25 May 2020

The Unbearable Cost of Conductors

[Programming note: while the current pandemic may appear to make the discussion below irrelevant, consider that by 1920, there were few memories of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Jammed peninsula commutes will be back sooner than you think!]

Caltrain in 1980: crew included
engineer, fireman, brakeman
and conductor.
The way it was

Back in 1980, Caltrain's predecessor, the Southern Pacific Railroad Commuter System, operated 46 trains per weekday on the peninsula rail corridor. The SP used a minimum crew of four people: an engineer, a fireman, a conductor, and a brakeman, assigned to all trains with 3 or more cars. A second conductor was added for 4-5 car trains, and a second brakeman for 6-7 car trains. A seven-person crew was used for 8-car trains, then the longest operated by SP: engineer, fireman, two brakemen, and three conductors. Not surprisingly, labor made up more than 60% of the cost of operating the peninsula commute.
In the years since 1980, technology advanced and union agreements evolved. The previously unthinkable notion that firemen and brakemen would no longer needed to safely operate trains came to pass, and is accepted in today's agreements with unions.
The way it is
In 2020, the minimum crew for 2-6 car trains consists of one engineer, one conductor, and one assistant conductor. For 7-8 car trains (not currently operated, but contemplated for the near term) an additional assistant conductor is required under the current union agreement, increasing crew size to four. Today, conductors operate doors to ensure safe boarding and alighting, assist passengers with reduced mobility, acknowledge restrictive signal indications, announce stops, ensure all equipment is in good working order, patrol the train to ensure orderly passenger conduct, regulate bicycle boarding, and perform proof-of-payment fare enforcement.
Modern trains reduce crew workload
The state-of-the-art trains that will enter service in 2023, if everything goes well, will reduce crew workload. Stops will be announced automatically by a computer. Restrictive signal aspects will no longer require acknowledgement, with Positive Train Control computers constantly keeping watch over the engineer's handling of the train. One can also anticipate that the equipment will break down less frequently in brand new equipment, with the extensive computer diagnostics available to detect, report and resolve defects before they turn into a service-disrupting failure. The train's computers will count how many passengers board and alight at each stop. The operator's cab even features door controls and rear-view cameras to monitor passenger boarding and alighting as well as door status. In a near future where platforms and trains are retrofitted for level boarding, the need for conductors to assist persons of reduced mobility will also disappear. With so much of the work becoming automated, are four people still needed to operate a 7-car train, as would be required by current union agreements?

The cost of assistant conductors

Bottom-up calculation

As of 2019, hourly pay for an assistant conductor was about $38, based on 3% annual escalation since 2012. At 2080 paid hours per year, an assistant conductor then makes $79k/year in straight time salary. Throw in another 10% for overtime, and it's $87k/year. Add 25% of salary for fringe benefits, and it's $109k/year. Tack on 20% payroll taxes, and it's $126k/year. Don't forget another 12% of pay for FELA (railroad liability insurance), and we're now at $136k/year. Are we done? No: on top of this we need to add contract operator general and administrative overhead of about 7%, and contract operator award fee of about 5%. So, our $38/hour assistant conductor eventually accounts for $153k/year of fully burdened Caltrain operating costs.

If the typical duty is two daily round-trips, or about 200 train-miles per shift, and our assistant conductor works 250 days per year, that comes to 50,000 revenue miles per year, putting the fully burdened cost of an assistant conductor at $3 per revenue train-mile. Split shifts (with long paid breaks) and the additional vacation time that comes with seniority will lower annual revenue miles, likely making $3 a lower bound for an assistant conductor.

Caltrain operates 1.28 million revenue train-miles per year, so the cost of one assistant conductor on every train is about $4 million per year (in 2019 dollars) based on today's timetable with 94 weekday trains.

Top-down calculation

In 2019, Caltrain paid $99.5 million for contract services, the lion's share of which (about 88%) went to Transit America Services, Inc., to operate the railroad. This comes to $87 million including overheads and performance fees. Based on TASI's estimated cost structure for 2012-2017, which we will assume has not changed much in the years since, about 72% of direct costs are labor, so the fully burdened cost of labor was $63 million.

