Amtrak California was expecting to receive new railcars. Funded through the 2009 stimulus package, the new railcars were supposed to replace antiqued models, some of which date back to the 1970’s. But production is stalled, for the usual and predictable reasons; i.e. the strict Buy-America procurement rules, and trying to debug a unique train design:

The tight restrictions on when and where the stimulus money can be spent left Nippon Sharyo with almost no room for error with a car model that it hadn’t built before and a brand-new assembly plant 80 miles west of Chicago that cost $100 million.

Crashworthiness of passenger railcars has been a primary focus of car designers since collisions involving commuter and freight trains in Southern California killed 11 people in 2005 and 25 people in 2008. Nippon Sharyo’s car hasn’t been able to pass a federally mandated test for absorbing rear- and front-end compression force generated in a crash.

After repeated failures, engineers are now redesigning the car’s body shell. That and additional testing will take about two more years to complete, according to people familiar with the matter. The entire job was to be finished in 2018, with the stimulus-funded portion due for completion in 2017. Now, Nippon Sharyo isn’t expected to start production until 2018, people familiar with the work say.

Nippon Sharyo isn’t the only manufacturer running into these problems. Spain’s CAF is having similar issues:

Five years after winning a $343 million contract to build 130 long-distance railcars for Amtrak, Spain’s Construcciones & Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles SA is struggling to complete the order. The work was supposed to be completed by early 2015, but as of late last year the company’s CAF USA Inc. subsidiary had turned out 70 baggage carsfrom its plant in Elmira Heights, N.Y. Nearly 400 defects were identified in the first 28 baggage cars delivered, according to an Amtrak report issued in February. The work schedule has been renegotiated, with each delay pushing delivery dates further.


Secretary LaHood announcing the Amtrak railcar order at the Nippon Sharyo plant, where he said: ” thanks to a standardized design initiated by our Federal Railroad Administration…the parts and components for passenger rail cars and locomotives lowers the costs of production and improves competition. It also makes it easier and reduces costs for operators to maintain equipment.”

A new road was recently constructed in South Fremont. Kato Rd was extended to connect with Mission Blvd. It provides a direct route between the the Warm Springs commercial district with various office parks along I880.

But as you can see, non-motorized users are not permitted to use it:


This road was actually built as part of the Warm Springs BART extension project. There are some alternate routes available, but they are less safe and (depending on where you are coming and going) more circuitous.


Crafts Project

There has been a recent spike (no pun intended) in news articles about the difficulties with BART’s proprietary design. Because of BART’s uniqueness, Board member Tom Radulovich describes it as a kind of crafts project which is more complicated to maintain compared to other metros:

BART’s 1,000 volt electrical system is unique. So is its station design and even its ticketing system. Having such custom features, according to Radulovich, means that projects are not only more expensive, but take longer. Added to that, he said, “there’s a chance it won’t work – or at least won’t work the first time.”

BART is indeed a unique design, but that in itself is not unusual. A large number of transit projects in the US involve propriety design. Everywhere you look, transportation consultants are going out their way to spec out special snowflake trains, signal systems, etc. Hardly any of these projects comply with global standards.

Consider the Caltrain “modernization” project, for which the agency is designing dual-door “frankentrains” and a non-standard signal system. Or the San Diego Sprinter DMU with its platform lift gates and proprietary braking system. Or the Marin-Sonoma SMART line with its propriety DMU trains and gauntlet tracks. Or the Acela, which will probably be getting early retirement. The list goes on and on.


Honolulu has taken delivery of the first railcars for its new rail line. The railcars will be an open gangway design:

“These are the first driverless trains in the United States of America. They’re not arriving in New York, or Boston or San Francisco. They’re arriving here in Honolulu,” Mayor Kirk Caldwell said at a press conference today held in front of the trains after they were unloaded on Pier 1 at Honolulu Harbor.

