Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Under the blended plan, Caltrain and high-speed rail are supposed to share tracks and infrastructure. And yet, for completely inexplicable reasons, Caltrain is installing a PTC signal system incompatible with HSR.

The Caltrain PTC system is called CBOSS. It has already cost the agency over $230 million, a price far higher than comparable PTC projects elsewhere. One reason for the huge cost is that Caltrain elected to develop a custom, in-house system — and this is the inevitable result:


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The disaster that is Metrolink

As Metrolink lurches from crisis to crisis, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry:

“We knew we were going to have a rough year,” said Gary Lettengarver, chief operating officer for Metrolink. “Conflicts with freight trains plus track construction were problems. And we’re learning to use positive train control. This is a technology no one really knows about.

Good Lord. PTC is a critical safety system — and nobody knows how it works?

Last year, Metrolink became the first commuter railroad in the nation to implement so-called PTC. Rail officials said they are still fine-tuning the system to prevent it from unnecessarily stopping trains — a problem that resulted in 613 delays. Resetting the onboard equipment, they add, takes up to 20 minutes.

“We are one of the first railroads in the world to have positive train control,” said Art Leahy, Metrolink’s chief executive. “We have a learning curve, and we’ve had to debug the system.”

Leahy must have been living under a rock for the past 15 years, if he really believes Metrolink was the first railroad in the world to install PTC.

Adding to the delays, officials said, were unwarranted activations of positive train control, mechanical problems, operational issues and the use of slow freight locomotives to replace all 57 of Metrolink’s cab cars at the front of trains. After the Metrolink crash in February 2015 near Oxnard, the railroad decided to remove its cab cars from the lead position because of concerns about substandard front-end deflectors that are designed to keep debris and wreckage from getting under the wheels. Rail officials said the large freight locomotives were used on the line for only 10 days in December. They proved slower than passenger engines, and their size, plus the added cars, increased the length of trains, complicating the unloading of passengers because they were too big for station platforms.

As discussed previously, the defective cab cars was a self-inflicted problem. Instead of using service-proven rolling stock, the agency went with a untested design that obviously needs a lot of debugging.

Metrolink officials said they are dealing with the delays and have created a team to visit commuter railroads elsewhere in the U.S. to study how they prevent and cope with late trains.

Oh, great. So they are going to fix the problems by sending staff off on junkets to observe other crappy Amurican commuter railroads.


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Articulated trains (also known as open-gangway cars) have become ubiquitous on metro systems outside the US. And now, finally, they may be coming to New York:

This week, the authority released an image of the model, known as an open gangway plan, delighting train aficionados who had wondered when the idea would arrive in New York City. The model has already appeared in systems in Paris, Toronto and other cities.

The cars are still years away here: The authority could award a contract as early as next year to build 10 of them, and they would not be delivered until at least 2020, or later, officials said. But their inclusion in a presentation to the authority’s board members brought to life an idea that has been debated for years.

Open gangway subway cars — similar in concept to accordion-style buses — could have several benefits, officials said, including a greater capacity for riders. In Toronto, officials have said the model allowed them to increase capacity by up to 10 percent, and some riders there have praised the new layout.

Articulated trains provide an easy way to expand capacity. Given their peak-hour capacity problems, it is disappointing that neither BART nor Washington Metro would even study the idea of articulated cars for their new fleet orders.



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In 2012, the Sierra Club published a very nice toolkit called Employee Commuting: Best PracticeOne of the sections covered employee shuttles, specifically mentioning Google Bus as a Best Practice.

However, the local San Francisco Chapter of the Sierra Club is apparently unaware of this. The group has come out against the use of employer shuttles — once again showing that a local group can take positions completely against the official policies of the national organization:

These companies offer as a perk to their employees living in San Francisco free transportation to and from their jobs. Meanwhile, the shuttle companies pay a revenue-neutral fee of $3.67 per stop per day to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency. Tech companies get tax write-offs for providing free transportation to employees.

And yet, no environmental impact report has been done on this private transportation system with the potential for unlimited growth, unlimited interference with Muni, unlimited demographic disruption and unknown air quality impacts.

By all acccounts, the San Francisco tech shuttle program has been wildly successful. An SFMTA study found that 45% of riders did not own cars, and 45% of those cited the employer shuttle as the reason for not owning a car. Furthermore, 47% of riders said they would switch back to car commuting if the shuttle service were discontinued.


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Here is a photo of new transit-oriented development under construction at the Fremont BART station. This is a prime location, directly outside the West entrance.

Yes, it is a parking garage, of course. That is how we do TOD in the Bay Area.


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The Oxnard Derailment

On February 24th, a Metrolink train struck a pickup truck that was hauling an empty trailer. Normally such a collision would be no big deal. But in this instance, the train derailed spectacularly, with passenger cars strewn about. Dozens of passengers were injured and the train engineer was killed.

This scenario wasn’t supposed to happen. Metrolink had spared no expense in building new trains to meet the latest FRA safety specifications. The Hyundai-built train was equipped with crumple zones, and special couplers to keep trains aligned and upright in a derailment. None of these supposed safety features functioned as expected. An internal report blames shoddy workmanship:

The confidential report states that the manufacturer failed to meet design specifications that Metrolink required for cow-catchers on cab cars. The unmet specifications related to struts that extended into the car body and a requirement that cow-catchers be able to withstand a load of 100,000 pounds. The document noted that the specifications “may need to be more robust.”

In addition, the report stated that the cow-catcher had some poor welds and that other parts of the device “showed probable failure” despite extra brackets and good welding in other places. A photo attached to the report shows that the cow-catcher had broken off the cab car. Arrows point to four weld failures and areas where bolts were sheared off.

According to the report, a metallurgist found that one of the two failed couplers displayed evidence of a manufacturing defect known as porosity — a casting flaw that causes voids and bubbles to form in the metal.

Not to defend Hyundai, but the real problem isn’t poor quality control, but rather bad train design, and Buy-America trade-protectionism. There are any number of overseas manufacturers who could have sold Metrolink a service-proven trainset. But because Metrolink isn’t allowed to buy trains overseas, Hyundai had to create a whole new facility in the US, and set up a domestic parts stream. That is a complicated endeavor. And the trains themselves are of a custom design, largely dreamed up by government bureaucrats. It is no wonder the Metrolink train is defective.

The most distressing part of this fiasco, though, is the failed coupler. Most newer regional/commuter trains don’t even have couplers, because the world has moved on to articulated trains. Articulated trains have many benefits — one of which is that they are much less prone to jackknifing in derailments. But US rail planners continue to oppose the use of articulated trains, for truly baffling reasons.


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The customer is always right

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.


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