13 March 2022

News Roundup, March 2022

It's been a while since the last post, but fear not this blog is still alive.

Caltrain's First Major Accident: on Thursday 10 March 2022, a southbound train was unable to stop before ramming into at least two rail-going flatbed crane trucks being used by an electrification construction crew. 13 people were injured with five requiring hospital treatment; thankfully there was no loss of life. With the new positive train control (PTC) system in place, this collision should never have happened. The fact that it did has drawn scrutiny from the National Transportation Safety Board, which dispatched an investigation team to the site of the accident in San Bruno. The causes of such accidents are often multiple, subtle, and complex, and it will take more than a year to assemble the evidence, identify root causes, and draw out lessons learned. NTSB staff reported some preliminary points at a press conference on March 11th:

  • The impact occurred at approximately 60 mph and the train came to a stop over a distance of over 500 feet.
  • The PTC system is designed to prevent train incursions into established work zones.
  • The PTC system was on and active on the accident train.

While we should be wary of speculation, it is possible to discuss additional relevant points:

  • Train 506 was due to depart Millbrae at 10:34 AM. If as stated the accident occurred just before 10:40 AM, then the train was several minutes behind schedule.
  • The head end of the train stopped at milepost 11.9, so impact occurred at about milepost 11.8.
  • Milepost 11.8 is adjacent to a staging area on the west side of the tracks that is used by the electrification contractor.
  • The location is less than a mile south of San Bruno curve, one of the sharpest curves on the entire peninsula rail corridor. The train would have traversed this curve no faster than the PTC-enforced maximum speed of 65 mph before accelerating again towards 79 mph after the curve.
  • The humped vertical profile of the San Bruno grade separation would have obstructed the train crew's view of the work crew's trucks until about milepost 11.1, at San Bruno Avenue.
  • At an average of 65 mph, the 0.7 miles from the point of initial visibility to the point of impact would have gone by in just under 40 seconds.
  • The 1.25% downhill grade towards the impact point would not have helped the train's emergency braking performance.

Unanswered questions include why were the construction vehicles and the train on the same track, why did the PTC system not prevent the collision, and whether there have ever been other near misses over the past several years of electrification construction. The NTSB report will tell.

May everyone hurt by this accident make a full recovery.

More Electrification Delays: while pole foundations are done, everything else is behind and slipping even from the new delayed schedule. The monthly reports for the project have been significantly abbreviated. The long pole in the tent is the grade crossing warning system, and it just so happens that the new program manager at Caltrain previously managed Denver's electrification project and has direct and personal experience with overcoming the great Denver grade crossing fiasco. From the December report to January, overhead contact system completion has slipped by 4 months. Oddly, after years of study and paying a nine-figure amount to PG&E for substation upgrades, the project is still embroiled in back-and-forth with the utility over how the large single-phase loads of accelerating and braking electric trains might throw the electric grid out of balance. One thing is clear, PG&E knows just how hard to squeeze Caltrain.

Electric Train Modifications: feature by feature, the EMUs are being downgraded to act like an old Bombardier bilevel train. The first EMU trainsets, numbers 3 and 4, are due in California sometime in April March 19th. They will sport two noteworthy changes not seen in any official photos or renderings. The upper set of doors have been sealed off (likely permanently) with window plug panels, and the automatic couplers have been downgraded to old-school AAR knuckle couplers.

Governance Politics: the three-county custody fight over Caltrain rages unabated, sucking all the oxygen away from critical planning for what comes after electrification. Momentum for the business plan effort seems to have stalled entirely. The two key upgrades yet to come are level boarding and a four-track elevated grade separation throughout downtown Redwood City, neither of which are being sufficiently attended to while the board's attention is fixated on questions of power and influence.

CBOSS Dumpster Fire Update: speaking of fires and PTC, the CBOSS case is still making its way through San Mateo County Superior Court (under case file 17CIV00786). Last year, Caltrain and Parsons (the CBOSS prime contractor) agreed to stop fighting each other and ganged up against Alstom (formerly GE Transportation Systems), the supplier of the flawed CBOSS software. Ten years after contract award, six years after breach of contract, and five years after lawsuits started flying, the case is coming close enough to trial that the parties have each prepared a trial brief that very nicely summarizes the making of this fiasco from their respective viewpoints. Here are hot-off-the-press direct links to the Caltrain & Parsons Trial Brief and the Alstom Trail Brief.