Honolulu’s rail cars will also be the first in the nation with an “open gangway” design that will allow passengers to move freely between all four cars in the train, Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director Dan Grabauskas said.

Open gangway trains are the type of train BART should have gotten with its “fleet of the future”. Honolulu’s trains, by the way, are being assembled in the Bay Area.


Pennsylvania DOT didn’t want the pesky pedestrians getting in the way of the cars, so they removed three traffic signals:

Stephanie Foman had just gotten off the bus at her regular stop on Haverford Avenue, looked up, and noticed there was no longer a light at Sherwood Avenue in Overbrook Park. When she tried to cross the street, she said: “I almost got hit. I had to stand in the middle of the road, waving my arms to get the cars to stop.”

The signals were removed as part of a traffic “improvement” plan for Haverford Ave. PennDOT says the “improved” intersections don’t meet warrants for a signal:

“We knew that PennDOT said they wanted to improve the flow of traffic,” town watch president Darryl Day said. “But we didn’t think they were going to take down those traffic lights and replace them with those little yellow blinking lights they call beacons.”

PennDOT spokesman Richard Kirkpatrick said the traffic project is federally funded and requires all upgraded traffic signals along Haverford be “warranted as part of the design review process.” He said the city Streets Department did an analysis that showed the three intersections did not meet standards for lights.


You have to admire the circular logic. PennDOT says the signals are slowing down traffic too much on the arterial. PennDOT also says there is not enough cross traffic to justify a signal. Both conditions can’t be true.





​WASHINGTON – The National Transportation Safety Board today issued two urgent safety recommendations calling for direct Federal safety oversight of San Jose’s streets and highways by the Federal Department of Transportation.

In its ongoing investigation, the NTSB examined the safety oversight for non-motorized users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, and wheelchair users. The NTSB found little improvement in San Jose’s safety culture since 2013, when pedestrian deaths hit a two-decade high. 

Testimony at the hearing confirmed that the present oversight body, the bicycle advisory committee (BAC) relies on San Jose Public Works and/or City Council to respond to any safety concern, finding or recommendation. The BAC lacks the power to issue orders or levy fines and has no regulatory or enforcement authority.

“There is now a lack of independent safety oversight of San Jose streets and highways,’’ said NTSB Chairman Christopher A. Hart. “This is an unacceptable gap in system safety.”

In its safety recommendation letter to the Secretary of Transportation, the NTSB said that San Jose has ignored ongoing safety problems, while pursuing highway expansions. A proposed Santa Clara County transportation sales tax measure would spend $650 million on highway expansion — half in San Jose. The widenings come at a time of worsening air quality, and carbon emissions.

The NTSB has asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to seek authority from Congress to designate San Jose “non-compliant” with Clean Air rules and traffic safety so the Federal Department of Transportation can exercise direct safety oversight.

The NTSB has designated the safety recommendations as “urgent,” and has asked the Department of Transportation to respond within 30 days detailing the actions it intends to take to address the safety issues outlined in them.

The NTSB has also opened an investigation into the city and county of San Francisco, after reports surfaced that the Mayor was relying on his optometrist to provide expert traffic safety advice.

Fremont Public Works informs me that there are no plans to remove bike lanes at the Grimmer/Blacow intersection:

The project will extend the bike lanes to the intersection crosswalk lines and install new bike detection loops and bike detection legends at all approaches.

While certainly good news, this does not change the fact that a Safe-Routes-to-School grant was used mainly for an automobile LOS improvement project.

The primary safety issue at the intersection isn’t the right-turn slip lane, but the ludicrously high traffic speeds. Blacow and Grimmer were both designed to encourage dangerous speeding. Just ask Leon and Marilyn Goheen, whose property borders Grimmer Blvd. On eight separate occasions, cars have gone flying off “dead man’s curve” and landed in their back yard.

If you want to make Grimmer Blvd safer for students, bulb-outs aren’t going to cut it. And adding automobile capacity makes it worse.



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