Weekend Links

» This week’s big news. Open thread in the comments.

Follow my Twitter account (@ttpolitic) to get news in real time.

On The Transport Politic:


  • Los Angeles is building one of the nation’s large rail rapid transit systems today, but it has had a variety of ideas for solving its congestion problems over the years. In 1954, it put together a proposal for a series of downtown bus tunnels. Suffice it to say, the concept didn’t go very far.

(Unrealistic?) Plans:

  • Nashville pulls together a proposal to spend $5 billion on transit expansion over the next few decades. It plans to invest in a series of dedicated rail and bus lines.
  • North Carolina hopes to extend its intercity rail network from the state capital at Raleigh to the Atlantic coast at Wilmington.
  • Baton Rouge and New Orleans hope to link up via new rail services, despite complete opposition from Governor Bobby Jindal.

Good ideas might win out after all:

  • Caltrain becomes the first operator in the country to receive authorization from the Federal Railroad Administration to run lightweight electric multiple units on a corridor shared with diesel trains, writes Robert Cruickshank at the California High-Speed Rail Blog. It’s a major coup for the Bay Area and commuter rail systems in general, which may save on vehicle purchasing and corridor construction costs.
  • The District of Columbia approves funding for streetcars, thanks to an intense social media campaign run by people like David Alpert at Greater Greater Washington. This just a day after the program’s future was up in the air.
  • Elana Schor reports at Streetsblog that eight Democratic Senators have announced their support for up to two billion dollars in emergency operations funds for desperate transit operators.

Adapting to change:

Image above: Potential Caltrain electric multiple unit vehicle, from Caltrain

41 replies on “Weekend Links”

That’s fantastic news regarding Caltrain–one hopes that it sets a precedent for other commuter rail systems to start using multiple units. Lower operating costs = more frequent service = higher ridership = reason for expansion. I gotta admit, though, I’m not too keen on their potential EMU design…why is it so impossible for America to design good looking trains? It looks clunky and slow, even if it would be fast and lightweight in operation.

Terrible color scheme. Who are they trying to intimidate? Meanwhile there’s a movement to paint roofs white to reflect the sun’s rays and reduce a/c costs. They didn’t get the memo at Caltrain?

In general the nice thing of electrified service on light trains is that running a train becomes much cheaper, and acceleration and deceleration is much faster. Thus it’s feasible to increase frequency and run it all day, allowing more people to depend on service to get into, out of and around town. At the same time increased acceleration/deceleration makes it possible to decrease stop distance by adding more stations, thus reducing the length of travel needed to get to stations and (along with high frequency) increasing the number of potential passengers.

But if one were to increase the number of stops, then one needs to decrease dwell times as well. This is usually achieved by having high ratio of doors to seats, which the shown design does not have.

Of course the Caltrain line is a pretty long line, so this wouldn’t really work without a more comprehensive express system anyway.

In the Caltrain context, there’s not much need to have an increase in number of stops … the all-stations get faster and the half hour radius of each local station expands by one to several stops, and the limited stops services become as fast as today’s Baby Bullets from San Jose to San Francisco.

Based on my experience with the Cityrail high platform double deckers with the doors over the trucks, two doors per train are fine for the Caltrain service pattern … but at least one of the two doors in each train would have to be wider for wheelchair and bicycle access/egress. Those doors look about the width of V-sets, and at least one per train should be the width of Millenium-bugs or OSCARS.

Bruce (and Anton): The doors in the original chosen by the artist are double-wide (meaning that two people can comfortably get on or off), and they are set to the Swiss platform height of 55 cm above rail head top. From my experience, passenger exchange is pretty quick (for that style of train). A retractable step at floor level gives an almost gapless entry, even in some curves.

If the doors protrayed in the artist rendering are double wide, then the Cityrail Tangara’s, M-bugs and OSCARS must be triple wide, and in my experience, they are faster access and egress for two door per side double deckers. Getting people onto and off the V-sets is always slower at the busy underground stations like Town Hall and Wynyard

And in a decade of living in Oz, the width portrayed and the wider doors on double decker EMU’s is mostly what I experienced. Some semesters I was going down to Sydney once a week to teach at a satellite location, watching the people cramming into the Blue Mountain bound V-sets while I got off.

