07 January 2024

New Year, New Risks

It's 2024, the year that Caltrain is supposed to go electric. All the wires are up and six trains are already on the property (see delivery spreadsheet), with more on the way shortly. After years of delays, will they pull it off?

Seems like a good time to review five risks facing the project.

1. PCEP schedule slips - while monthly reports of the Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project continue to assert that the project is on track for "Fall 2024," a nebulous date that could well be the last day of fall or December 20th, there are worrying slips in the project schedule. The November 2023 monthly report (from the January board meeting packet, PDF page 131) revealed a three-month slip in the critical path compared to the previous monthly report (from the December board meeting packet, PDF page 159). Completion of live runs on segments 1 and 2 between San Francisco and Menlo Park was pushed out from 12/17/2023 to 3/16/2024. Three-month slips this close to the finish line do not bode well for finishing on time.

Tree down on wires (KRON4)
2. Trees falling on tracks - as reliably as atmospheric river storms occur in the Bay Area, large trees will continue to fall across the tracks. Previously, a few hours of chainsawing was enough to clear the blockage and resume service. No longer: trees will now damage the overhead contact system (OCS), requiring repairs to high voltage equipment before service can resume. On January 5th, 2023, a large eucalyptus tree fell across the tracks and did just that. According to a news report, service was interrupted for most of the day to safely remove mangled poles and wires-- and this without any urgency to repair them before restoring diesel service.
Another one, February 2024


The craziest part of this story: it took until September 2023, a gestation period of nine months, to complete the OCS repairs due to long lead times to procure replacement parts. While there would have been more urgency had the OCS been needed to operate the service, this episode highlights a lack of preparedness for what will become a routine occurrence. It should not take more than a few hours to get temporary OCS repairs completed, and the winter months of 2024 will provide valuable opportunities for practice.

(UPDATE 17 February 2024: it happened again and we're at two weeks and counting for the repairs)

To mitigate this risk: hold negligent tree owners financially liable for damage and delays caused by their trees falling on Caltrain, and aggressively trim back vegetation. Establish a well-equipped rapid response team of "squirrels" (OCS maintainers) who can quickly deploy to an incident site to perform temporary repairs that allow service to resume quickly. Keep this crew sharp by regular practice of repair methods, and stock an ample and ready supply of spare parts.

3. Grade crossing collisions - crossing wrecks are another frequent occurrence that will continue into the electric era, even if the new trains have much more powerful brakes that can avoid some collisions. With old diesels, you could cut, bend and weld beefy steel parts, quickly returning equipment to service. With an EMU, a collision can do more damage: crumple zones will crumple, and the fiberglass front-end mask and cladding will be potentially costly and time consuming to replace.

To mitigate this risk: improve crossing safety equipment and lighting, and grade separate the busiest crossings. Keep enough spare parts (including entire front-end masks) locally, so repairs don't require long lead times or a trip back to the factory in Utah.

4. Wheel flat spots in wet weather - while the new EMUs have the latest in computer-controlled braking technology, their swift acceleration and braking will put greater demands on controlling friction at the interface between wheel and rail. Throw in some moisture and crushed eucalyptus leaves, and even the best computer won't always get it right. It doesn't take much sliding of a wheel to create a flat spot, making that loud whomp-whomp-whomp sound. BART found this out the hard way, having to pause delivery of their new fleet while software changes were made. Caltrain's plans for a 75-minute local require very aggressive acceleration and braking, increasing the risk of flat spots.

To mitigate this risk: do lots of wet weather testing to find the limits of the software, and set limits to prevent train crews from driving too aggressively. Get lots of practice truing EMU wheels on the lathe.

5. Copper theft - there has already been a problem with thefts of impedance bonds, devices that allow traction return current (at zero volts) to cross signal block boundaries. These bonds are easily accessible on the track, but European railways have also experienced copper theft of live components energized at 25 kV by thieves who know their way around high voltage.

To mitigate this risk: secure valuable inventory, use identifying markings to prevent stolen copper from being easily sold for scrap, and maintain a large supply of spares to rapidly restore service in case of theft. Another job for the "squirrel" rapid response team.

