU cars. I think seats are more important to maximize ridership.

    1. You have a point, and despite all the bike committees, Caltrain hasn't added any electronic bike lockers like Capitol Corridor or others. I'm not sure anyone has even done a survey of the bikers during the yearly passenger counts to ask each bike rider for address (or cross-streets) of their home or office in order to better place Bike Share racks.

      The Ford citybikes in SF do got a decent amount of use, but I don't think Caltrain did much there.

    2. The bike lockers are a hopelessly low density way of encouraging people to leave bikes at the station. The bike shed at Mountain View is a much better way, a small version of whats in the video about the Rotterdam station.

  7. I think that encouraging biking is a worthy goal and so bike capacity should be expanded along with car capacity. Sure trains will be more crowded, but as long as we don't have crush-load conditions like in Japan, let's use that space to get a few more cars off the road.

    Ironically, bike riders are probably most likely to switch to a car.

  8. With regards to "Diesel bullets redeployed to SJ - Gilroy - Salinas in unspecified future project", here is some light reading on potential "minor" operational constraints... http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2017/01/san-jose-done-right.html

  9. Clem:

    Dan Richard in an interview on KPIX this AM, said Caltrain electrified service to start in 4 years; that would be in 2022.

    I thought the service was to start in 2020. Did Richard reveal a new timeline?

    Interview on YouTube at:


    1. Hello Morris, this is not new. The program schedule is in the appendix of the PCEP monthly status report, in the JPB agenda packet. Primary critical path is PG&E connections (!) and secondary is vehicle delivery, not far behind.

  10. Hi Clem, what's the best thing we can do to advocate for you ideas? (assuming you think there's any hope at all)

  11. Most of the time I've taken my bike on Caltrain it's because there is no bike parking at the SF Caltrain station. The existing bike parking station has useless restrictive hours leaving people with no other option but to bring their bikes on board. Bicycle ticketing can be done if bike spaces are reserved. I wouldn't mind paying a premium to travel with my bike if I knew for certain there was a space available on board. But ideally Caltrain should put bikelink parking and bikeshare stations at every caltrain stop to reduce the demand for bringing bikes on board. Caltrain's existing incompatible bike locker system is confusing and largely worthless to most casual bicycle riders.

    Jump E-bikes is trying to get a e-bike charging dock installed at Caltrain station. If they did this, I would never have to bring my bike onto Caltrain!

  12. It is only now that I noticed the update… Unless the configuration of the trains differ from the standard KISS, I think, it should be possible to create 3 4-car units out of an 8-car unit by procuring 4 end cars plus some (maybe extensive) shuffling. In fact, I am kind of surprised that they did not go for 4-car units to begin with, which would allow to assemble trains of 100 m, 200 m and 300 m length, and still have a consistent fleet.

    Another note: running 8-car units off-peak is very expensive only as long as an excessive number conductors have to be carried along.

    1. Running 8-car trains off-peak is also very expensive just from a maintenance perspective (leaving aside operating cost). I posted about this before in frequent trains off peak. At two bucks a car-mile, running short 4-car trains off peak will save Caltrain about $10 million per year in maintenance expenses.

      The 96-car option can be exercised in a way that gives Caltrain the right fleet mix of 4-car and 8-car trains to support both peak and off-peak service patterns, as described in my graphic.

      If Caltrain is serious about their business plan exercise, this issue should be thoroughly analyzed. Just about the worst decision they could make is to order a full fleet of 8-car trains before properly running the numbers.

    2. And how do those $10 million compare to the total operation cost?

      I can't remember, but did Caltrain really order the trains without maintenance?

      But I agree that a mix of 4-car and 8-car units can bring some operational advantages.

    3. The rail operator contract (about $85M/year) unfortunately does not separate operations from maintenance.

      Also, my $10M/year figure may be an overestimate since the maintenance cost of $2 per car mile is an average figure that includes both fixed and variable components. That is to say, the figures from the FTA database are likely higher than the underlying marginal cost of one additional car mile. Sort of like driving another mile doesn’t cost you the full $0.61 that AAA estimates.

      That said it’s probably still multiple millions/year, which will have to be weighed against the cost of more cabs (~$1M of “avionics” each)

      Someone should do a business plan to see how it really pencils out.

    4. http://www.caltrain.com/Assets/__Agendas+and+Minutes/JPB/2018/2018-04-05+JPB+SPECIAL+MEETING+AGENDA.pdf

    5. Max Wyss wondered: "I can't remember, but did Caltrain really [ruinous, insane, hostile, corrupt, stupid, self-serving, rent-seeking, irresponsible, incompetent, ...]"

      Whatever the "[ruinous, insane, hostile, corrupt, stupid, self-serving, rent-seeking, irresponsible, incompetent, ...]", no matter how idiotic, especially if maximally idiotic, the answer is always "YES!". Why yes, they did. HELL YEAH! And they'll do it again and again and again, as long as the sweet sweet river of In God We Trust US Dollars keeps on a-flowing.

    6. Re; Anonymous 26 March, 2018 13:39

      Interesting... Special meeting starting at 9:00 am, Thursday April 5, 2018. The regular Caltrian Board/JPB meeting is moved 30 minutes later than normal to 10:30 am.

      Special meeting topic: Preliminary Fiscal Year 2019 and Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Outlook

      I wonder if they are going to talk about budget crisis, service cuts, fare increases?

      Are the partner agencies decreasing their commitment to Caltrain even further?

      Their contributions to Caltrain have been steadily declining over the last several years.