Bruce: This (triple wide doors) may well be possible. Actually, the first series of Zürich S-Bahn trains has five triple-wide doors and one double-wide doors (in the cab car, behind the cab) on a train length of 100 meters (the Class 514 has eight double wide doors along the train length of 100 m). However, the original S-Bahn cars are not low-floor, but have 3 steps from a 55 cm platform. However, overall, because the paths from the door to the according level are kind of logical, dwell time is actually a few seconds shorter than with the low-floor Class 514.

as great as this plan is, the bigger question is what happens to caltrain in the immediate time period.

would caltrain electrification go to gilroy and potentially salinas and monterey? or does this remain diesel out of san jose?

What EMUs are they using in Denver? perhaps there could be a joint order?

I wonder if FRA rules change if we will see more EMUs, essentially it is a light rail type service (one or two car electric trains running frequently with lots of stops), albeit technically heavy rail, that can also run on existing railroad tracks. We really need to bring back/allow the interurban, a service that can run on existing heavy rail and also in city streets as streetcar mode and would be relatively inexpensive to implement. EMU is close to this but doesnt exactly work in mixed traffic on city streets.

What happens to Caltrain is that it’s still up in the air whether it will survive – it has no money to continue operations.

The Denver EMUs are useless for Caltrain. Light rail vehicles do not have the speed of commuter trains; they’re optimized for fast acceleration in an environment with closely spaced stops, not for speed. TheRide’s LRVs top at 65 mph, lower than Caltrain’s current top speed of 79, let alone its proposed top speed of 110.

Can allowing the new EMUs be the first break in the logjam? We need the FRA to move beyond commuter trains, and it will take many hard steps to get there. But the goal should be lighter faster equipment to replace the Acelas, the Regionals, and the Keystone trains. Such a change on the NEC could make a huge difference to both equipment and operating costs in the busiest lines in the Amtrak system, and perhaps even boost the speeds a bit.

btw Am I the only one who’d like to have the option to use a seat belt on the train? Let’s see. In a crash, if the car is crushed I’ll probably die; if I merely get propelled 10 feet into a wall or the back of a fellow passenger’s head or seatback, I could be left a brain-damaged paraplegic. Well, then, by all means, let’s be SURE that no one gets crushed in an accident. Is something missing here?

Re seatbelt: all boils down to probability of injury. In train without seatbelt, you’ve got the same or lower risk of injury than in car with seatbelt.

Airplanes have seatbelts–but then, airplanes frequently experience severe turbulence, including the occasional downdraft that sends unbuckled passengers (or crew) flying around the cabin.

Trains don’t need seatbelts in ordinary operation, unlike cars and airplanes. Their acceleration rates and cant deficiencies are limited by technology to levels that are safe to standing passengers, let alone seated but unbelted passengers.

In an accident, things don’t change too much. The most important thing is to prevent trains from enduring serious accidents, such as jackknifing and side-sweeping, which can kill dozens regardless of whether there are seatbelts. Seatbelts would actually increase the accident rate: designing train safety around them would make it harder to accommodate standing passengers, who would then drive, which is much more dangerous. In the last ten years, JR East’s fatal accident rate has been 1 in 250 billion passenger-km, which is about one thousandth that of American highways.

It most certainly can. The strongest need in mid-sized cities is to be able to get intercity passenger rail in sharing infrastructure with regional stopping trains, and allowing the EMU’s to mix with passenger trains that are themselves allowed to mix with freight is a big step out of the insanity of “if you have permission to run on the freight lines, you have cuties and cannot mix with lighter passenger rail”

A next big step would be a class of medium freight that a far wider range of passenger rail vehicles would be allowed to run beside, at least on PTC lines. That would allow sharing of infrastructure by regional stopping trains and express medium freight outside the urban core.

Instead of a system of disjoint islands, it would be a system of overlapping permissions.

H. Heavy Rail and vehicles certified to run alongside heavy rail

M. Medium Rail and vehicles certified to run alongside medium rail

E. Express HSR and vehicles certified to run alongside Express HSR

L. Light Rail and vehicles certified to run alongside light rail

A Rapid Streetcar could be designed to be certified L&M. An HSR could be designed to be certified E&M. A rapid freight train could be designed to be certified H&M. A rural passenger train could be designed to be certified H&M, while an urban passenger train could be designed to be certified M&L.