Update 3/19 - Board Workshop on Caltrain Finances: the slide deck for the upcoming board workshop to discuss what to do about the railroad's new fiscal reality (high fixed costs and only ~1/3 of the usual farebox revenue) is now posted. What is most remarkable is what is not in the slides, which are basically a giant shrug ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ in the face of the deficit forecasts shown in slide 46. If this is truly an existential fiscal emergency, one wonders why the cost of assistant conductors is not on the budget negotiating table. In 2019, the cost of assistant conductors was $7 million/year, and has since grown proportionally with more train service and annual pay raises, likely to about $8.5 million/year for 2022. With a further service increase to 116 trains/day when electrification begins, the cost of assistant conductors will exceed $10 million/year in 2025. While Caltrain is vulnerable to its labor unions and reluctant to raise such a sensitive matter, the time has come for the second conductor to follow the fate of other redundant and obsolete train crew positions such as fireman and brakeman.

Battery EMUs: from the "are you insane?" department comes a minor bullet point on slide 59 of the same packet, where an area of focus for FY23 is to "Advance sustainability through completion of PCEP and further exploration of potential for battery EMUs." Please don't. The whole point of PCEP and EMUs is to not be seduced by world-unique technical solutions and to not haul around many tons of battery dead weight. The only area that needs focus is to further explore the provenance of this shockingly idiotic idea.


  1. Thanks for the update!

    I was reading your older post about straightening and upgrading the curves (https://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2009/01/top-10-worst-curves.html) from 2009. Have any of the curves or problem areas been addressed as part of CalMod/electrification? I think it would be a good follow-up post to see where we stand with those 10 curves, and how that would affect operations.

    1. No, electrification is just (and only) that. No track or curve re-alignments.

    2. The SF-SJ high speed rail project will tweak some of the turns to raise their speed. The details are at:


      starting at page 2-74. You can dig deeper by looking at the design drawings in Volume 3 of the DEIR, which can be found at:


      San Bruno Station and Hayward Park are both modified to speed up the curves in the area.

      And FYI- The proposal for the high gas prices rebate floating around now would cost more than the construction of all the "urban" sections of HSR COMBINED. That's SF-SJ, Burbank to LA, and LA Anaheim. We have $9billion to placate whining about gas prices, but not to knock off these three sections of the HSR project, which would also benefit Caltrain and Metrolink.

    3. Thanks Michael for the references. I had put together a summary of the HSR curve modifications in this post.

    4. "We have $9billion to placate whining about gas prices, but not to knock off these three sections of the HSR project, which would also benefit Caltrain and Metrolink."

      I see nothing in the WSP-profit-center CHSRA scam that "benefits" Caltrain in any way. On the contrary.

      It's all negative, from end to end, it's all military-industrial-complex-level over-priced, it's all disruptive, it all ends up with worse Caltrain service, forever, even if any of it were ever "completed" in any of our lifetimes, which it won't be.

      Want to "benefit Caltrain and Metrolink"? Fund *meaningful* projects aimed at *improving* Caltrain and Metrolink service levels and efficiency.
      Want to benefit WSP? Just keep lighting the dumpsters of cash. For the children. For safety. For the future. For benefits.

      Sure, go ahead and drink the kool-aid, but don't shill for it. It's embarrassing.

    5. It's basically curve straightening, quad gates, and the HSR maintenance facility in Brisbane for Caltrain's end and electrification for Metrolink. What do you have against that? Is the $9billion better going for the rebates?

    6. "It's basically curve straightening, quad gates, and the HSR maintenance facility in Brisbane for Caltrain's end and electrification for Metrolink. What do you have against that? Is the $9billion better going for the rebates?"

      Wow, what a textbook example of whataboutism!

      OK, so in some entirely hypothetical world, the governor of California decides not to buy votes by a stunt that puts "gas tax" money into the pockets of drivers, but instead finds -- from somewhere! from a brand new funding source! A funding source moreover approved by the state legislature! -- nine billion dollars, which he then gives to WSP doing business as the fictional entity "California High Speed Rail Authority" (a fully owned subsidiary).

      WSP then launders the money, taking most off the top, and then throws a few tens of millions at Caltrain to launder to pay some roadwork contractors to install roadway medians and some quad gates.