In closing, it is commonly accepted that electric trains are more reliable than diesels, as one would certainly hope given how often Caltrain's decrepit fleet breaks down. Mechanical problems cause an average of 47 minutes of train delay every day, coming in third position after delays due to construction and trespassers. While new electric trains should bring this number down, electrification itself exposes service quality to new risks that Caltrain must anticipate and mitigate. Failing to control these risks can quickly turn electric revenue service into a fiasco. 2024 is the time for robust contingency planning.

63 comments:

  1. To mitigate this risk: improve crossing safety equipment and lighting, and grade separate the busiest crossings.

    Is this an actual reversal of a highly critical, strong unconventional alternative view of grade separations as being "for cars, not trains" instead of preventing conflicts and collisions, and related disruption of railroad operations? (For trains, mainly, obviously, plus cyclists and pedestrians, etc.)

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    1. That's a fair criticism, I've often argued that grade separations have near-zero value to train riders (latest rant here). I still believe this as a general rule, but for outliers like Broadway Burlingame, I think it might make sense, and sure enough the great need ensures that it becomes the most cost-diseased project because you can't put a price on safety...

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    2. It's fair to argue that the frequent service interruptions at crossings like Broadway and Churchill probably justify grade separation, apart from the obvious safety benefit.
      I don't understand how they can justify rebuilding Broadway station at the same time as the grade separation though. Caltrains own business plan says it is in the exact wrong place for a new station and can only be serviced by decreasing local service at adjacent stations. Why spend 10s of millions extra on this? They have survived without a weekday station there for decades.

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    3. All kinds of road users get over or under the tracks with grade separations, Clem. Paths for "vulnerable road users" can get their own crossings, too. It is an unquestioned other benefit of grade separations along with safety crossing railroads, which are a barrier to everything else on the ground, and while it won't happen, a viaduct would be ideal for all the reasons for grade separations, circulation or freeing of movement included. In fact, freeing of circulation, barrier removal, is great for travel and transportation, and offers so much an obvious benefit to localities, not the railroad, that it merits local participation and contributions to financing grade separations. It certainly outdoes e.g., reduced train horn noise.

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    4. Those are all fine, but just not at any cost. Grade separations have suffered some of the worst cost disease of infrastructure projects, as I discussed in this post. These projects have unacceptable opportunity costs: the money is usually better invested elsewhere as was described here.

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    5. More robust vehicle barriers (suitable for 111-125 mph trains even though those speeds aren't applicable to Caltrain service) are closer every year now to becoming needed and helpful where there are better uses of money than grade separations at any given time. The way things are going, they have been advocated for crosswalks, too, for example. (And for red stoplights, etc.)

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    6. None of the 6-10 average monthly train-delaying crossing incidents (vehicle-onto-ROW intrusions & suicides) stem from barrier breaches. So making existing barriers more “robust” would be misspent time & money. What’s needed is better lighting and/or new barriers between crossings and the ROW to stop confused drivers from mistakenly turning onto the tracks (almost always and only after dark).

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    7. Reality Check: Wait, are the accidents due to road vehicles entering a crossing and then just moving out of it (perhaps due to traffic)? If so then the solution would be to have sensors detecting vehicles and whatnot on the tracks. Might need longer times for the barriers/lights being activated (so that the trains are guaranteed to be able to stop if needed), but still.

      And/or are them due to trains entering the crossings without barriers / lights activated? If this is the case then something super weird is going on (unless it's some sort of rare shunting movements?)

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    8. @MiaM: so-called vehicle intrusions are when confused drivers turn off the paved crossing and “intrude” onto the right of way … whereupon their vehicles often get stuck on the tall rails … trains are usually notified before such vehicles are hit, but either way, a tow truck is typically required to come and remove the vehicle (or its wreckage). These almost never happen in daylight, so better lighting, signage, and/or barriers should help.

      Drivers often illegally queue up across the tracks. It’s not common, but they sometimes become “trapped” when other vehicles in front and back don’t move … the “trapped” drivers fail to timely maneuver safely off to the side or push forward or backward out the train’s path. In the even rarer worst cases, they also sometimes fail to evacuate and are hurt or killed.

      Crossing warning times vary by crossing and train speed, but must be a minimum of 20 seconds per federal regulations. Making them so long as to allow trains to reliably stop short of blocked crossings would result in politically unacceptably-long warning times due to increased traffic congestion. Long warning times also increase drivers’ temptation to beat the train by driving around lowered gates, creating a new collision hazard unless full-width so-called four-quadrant gates are added.

