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Posts Tagged ‘Sprinter’

CPUC Crazy Platform Regulations

Speaking of CPUC meddling, it is worth discussing the design of the Sprinter platforms. Here is a picture of the problem:

sprinter_platform

Now you are wondering, what is the deal with the lift gate? The explanation is found in California PUC General Order 26-D. A relic of the Steam Era, it stipulates unusual platform clearances. For a standard 4′ high platform, the clearance has to be a 7′ 6″. That is too wide for passenger boarding — unless some kind of lift gate is built into the platform.

So the NCTD built these lift gates into the platform — at huge expense. The lift gates comes down when the Sprinter is running, it goes up when the freight train is running.

The only other alternative for NCTD was an 8″ platform, which permits the more standard 4′ 8″ side clearanace. Now even though most other rail services in California have used the 8″ height, it isn’t a good solution. That is because an 8″ height is too low for level-platform boarding. Indeed, most other jurisdictions prohibit such a low platform height, because it encourages passengers to wander onto the tracks.

So thanks to the CPUC, California is stuck with a 1948 regulation that specifies nonsensical platform clearances for 21st century trains. And until the regulation gets fixed, we are stuck with expensive and/or dangerous platforms.

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More information has come to light regarding the Sprinter shutdown. It confirms suspicions that the shutdown was the direct result of CPUC meddling in the design of the braking system:

Before service began in March 2008, SPRINTER-manufacturer Siemens added additional brakes on the vehicles to make them compliant with the California Public Utilities Commission’s standards for light rail vehicle brake rates. These specially-made brakes are unique to California and are not found on any of the approximately 600 other similar models running in Europe. Once mechanics and engineers saw the “unusual wear pattern” on the discs about a year after the SPRINTER began service, they started planning for their eventual replacement — “when the time came,” according to Berk’s email on March 10, 2013.

The “Sprinter” train is widely used all over Europe, where it has had an excellent record. So it is quite extraordinary that California’s PUC, which has no expertise in this area, ordered changes to a proven design.

Richard Berk, the agency’s rail maintenance engineer, seems to have been made into the fall-guy for the fiasco. He inherited the CPUC insane design, and spent 3 years trying to find a suitable replacement wheel disc to meet the spec. What follows is his resignation letter:

Dear colleagues,

This is to disseminate some background information and more technical detail to the rail vehicle design and maintenance community about the situation at North County Transit District that prompted suspension of service on the SPRINTER DMU operated rail transit operation in San Diego County and my decision to resign as Rail Mechanical Officer.

CPUC “discovered” an unusual wear pattern on the non-powered wheel plate mounted brake discs with hollowing that exceeds the manufacturer’s recommendation. The finding escalated to a troubling decision to suspend SPRINTER service.

Rapid wear on the non-powered wheel discs is the result of the extraordinary high brake rates for this weight vehicle that was required by CPUC for operation in California. The problem is compounded by the fact that the inboard discs are trapped on the axle by the mounted wheel and can’t be replaced as part of routine maintenance. Also the design is unique to the 32 NCTD vehicles and not found on any of the other 600 (or so) Siemens Desiro Classic vehicles running in Europe.

Bombardier, under contract to provide SPRINTER vehicle maintenance services, had formally requested a proposal from Faiveley, the foundation brake OEM, about 3 years ago for split discs that would enable maintenance replacement of the discs when the time came. Faiveley, apparently absorbed with acquiring Ellcon National and Graham-White was non-responsive until last summer when we received an unrealistic proposal for development of a new product with 44 week lead time and an $11,000 per disc cost!

Since then, Bombardier has worked to develop a realistic supply source but the timing missed by probably 90-120 days.

I am quite confident that the present condition, although not comfortable, does not pose any unmanageable risk that can’t be handled like any other much more catastrophic crisis developments in our field – the MetroNorth wheel burn off and hollow axle scare comes to mind. The situation should be managed with stepped up inspections and testing that would allow a rational assessment of the risk and enable a prudent reaction period if an obvious problem becomes apparent before replacement split discs can be delivered an installed.

Personally, I decided to resign, abruptly, from NCTD Friday a week ago after the CPUC triggered “crisis” situation developed. The decision was prompted entirely by our CEO’s unconstrained rage and focus on pinning blame rather than learning about the problem and ways to resolve it.

Regards,

Dick Berk

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Shared Infrastructure

A misguided Editorial in the North County Times (San Diego) questions whether HSR service into San Diego would preclude extending the Sprinter DMU service into downtown San Diego:

Now state rail planners want to run the high-speed rail line along Interstate 15, which brings its own problems. Chief among them is that it would seem to eliminate the possibility of a local and long-talked-about light-rail line running from Escondido to San Diego proper along I-15. While we continue to believe that scarce transportation funds should be put into those methods that most people use —- i.e., freeways —- surely a light-rail line like the Sprinter or Coaster, or even an extension of the San Diego Trolley, makes far more sense than an expensive, intrusive and highly controversial bullet train.

This is certainly not the first time a newspaper editorial has raised the issue of HSR vs. local transport. It is a false dilemma because it presumes railroad tracks cannot be shared among a multitude of services.

Within urban areas, HSR trains will be traveling at conventional speeds anyway. And HSR is not like a metro, with trains running every few minutes. There is any number of ways an I15 alignment could be engineered to incorporate an extension of the Sprinter service. Indeed, that should be the goal! And it would be not complicated either, as Sprinter already uses UIC-spec, non-FRA-compliant rolling stock.

The real blame here is not with Editorial writers, but the CHSRA itself. They seem utterly uninterested in the regional/commuter benefits of this new infrastructure. If CHSRA won’t promote the local benefits of new ROW, then no wonder Editorial writers are confused.

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