      It also builds a maintenance facility for trains that don't exist running in a route that won't exist for decades, if ever, at a location that will soon be under water.

      What a deal!

      Jesus, if you want quad gates at Caltrain grade crossings for local purposes for local benefit to local drivers, just build them and pay for them directly from local funds.

      As for curve staightening, sure, deal with that in 40 years or whenever the heavy lifting of building the Tejon and Altamont Pass rail routes has been done and there's some engineering-economic justification.
      In the meantime, it's of negligible benefit to Caltrain. (Not zero, but negligible. Benefits have costs. Small benefit / large cost = ignore it, move on, do something useful.)

      What Caltrain needs is LEVEL BOARDING, zero conductors (ONE PERSON TRAIN OPERATION), train and track maintenance productivity that is not out of the 19th century, and (the major capital project) a Redwood City turnback to massively improve passenger/train-hour efficiency.

      What NOBDODY needs is WSP DBA CHSRA pissing its added "expertise" in rail operations and planning into the lake of millions of gallons of agricultural feaces and urine that is Caltrain's "expertise".

  2. "I was reading your older post about [... FILL IN THE BLANK ...] from 2009. Have any of the [...] problem areas been addressed as part of CalMod/electrification?"

    Dude, it's Caltrain. It's America. It's the American transit-industrial mafia of limitless incompetent and limitlessly corrupt consultant scum.

    Of course NOTHING has been addressed.

    In fact, over the last decade (decades!) they've done nothing -- nothing at all, anywhere along the line -- that does not make Caltrain operations worse, does not make mixed Caltrain + purely-imaginary-HSR operations worse, was not maximally expensive, is not maximally disruptive of present and future needs, does not maximally interfere with future infrastructure programs.

    It literally is that bad.

    They've deliberately chosen the worst possible actions every single time, purely out of malice, because if it were "just" stupidity and incompetence they'd have done the right thing once and they haven't.

    * Separate HSR and Caltrain platform heights? Check.

    * No level boarding, ever. Check and check and check.

    * CBOSS. Death is too kind a fate, but the assholes responsible are still driving the clown car.

    * Quitely literally insane SFFS quadruple track configuration because non of the subhuman simians doing "planning" at Caltrain or CSHRA have ever seen anything anywhere in the world outside the Washington-New York? Check.

    * Every single past and every single coming grade separation, without exception, actively incompatible with track quadrupling? Check.

    * Every single past and every single coming grade separation, without exception, an absolute pork-fest of road and utility and "special community needs" spending, to the tune of hundreds of millions per single road crossing, actively incompatible with both train operations and with other adjacent grade crossing separation projects? CHeck and check and check.

    * Narrow-body, low-capacity (too much electrical equipment at seating level), never-level-boarding bi-level trains that come with a Special Local Needs premium of 70% cost over the same trains from the same builder supplied to operators who aren't ignorant assholes? Check.

    * Fucking totally irrelevant freight controls everything, forever? Check.

    * Overcrewing by a factor of 3 or more? Check. Maintenance practices and productivity from the 1900s? Check. Construction practices and productivity from the 1900s? Check.

    They've chosen to do every single thing wrong, every single time.

    But you know what the problem is? Lack of funding. More sales taxes! More earmarks! Transit is green! Safety! Do it For Our Children! We have a Business Plan!

    * Lowest conceivable capacity SF terminal, because who cares about moving trains, especially at the very busiest point of the line? Check and check and check.

    1. Imagine you were a politician, and wanted to show your constituents you were loyal to them. What kind of policy would you enact, one that benefits your constituents alongside with everyone else, or one that doesn't even benefit your constituents but harms everyone else? You would do the first, and thus your constituents would see that your cared about other things (e.g. improving the world), not about them. Politicians would do the second, specifically to show that they do not care about such things. Something similar happens in office politics in the places where the course of careers are determined by playing it. People's caring about doing good work and caring about playing the game trade off against each other, thus the people who want to advance must deliberately show that they don't care about doing good work.