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    9. @Reality Check: Oh, well then better signage/lightning would probably do the trick.

      Also, how about some sort of surface that for sure is possible to drive on, but also alerts the driver that it's the wrong way? I.E. really bumpy, kind of like the surface that's used to warn drivers that they are about to weir onto oncoming traffic or away from the road?

      Btw, as a comparison, four quadrant gates are used in every decently populated area in Sweden while two quadrant gates are only used in rural areas and generally on roads with higher speeds than what's common within cities. (In cities it's common to have separate gates for bicycles/pedestrians in addition to the regular four quadrant gates).

      I don't know what the cost for four quadrant gates are in the US, but it seems like a no brainer to opt for them as the cost of installation and running cost would likely be less than the total cost for society for the collisions that they likely would avoid.

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  2. For item 4 (wheel flats), I'd also recommend the installation of variable-rate sanders, which can be used to increase traction in wet weather

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  3. Clem:
    A bit of proofreading of items 1 and 2 needed to use the year 2024.

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    1. Thanks, I fixed the one typo under item 1.

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  4. I feel like the wheel flats are a BART unique problem linked to the train control system designed by Bombardier that's unable to control wheel-slip effectively for each axle, but ends up slowing down all motors.

    What's ridicolous is that BART doesn't have a plan to fix this until sometime around 2028.

    Is there any evidence that Stadler's wheel-slip control allows for controlling each individual AC motor?

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    1. Wheel slip on acceleration is (relatively) benign, because it wears the circumference of the wheel evenly. Theoretically it could grind a dip into the rail (if the train is stationary), but that isn't much of a practical concern.

      On the other hand, wheel sliding on braking has been a problem since the invention of railways. A clumsy brakeman or an aggressively adjusted air-/vacuum brake could stop the axle and grind a flat into the wheelset.

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    2. It's software on all modern EMUs and all modern locomotives. There's a lot to it, but there is also a lot of experience, over decades, by motivated engineers who are good at their jobs. I'm not the sightest concerned.

      Now, on the other hand, Caltrain's shade-tree level maintenance ...

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    3. Is the EMD Class 66 a modern locomotive? German, French and Norwegian railways operate them.

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    4. Vectron loco acceleration wheel-slip close-up (with a bit of sanding)

      Interesting sanding/slip test (using a railhead-wetting nozzle!)

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  5. “Feel like”? “BART unique”? What rubbish speak! (Flats are not uncommon on Caltrain and UP freights.j

    Wheel tread flats are an age-old railroading problem related to braking force exceeding what the momentarily-available wheel-rail static coefficient of friction can resist … quickly resulting in wheel slide. Stopping a wheel slide requires reducing the braking force to even lower than what started it because the dynamic coefficient of friction is lower than the static one — and by then you’ve got yourself a noisy thump-thump-thump flat spot.

    BART’s (and possibly Caltrain’s future) problem with flats is that their standard braking profile is just too aggressive for slipperier conditions such as rain. So they need to dial back and/or smooth their standard braking profile whenever tracks are slippery … or do so all the time and not rely on always correctly figuring out when & where to do so.

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  6. Wheel flat spots because of "wet weather"? Unique California Conditions, those, never ever encountered in the sunny mediterannean climate of [checks notes] Bussnang, Kanton Thurgau.

    On the other hand, nobody could ever put it past Caltrain's renowned world class expert rolling stock consultants not to have put their own unique special expert stamp on the train brake control software. Because ... Unique California Conditions.

    They must have added value somewhere, right? Otherwise they'd just have been a 50% overhead on the train purchase contract, and that can't possibly be the case, right? Not in the very heart of cut-throat American capitalist innovation and competition, right? Right?

    Right?

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    1. You did know that another future user (so it is claimed) on the Peninsula, the High-Speed Rail Authority, has its own hiring. See example article here for a perennial plus a few others, local players.

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    2. For those not understanding, it means contractors as well as consultants, and more of their involvement with an operator (a future one, so it is said) on the Peninsula.

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    3. Why be so stupidly coy and cryptic with the context-free links, Roland? Just potinless.

      So here you go. Copying and pasting isn't that hard, it turns out.

      "Network Rail Consulting wins £57.5M contract for systems engineering on California High-Speed Rail

      Network Rail Consulting’s US office has been awarded a $73.2M (£57.5M) contract to provide systems engineering services to California’s High-Speed Rail programme.