Based on TASI's itemized costs, we can estimate this $63 million breaks down as follows: 2.3% direct administrative costs, 44.3% train operations (which includes conductors), 5.2% train and yard movement control, 24.6% fleet maintenance, 16.7% fixed infrastructure maintenance, 3% station, facility and parking maintenance, and 4% budgets, finance and accounting. This places the fully-burdened cost of train operations labor at $28 million. This labor category consists of operations supervisors, engineers, conductors and assistant conductors. The share of labor costs allocated to the complement of 46 assistant conductors is about 25% of this, or $7 million (fully burdened).

Divide by the number of annual revenue train-miles, and we find that assistant conductors cost $5.50 per train-mile.

Interestingly, $7 million divided by 46 assistant conductors gives a fully burdened annual cost of $152k/year for an assistant conductor, which agrees very well with our bottom-up estimate. So why are the per-mile estimates not the same?

The discrepancy between bottom-up ($3.00) top-down ($5.50) per-mile estimates comes down to labor productivity. Some peak-hour trains are staffed with more than one assistant conductor, and the annual labor productivity of a single conductor is less than 50,000 revenue train-miles per year due to split shifts. The FTA National Transit Database shows Caltrain operates about 216,000 vehicle revenue hours of service per year, with each train having an average of 5.6 cars (7.20 million revenue vehicle-miles per year divided by 1.28 million revenue train-miles per year), so we get about 38,570 train-hours per year. TASI's workforce comprises 46 assistant conductors at 2000 hours per year = 92,000 hours (before additional on-call labor) which makes assistant conductor productivity at most 0.42 revenue-hours per hour worked, versus about 0.7 revenue-hour per hour worked if we optimistically assume 2 round-trips per 8-hour shift as in the bottom-up calculation.

Bottom line: Caltrain assistant conductors cost $7 million/year today.

Future service increases

Caltrain's business plan envisions growth scenarios where the cost structure is largely left alone. More service simply means more operating cost. Revisiting union agreements is not contemplated, and represents a sort of third rail that managers dare not mention even in hypothetical planning documents.

For the baseline electrification scenario, 114 weekday trains will operate with 7 cars each, triggering the second assistant conductor requirement per the union agreement. Because today's service already has two assistant conductors on some trains, putting them on all trains will not double the cost of assistant conductors, and may reduce the cost impact of split shifts. Let's assume that the number of assistant conductors will increase by 50% at the equivalent of today's service level to staff every train with two assistant conductors. If on top of that we increase service from 94 to 114 weekday trains, then the cost of assistant conductors rises from $7 million to almost $13 million (in 2019 dollars).
For the enhanced growth scenario in 2023, with 168 weekday trains, the cost rises from $7 million to $19 million (still in 2019 dollars). With service expansion to 8 trains per peak hour and 204 weekday trains in 2027, the cost of assistant conductors reaches $23 million per year!

These are enormous figures and it's plain to see that assistant conductors are a huge driver of current and future operating costs.

The way it should be: get rid of assistant conductors!

The crew position of assistant conductor, like brakeman and fireman before it, has outlived its usefulness in the year 2020. As modern technologies automate a significant portion of the workload traditionally performed by conductors, the time has come to modify union agreements to enable the operation of eight-car trains with a single conductor, or even no conductor at all.

Eliminating unproductive labor does not mean eliminating well-paying union jobs: even with a single conductor per train, the overall size of the conductor workforce may need to grow to accommodate increased service. The criteria used to determine minimum crew size should no longer include the number of cars. Automatic passenger counting equipment on the new fleet will provide all the statistical data to evaluate when off-peak trains could even go to zero-conductor (single person) operation.

Conductors should be supplemented and eventually replaced by roving teams of fare inspectors, not assigned to a particular train, who spot-check proof of payment and patrol particularly crowded trains. The train operator (a.k.a. engineer in old-school parlance) can take care of all aspects of train operation, as is practiced at BART. This will require a cultural shift.

Today's operating cost structure is a burden that hinders service growth. Assistant conductors must go, and the union agreements that govern train crew sizes should be revisited again, as they have been periodically in decades past.


  1. Nice piece of writing! Well thought-out and well-written. Much to think about. Thank you!

  2. In the land where the KISS originates even 12-car trains (2 6-car units in MU) are operated by one single person: the driver. No need for conductors at all, because of POP, cameras showing the state of the train, smooth outer skin, etc. Occasionally, 2, maybe 4 additional people are on board: roving inspectors.

    This shows the uselessness of the role of "conductor". However, if the operator thinks that a customer representative should be on board, fine, but that better be marked as such "customer representative", and this role is commercial, not operational.