      In an environment like that, you can only choose to do the good things if either everybody already knows you don't care about them, or else if you don't get to make the choice but have the choice forced upon you from an outside force. The latter isn't quite a contradiction, it just means that you need a strong justification for why, if only the outside force weren't there, of course you would have chosen the worse option, because you only care about loyalty and not about good things, but alas it is there and forced you to choose the good over the loyalty-demonstrating. That going into debt to pay for a lavish wedding ceremony is a bad idea is exactly why not doing it (with this stated reason) gets frowned upon. That you seemingly tried to go into debt to pay for a lavish wedding, but [the single bank you asked] refused to give you a loan for that, is acceptable.

      Lowest conceivable capacity SF terminal, because who cares about moving trains, does not care much about playing office politics, thus isn't a useful ally in it, thus doesn't get a promotion/raise/bonus.

  3. According to the CAC meeting 3/16/22, the AAR couplers are only for use during transport of the trainset and the plan is still to use the Schwab couplers for revenue service. There is consideration of outfitting our locomotives to have a coupler adapter to operate the EMUs in a push/pull configuration until electrification is complete.

    1. Interesting. I think it's a bad idea to push/pull EMUs with diesel locomotives, because this requires much more than a coupler adapter. Think MU cables etc. Better to suck it up and get PCEP done on time. Also, the Schakus are going to be highly exposed to grade crossing collisions, so I could see them getting delivered and stored in the same parts warehouse as the upper doors...

    2. I think the upper doors are probably gone. Transbay had already stated that HSR will have 1 dedicated platform and platform sharing will provide minimal to no operational improvements bar any service disruptions in the tunnel. With Transbay platform sharing now out, HSR can run whatever floor height they want such as European 20-30" or Japanese 50".

    3. The upper doors are being delivered for storage. I agree they will probably never be installed. Not sharing platforms is incurring huge additional costs at Mission Bay (the underground 4th and King) and will do the same at Millbrae.

    4. Re: not sharing platforms incurring additional cost … also at SJ Diridon? … and shared stations in LA Metrolink territory?

    5. Diridon is being redesigned with HSR as a partner. LA Union Station already received a huge check from HSR ($442 million) for the LinkUS project to rebuild which in turn would elevate the tracks and turn the terminal (stub end) station into a run-through one by building a viaduct over 101.

    6. Additional construction and/or operating costs incurred due to refusal or inability to share (i.e. requiring separate, dedicated) platforms do not magically go away when HSRA “is a partner” and helps (re)design and/or pay for stations and their approaches.

    7. "Think MU cables etc"
      They're gonna need this stuff anyway aren't they? It's not as if the Bay area is immune to the occasional outage.


    8. Caltrain is not going to keep a fleet of diesels fueled and ready for service in the event of a catastrophic event that kills all the power in the Bay Area. It would be out of the ordinary and wasteful. Caltrain will be plugged in to the grid at three places, Santa Clara, Redwood City, and South San Francisco. If power went out to all three spots, we'd have bigger problems than no Caltrain. Redundancy will allow outages to one to be covered by the other two. Here's how BART coped with the power outage. It's been thought of and solved many times, and keeping crappy, elderly locomotives in store is not the correct answer. https://www.bart.gov/news/articles/2019/news20191018-0

    9. "Caltrain is not going to [... utterly bat-shit insane sub-simian shit ...]"

      Oh yes it is! For sure it is. Without a doubt it is.

      Just look at the sidebar of this blog!

      ❌ Start with a good timetable
      ❌ Keep slow traffic in the middle
      ❌ Don't short-change Caltrain service
      ❌ Use a common platform height
      ❌ Convert to level boarding
      ❌ No elephantine stations
      ❌ Straighten some curves
      ❌ Banish heavy freight trains
      ❌ Avoid tunnels
      ❌ Buy extra-wide trains
      ❌ Use off-the-shelf train control
      ⁉️ Use poles, not headspans

      These people take what you might have regarded as "risibly, inconceivably, outlandishly, insanely stupid" and transform it into ... PROFIT. (Private profit that is, together with hugely negative train service.)

  4. > and the automatic couplers have been downgraded to old-school AAR knuckle couplers

    It's not like they were ever going to run these as multiple units were they? The platforms aren't long enough for two EMUs coupled together? So the only use for the couplers is probably for exceptional situations like ferry moves, etc.

    1. 150m trains (6 "cars") is the correct unit for 24x7 Caltrain operations.