      Services to be provided by Network Rail Consulting include asset management, rail engineering support and oversight, design and construction operations and maintenance oversight. It will additionally provide network integration and program compliance, start-up and commissioning, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) certification, rule of applicability, system safety and security, and track, systems and trainsets contracts commercial support.

      ..."


      The good news is that if you want abject failure, billions disappearing without a trace, limitless incompetence, Anglosphere cost disease metastasizing uncontrolled, total failue to ever deliver, and "our first language is English so there's that, but that's all there is", well ... is Network Rail the outfit for you! Just look at the UK's rail infrastructure accomplishments of the last decades. Great Success!

      It used to be that UK exported its failures as FILTH ("Failed in London, Try Hong Kong") but finally they have another colonial outlet as that one has dried up since 2000.

      Perfect match for CHSRA. Match made in heaven.

      We're doomed.

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    4. People prefer links here, embedded if possible, to copying and pasting. There was context included, just kept on the light side as an invitation to learn more. Sometimes copying and pasting for highlighting or other specific purposes is of use and I do it when it's a good idea, but chose the other way this time. None of what was posted should be too much of a challenge for anybody, though there are exceptions.

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  7. So here's a video to settle the debate about whether the EMUs will get flat spots. Sound up! Answer is: RESOUNDING YES.

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    1. These trains are undergoing tests, which likely include a lot of (planned and accidental) emergency braking, where wheels lock up easily (and, from the software side, nothing is done to counteract that). So the fact that the trains have flat spots now doesn't really say a lot about the likelyhood of having flat spots in service. Trains with performance similar to Caltrain's EMUs are in service all across the world without significant flat spot problems

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    2. Also, why the ungodly squeal at the end? It's a relief to hear (literally hear) that at least they use the traction system to decelerate to a slow speed, rather than using the friction brakes for that. However, as far as I know the "last mile-per-hour problem" of this drive technology has been solved and they can brake to standstill; and more certainly, non-squealing brake pad&rotor composition&design are mature technologies ("whispering brakes", Fl├╝sterbremse). Brake squealing is perhaps less loud than the noises associated with level crossings in the US (klaxons and horn-blowing), but it's another "being a good neighbor" consideration.

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  8. The High-Speed Rail Authority's chief, Brian Kelly, is quitting. To the extent that it and coming organizational replacements and shifts may affect what the Caltrain route gets and when, well, there it is.

    See the news here, for example.

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  9. In case you missed it, here is a report on the present Caltrain/Palo Alto grade separation situation:
    https://www.paloaltoonline.com/2024/01/25/palo-altos-rail-plans-in-flux-after-caltrain-review/

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    1. It's nice that Caltrain is finally engaging with Palo Alto, and letting them know that it's inappropriate to plan retaining walls, bike paths, etc. inside their right of way or impeding the full use thereof with less than full-width grade sep designs (for future four tracking).

      Would you let your neighbor build half their ADU across your property line?

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    2. (Palo Alto's answer would be "I wouldn't let my neighbor build an ADU at all".)

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  10. Mountain View's version of grade separation at Castro Street is to close it to cars and only allow pedestrians and bicycles underneath. With the cost estimate having doubled, plans are in flux ...

    https://www.caltrain.com/projects/castro-street-grade-separation-project

    https://www.mv-voice.com/city-government/2024/01/24/major-funding-gap-snarls-plans-for-caltrain-grade-separation-projects-in-mountain-view/

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    1. With Castro Street closed off, it seems a no-brainer to move the Caltrain platforms further north and integrate better with the undercrossing.

      And the new Evelyn-Shoreline ramp is completely wasteful and unnecessary.

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    2. Mountain View's January 23rd grade separation city council study session staff report and video here (agenda item 6.1): https://mountainview.legistar.com/MeetingDetail.aspx?ID=1125428&GUID=EC4CC194-9EDC-438B-9ACC-8E0E85AD9DBD

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  11. If MV moves tracks and platforms, let's at least coordinate that with making room for a 4-track station - similar to what RWC is planning. The extra trains bring extra passengers, boosting local businesses on Castro Street. That's not counting the business travelers visiting Silicon Valley businesses who won't have to choose between Diridon and RWC.