  3. The way it should be: get rid of all conductors!

    There, I fixed it for you.

    If you're going to touch any "third rails", take a proper grip on it, none of this light brushing with the back of the hand with the other half of the body well away from any ground pussyfooting.

    Do note "conductors" are in no way required in any legal way for any "safety" purpose. They're exactly as useful and as necessary and as legally mandated as "firemen".

    Insane operating costs, like insane procurement costs, and like insane operating inefficiency, are choices Caltrain and its consultants and its staff freely choose; it's a choice to piss away tax funding and fare revenue and a choice to provide expensive, infrequent, and crappy service.

    1. And yes, I know a "conductor" is presently required to deal with wheelchair/ADA boarding and alighting, because of a lack of level boarding on Caltrain.

      (That doesn't mean that a "customer service representative" -- without a CONSTANTLY BLARING MAXIMUM VOLUME I'M A CONDUCTOR THIS IS MY TRAIN WALKIE TALKIE -- couldn't do this make-work "job".)

      But again, the lack of level boarding that we endure -- which could have fixed all the way along the line for 15 years at this point! -- and the complete and total lack of any plan to ever provide level boarding on Caltrain, are choices that Caltrain's incompetent staff and permatemp mafia consultants have freely made on "behalf" of the fare-paying and tax-paying public.

      Terrible accessibility, like bad and expensive service, isn't legally mandated and it isn't forced on the agency -- it's a choice that Caltrain chooses to makes, for us.

    2. Well said! I’ve never seen a big fan of Caltrain. Slow, unreliable, expensive and noisy. I don’t know if they’ll EVER get Bart around the bay at this point. The last station is millbrae, not even mid peninsula. That’s station is 18 years old! At that pace BART might just make it around the bay in the 24th century. Ridiculous. Seems like BART could have purchased the whole damn thing from SP years ago and saved a lot of money. But what do I know. I’m just a taxpayer supporting these do-nothing bureaucrats.

    3. Caltrain and BART have near equal operating expenses per vehicle mile, and passangers are treated like human beings, unlike BART.

    4. Help help help!

      I took a trip on BART, and I saw a black person.

      Somebody, somebody please SEND A CONDUCTOR!

    5. Caltrain is $17 operating expense per vehicle mile vs $8 for BART.

    6. Drunk Engineer:

      what counts as a "vehicle" in this oontext? Individual cars, or trainsets?
      BART trainsets are longer than Caltrain's - 10 cars trans-bay. If those costs are per train, that's even more damning.

      If individual cars, does that also count non-passenger-carrying diesel locomotives?

    7. More importantly, BART is a closed system with paid and free areas. If Caltrain became like-BART, had fare gates and agents at stations, I wouldn't mind having one or no conductors.

    8. "More importantly, BART is a closed system with paid and free areas."

      More importantly for what? To whom? Closed systems with paid and free aresa are very very very good news to you if you're a rent-seeking bid-rigging defence-contractor faregate vendor or rent-seeking bid-rigging civil engineering contrator.

      For others? Your run-of-the-mill transit rider or tax-payer? Not such a bargain, maybe not so important as, uh, I don't know, actually running trains more than once every hour and a half.

      "If Caltrain became like-BART, had fare gates and agents at stations, I wouldn't mind having one or no conductors."

      Fun fact: the most deadly thing on BART is the BART police force. Fare gates, alas, don't seem to keep them 100% confined to their natural habitat, idling SUVs in parking lots, and they manage to bypass the station agents and somehow disarm the fare gates to make it onto the trains and supposedly secure places like the platforms at Fruitvale station.

    9. People need to feel safe in order for them to choose to ride public transit, having good law/rule/fare enforcement presence, i.e. conductors and separate ticketed/free areas, contribute to that. I don't know if this feeling of safe can be quantified, but it is a big reason why people choose to ride or not to ride public transit, beside speed and convenience.

      If one feels that conductors and assistant-conductors do not justify the cost, well, make them more productive, give them more work to do is an good alternative to have one or no conductors.

    10. I feel ... funny feelings when I see The Authorities ... who are all Good People with the Very Best Intentions -- all Good People -- ... in their ... impressive ... reassuring ... imposing! ... outfits ... tell me: "please just go home we, have this situation under control, there's nothing to see here" ... oh yes ... their outfits, their salaries, their pensions, their je-ne-sais-quois ... impose, well, order upon the ... how should I put it? ... the conductor-less.