Bruce, what you’re proposing involves way too much regulatory nightmare. The way good time separation works abroad is that other than subways and LRT, everything can share tracks with everything as long as the track gauge is compatible. A few sections of track are passenger-dedicated, which means they’re intended for high speed and have high superelevation; a few of those sections are HSR.

Trains don’t have to have special designs: it’s perfectly safe for a 32-ton DMU to share tracks with a 10,000-ton coal train, given good train control. From the point of view of the DMU, getting hit by the coal train and getting hit by a 1,000-ton express mail train is equally deadly.

LRT and subways are mostly in their own separate systems here, due to loading gauge and sometimes track gauge issues. But sometimes they can run through on mainline tracks, as tram-trains, or with a subway-commuter hybrid system. However, mainline trains can only run on LRT/subway tracks if they’re effectively subway-style trains, with low axle loads, multiple doors per side, etc.; I believe it’s only done in Japan, which specifically built subways to be mainline-compatible.

Now, it’s a good idea to disallow trains that can’t maintain a certain minimum speed or reliability from passenger-heavy lines. But this is for on-time performance, not safety, and depends on speed difference and train frequency, not on train weight.

This following is misleading: “LRT and subways are mostly in their own separate systems here, due to loading gauge and sometimes track gauge issues. But sometimes they can run through on mainline tracks, as tram-trains, or with a subway-commuter hybrid system.”

Tram-trains only run through from light rail onto the German, Dutch and French mainlines by virtue of being built up to meet heavy rail standards. However, they of course can only run on the streetcar systems because they also comply with streetcar standards.

I have read you make this comparison before, but I still believe that you are writing about a fantasy world where we can somehow effortlessly reverse entrenched opposition of freight railroads, who occupy strategic positions within the FRA, to a massive across the board increase in the capital costs of the major freight railroads.

Its as if there’s a world where solving the technological problems are the hard part and solving the institutional problems are the easy part.

Insisting on no improvement to the status quo unless it is to your nirvana is the same as insisting on sticking with the status quo. And the status quo is dozens, heading toward hundreds, of regulatory classes. Each waiver granted, including for each space or time-slice separated system establishes a distinct regulatory regime for each system according to the precise terms of the waiver. Each time or space separated system operated under its own regulatory regime.

We beat our heads against the brick wall of changing the existing heavy freight rail regime at the risk of wasting a decade or more before it gives way. There is H.

We will have at least one distinct regulatory regime for Express HSR, so the fewest regulatory regimes possible for Express HSR is one. And of course, all of the European Express HSR do indeed have standards distinct from the mainline medium freight mainline standards. There is E.

Both European and Japanese rail systems prove the interoperability of express intercity passenger rail, express medium freight rail. There is M.

So basically, other than well established precedent, your complaint is that instead of cities and regions having a stationary target to shoot for with light rail systems, and for US industry to have a stationary target to aim at for vehicle design, its preferable that they continue to proceed through a delay-riddled process of waiver applications for systems designed first and foremost around the need to be safe-from-FRA-rail-network-standards.

So, I take it you are in practice arguing for the current system of hundreds of different regulatory classes established by one-off waivers. What, precisely, are the advantages of that system?

Right now, there are three regulatory classes: FRA-compliant, FRA-regulated with a waiver, and FTA-regulated. The middle class consists of waivers to buff strength and anti-climb but requires full FRA compatibility otherwise; this makes it possible to run regular trains with minimal modifications, though not quite off-the-shelf.

There aren’t hundreds of classes for trains, and there probably won’t be. Most likely the FRA will cave and say PTC is equivalent to time separation; for what it’s worth, Amtrak believes it will. In that case, there would be just two regulatory classes – FRA-regulated, and FTA-regulated. This is what the system’s heading to – a modified set of globally unique regulations, which somewhat increases rolling stock costs but is not detrimental to good operation. For some reason, you’re proposing extra complications.