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    1. Unfortunately Caltrain recently decided that they don't need 4 tracks at this station and told MV they don't need to design their pedestrian crossing to allow it. This seems very short-sighted.
      I'd really like to see an analysis of what a cost-constrained HSR overtake in the MV-PA section looks like. 3 tracks at existing PA and MV stations with 4 tracks in between at reconstructed SanAntonio and CalAve stations would allow 3 station HSR overtakes without the 5 minute local train holds at CalAve and RWC of the
      current Moderate Growth plan.

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    2. Caltrain staff last week gave their Advocacy and Major Projects (AMP) Committee an short presentation on their 4 tracking plans:
      4-track Analysis — What we have Learned. The video of the presentation has additional spoken information along with the committee comments & questions: Caltrain Meeting Videos

      In a recent presentation to Palo Alto’s City Council Rail Committee, Caltrain suggested they have also ruled out additional tracks around San Antonio because it would trigger a complete rebuild of the old overpass there. Its columns are in the way, and, paraphrasing from memory: “standards have changed, and moving columns on an old structure like that will essentially lead to a complete rebuild.”

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    3. It must make people happy to see Caltrain using fancy software to visual speed bottlenecks like that.

      As an aside, has Caltrain ever mentioned increasing signal density around high volume stations? For example, when Baby Bullet catches up to a local train that is approaching Mountain View, the Baby Bullet gets additional delays.

      For example, if the local is at the MV station, the Baby Bullet remains around a mile away rather than stopping right outside the station because the prior signal is that far away.

      Additionally, when tracks are clear, a baby bullet will run at 79 mph and apply brakes to stop at the station. If there's a local train ahead that has already cleared Mountain View, the Baby Bullet will creep at slow speeds even though it could run at 79 mph and still stop at the station without any collision.

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    4. Signal spacing is based on the longest braking distance of trains that use the corridor, so it won't change unless UP freight disappears from the Peninsula.

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    5. Doesn't the PTC system know where each train is and what kind of train it is? For a freight train, and extra signal would simply duplicate the earlier signal. If PTC only knew that the next train is an EMU, it could set signals accordingly to provide more capacity. The extra signals don't need to be added everywhere, but focused on stations close to the passing tracks or stations with many trains stopping, like MTV, PA, RWC, Millbrae, etc...

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  12. At tomorrow’s Caltrain board meeting, the board is set to receive an extremely sobering presentation of the Strategic Financial Plan Update that the board’s Finance Committee received at their last meeting. You should really see that detailed video presentation (beginning at the 42:30 mark) of it for yourself, but the upshot is that even with the most optimistic recovery rate assumptions, ridership and fare revenues are NOT going to return to pre-pandemic levels for at least another 10 years, while projected O&M costs, particularly for electric power, EMU maintenance, and TASI (contracted operator) costs continue to soar. In round figures, Caltrain needs another $100-120m or so of revenue per year, or the rough equivalent of an another dedicated 1/8¢ 3-county sales tax.

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    1. Caltrain "service" is expensive, unusably infrequent, unreliable, loud and slow.
      One can't possibily imagine why people might not *choose* to use it.
      A total fucking mystery, that.

      But stay the course, Caltrain. Stay the course. Can't argue with "success". You've clearly got the best people following the best practices and implementing the best plans, or you would have shut-canned them all 20 years ago, right?

      PS 100000% of Caltrain "success" is Caltrans+SMCTA (who "run" Caltrain!) widening 101 *slightly*, just *slightly*, slower than single-occupant vehicle traffic for decades. Maybe there's some way for SMCTA to increase road traffic even faster than before, that way Caltrain can continue to be a "success" while still providing shit service, forever.

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  13. With testing underway now, have there been any critical failures of crossing gates or any other aspect of the signaling system? Wondering if the anticipation of Denver-scale issues have been successfully avoided. Thanks for any insight on this.

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    1. @Michael: here’s the latest update on $12m project to add Wabtec’s GPS & radio-based “Wireless Crossing Optimization System”

      Update on Crossing Optimization Project

      There have been copious complaints about substantially increased gate downtimes (and increased double activation cycles at crossings ahead of stopping trains) with the installation of 2SC.