      At peak of peak, a handful of extended 2x150m trains, operated on the same 15 minute takt as the rest of the day, is the correct way to handle peak loads.

      Note also that two 150m trains can "double berth" at a single 400m HSR-compatible platform separated by over 62m -- the length of a mid-platform crossover -- thus allowing long platforms at capacity-constrained locations such as San Francisco and Redwood City (or even San Jose) to serve more trains than tracks.

      Caltrain, of course, is not planning for 300m platforms, anywhere. Or 400+m platforms, anywhere, ever.
      Or platforms that serve train passengers anywhere, ever. (No level boarding, anywhere, ever.)

      Caltrain is not planning for anything.

      Caltrain does not do planning.

      Caltrain does do "setting dumpsters of cash on fire." Forever and ever and ever.
      So please do continue to fund whatever Caltrain whines for.

  5. Battery EMUs are being considered in other cases, too. e.g. https://www.stadlerrail.com/en/media/article/stadler-manifests-market-leadership-in-alternative-drive-technologies-db-regio-orders-more-battery-operated-trains/1080/

    1. Notice that it is DB Regio ordering them. That is, to serve rural branchlines, with 1-2 cars every hour (or half-hour). The passenger numbers generated by the villages and small towns are simply too small to justify putting up a catenary the way they would normally do (i.e. have already done) on suburban/S-Bahn routes with long trains running at high frequency. The contest is between DMUs and BEMUs in this "runner-up" category (where the lines haven't been altogether closed and replaced with buses).
      "Hey Hans, on lines that have only 1-3 single-car trains, maybe it wouldn't be stupidly expensive to power them with batteries instead of a diesel engine? Hm, good point Gerhard, let's run an experiment i.e. buy some BEMUs and see how they perform. Then in a few years, we'll know whether -- when a DMU needs replacing for some reason, such as having become too old -- to replace it with a new DMU, or with a new BEMU."
      Running a high-traffic line (long trains at high frequency) with onboard power generation (be that steam, diesel, battery, etc.) rather than a catenary is simply inefficient. Scale effects. If your plant needs to move 1-ton packages a few hundred meters once a day, you buy a forklift. If your plant needs to move 1-ton packages a few hundred meters once a second, you buy a conveyor belt system -- not hundreds of forklifts.

    2. I assume BEMUs are being considered as an option for service south of Tamien to Gilroy. This is effectively a rural branch line with all of 6 trains per day at present. The actual tracks are owned by Union Pacific which will never allow catenary to be built. Which leaves the options of continuing to run some diesel trains for through service to Gilroy, cross platform transfer at Diridon or Tamien to diesel trains (or DEMUs), or hybrid BEMUs that can charge under catenary and then run through on battery to Gilroy. There will be no easy solution until dedicated HSR tracks are built to Gilroy,

    3. In a sane world, VTA would fund some Capitols starting in Gilroy to provide service south of Tamien, scheduled to meet a northbound Caltrain service originating at SJ/Diridon. Instant service to the Great America station and points north and an easy cross to the NB Caltrain. No need to make sure there are "Caltrain" branded trains that need venture out on non-electrified tracks, powered by whatever. But that's in a sane world.

    4. and if they're insisting on one-seat rides on caltrain-branded trains, the obvious thing to do is tow EMUs with MP36s fitted with coupling adapters. simple enough operationally to decouple at diridon, and more than enough platforms to do it.

      performance will be awful, but who cares

  6. Preliminary NTSB report has been released and seems to suggest human error. Track warrant was released by the hirails while still on the main track


    1. How common is it for rail maintenance/construction vehicles to carry PTC transponders?

  7. Just your periodic reminder that the very stupidest, most unprofessional, most corrupt, and lowest achievement humans "work" for Caltrain, funnelling your taxes directly into their pockets, while delivering less than zero, decades late.

    Hey, anybody seen the $300+ million the Caltrain scumbags hoovered up on the CBOSS "research project"?

    Also a reminder that Caltrain's "Stadler" KISS EMUs cost more than 50% more than actual Stadler KISS EMUs delivered to agencies that have a single fucking clue about operating rail service. Remember that when the sleazebags come begging for more money for "more service".

    Anyway can anybody imagine anybody on the planet less qualified to be "developing" any sort of rail equipment than anybody who has ever worked for or pulled the strings as a consultant "to" Caltrain? (Or any other US transit agency, for that matter.)