The notion of “heavy rail” and “light rail” standards exists in Europe, but not in Japan. Even in Europe, tram-trains are light by US standards. It doesn’t matter all that much, because there are almost no train-on-train collisions. Most mainline train accident fatalities in Europe and Japan come from individual trains derailing and jackknifing, for example in Eschede and Amagasaki.

The part about having a distinct regulatory regime for HSR isn’t really true. For one, the FRA doesn’t have a regulatory regime for HSR at all, unless you count the rule saying you’re not allowed to push-pull at high speed (no, the nine speed classes of tracks don’t count – they’re reasonable). Greenfield systems, such as CAHSR, are shooting for some variant of EU regulations. The actual problems are individual rules about cant and cant deficiency, and those aren’t solved by tacking extra classifications based on train weight; they’re solved by changing specific regulations.

Tram-trains only run through from light rail onto the German, Dutch and French mainlines by virtue of being built up to meet heavy rail standards. However, they of course can only run on the streetcar systems because they also comply with streetcar standards.

True tram-trains are still pretty rare. Most of cases you mention is trams and trains sharing track. It’s because tram-train vehicles are very expensive (more about that later) so they’re suitable only to limited range of scenarios. Most of cases you’re refering to actually don’t have true tram-trains, but shared section of distinct trams and trains. Even that is rare, however.

The problems that drive costs of anny crossover system up are

– the minimum radius/maximum speed tradeoff

– the minimum radius/weight and space tradeoff (more flexible vehicle wastes weight on extra trucks and wastes space on articulation)

– the floor height / longitudinal strength / weight tradeoff

– double-length platforms, with separate low- and high-platform section

The bulk of succesfull and widespread systems leverage existing rail infrastructure to provide reliable, frequent and fast backbone service on regional scale that is fed by local buses. Rail of any kind is used as the local service only if frequencies are big enough so lower operating cost justify it’s higher start-up costs.

From the link: “The geographical problem that drove the tram-train invention is that this urban core is about 2 km from the main rail station. This separation is a feature you’ll find only in pre-rail cities (developed before 1850 or so) or some poorly planned late 20th century ones.

Half of US residential population live in suburbs rather than central cities. And, indeed, many of the rail oriented suburbs of the early 1900’s were focused on light rail rather than heavy rail, and lost their light rail corridors half a century ago or more.

There is of course no one transport technology that is a one-size-fits-all solution – as the automobile shows, one-size-fits-all systems never fit everyone and only fit a minority well. But as Jarrett Walker accidentally shows while trying to argue that there are only limited situations that will ever find tram-trains useful, they are an important technology to consider in suburban retrofit when development has been deliberately designed to turn its back on a through freight line.

The most important distinction between the various classes of operation (HSR, mixed, etc.) is not really the mechanical specification of the vehicles (of course, there are maximum axleloads for given maximum operating speeds). The most important distinctions are the signalling system. For speeds above 160 km/h, for example, cab signalling is required… and then you can actually get rid of the linesides signals (which has been the case from the beginning on on the French high speed lines. So, a vehicle not equipped accordingly can simply not use such a line.

Now let us count the regulatory standards in each of your “regulatory classes”.

FTA heavy rail standard is one standard.

FTA heavy rail with a waiver – is that a second standard? Of course not – each waiver has to be applied for, and the ruling on each application applies to that applicant alone. One waiver can establish a precedent for another waiver, but there are no guarantees that what seems to be identical situations will be viewed as identical situations in the waiver application process. A pro-rail Presidential Administration can have a SoT who will lean toward granting waivers, an anti-rail Presidential Administration can have a SoT who will lean toward denying waivers, while all along the pretense is maintained that the decision was always made on purely technical grounds.

Oh, yes! Nirvana! Save us from the regulatory nightmare of an established standard to design for on a local level and designed for at the level of rail vehicle design.

So, no, the FRA-with-waiver regulatory class is a collection of individualized regulatory standards that at best establish precedents for bureaucrats to follow. Great for planning professionals, since it makes more work for them, not so much for anyone else.

And then FTA-regulated. That is no more a single standard than FRA-regulated-under-waiver.

Of course, as you have already conceded, Express HSR will be having its own standards developed for it.

