Posts Tagged ‘CHSRA’

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) published photo-simulations for the proposed train alignment in Bakersfield. Trains would run on a humongous elevated viaduct through neighborhoods in the northern half of the city. Highway planners used to build nightmares like this in the bad old days of 1960’s urban renewal. This is the same thing, the only difference being that there are rails and wires on top instead of asphalt and cars:

Sumner at Baker Street, Bakersfield

Old Town Kern

Here is another image:

Garces Memorial Circle

Garces Memorial Circle

At least there will be some awesome infill transit-oriented development around the new Bakersfield station, right? Sorry, but no — the station would be surrounded by a ridiculous amount of surface parking:


There is no rationale for these aerial structures. Note that the original plan (in 2005) was to put the station on the periphery and keep tracks more at ground-level. That would have greatly reduced costs and neighborhood impacts. Since everyone will be be driving to the station anyway — as evidenced by the huge parking — a peripheral station location would not impact ridership.

Locating suburban HSR stations on the periphery is also typical European practice. Sadly, some so-called experts are too clueless to figure that out.

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Caltrain Frankentrain

The saga over incompatible platform height continues. Caltrain staff has given a preview of what the new bilevel commuter trains may look like. The design is as bad as feared:



Other blogs have already reported on problems this will cause for wheelchair and bike access, so I won’t go into that here. The really big issue that I have not seen mentioned is the dwell time.

Note how the high door would probably only be half-width. That is because having 4 wide doors reduces the structural integrity of the railcar. This will double the dwell time at the Transbay Terminal, and other busy stations. By comparison, BART’s next-generation railcars will have 3 double doors.

The constricted vestibule area also doesn’t help matters. Though if there is one silver lining, the crowded vestibule space precludes having on-board bathrooms — which is probably why staff wants to eliminate all the ADA bathrooms.

The thing is that “blending” commuter and high-speed rail isn’t exactly a new concept. It is done all over the world, and I struggle to find even one example where an agency took this approach for shared platform access. Well ok, there is one example: NJT and Acela — but that just goes to prove the point.


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CHSRA Platform Fail

As you probably know, Caltrain and the CHSRA are supposed to share infrastructure but can’t agree on a common platform height. The CHSRA train specification is for 1295mm (51″) floor height, That is much too high for Caltrain with its legacy 8″ platforms.

If you are wondering where the CHSRA came up with the 51″ number, the answer is that it was mainly a political decision. The FRA wanted California to use HSR rolling stock compatible with the NEC corridor (even though the NEC is thousands of miles away). When that idea proved impractical, the joint bid was dropped. And yet here we are, apparently stuck with the 51″ requirement.

What needs to happen now is for the CHSRA to drop the 51″ requirement from the train specification. Since Caltrain and the CHSRA will almost certainly use European “off-the-shelf” trainsets, the obvious solution is to follow the European platform standard.

In 2002, the European Commission issued a Technical Specification for Interoperability (TSI) that allows for two possible platform heights: 550mm and 760mm. If you do the metric-English conversion, you find that 550mm is 21″, and 760mm is 30″. For comparison, Caltrain’s Bombardier cars have a 25″ floor level. So trains built to either the 550mm or 760mm platform height would provide backwards-compatibility to legacy 8″ platforms while the agency works on rebuilding platforms to the new height.

Following the TSI platform standard is also in the best interests of the CHSRA, because it will ensure the largest number of vendors can bid on high-speed train procurements. In a 2009 white paper, the CHSRA planners tried to argue otherwise, saying that most HSR trains currently in operation fall within the range of a 45″-51″ height. That is certainly true, but they need to think about the state of the market in the year 2024 (when California’s system supposedly begins operation), not the year 2009. It is clear that the next-generation of HSR trains are going to be compliant with TSI accessibility standards.

In fact, most vendors have already made the switch to TSI standards. Talgo, for example, offers two HSR trains with low-floor coaches at the 760mm height:


Talgo 760mm level-platform boarding


Euroduplex 550mm entrance

The new Stadler EC250 is also low-floor. It will operate on new high-speed service between Zurich, Frankfurt, and Milan, though only with a maximum speed of 155mph.

The TGV duplex is yet another train with 550mm level-platform boarding. Even though it is the workhorse of the TGV network, the CHSRA has already ruled out the use of this train, saying it has “unappealing aesthetics”. It is incredible that the CHSRA would so blithely dismiss Europe’s most popular high-speed train.

One HSR vendor that does not offer TSI-compliant trains is Siemens. Siemens does, however, have a train manufacturing facility in Sacramento and has made grandiose promises of local jobs if it wins the contract. This leads to the suspicion that specifications were written to favor a preferred vendor — at the expense of taxpayers and transit riders.

If the CHSRA prevails on using 51″ platform boarding, the implications would be quite bad for Caltrain. There would be no good options for migrating to that platform height. Caltrain would either have to decide on segregated platforms for HSR (limiting its access to the new Transbay Terminal) or else design some goof-ball train with two sets of doors.

