When it comes to trainset procurement, the US is a bureaucratic and technological basketcase. Vendors have to navigate the byzantine Buy-America and FRA rules. You can get a sense of the dysfunction in the Questions-and-Answers submitted during the early stages of the bidding process for the new Acela rolling stock.

A number of questions regard the conflicting requirements. These trains are supposed to be “proven designs” and yet be made in America. Obviously both can’t be true. One vendor asks:

As the FRA will place unique requirements on this equipment, it would be helpful to provide an understanding of how much change will be permitted to a “Service Proven” design before it is no longer considered to be the same design.

Might a syntactic change be a way to get around this conundrum?

Because of the special requirement and constraint of Amtrak operating conditions…and Tier III compliance, a lot of design changes will be necessitated from the “Service Proven” equipment. Physical appearance might be different from the existing “Service Proven “equipment. As such, the requirement of service proven or a variant thereof should be read as “developed with proven technologies”.

Tier III compliance in this case means having to design around the ridiculous FRA buff strength requirement:

Due to the (not yet fully known) impact of the (not yet published) FRA Tier III requirements…it is likely that axle loads of “proven” equipment will exceed 17 tonne. The TSI permits operation of 18 tonne axles at speeds to within less than 5 mph of the maximum specified by Amtrak; consideration should be given to allowing this slight increase in speed over the limit set by the TSI.

The FRA denied that request, as well as two other requests to reduce the buff-strength requirement.

And then there is the problem for how to compute a price:

There are components which are not available in the US at the moment. How can we state the price to be made in the US? Shall we include an investment cost, technology transfer cost including patent? This requirement does not seem realistic.

So it would appear that the FRA learned nothing from the Acela-1 fiasco. The nonsensical design requirements will scare away bidders. With fewer bidders (plus the extreme cost of a full-custom trainset), the Acela-2 trains will probably be really expensive. Hopefully, Acela-2 won’t be as unreliable.


Plans are taking shape for the area around the new Warm Springs BART station. As typical for suburban BART stations, the plans entail large amounts of parking:


To give the neighborhood an urban-look, the parking garages are placed inside or below buildings:


For each residential unit within 1/4 mile of the BART station (i.e. 5-minute walk), Fremont’s zoning code requires 1.5 parking spaces . Beyond the 1/4-mile threshold, the requirement increases to 2 parking spaces. These parking requirements apply even to the affordable housing.

The fossil fuel industry receives a whopping $20 billion subsidy annually, in the form of tax breaks and royalty relief. That is according to a new report, G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production, published by the group Oil Change International:

The federal subsidies to fossil fuel producers represent an increase of 35% over levels when President Obama took office in 2009, in spite of calls to remove several major subsidies in every budget that the Obama administration has sent to Congress. This uptick in subsidies reflects the substantial increase in oil and gas producing activities in the US during that time. The vast majority of US national and state subsidies, by both volume and number of subsidies, come in the form of tax breaks and royalty relief, rather than direct spending. Tax and royalty exemptions for oil and gas producers are among the largest federal subsidies for fossil fuel production in the United States.

Alex Doukas, the study co-author, notes that tax breaks are largely to compensate for the cost of new oil and gas exploration: “We’re subsidizing companies to search for new fossil fuel reserves at time when we know that three-quarters of the proven reserves have to stay in the ground if we hope to avoid the worst impacts of climate change,”

From Scott Adams:


Here is a presentation by Mobileye Co-Founder, Chairman & CTO Prof. Amnon Shashua. Mobileye is one of the technologies used for Tesla’s autopilot feature.

Historically, the field of computer vision went through many decades with little to no progress. So to see such impressive results in a very short amount of time is completely mind boggling.

A proposed 76-mile bike path through the Everglades is currently under study. It would provide a safe alternative to highway 41 for bicyclists and pedestrians who wish to visit the park. That is why groups such as Adventure Cycling and Rails-to-Trails Conservancy are in support.

And, as usual, the Sierra Club strongly opposes the trail:

Miami-Dade County, the lead agency for the initial planning, expects to complete a feasibility study and master plan by November or December, said Mark Heinicke, project manager for the county’s parks and recreation department. The plan will identify possible routes, access points, environmental issues, public benefits and public interest in the project. He is currently going through 485 letters and emails filed as comments on the project.

Among them is a letter in opposition organized by the Sierra Club and signed by representatives of a wide variety of organizations that often find themselves on the opposite sides of environmental debates. Among the dozens of signers are representatives of hunting groups such as the Everglades Coordinating Council, Safari Club International, United Waterfowlers of Florida, the Collier Sportsmen and Conservation Club and the Florida Sportsmen’s Conservation Association.

The proposed alignment runs largely along the highway ROW. But the Sierra Club doesn’t care about the cars blasting through — just the bicycles and joggers.


As you may recall from last month, the disabled community was furious over plans to build plans to build a brand new Amtrak station in Roanoke (VA) without level-platform boarding. The VDOT was oblivious to an FRA rule that went into effect in 2012 requiring level-platform boarding at new stations, and are now in a bit of a pickle:

On Sept. 30, the Federal Railroad Administration told the project team that federal officials believe a raised platform that would permit level boarding, without the need for wheelchair lifts, is required by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The project team includes Amtrak, Norfolk Southern and the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation. The state has budgeted nearly $100 million for the project, about 10 percent of it for the platform and a related train servicing facility.

Jennifer Mitchell, who directs the department, said Oct. 21 the state prefers raised platforms and the level boarding they offer. But in Roanoke, “the site just won’t allow it,” she said.

The project team wants to build a low platform consisting of a concrete or asphalt slab near ground level. Riders would use a portable mechanical lift on the platform or stairs inside the car to board.

The state tried to argue that a high-level platform would obstruct freight traffic, even though the platform is on a siding. The FRA wasn’t convinced:

In late August, Amtrak, on behalf of the state, told regulators that Roanoke qualified for a waiver, saying freight traffic “exists directly adjacent to the platform” planned along Norfolk Avenue.

The request seemed to be based on a plan to install about 1,700 feet of track specifically for Amtrak service next to Norfolk Southern’s existing freight lines next year. The platform, to be built next, would sit beside it. Norfolk Southern has said the railroad intends to run freight trains over the platform track except when a passenger train is at the platform.

But the federal rail agency didn’t appear to buy the argument.

“We find that this is new construction of a platform track that diverges from the freight main,” the federal railroad agency said Sept. 30 in a position statement that remains unchanged. “Under these circumstances a level boarding platform is required.”

Virginia rail planners are still trying to pursue a waiver, and making threats that the project will be significantly delayed if it isn’t granted. However, the FRA rule is quite clear, and gross incompetence is no reason to grant a waiver.


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