Archive for September, 2020

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Kurt Reinhold was the black man shot dead on Sept 23rd by Orange County Sheriff deputies — for the crime of jaywalking. One unanswered question about this deeply troubling incident is: what was the OC Sheriff doing patrolling a commercial district in San Clemente?

According to the official narrative, the deputies were part of a homeless outreach task force responding to a report that Kurt was walking in the street. Another possibility is that they were participating in a State-funded jaywalking sting. Here is an announcement the OC Sheriff released two days prior to the shooting:

This blog has long criticized the OTS safety enforcement program, because it hassles pedestrians over picayune violations of the vehicle code. The video recording of Reinhold’s murder begins with him being visibly agitated over his minor “jaywalking” transgression, and asking where he was supposed to cross given the street’s lack of crosswalks. This has all the hallmarks of a classic OTS sting operation: pick a location with dysfunctional traffic engineering and then write lots of jaywalking tickets.

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What can be more absurd than spending $150 million on a faregate scam when the BART budget is in free fall? And yet the EB Times still calls Allen a “fiscal conservative”.

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Mayor Steven Sharf, you may recall, is the one who made a tasteless joke during his state-of-the-city address about building a wall around Cupertino and making San Jose pay for it. Cupertino has a severe jobs/housing balance, and Sharf has been vehemently opposed to new infill housing in Cupertino.

Also receiving a Sierra Club endorsement is Palo Alto councilwoman Lydia Kuo, who wants a citywide height limit and opposes transit lanes.

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Dr. Tegnell discusses the Swedish model for COVID-19, and why Sweden does not have mandatory face mask requirements.

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Denver’s RTD A-line operates between downtown Denver and the Denver International Airport. The line was built as an FRA-compliant service, which was predictably a huge mistake. In this case, the problem wasn’t so much with unreliable tank-like trains but rather FRA shenanigans over the grade-crossings.

Grade-crossings are a simple technology. The gate must come down with sufficient warning to give motorists time to stop. By law, this lead time has to be at least 20 seconds:

A highway-rail grade crossing warning system shall be maintained to activate in accordance with the design of the warning system, but in no event shall it provide less than 20 seconds warning time for the normal operation of through trains before the grade crossing is occupied by rail traffic.

49 CFR Part 234.225

Even though the RTD A-line complied with FRA Section 225 requirement, RTD was cited for noncompliance because, according to the FRA, the gates occasionally had excessively long warning times. The FRA would permit at most 15 seconds additional warning time. How or where the FRA came up with this “excessively long” metric is unclear.

In the view of the FRA, gates with excessive downtime will tempt impatient motorists to drive around the gates. It should be noted that these were four-quadrant gates with center medians, so it would take a very determined motorist to do that.

The FRA did give a temporary waiver to RTD to open the line, but only if flaggers were stationed at each and every grade crossing until the “problem” was fixed. In the meantime, Denver RTD and its contractor fiddled with the software to try reducing variation in gate downtime.

Denver RTD contractor spent over two years adjusting the software but could not meet the FRA demands. The reason for this “failure” had nothing to do with the software — the variation in gate downtime was due entirely to conditions outside the control of the system. Once an approaching train activated the warning signal, there is no going back. If the train operator slows the train for safety reasons (i.e. poor visibility or possible hazard ahead), there is no way to recall the signal. No amount of software hacking can fix this basic issue.

Communication between the FRA and RTD contractors became increasingly acrimonious (the letters can be reviewed under docket FRA-2016-0028). The FRA was accused of enforcing unrealistic and nonexistent regulations, and the FRA replied that it would shut down the line if the problem wasn’t fixed. Meanwhile, Denver RTD was paying a lot of money to have flaggers standing around, and the future of the RTD “G” line was in doubt, as it used the same systems.

Things finally came to a head when Aaron Marx, a train signal expert working on the project, was sent around the country to measure gate downtimes on other commuter railroads (including Caltrain and Amtrak/ACE in the Bay Area) as well as UP freight lines. His extensive data showed that the RTD A-line actually had far better gate downtime variation than every other rail line he looked at.

Gate crossing raw data

The FRA had now backed itself into a corner. If it was going to shut down RTD A-line then logically every other rail system with crossing gates would have to be closed too. The FRA relented, and the matter dropped. The issue now is who pays the bill for those flaggers:

Denver Transit Partners, the contractor that built, maintains and operates most of the Regional Transportation District’s commuter rail lines, has upped the amount of money it’s seeking in a legal battle that will go to trial next month. The new figure is $111 million, $31 million higher than the company’s previous estimate from late 2018.

RTD, which has countersued the company, is seeking $27 million in damages, according to a court document filed this week. The dispute between the two entities centers over crossing gate issues that plagued the otherwise mostly successful A Line to Denver International Airport for years, and kept the G Line to Arvada from opening until 2019.

The FRA is not a defendant in the lawsuit, even though they were the ones who caused the problem in the first place.

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