      I guess you could describe that ... funny feeling ... as ... safety.

      I feel safe.

    11. Twice in my life I've had a gun pointed at me. Both occasions were on BART, by law enforcement.

    12. @DE....and why did they do that?

    13. Duh! Sobriety checkpoint. Obvs!
      Also checking for valid current professional engineering licence. Understandable under the circumstances. Ihre Papiere, bitte!
      Perfectly normal, perfectly normal escalation, nothing to see here.

    14. Actually worse than that. In one case, there was some kind of SWAT/VIPR operation at the entrance of the Fremont BART station. I was up on the platform, unaware of this and just waiting and waiting for a train that wasn't coming. So I go down to leave the station, come around a blind corner, and this spooked some goons in tactical gear with AR's.

  4. Clem thank you for writing this post, but I have to agree with Richard here. He usually takes the best case/idealistic stance which I've seen you push back on as unrealistic for "settled" decisions. This topic, however is not a "settled" decision. Rule #1 of negotiations, don't start from a compromise position.
    The local transit advocacy groups (Yourself, Adina, Drunken Engineer, etc.) ought to speak with a unified voice here - ALL Conductors are an outdated and unnecessary expense. Fare inspectors and/or customer service representatives ought not to be considered Conductors because the additional cost for someone with the job title of Conductor provides absolutely no benefit over someone doing the same duties that does not have the job title Conductor. With this stronger message, maybe after negotiations with the union, we eventually end up with the non-optimal but still better than current situation compromise position that you detail in this post.
    Otherwise you leave open several objections: If we concede that Conductors are necessary, how do you train (no pun intended) new conductors? It makes sense for assistant conductors to shadow experienced conductors, otherwise there's no "entry level" position.
    Doesn't reducing the number of conductors reduce the quality of the transit rider experience? They're uniquely skilled to do the wheelchair assistance, fare inspection, and ejecting unruly passengers, so really we ought to add more conductors rather than discuss reducing them.

    Let's put ourselves in the best position to affect change by taking the strongest position that we can logically, empirically and dispassionately support.

  5. If we want to remove conductors as well (not just assistant conductors): their hourly pay is 15% higher than an assistant conductor, and in total their cost is ~1.2 times what assistant conductors cost, although we don't need quite as many more of them for future service increases (I had assumed 1.5x more assistant conductors due to 7+ car trains each requiring two assistant conductors). As you can see in the TASI cost document, there are 25 (San Jose) + 7 (SJ extra board) + 16 (San Francisco) = 48 conductors in total. That's 96000 hours of conductor labor per year. Currently there are 38570 annual revenue train-hours, so for each revenue train-hour, conductors clock up 2.5 hours of paid time. Seems kinda high, even considering that their duties include tasks that occur outside of revenue service (pre-service checks, yard moves, etc.)

    Anyway, there was another $8.5 million there in 2019.

    Together, conductors + assistant conductors account for over 10% of the all-up annual operating expenses of Caltrain. They are still cheaper than the combined cost of the headquarters staff in San Carlos.

    1. …whereas (speculation mode on) a customer representative (without operational duties) would cost maybe 75% of a conductor (and be well-paid).

      Usually, roving inspectors are conductors with an additional training, which means that there would be no change cost-wise.

    2. Part of the low productivity for conductors and A/Cs is the work schedule allignment with train schedules, with a low frequency through much of the day, and especially on weekends. Running more services per day would reduce the cost per revenue hour.

  6. If we are moving towards self driving cars, can we move to self driving trains?
    And get rid of the engineer in the process??

    1. For urban rail, that has been reality for years already (Vancouver, London Docklands Railway, Paris Metro, Lyon Metro, Nürnberg Metro, Wuppertal Schwebebahn, etc. etc. etc.)

    2. Regionally I think the best shot we have at seeing self driving trains in the next 20 years is BART. With their signalling system upgrade (funded by measure RR) and movement towards platform screen doors, their "drivers/engineers" (nee door close button pushers) can be transitioned to customer service attendants. Let's see how fast conditions on BART improve once the union employees are no longer cocooned inside the cab and fare booths.

      For Caltrain et. al. I think there are a couple issues. From an upcoming hardware standpoint it'll be a tough sell without full grade separation (There's no cameras/lidar/radar on the new train-sets for object detection up front). Furthermore the PTC system chosen by Caltrain (and every US freight railroad) does not take into account the length of the train, so full communications based train control like the above mentioned metros and BART will require at a minimum a software revision by Wabtech.

    3. As cost of cameras, lidar and accompanying software goes down, one could envision installing a camera system at each crossing that can detect obstruction and provide that information to the cab and in the future PTC system. This might give the train engineer an extra 10 seconds to begin braking. Combine that with lighter EMU's better braking performance, vehicle strikes might be eliminated short of someone crashing through the gates.

      I heard engineers say that stopping distance Bombardier set is shorter than Gallery set, but I haven't seen any data on that. Anyone know? Is there a datasheet for stopping distance of KISS EMU (assuming it's same regardless of train length)

    4. The official datasheet from Stadler does not show much about braking power. It shows, however, a number which makes me think that the trains will have very serious braking capabilities (maximum braking power: 8000 kW). Also extrapolating from the starting tractive force (540 kN) we can expect pretty strong braking, with decelerations in the 1.3 m/s2 range (higher if the bogies were equipped with braking magnets).

      I presume that when the whole braking power is applied, you better hold on to a bar or a seat back…

    5. Thanks… in this case, you can expect pretty good deceleration over the whole speed range.

    6. Max, my reading is that 8000 kW is the regenerative braking capacity. Clem's copy of Caltrain's FRA waiver request http://www.tillier.net/stuff/caltrain/Caltrain_Waiver_Request_20180705.pdf, has nice diagrams (Appendix D)

      The waiver request says those brakes have to meet the rail when deployed. Which suggests they are for emergency braking only; not eddy-current brakes. Quote: the magnetic brakes "supplement the [...] dynamic and friction brake systems", consistent with the magnetic brakes being emergency brakes.

      It also appears that Caltrain staff, or their contractors, cannot distinguish dynamic brakes and regenerative brakes. :-/

    7. Huh? Regenerative braking is merely a type of dynamic braking where the generated energy isn’t immediately wasted as heat (as with friction braking).

    8. Then I guess it depends on one's dialect of English. In some dialects, regenerative braking and dynamic braking are mutually exclusive, with dynamic braking meaning rheostatic.

    9. In the context of emergency braking performance, you probably can't count on regenerative braking because there may not be a load to take the power. So the text sounds OK to me, although I'm unaware of any brake rheostats / grids on the EMUs?

    10. AFAIK, "modern" regenerative braking systems, like on the ACS-64 (Cities Sprinter) doesn't have rheostats/resistor banks. If it cannot put energy back into the catenary, it feeds the energy into the Head-End Power (HEP) used for lights, air conditioning, etc,. on the train.

      (Hm, I wonder what they do when running light, and have to emergency-brake.)

      I cannot imagine see an 8-car train consuming 8 MW in "hotel power". That'd be stopping with a bang, not a screech!

    11. When regenerative braking is the standard (as it has been in Switzerland for a century), the grid is set up to be able to take up that energy. This is not a big deal when the railroad uses industry frequency.

      Also, running on high voltage AC allows rather long sections, which means that there is always a consumer around.

    12. Looking at the specs for other Stadler products, and the Caltrain KISS acceleration, I expect that service deceleration would be 1.1m/s2 or 2.46mph/sec.

    13. Most likely, yes. It could even be a bit higher, considering the disk brakes.

      And for emergencies (or very slippery rails), the track magnets add as well.

  7. From today's new House transportation bill, see pp.835 "minimum crewing requirements":


    " MINIMUM CREW SIZE.—No freight train may be 9 operated unless such train has a crew of at least 1 appropriately qualified and certified conductor and 1 appropriately qualified and certified engineer. "

    Exceptions include:

    " on a track with an average track grade of less than 2 percent for any segment of track that is at least 2 continuous miles. "

    1. @aarond: that's not what the bill actually says. You quoted only one of three conditions for that exception clause. Besides, it's for freight trains, not passenger.

    2. I know. I still find it amusing regardless, as it means that UP has leverage to keep a 1% max grade across the entire Peninsula. It makes me wonder how things will evolve as discussions about Caltrain gradually drift east. Right now it doesn't really matter, but it would in ten years if ACE were to have the same demand as Caltrain does now.