    Jesus. There is no bottom to the barrel.

    Buried on PDF page 27 of the agenda package for todays Caltrain Finance Committee meeting (Monday 25 April 2022 13:30:


    26. Electric Multiple Unit (EMU) Hybridization - $350,000

    Supports Caltrain’s emerging partnership with Stadler and the State of California around the development of a hybridized EMU capable of off-wire operation. A dedicated project manager and engineering support will lead Caltrain’s participation in R&D efforts. Substantial additional funding is expected to come from the state but Caltrain will incur initial costs to advance this work.

    1. Obviously my comment -- I'm no anonymous coward.

    2. Begs to wonder why they didn't order bi-mode EMUs to begin with. Hitachi has the Class 800 in the UK where it runs on 25kV catenary for the HS1 alignment and on diesel for the rest.

    3. "Begs to wonder" why some shitsack in some shit backwater I can google in English is doing insane shit that anybody else would dismiss outright. (Hey, maybe we can hire these bi-modal geniuses as consultants on our new hybridized development program! ADDITIONAL FUNDING IS EXPECTED!)

    4. What Else is There?04 May, 2022 17:01

      Richard, don't worry. The Hybridization R&D "effort" will soon be upgraded to a "Project", requiring the solicitation of a "Program Delivery Support" contract to be won likely by Parsons.

      Then, under the watchful billable eye of Parsons, another "Hybridization Engineering Support" contract will need to be let to obtain "world-class engineering expertise to develop Hybridization for the US Market", likely to be won by LTK. Then, the team of LTK and Parsons will produce lots of "Monthly Status Reports" and meetings with Stadler, to eventually decide to import exactly whatever BEMU powertrain is already sold in Europe.

      A contract modification will then be ordered to "obtain FRA concurrence on new BEMU powertrain" at the cost of several more $M. After months of delayed testing, a poorly assembled US-made BEMU will roll onto Caltrain property, where "Integration Testing and Workforce training" will occur, likely with another contract modification. If all goes to plan, the BEMU will roll onto the mainline and do... something. Of course, if all doesn't go to plan, Caltrain can always hire more "Legal and Strategic Support" to determine how to best NOT get their money back, and hire "Control and Financial Support" from one of the usual suspects like KPMG or PWC to determine where the money went.

      Hope this assuages your fears! Highball on the green!

  8. Just a quick news roundup note, since nobody else has noted it: Toronto's regional rail system-wide electrification modernaization will be using the western-world standard ETCS/ERTMS signalling and train control system.

    Caltrain, of course, pissed away OVER THREE HUNDRED MILLION PUBLIC DOLLARS (repeat: $300+ million of your tax dollars) on the "fun project" (former Caltrain "Chief Transformation Officer"'s term) of CBOSS.

    Note that nobody at Caltrain, retired with triple pensions from Caltrain, serving as Caltrain's interim executive director, or at any of Caltrain's perma-temp consultancies is serving jail time, has been fined, has been demoted, has suffered any career embarrassment, has lost a single cent of pay, or has done anything but massively profited from this debacle.

    Repeat: $300+ million of outright, unambigous, unquestionable fraud was committed by Caltrain staff and Caltrain consultants and Caltrain vendors with zero consequence. Always remember this when Caltrain comes begging for "stable funding" in order to provide "more service" "in the future".

    Note also that Stadler AG -- the extremely competent and successful global rolling stock vendor, not Stadler USA, the nominal vendor of Caltrain's 50% over-cost new train fleet -- develops and deploys standards-compliant ETCS in-house. But hey, you don't get 50% cost overages by going with standards, eh?

    1. Would it be fair to say that the 50% over-cost is due to Stadler having to launder their trains into the US? As in, the Buy America rules say that any importer has to spend that +50% to employ people to do ...nothing, potentially, but as long as they are paid, the importer gets the stamp of approval for "value added in America"? Comparable to the Foreign Dredge Act (1906), but not quite as bad. (In that case, the American industry basically doesn't exist because the market is tiny, but the law is written in a way that foreign companies simply cannot do those tasks that do exist -- not overpriced, cannot, since the law stipulates that their equipment would be seized if they tried.)

  9. Also of interest, this video describes Toronto's migration plan to level-platform boarding: