Posts Tagged ‘Caltrain’

As part of the “blended” plan, Caltrain and CHSR will be sharing the same tracks and stations. It would be a no-brainer for trains to have compatible platforms, right? Indeed, staff from both agencies announced (just days ago) that they would be doing precisely that.

And yet someone at the CHSRA didn’t get that memo. In a spec published just yesterday, the HSR trains are to have a floor height of 1295 mm (51 inches). This spec will serve as the basis for a train procurement process that has now begun.

1295mm is incompatible with Caltrain requirements. It really makes no sense — other than being compatible with the NEC. Why are they trying to maintain backwards compatibility with a rail line thousands of miles away?

Besides the platform height, there are other problems with the HSR train spec. These “off-the-shelf” trains are supposed to comply with both Buy-America and Buy-California rules — even though there are no high-speed manufacturers in California or the rest of the country.

The spec also has a requirement for 220mph operating speeds. As noted by the Peer Review Group, 220mph is not needed until the entire SF-LA line is in service:

It may not be optimized to have all trains running at 350 Km/h, particularly those trains with several intermediate stops. Very high speed is only needed on a long distance range and/or when high-speed rail is competing with air.

The 2014 Business Plan optimistically predicts LA-SF route will not be in service until at least 2028. Realistically, it will be decades before LA-SF is in service. Until then, the CHSRA would be running a strictly regional service — and regional services do not require extremely expensive HSR trainsets.

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Bikes or Bathrooms?

Caltrain is spec’ing its new electric railcars. The agency will have to decide what is more important: bikes or bathrooms:



In the bad old days of Caltrain service, a passenger might have to wait as long as two hours just to board a train. With electrification, Caltrain will offer much faster service, operating at BART-level frequency (we hope). There is no reason to continue with the on-board bathrooms — let alone 5 per train. There are better uses for that space.

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Dumb question….but why is Caltrain adding more signals?

In December 2012, Caltrain started construction of the second phase of the Signal Optimization Project to place into service additional signals in the cities of San Mateo and Redwood City.

Lead Agency: Caltrain

Contractors: Transit Constructors LP

Project Limits: San Mateo to Menlo Park

Construction Cost: $549,000

Began Construction: December 2012

Completed Construction: May 2013

Caltrain is already spending one-quarter of a billion dollars on a new PTC system. PTC cab signalling largely eliminates the need for trackside signals. Not having to spend money on maintaining trackside signals was supposed to be one of the benefits of the PTC system.

And no, this isn’t because of some stupid FRA rule. The FRA has signed off on signal removal by other railroads with PTC.

Contractors installing new signal

Contractors installing new signal. Note the giant signal house to contain the “complex” electronics.


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Make Room

Getting “bumped” has been a well-known problem for cyclists using Caltrain. But it happens to regular passengers as well:

Q. I took Caltrain to an event near the Giants baseball park on a recent Saturday evening, planning to return on the 10:15 p.m. departure. I chose Caltrain so I wouldn’t have to worry about parking near the stadium on game day nor driving after drinking. I tagged my Clipper card at 10:12 p.m., which should have been plenty of time to get on the train, but as I was about to go though the doors the gate agent shut the doors and stopped about 10 of us from boarding.

The agent said the train was full and we would have to wait until midnight for the next train. I am sure there was room to stand SOMEWHERE (in an aisle, on a bike car).

A Christine the Caltrain spokeswoman had this to say:

“Caltrain has a seated capacity of 650 passengers and is designed to carry several hundred standing passengers. In our effort to carry as many passengers as possible on these special event days, many trains are operating with more than 1,000 riders. People are standing in the aisles as well as in the vestibules by the doorways. The conductor is responsible for the safe operation of the train. It is up to his or her discretion to determine when the train is full.

While we would like to offer additional service, our ability to provide more service is limited by equipment and crew availability. Caltrain is exploring the possibility of purchasing or leasing additional passenger cars. Unfortunately, up to this point, we have not been to locate any available equipment.”

The problem isn’t just a lack of equipment, but also too many seats. Removing some seats (possibly converting to flip-up seats) is a quick and inexpensive solution. During off-peak times, it would permit more bikes to board. And it would accommodate the large crowds after ballgames.

Caltrain customers have been suggesting this for decades. So why doesn’t Caltrain investigate this solution? Because staff has been extremely stubborn about it, and continues to believe that maximizing the number of seats is the best way to run the service. Even though removing seats would increase capacity — and farebox revenue.


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Obligatory Upton Sinclair Quote

Dan Richard, Chair of the CA High-Speed Rail Authority, talking about his feelings on the Pacheco Jerry-mandering:

Before taking the helm of California’s High-Speed Rail Authority, Dan Richard told Gov. Jerry Brown that the plan was “really screwed up and going to end up biting you in the ankles.”