      While they’ve only installed it at a handful of crossings so far the optimization system should dramatically reduce the inherently excessive gate downtimes (and double activations) associated with the new, klutzy so-called “dual (or two) speed-check” (2SC) fixed track circuit replacement for the old constant warning time (CWT) predictors. For example, slide 13 shows that with todays 104-train schedule, the new WCOS (acting as a 2SC activation inhibitor) is projected to eliminate 50 needless minutes (or 36%) of daily gate downtime at Sunnyvale’s Mary Avenue crossing alone!

      Note that only Caltrain’s trains will be fitted with the on-train potion of this system, so crossing users will enjoy no optimizations when any other trains (e.g. UP) or on-track maintenance equipment triggers the 2SC system.

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  14. It's pretty clear that with work from home, autonomous vehicles, and microtransit that rail transit will be obsolete. Why not abandon the line and use the Measure RR funds on subsidized rideshare and microtransit service for marginalized communities?

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    1. We know from the past how that works out.

      https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,3125842

      Traffic is nearly at pre-pandemic levels, which suggests that we're once again approaching the human pain threshold for traffic and we need other ways to accommodate growth. The transit rebound won't be as fast as the drop was, but it's important to use a 30 year mindset with instead of a 3 year one. Autonomous vehicles don't solve the traffic problem without dedicated right of way. Microtransit is for getting to the train station, not to replace the train, in terms of the distance that it best serves.

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    2. Yes, gadgetbahns don't scale to the throughput capacity that will be needed as freeways saturate again. Caltrain is like an overflow drain for 101 and 280. With lower road traffic and new express lanes, the overflow was... zero. But those days are fast coming to a close, luckily for Caltrain.

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  15. BART’s new Fleet of the Future trains are still suffering waaay too many costly flat spots in wet weather. BART reportedly has had to take as many as 5 afflicted trains out of service in a single day. Until there’s a fix, BART will be significantly slowing all trains in wet weather.

    Cars have suffered flat spots 385 times just since November. While the new cars are still under warranty, an internal memo suggests flat spot repairs will cost BART around $8,500 per car after it expires in the coming years:

    BART hit with more wet weather headaches

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    1. BART's spokesman, Jim Allison, has stated that there are no plans to address this issue within the next 10 years...

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  16. So that fallen eucalyptus shown in the picture from January 5th 2023? Its neighbor literally two trees over fell down in another storm on February 4th 2024, with exactly the same result. It is already two weeks later and I went for a look, and NOTHING IS FIXED. There are another hundred decrepit trees like it in the same crappy grove, with more storms on the way, and next year Caltrain service will be interrupted when (not if) this happens again. For how long will Caltrain be out of service? The clock is ticking, lessons are not being learned, and the opportunity to practice urgent catenary repairs is being blithely wasted.

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    1. On the other hand, the damage to the catenary near San Antonio is already fixed. Not sure exactly how quickly, but it was definitely less than a couple of days.

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    2. Remove all the eucalyptus from the ROW. "Encourage" neighboring property owners to do the same by sending them letters "reminding" them that they are financially responsible if their tree falls and damages the tracks or OCS/signaling.

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    3. @Peter: in light of the recent repeat of trees taking our their new OCS, Caltrain staff said they are working to soon have great numbers (well over 100) of trees on and adjacent to the ROW removed or substantially pruned. Owners of trees that are not on the ROW that have the potential to fall onto the OCS will be formally notified of their full financial liability exposure should that occur.

      Additionally they said they’ll be further stocking up on all necessary parts (eg masts, insulators, support arms, wire, cable, fasteners, etc.) and equipment so that quick repairs following OCS damage are not hindered by not having them on-hand in-house.

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    4. Maybe also add something where Caltrain offers to remove trees free of charge if the owners want them gone and don't want to do the job themself. Sure, technically it's out of scope for Caltrain to do that work, but it's beneficial for Caltrain to have it done.

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  17. 2&4:
    Trees falling on the line and leaves on the rails are related.
    In other parts of the world "tree securing" is a thing, i.e. removing any trees that if they fall might impede on the right of way for railways. Not sure if it would be possible to use eminent domain to just remove trees?

    Removing trees close to the rail also lowers the risk of leaves ending up on the rails.

    I have no idea if it would be politically possible, probably not, but legislation that only allow evergreens and bans trees and bushes with leaves within a certain distance to any rail infrastructure would be a great thing.

