Archive for September, 2012

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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CA Redevelopment Still Not Dead

California’s Redevelopment Agencies gave us 50-years of hellish autocentric development, all subsidized by the taxpayer. That is, until Governor Brown had them killed in last year’s Legislative session.

Now the Legislature is trying to revive the concept, and some soi disant environmentalists are going along with it:

Governor Brown needs to sign Senate Bill 1156. SB 1156 gives local governments a way to finance the projects and plans mandated by S.B. 375, save Californians money and help stop global warming. For example, projects within a “transit priority area” that received different benefits, approvals and government funds would have to be within a half-mile of a transit stop.

So RDA is Ok so long as it is near a transit stop. Because the really awful RDA projects have never, ever, ever, ever happened near a transit stop.

And for those naive enough to think SB-1156 will provide safeguards to ensure walkable communities: note that the only parking requirement in the bill is for parking to make up no more than one-half the project area.

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VTA Parking Glut

Turns out there is a silver lining to VTA’s dismal light-rail ridership. The agency has a glut in parking spaces at its park-and-ride stations:

(Click the chart to enlarge.)

For transit-oriented-development, it doesn’t get much easier than this. Unlike BART, there is no need for expensive parking-replacement garages because there is no parking demand (or any other riders for that matter). The only challenge is dealing with the stations located inside a freeway median, but that is not an insurmountable problem.

And while the VTA study identifies the problem, it falls short on solutions. It proposes two parking scenarios for year-2035 planning purposes. The first option would actually increase parking supply, based on ludicrous ridership projections. The second option, which was clearly preferred by the consultants, would decrease parking slightly (no more than 15%), while still maintaining a healthy surplus of 3,000 parking spaces.

Surely they can do better than that.


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Mayor Ford’s Personal Road Paving Crew

I’m sure he was just doing it out of concern that bicyclists might hit a pothole:

Mayor Rob Ford called senior staff to his office this summer to request unscheduled road improvements outside his family-owned business in time for its 50th anniversary bash. The job, completed before the August celebration at the Etobicoke headquarters of the Ford family’s Deco Labels and Tags, cost the city between $7,000 and $10,000, staff estimate.

The official, Peter Noehammer, told The Globe in an interview Thursday that he did not know the mayor had made the request himself.

Mr. Noehammer is the director of transportation responsible for the Scarborough district and he was filling in for Mr. Mende when The Star made its first call in August, he said. In his 16 years in the city’s transportation department, Mr. Noehammer said he had never had an elected official ask him or his colleagues to expedite road work on personal or business property.

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For those having Black-Helicopter fears of the UN herding us into apartments and forcing people to ride trams:

A group of Edinburgh residents has won a UN ruling against the city council over the environmental impact of the controversial trams project.

The residents, from the west end of the city, took their arguments to a UN committee which sits in Geneva. They complained Edinburgh Council was in breach of an international agreement on access to information. The draft findings on access to raw data could have implications for local authorities across the UK.

The Moray Feu Residents Association, led by lecturer Ashley Lloyd and retired civil servant Alistair MacIntosh, has been challenging the council’s plans for a new tram system for years because of the noise and pollution created by traffic diverted onto residential streets.

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Costly BRT

Here is the cost breakdown of the proposed BRT network in Santa Clara County:

As you can see from the chart, this is fake BRT because there is only a small bit of dedicated bus lanes. But even that small bit is going to cost a huge amount: 1/4 billion dollars for a just 4.87 miles of dedicated bus lanes. One main reason for the cost blowout is an unwillingness to reduce any parking or automobile capacity — meaning the road gets widened in numerous places.

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Father of VTA Podrail

He will do for podcars what he’s done for light-rail and high-speed rail:

Rod Diridon, Sr., chair emeritus of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, will give a presentation at the Podcar City Berlin 2012 conference September 19-20. Mr. Diridon will address inter-connectivity between high-speed rail (HSR) and automated guideway transit (AGT), popularly known as “podcars.”

“Core redistribution around HSR stations – as well as airports – must include AGT which connects to the metropolitan mass transit systems and to nearby businesses, universities, lodging, and other trip generators,” said Mr. Diridon. “Electrically powered AGT should be considered for every major rail station around the world to promote the use of mass transit as a system.”

Rod Diridon is an accidental expert on podcar systems. With its near empty cars, his VTA light-rail is nearly the functional equivalent of a podcar system.

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German Approach to Regional Passenger Rail

By the late 1980’s, Germany’s regional railroads were in dismal shape. They suffered many of the problems we face in the US — antiquated locomotive-hauled trains, and inefficient operating practices. It seemed inevitable that these lines would either be abandoned, or stagger on with ridiculous subsidies — much like Amtrak.

Then came German reunification, the 1993 railway reform act, and huge changes in the organization of Deutsche Bundesbahn, the former National Railway:

In the next 5 years, DB will invest about DM7,000 million in new and modern short-distance rolling stock. The entire fleet will be replaced modernized before the end of the century. Three hundred lightweight powered railcars have already been ordered within this program — the largest investment in German railway history. These cars are about 30% lighter than conventional cars. In addition, they are constructed mainly from proven components used in buses. They still cost more than a bus, but are equivalent in terms of maintenance expenses.

These cars are a decisive step to become able to compete with the automobiles and buses on side tracks at low loads. Many side tracks — especially in the new states of the Federation — which were hardly profitable because trains were drawn by locomotives, are enjoying a renaissance. The cars reach an average maximum speed of about 130 km/h and present a real alternative to the automobile.

These modern DMU operations have been wildly successful, and emulated all over Europe. A 2007 paper, published by Dietmar Bosserhof, looks at ridership gains from dozens regional rail projects. The entire paper is worth reading, but here is the money graph:

These ridership numbers are from a regional railway near Frankfurt. As you can see, ridership gains of 10x were achieved with targeted improvements in ticketing, frequency, and rolling stock.

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