      Ditto for suggested improvements to Cascades service which will draw upon CHSRA's successes (and failures) as they move to build a system across Washington and Oregon. In 20 years Caltrain will be the model all these other west coast systems emulate, for better or worse, and how freight traffic is negotiated will play a big part in it.

    3. This is Clem's blog, but my own plea: Please stop being disingenuous. The actual quote (line numbers within page from original; Section-char pasted as ''

      17 ‘‘(2) A train operated—
      18 ‘‘(A) by a railroad carrier that has fewer
      19 than 400,000 total employee work hours annu
      20 ally and less than $20,000,000 annual revenue;
      21 ‘‘(B) at a speed of not more than 25 miles
      22 per hour; and
      23 ‘‘(C) on a track with an average track
      24 grade of less than 2 percent for any segment of
      25 track that is at least 2 continuous miles.

      UP's revenue in 2019 was $5.9 billion. so the exception does not apply to UP.
      This rule gives UP no incentive to keep grades below 1% here, as they earn roughly 250x the limit. Your claim is nonsense.

    4. I stand corrected then, thanks

    5. you're welcome, and thank you for the reply.

  8. While discussion of removing conductors makes sense, I'd like the discussion to be in a larger context that accounts for:
    1) Unruly passengers
    2) Fare enforcement
    3) Customer Assistance (service)

    While I agree that for some of the use cases, 2 conductors are excessive and fare enforcement can done by roving employees that hop on and off at stations. We're also about to enter era where we don't need people to acknowledge signals (finally) and open doors - with new EMUs.

    Customer assistance can clearly be done at lower cost.

    I believe that some of the comments underestimate the role that current setup plays in dealing with unruly passengers. While there's a whole spectrum of "bad actors" and "bad behaviors", one just doesn't see anyone smoking crack between the cars or openly injecting themselves in a seat. I haven't heard of anyone defecating themselves, and while I'm sure someone had peed somewhere at some point, it doesn't seem be common enough to get reported on twitter #caltrain feed that I've seen.

    Let's say we remove all conductors, and some "bad actor" is smoking on the between the cars or openly injecting themselves, what is more likely to happen? Someone tweeting that publicly or calling police, holding the train and catching the person in the act?

    I think the conductor cost needs to look in the larger context of customer service, fare enforcement and unruly passengers. Would Caltrain's contract with San Mateo Sheriff increase in cost if we cut to 0 conductors? Probably. Would it offer savings at cost of customer satisfaction? Probably? How much is customer satisfaction worth and are riders willing to pay for it? Unknown.

    My idea for saving money:
    Run rush-hour trains - the ones that were packed >100% with 1 conductor. The crowds prevent effective Customer Service, bad behaviors and fare enforcement anyway. Keep 2 conductors on other trains. This will reduce the costs of the peak, reduce split shifts, while maintaining customer satisfaction and experience where the risk to it is highest.

    1. Cool. You've just made off-peak service more expensive, instead of almost free to operate.

      Cool, cool, cool.

      Here's an idea: instead of coming up with torturous ideas about why Caltrain is so special, just copy what actual grown-ups with actual useable rail service and non-laughable ridership and non-disastrous costs do.

      (FYI One of those things is not really operating to separate "peak" timetables at all -- just make some trains a longer, and perhaps throw in a few peak-of-peak extra trains, with their extra staffing costs, only when those means are exhausted.)

      If imitating successful adults doesn't work for some incredibly special Northern Californian geological or fog-prevalence reason -- and by "doesn't work", I don't mean "is actively sabotaged by and strangled at birth by the existing comfortably non-achieving agency staff and existing rent-seeking and feather-bedding contractors" -- then you can try to come up with clever Northern California bespoke solutions.

      Or maybe the real problem here is that it isn't 1950 any longer, "bad behavior" and all?

  9. California Assembly wants present HSR Authority's plans halted.


    1. It's going to be more of the same: the actual financing part will be subject to politics, and the exact details of how CHSRA will build and when will be determined by the legislature.

      Taken at face value it means Caltrain's parts of the project are probably going to get money sooner rather than later. The legislature wants a continuous power system built from SF to SJ first then from SJ to Merced before they approve it in the Central Valley.

    2. CAHSR management should have attempted to politician proof there plan. As soon as they had 20 miles of ROW they should have issued a (flexible) contract to lay the track and power cables at the rate of 20 miles per year and ordered the EMU's for staggered delivery starting in 5 years time for testing purposes. Difficult (expensive) to then cancel it. PS. you'll guess I don't trust politicians.