    3:
    Re grade crossings: How about installing the type of barriers that were designed to stop an invasion, that were found in certain West European countries near the former East Bloc? I.E. anyone driving a road vehicle and not paying enough attention to notice flashing red lights and barriers across the road would just run into some large concrete block. If the mechanisms and whatnot fails due to crashes, it's a problem for the road traffic and not for the railway, as the trains would be able to continue using the rails while repairs are taking place for the mechanisms that stop erroneous road vehicles. This would of course not be a great solution for society in general, but would at least move the cost from rail to road and make a great statement that it's the road users that cause the problems.

    5: I don't know how well it works, but I've read about wires that are made of a mixture of copper and aluminum. They are supposed to work equally well to regular copper wires while having almost no scrap value.

    Re markings and whatnot, while it's a good idea I think that you would need fire resistant insulation to ensure that metal thieves not simply burn off the insulation, and I doubt that it would be possible to make insulation that can't be burned at higher temperatures. Also, would there be pollution emitted when burning such wires?

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    1. idiot doom spiral28 February, 2024 20:52

      while impermeable barrier type grade crossings would allow for >79mph operations (<125mph to wit), to my knowledge these are not used anywhere in the US. and one can only imagine what horrors would unfold were caltrain to engage in an Actually Unique in the World.

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    2. To repeat: Caltrain doesn’t have a problem with crashes resulting from lowered crossing gates (“barriers”) being bypassed. Crossing crashes (such as tonights fiery crash into an unoccupied pickup truck in San Bruno) result from vehicles that got there before the gates activated.

      And as the HSRA’s approved EIR/S says, their planned quad gate installations at all remaining Caltrain crossings (as already exist at both of Atherton’s crossings for their train horn quiet zone) are sufficient to permit the HSRA’s plan for 110 mph trains. So no “impenetrable barriers” are needed.

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    3. Vehicle barriers as at military installations and US embassies here and there may be needed someday if train speeds are raised to 111-125 mph by grade crossings, though that's unlikely ever on the Peninsula. What about between San Jose and Gilroy, though?

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    4. @CaHSR’s EIR/S says they plan the same 110 mph top speed with quad gates installed at remaining Xings for Gilroy-SJ. The substantial added cost & hassle to install, operate & maintain “impermeable” barriers at Xings isn’t worth a small 15 mph (13.6%) max speed increase — so I’m pretty sure that’ll never happen.

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    5. It has been 110 mph SJ-Gilroy since the change in 2018 from high speed -- which you should still be able to see in the business plan for that year versus earlier. (Signals and gates come to mind when browsing the figures.) I don't believe any railroad ordinarily will bother to get an FRA approved design for a vehicle barrier (suitable for a larger truck, not a light-duty motor vehicle only, and moving at a realistically high speed) and spend the money on installing and keeping it maintained, but it was worth asking not only as a rhetorical test of ambition, but in light of how bad drivers are starting to become and another use for such barriers. The 111-125 mph train speed "window" is narrow and it always has made more sense to me to not spend money on a special design (or try getting an existing design and product adopted) and install and maintain it, with speed still limited like that. Grade separation makes more sense if more speed is sought in addition to basic sense in separating the trains from the road vehicle conflicts. The rationale I saw given for not grade separating SJ-Gilroy was associated with the kind of addled politics dominant in the state including in government now, rather than a sensible and normal kind of rationale such as that it costs too much for N people. That is the same stretch that was converted from high speed to more brisk conventional rail.

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  18. Forgot to mention: since covering impedance bonds with asphalt has failed to stop their theft by metal thieves, Caltrain’s electrification chief Pranaya Shrestha says they will need to be “hidden” (buried) … at extra time & expense (change order), of course.

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    1. Sounds like a reason as good as any for using a signalling system that don't need separated sections (i.e. standard for moving block systems), perhaps?

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  19. Caltrain staff presented its Peninsula Corridor Electrification Project (PCEP) Rail Activation Management Plan (RAMP) to the board’s Technology, Operations, Planning, and Safety (TOPS) committee yesterday. (acronym-palooza!)

    As shown on slide 12, impedance bond (and other) thefts remains in the top 5 project risks.

    Nobody at Caltrain is officially publicly sounding worried yet, but with each passing month the planned September start of electric revenue service seems to depend on increasingly more things going perfectly. ­čĄö

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