24 April 2019

Foundation Progress Tracker

One way to measure the progress of a large and complex construction program like the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Program is to count how many foundations have been completed. This is a revealing metric, since foundation construction is currently the top risk on the program due to surprises when digging holes along the right of way. It's also a metric that is readily measurable and reported monthly.

In round numbers, the electrification project encompasses ~3000 poles and ~3700 concrete foundations. The number of foundations is greater than the number of poles because there are foundations for guy wires and sometimes multiple foundations for portal poles.

The progress chart below will be updated monthly.


At the December 2018 meeting of the Caltrain board of directors, the program manager stated (starting at 01:03:00 in video) that he needed to maintain a pace of 156 pole foundations per month (six per night) to meet the schedule milestone of "electrification substantial completion," which was then set for June 2021. You can see how things went since then.

02 April 2019

Eyes on Bikes

The configuration of the new EMU bike cars is controversial because seating and bikes are not currently planned to be located together on the same level, which prevents riders from keeping an eye on their bikes and increases the risk of theft. A workshop is planned to resolve this eyes-on-bikes controversy.

Bike Capacity Shenanigans

Clouding the issue of eyes-on-bikes theft deterrence is another hot-button issue with the bikes-on-board crowd, bike capacity. In 2015, under sustained pressure from bike advocates, the Caltrain board of directors made the unusual decision to override the staff-recommended seat:bike ratio of 9:1, imposing instead a ratio of 8:1 to be written into the Request for Proposals (see meeting minutes, pp 6-15.) The initial six-car EMU order was procured under this requirement, resulting in a configuration with 567 seats and 72 bike spaces. Fast forward to 2018, and an option order placed to stretch the EMU fleet to seven cars did not include additional bike space. The result is a train configuration with 667 seats and the same 72 bike spaces, resulting in a ratio of 9.3:1. While the 2015 board directive concerned only the wording of the RFP and only implicitly established a bike capacity policy, bike advocates are upset about a perceived bait-and-switch, despite the increase in peak-hour frequency from five to six trains per hour per direction.

To have any chance of resolving these two issues, the bike community needs to attack them separately. Tying the reconfiguration of the bike cars for better theft deterrence to a bike capacity increase is a losing proposition, given the increased resistance to more bikes-on-board from staff and the new board. With increasing crowding, it may make less sense to allow passengers to bring bikes on the train.

For now, let's set aside more bikes and deal with theft deterrence first.

Dimensions and Rules
  1. All bike spaces will be located on the lower deck of the bi-level EMU cars.
  2. All cars have an interior width of 2.80 m and must have an ADA-compliant 32" aisle.
  3. The D and F cars (longer unpowered cars) have an available lower deck length of 10.03 m.
  4. The C and G cars (shorter powered cars) have an available lower deck length of 8.37 m.
  5. Eyes on bikes: where possible, seating shall face towards the bikes.
  6. Bike pens (capacity 4 bikes) are sized 2 m long by ~1 m wide.
  7. Double bike pens (capacity 8 bikes, without a divider) are sized 3.85 m long by ~1 m wide. They provide the same interior room compared to two single pens placed end to end.
  8. Bike pens, or at least bike partitions, are required for crashworthiness, if seats are going to be facing towards the bikes for "eyes on bikes." This prevents a pile of bikes from ending up in someone's lap in the event of an emergency stop or collision.
  9. Same-direction seat pitch is 32.5" or 82.5 cm.
  10. Facing seats with a table require 66.9" or 170 cm (note the table uses less than 2 extra inches!)
  11. Back-to-back seats require an additional 6" or 15 cm of clearance to accommodate the slight recline of the two seat backs.
  12. Two wheelchair spaces must be provided in each car.
  13. One wheelchair space may overlap with a bike pen (dual purpose space, priority to the wheelchair user) per precedent in the existing layout.
  14. It is preferable to minimize the number of different car configurations.
With these rules in place, one can go about re-configuring the bike cars.

One key consideration is that it is not possible to re-distribute 72 bike spaces between three cars, while also providing 72 seats that are in view of the bikes. If one desires enough seating capacity on the lower deck to allow 100% eyes-on-bikes, the only way to proceed is to have four bike cars, including the recently-ordered 7th car. Like this:
Suggested EMU lower deck layout to achieve 100% eyes-on-bikes.
Bonus: an extra two seats. (click to enlarge)
The bike car reconfiguration represents an opportunity for Caltrain. On one hand, it allows Caltrain to claim they are responsive to stakeholder input, and on the other hand, it gives a legitimate pretext to add a bit of delay to the EMU order, thus opening up some breathing room in the program schedule for electrification construction, which is falling badly behind.

Towards a Compromise Bike Ratio

It has always been the intent, as funding allows, to extend the trains to 8 cars. Should the bike ratio continue to be controversial, the eighth car could be configured exactly as the D and F cars in the diagram above, providing another 20 bike spaces for a total of 92 per train. The seating capacity of the entire train would be 778, yielding a compromise ratio of 8.5:1, halfway between the preference of Caltrain staff (9:1) and the preference of bike advocates (8:1). The best compromise is one with which everybody is equally unhappy.