    3. aarond writes (05 June 2020):
      "The legislature wants a continuous power system built from SF to SJ first then from SJ to Merced before they approve it in the Central Valley."

      Over whose track between SJ-Merced, does the Legislature want to hang OCS?
      Union Pacific's track? Good luck with _that_ !

  10. Speaking of excess crewing, Caltrain also has incredibly inefficient equipment use.

    Fewer trains (= lower crew salaries, somewhat reduced maintenance) to provide superior levels of service -- measured not in "trains per day" but according to some actual service to human beings seeking to travel between quantifiable origins and destinations -- is something that an agency that is not just about contractor welfare would be looking at really hard right now.

    Here's what you can do with 10 in-service peak trains, providing 30 minute (good luck needing more than that even at peaks for the next year, and of course more than twice as good as Caltrain's hideous non-peak "service" today) headways:

    https://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2020/01/electric-timetable-contest.html?showComment=1589225732470#c4388493982408055209 ("45dwell Belmont 2+2 -DTX -Oak +HP -Overtake")

    This is without level boarding, with today's crazy padded run and dwell times, and requiring the construction of a single crossover m Belmont.
    Now would be exactly the right time to install the crossover and "control point" that goes with it.

  11. I totally agree with you that today's operating cost structure is a burden that hinders service growth. A very urgent problem, very much!

  12. California Assembly rejects the Authority's 2020 Business Plan and its future plans for the project.

    Led by Assembly Transportation Chair Frazier, Assembly resolution HR-97 was passed on June 11, with 63 of the Assembly members co-sponsoring in a bi-partisan action.

    This resolution assures that the Authority will not get approval for the $4.2 billion remaining of Prop 1A bonds until or unless new plans acceptable to the Assembly are proposed.

    The video of the floor discussion can be seen at:


    The HR-97 section starts at 2:39:30 into the video and is about 25 minutes long.

    HR-97 text can be found at:


    1. Does this impact funding for CP-5? If CP-5 is not completed, does CHSRA have to repay the ARRA funding it spent so far?

    2. It would seem for sure that electrification in the Central Valley would be put on hold; also the extensions to Merced and Bakersfield; funds to go elsewhere. Also possible loss of Cap and Trade revenues being diverted away -- different Legislators have different ideas.

      The HR-97 discussion and approval on June 11th, can now more conveniently be viewed from YouTube at this link.


    3. Dan Walters has just written a article with his views... see


    4. Does the assembly have the authority to block a state prop?


    5. Prop 1A only provided $10 billion. All the rest of the money (about another $10 billion to get the Central Valley segment functional) has to come from federal support, general obligation bonds, direct appropriations, and sources like that (and which are insufficient presently). The need for continuous operating subsidies (which would violate Prop 1A) is also looming.

  13. That *might* make sense if Metrolink had some decent shovel-ready projects to fund like electrification.

    On the other hand, getting money for local upgrades is relatively easy. For example, HSR chipped in 33% towards Caltrain electrification and got 51 miles of usable track for it.

    I think it's fine for HSR funds to be used to leverage relatively easy to get federal and local funds, but not use HSR exclusively for local service that can more easily be funded with local taxes.

  14. If you've been wondering how Virgin's Las Vegas service will integrate with HSR, it's time to burst the bubble. Plan is to meet Metrolink in Rancho Cucamonga on the San Bernardino Line rather than in Palmdale.

    I suppose that adds pressure to at least double-track and maybe electrify the San Bernardino line to provide more capacity to reach Union Station, but it reduces pressure to complete the LA-Palmdale segment.


    1. "Alternative plans, which Virgin Trains says are still viable, would see the line turn west from Victorville to connect to Palmdale, about 65km north of Los Angeles."

    2. If only the CHSRA builders were still concentrating on the tehachapi pass tunnel and the rest of the line to LA, that would actually make their service more viable.

    3. "If only the CHSRA builders were still concentrating on ..."

      They've been concentrating on Fremont-Berryessa (BART clusterfuck) and SF-SF (Central Subway clusterfuck).

      Soon they'll be concentrating on Berryessa-Santa Clara (BART clusterfuck) and ... "whatever".