Sadly, it appears Caltrain is going with the latter plan. In a presentation last month to San Francisco officials, Dave Couch of Caltrain outlined a plan whereby the new electric railcars would have dual sets of doors. One upper set for stations with 51″ platforms, and a lower set of doors for the legacy 8″ platforms. This is a huge step backwards from what customers have today. At least with the current rolling stock, riders only have to make one (small) vertical transition. The new rolling stock would add yet another — inside a crowded moving train, no less, where there are also bikes and luggage to contend with. To accommodate wheelchairs, some kind of internal wheelchair lift may be needed too. And a train with dual sets of doors isn’t exactly off-the-shelf, so expensive customization would be needed.

This proposal is so ridiculous, it is hard to believe it is being taken seriously. Let’s hope it leads to a re-evaluation of the CHSRA platform decisions.

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As part of the “blended” plan, Caltrain and CHSR will be sharing the same tracks and stations. It would be a no-brainer for trains to have compatible platforms, right? Indeed, staff from both agencies announced (just days ago) that they would be doing precisely that.

And yet someone at the CHSRA didn’t get that memo. In a spec published just yesterday, the HSR trains are to have a floor height of 1295 mm (51 inches). This spec will serve as the basis for a train procurement process that has now begun.

1295mm is incompatible with Caltrain requirements. It really makes no sense — other than being compatible with the NEC. Why are they trying to maintain backwards compatibility with a rail line thousands of miles away?

Besides the platform height, there are other problems with the HSR train spec. These “off-the-shelf” trains are supposed to comply with both Buy-America and Buy-California rules — even though there are no high-speed manufacturers in California or the rest of the country.

The spec also has a requirement for 220mph operating speeds. As noted by the Peer Review Group, 220mph is not needed until the entire SF-LA line is in service:

It may not be optimized to have all trains running at 350 Km/h, particularly those trains with several intermediate stops. Very high speed is only needed on a long distance range and/or when high-speed rail is competing with air.

The 2014 Business Plan optimistically predicts LA-SF route will not be in service until at least 2028. Realistically, it will be decades before LA-SF is in service. Until then, the CHSRA would be running a strictly regional service — and regional services do not require extremely expensive HSR trainsets.

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The NEC is a legacy 100 year-old infrastructure, whereas the Calfornia high-speed rail project is clean-sheet design. There was never a rational explanation as to why California should use NEC-compatible equipment when the corridors are so completely different. And now, thankfully, sanity has prevailed:

It became clear in meetings with manufacturers during the last few weeks that the requirements were too different to incorporate into one set of trains, said Lisa-Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for high-speed rail.

“The feedback that we got from the industry was that Amtrak and high-speed rail need such different things, it was almost impossible for them to build a train that meets both our needs,” she said. “We’d hoped that the industry had evolved to where they can accommodate both.”

The agencies concluded that too many compromises would need to be made to meet both their needs, which would “move us away from a service-proven design and create significant risks as to schedule and costs,” Amtrak spokesman Craig Schulz said in an email.

One of the puzzling things about the CHSRA has been its inability to work with its California partners (Caltrain, Metrolink) on really basic things, like compatible platform heights and signal systems — while at the same time design its high-speed trains to be compatible with a rail line 3000 miles away. The NEC requires high-platform trains, which precludes Caltrain and CHSRA from sharing platforms. Hopefully, with this decision, Caltrain and CHSRA can at least use trains with the same platform height.

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Bike Accommodation On CAHSR Trains

When California voters approved funding in 2008 for their high-speed rail project, one of the promises was that the trains would not be like Amtrak. So here we are 5 years later, and it is Amtrak developing the trains. This will be a joint procurement between California and Amtrak (for its Acela service).

Amtrak just released the Draft Trainset Spec that goes into the things like the interior layout. The (sort of) good news is that the spec does require bike accommodation. California trains will have bike storage for a minimum of 8 bikes per trainset. Those of you on the East Coast will be shit out of luck as the requirement only applies to CHSRA trains:

For the [CA HSR] Authority, a bicycle storage area shall be provided, and designed to accommodate a minimum of 8 bicycles per Trainset. A dedicated bicycle storage area shall be provided, thereby reducing inconvenience to passengers. Bicycle storage areas shall be separate from wheelchair spaces and shall not block or otherwise impede emergency egress and access.

Special attention shall be given to the ease with which bicycles can be placed in the bicycle racks. It is expected that the final design shall include guide rails to help steer the bicycle into the correct position with minimal effort. Bicycles shall be secured as low as possible and designs requiring the lifting of bicycles over fixed objects shall be avoided.

Suitable graphics shall be provided on the exterior of the Vehicle, identifying the doors to be used for bicycle access. Interior graphics shall also provide instructions for using the bicycle racks.

To put in perspective, the existing Amtrak San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor services permit 22 bikes per train. So 8 bikes per train isn’t great, but better than nothing.

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US transit planners have a poor record with integrated transit planning, and designing accessible stations. So will California HSR learn from those past mistakes? It seems unlikely, to judge from a recent workshop moderated by Jeff Morales of the CHSRA.

I note in particular the presentation by Stan Feinsod (of the “National High-Speed Rail Connectivity Center”). His talk on station access not once mentioned bikes or pedestrians. And it is curious that the panel included an aviation security expert (though thankfully he didn’t go full TSA).

On a positive note, Armin Kick of Siemens gave a good talk on interoperability (skip to the 29 minute mark in the video). By using real-world examples from German HSR lines, he shows how regional and commuter services can exploit the new HSR infrastructure. To do that, they all must use the same platform height, and the same signalling standard (hint: not CBOSS).

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