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Posts Tagged ‘CHSRA’

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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The NEC is a legacy 100 year-old infrastructure, whereas the Calfornia high-speed rail project is clean-sheet design. There was never a rational explanation as to why California should use NEC-compatible equipment when the corridors are so completely different. And now, thankfully, sanity has prevailed:

It became clear in meetings with manufacturers during the last few weeks that the requirements were too different to incorporate into one set of trains, said Lisa-Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for high-speed rail.

“The feedback that we got from the industry was that Amtrak and high-speed rail need such different things, it was almost impossible for them to build a train that meets both our needs,” she said. “We’d hoped that the industry had evolved to where they can accommodate both.”

The agencies concluded that too many compromises would need to be made to meet both their needs, which would “move us away from a service-proven design and create significant risks as to schedule and costs,” Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in an email.

One of the puzzling things about the CHSRA has been its inability to work with its California partners (Caltrain, Metrolink) on really basic things, like compatible platform heights and signal systems — while at the same time design its high-speed trains to be compatible with a rail line 3000 miles away. The NEC requires high-platform trains, which precludes Caltrain and CHSRA from sharing platforms. Hopefully, with this decision, Caltrain and CHSRA can at least use trains with the same platform height.

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Bike Accommodation On CAHSR Trains

When California voters approved funding in 2008 for their high-speed rail project, one of the promises was that the trains would not be like Amtrak. So here we are 5 years later, and it is Amtrak developing the trains. This will be a joint procurement between California and Amtrak (for its Acela service).

Amtrak just released the Draft Trainset Spec that goes into the things like the interior layout. The (sort of) good news is that the spec does require bike accommodation. California trains will have bike storage for a minimum of 8 bikes per trainset. Those of you on the East Coast will be shit out of luck as the requirement only applies to CHSRA trains:

For the [CA HSR] Authority, a bicycle storage area shall be provided, and designed to accommodate a minimum of 8 bicycles per Trainset. A dedicated bicycle storage area shall be provided, thereby reducing inconvenience to passengers. Bicycle storage areas shall be separate from wheelchair spaces and shall not block or otherwise impede emergency egress and access.

Special attention shall be given to the ease with which bicycles can be placed in the bicycle racks. It is expected that the final design shall include guide rails to help steer the bicycle into the correct position with minimal effort. Bicycles shall be secured as low as possible and designs requiring the lifting of bicycles over fixed objects shall be avoided.

Suitable graphics shall be provided on the exterior of the Vehicle, identifying the doors to be used for bicycle access. Interior graphics shall also provide instructions for using the bicycle racks.

To put in perspective, the existing Amtrak San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor services permit 22 bikes per train. So 8 bikes per train isn’t great, but better than nothing.

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US transit planners have a poor record with integrated transit planning, and designing accessible stations. So will California HSR learn from those past mistakes? It seems unlikely, to judge from a recent workshop moderated by Jeff Morales of the CHSRA.

I note in particular the presentation by Stan Feinsod (of the “National High-Speed Rail Connectivity Center”). His talk on station access not once mentioned bikes or pedestrians. And it is curious that the panel included an aviation security expert (though thankfully he didn’t go full TSA).

On a positive note, Armin Kick of Siemens gave a good talk on interoperability (skip to the 29 minute mark in the video). By using real-world examples from German HSR lines, he shows how regional and commuter services can exploit the new HSR infrastructure. To do that, they all must use the same platform height, and the same signalling standard (hint: not CBOSS).

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The Three Stooges

In case you missed it, here is video of the Amtrak Press Conference — where it was announced that California will be buying Acela-2 trainsets.

And if you were wondering how (or why?) a single trainset may be designed for both the NEC and CHSRA, you can listen as John Boardman explains that it is simply a matter of switching the trucks…or um, something.

And if you were wondering how this will reduce costs for California, you can listen as Jeff Morales explains that Buy-America policies, and a proprietary FRA spec will increase their buying power…or um, something.

Actually, the entire video is a huge embarrassment to the profession. I suggest having a lot of stiff drinks to make it through all the cringe-worthy moments.

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One of the puzzling things about the CHSRA has been its inability to work with existing partners. For example: Caltrain and the CHSRA are supposed to be sharing track and stations (as part of the “blended” plan) — but there has been almost no cooperation between the two agencies. Those new EMU trains that Caltrain will be getting with electrification are being designed without any input from CHSRA. Same for the new Caltrain signal system.

And now that mystery got a lot weirder. Amtrak and the CHSRA have announced they will be doing a joint procurement on train sets:

Amtrak and the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) are joining forces in the search for proven high-speed rail (HSR) train sets currently being manufactured and in commercial service that are capable of operating safely at speeds up to 220 mph on both Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor (NEC) and on California’s developing HSR corridor.

“This is about investing in 21st Century state-of-the art high-speed rail,” said California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Jeff Morales. “We are pleased to join with Amtrak and look forward to continued collaboration in the future. This is a natural fit since Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and California will be the bookends for American high-speed rail.”

Perhaps Jeff Morales isn’t familiar with North American geography? California and the Northeast Corridor are several thousand miles apart.

Seriously, it is really hard to come up with a rational explanation for this plan. The NEC is a 100-year-old legacy infrastructure, whereas the CHSRA is nearly a clean-sheet design. Why make California’s system backwards-compatible with a legacy rail system thousands of miles away?

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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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