Richard didn’t like the idea of sending it up the Peninsula to San Francisco as opposed to traversing Altamont Pass. He also was in league with those who thought laying the rail along a stretch of the Central Valley was a bad beginning to the ambitious $69 billion project.

But that was then. Thursday, Richard told about 60 people gathered at San Jose State for a high-speed rail forum that he no longer has “the luxury of being a guy throwing stones.”

“Now,” he joked, “I’m a guy making $500 a month to make decisions” and has since had a sea change.

As Upton Sinclair would say, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

But even given all that, it is disappointing he is repeating all the same stupid falsehoods about the Altamont alternative:

Richard said he changed his mind about the path the train should take because the route must have a terminus in San Francisco, and swinging across from the Altamont would take longer, require a costly bridge crossing and trigger legal challenges.

Excuse me? Has Richard even read the EIR? The Altamont alternative — besides being faster and getting LA-SF service up and running decades sooner — would indeed terminate in San Francisco. And even with that “costly” bridge, Altamont and Pacheco were shown in the EIR to have similar costs.

As for these phantom legal vigilantes…please tell us who they are. If they were such a threat, then why no lawsuits against Caltrain’s Dumbarton Bridge project?

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As you may have heard, Caltrain has gotten a “Go” to install a modern signal system, paving the way for electrification and high-speed rail. The Governor, Sen. Jackie Speier, and other dignitaries were on hand to celebrate the new project:

The $100 million construction project aims to convert Caltrain into a modern commuter rail system with a new traffic-control system, smoother rails, and express trains that will whisk riders between San Francisco and San Jose past slower local trains in half the time. Besides track improvements, new crossovers, and rebuilding some stations, grade crossings, and a bridge, [Caltrain] will focus on two major projects necessary for express service: A new central traffic control system will allow trains to be switched from track to track from a central location….

Sen. Speier sees this project as a precursor to high-speed rail from Southern California. With California population still growing, “We can’t continue to grow by growing highways,” she said.

Ooops — my bad. That story was actually from 10 years ago.

That’s right: Caltrain already went through enormous cost and disruption to install a new signal system, called CTC, just 10 years ago. And transit advocates, at the time, were beside themselves with anger that Caltrain was wasting time and money installing a primitive system, which used wayside signals and was not at all compatible with HSR.

And now history repeats. A new-and-improved system, this time called CBOSS, will be installed. Another primitive system, again not compatible with high-speed rail (despite what the press reports would have you believe).

And what do you know — many of the same dignitaries (including Sen. Speier) are there attending the launch of the project. Don’t they remember they already funded this project once before? Were their memories wiped?

Oh, and to give an idea of how primitive these signal systems are:

Suddenly, a two-story tall, one-million-pound express train, that was not scheduled to stop at the station, came hurtling down the southbound tracks at 76 mph. The engineer hit the emergency brake. That slowed the train, but it didn’t stop until it had passed through the station. “There were some passengers that needed to move quickly to get out of the way of the oncoming train,” Ackemann said. “And I’m sure that there were some passengers, regardless of where they were, who witnessed this and were extremely frightened by the incident.” Usually engineers radio each other or use headlight signals to ensure the station is clear before an express train zooms through, but that apparently didn’t happen this time.

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PTC Fail

Here is some shock news. Rail operators are asking for an extension the Federal PTC mandate.

PTC (Positive Train Control) was mandated after the deadly 2008 Chatsworth Metrolink collision, when a train engineer was too busy texting to notice a red signal. The deadline for PTC implementation was to be 2015, but our “friends” at the American Public Transportation Association are arguing for an extension:

But a House bill that would dictate the nation’s future transportation agenda pushes back the installment deadline five years. Rail industry officials say more time is needed to deal with the complexity and costs associated with installing and operating the equipment.

“It’s still really in the product development stage,” said Rob Healy, vice-president of government affairs for the American Public Transportation Association, a trade association for commuter rail operators. “There’s not only a dearth of technology, but also expertise in terms of getting this installed.”

This is truly one of those facepalm moments. Automatic train control is a mature technology, not requiring any “product development”. ERTMS (to use one example) is an off-the-shelf worldwide standard. Instead, rail operators have taken a “not invented here” approach, leading to massive cost blow-outs and schedule delays.

BTW, here are some hilarious photos of the prototype PTC proposed for Caltrain. I feel safer already.



A printer…WTF? Caltrain’s PTC application states the following:

Thermal line printer technology which is currently used in various applications such as gas station pumps and rental car agencies could easily be adapted to the railroad environment. The small size and mobility make placement on rolling stock is a non-issue. However, close attention must be paid to maintain adequate paper supply. A document holder that will require relocation and available space for a printer to be mounted on the fireman/observers desk top are depicted in Figure 14.

In case you are wondering, the printer is to provide “hard-copy” confirmation of orders to the engineer. At least they aren’t using stone tablets.


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