      What will "whatever" ever be? Will "whatever" be "high speed rail"? Will "whatever" be Las Vegas, baby?
      "Whatever" will be whatever costs most and delivers least. It always has been and always will be.

      WSP=PBQD and Tutor-Saliba and friends can always deliver that, the very least, and they make sure that the least, and only the least is the only thing that is ever delivered, and the only option that is ever on the table.

      You job, citizen? Ensure that "the tehachapi pass tunnel" is total bullshit at maximal cost. Then, and only then, will this project be chosen. You know what to do!

      Duty now for the future, citizen!

  15. On the other side of the Bay, what's now Valley Link released a track diagram, complete with expected vehicle speeds. This was done just before the Alamada CTC approved reallocation of BART Livermore money to VL and a new Irvington BART station. The latter is a bit strange since, if Caltrain manages to get Dumbarton financed, a Shin Park station would be far more useful.



    For as much as we sit here and talk about SF-Gilroy, there will eventually come a point where Transbay service is considered. If you think Caltrain modernization is fun, imagine how fun 60 tph through Fremont would be. Also, VL units are low floor in any case and ACE-compatible units (as those studied in ACEForeward, which VL is descended from) would as well.

    1. With a relocated BART station, could the station be done to work with both Dumbarton Rail and VL? Or perhaps run VL across Dumbarton to Caltrain?

    2. If we had a plan and thought about interchanges, and if every service didn't need its own brand, maybe... Millbrae Caltrain/BART is about as good as it gets in the Bay Area. Let that sink in.

    3. Interestingly, someone added "Irivington Station (proposed)" on Google Maps. It'd be located at the corner of Washington and Osgood.

    4. Interestingly? It's hardly a secret plan: City of Fremont's Irvington BART station project web page

    5. I appreciate the link. That's what I get for falling asleep at my computer and not checking first.

  16. Speaking of "unbearable" and "unbearable costs", Caltrain's current timetable is really something to behold.

    Plugging the not-off-peak insanity into the Taktulator (which is crazy-stupid-making, because they don't operate a consistent timetable even for two hours, we find that Caltrain is padding its pointless "limited" trains' runtimes by thirty five percent -- and that after modelling each and every station as having a 45 second (250% of what any remotely capable regional rail operator would use for such a low-ridership line). Recall that something between three and seven percent timetable padding is what any such aforementioned remotely capable regional rail operator might find acceptable.

    The "local" trains are padded 25%.

    So yeah, that "limited" service is sure attractive -- especially randomly skipping stations like Redwood City and Mountain View for no reason at all aside from maximal inconvenience in order to have "faster" end-to-end times ... padded by 35%.

    Mind boggling. 9 different stop patterns -- and that's ignoring the total randomness of Tamien "service".
    At least

    202006 AM (with pretense that Tamien has regular service)


    1. ...

      202006 PM (again ignoring real-world Caltrain's Tamien irregularity.)

      The line continues to be run solely as an employee and contractor welfare operation, with less than no regard for riders or taxpayers even as an accidental side-effect.

      Really, why bother? Just stick a fork in it.

      But you know the story: COVID-19! COVID-19! Stable funding source! Stable funding source! COVID-19! COVID-19!

      PS one could -- but Caltrain's professionals choose not to -- just run a train making the same stops every 20 minutes -- you know, "peak" service at the level of BART's worst off-peak service on its least-used lines. Even with crazy 25% padding and inexcusable 45 second dwell times it comes out ahead for what riders there are who have no choice but to put up with Caltrain. 25% pad 45 dwell 20 headway single-track Hillsdale

  17. SF Chronicle 7/10/2020

    Plan for high-speed rail rolls out for San Francisco to San Jose — but with little cash


  18. "[Programming note: while the current pandemic may appear to make the discussion below irrelevant, consider that by 1920, there were few memories of the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Jammed peninsula commutes will be back sooner than you think!]"

    The good news: in 30 years or so I'll be dead.
    The bad news: in 30 years or so your grandchildren (assuming your kids are so reckless) will be awaiting level boarding on Caltrain.

  19. Legitimate trivia question: what is the maximum allowable deflection for a mounted signalling pole? With all the wind today the new signals above 25th av seemed to be deflecting about 6". Also, I thoroughly enjoy the love handles propping them out of the structure.

  20. SF Chronicle: Caltrain might have to shut down after supervisors scuttle sales tax measure


  21. Defund the Conductors!