However, let us supposed that the waiver precedents become strong enough that they can be codified into a set of design guidelines which form a de facto standard … since after issuing the design guidelines, the DoT bureaucrats will then be under strong pressure to grant waivers when applications comply with the guidelines … and in fact a regulatory standard in each of your regulatory classes plus Express HSR.

How many regulatory standards would that represent?

Hmmm, four. Where have I heard that number before?

Bruce, I think you don’t understand how broadly the FRA-with-waiver class can be applied. While Caltrain had to ask for a waiver, Amtrak believes that the waiver will be automatic once PTC is installed, and everything the FRA has done so far suggests that it believes so too. In fact even during the Acela development phase, the FRA only stepped in and demanded high weight late in the cycle, once it became clear trains would start running before ACSES was operational.

There’s no standard design under the new FRA-lite regime, but there’s no standard design under any regulatory regime. There’s a loading gauge, and increasingly a common boarding height, but that’s not the same as “standard design.”

I honestly have no idea why you insist HSR needs separate standards. No, “speeds higher than 160-200 km/h require in-cab signaling” isn’t a separate standard. It’s a single rule that’s trivial to implement. Ironically, the FRA might try to promote separate, more rational standards for HSR – e.g. it allows HSR to maintain higher cant deficiency. By itself it’s moronic to increase cant deficiency with speed, but in practice the FRA-approved value for HSR, 5″, is the standard for non-tilting trains of all speed classes.

What I’m arguing here is that this particular FRA practice about designating HSR separately is flawed. It’s not the same as nirvana; it’s one specific detail. Nirvana would be to gut the FRA and piggyback on either Chinese/EU or Japanese regulations. The only reason for a greenfield proposal such as yours to maintain so many different weight classes is that it makes fantasy maps look neater. It’s much harder to draw lines on a map when you need to denote maximum speed, electrification, and whether HSR trains are allowed to run separately. From either a rational regulatory perspective or a this-is-what-the-FRA-is-heading-to perspective, it’s unnecessary.

But as Jarrett Walker accidentally shows while trying to argue that there are only limited situations that will ever find tram-trains useful, they are an important technology to consider in suburban retrofit when development has been deliberately designed to turn its back on a through freight line.

Many emerging S-Bahn/RER systems in Europe also run on lines in the middle of nowhere/brownfields and they have no intentions of converting it to any crossover system – the loss of speed and reliability due to mixed traffic (even in reserved lanes) isn’t worth it, unless there is single destination far from tracks that dominates all trips from city and region (like Karlsruhe’s downtown and university). And even then, tunnelling is usually more cost-effective than street running.

Now let us count the regulatory standards in each of your “regulatory classes”.

With competent regulator, two sets of regulations suffice. Actually, it makes sense to regulate metro and some light rail operations together with heavy rail, as their nature is closer to heavy rail than to mixed-traffic trams.

That was pointing out the silliness of arguing only four regulatory classes are required as evidence that four regulatory standards is a nightmare.

What are your two?

Our two are “mainline trains” (=FRA-regulated) and “local urban rail” (=FTA-regulated). It’s the law in Germany and it’s what the law is moving to in the US.

Don’t confuse standards with the organization in charge of the standards … the standards for Express HSR are not going to be the same as the standard for heavy rail, and as long as the one-size-fits-all ideology prevails for FRA-regulated, it will continue to fail to fit all, and fit most freight markets poorly.

On the contrary, the FRA has the opposite of one-size-fits-all. For example, it allows higher cant deficiency on lines deemed high-speed. It’s the exact opposite of the way competent regulations work, but it suggests the FRA doesn’t mind varying rules based on situation.

This has nothing to do with having separate weight classes of track and requiring trains to stick to just one or two classes. High-speed trains should be able to use any legacy track with the correct electrification, period.

A week or so ago, the Piedmont in North Carolina ran into a low-loader with an excavator on it that was stuck in an at-grade crossing. The train ran into the low-loader at roughly 70 mph. The excavator ended up some distance from the collision. The locomotive is now scrap. All cars derailed. There were a few minor injuries among the passengers.

For the record, over the last ten years FRA-compliant passenger railroads in the US have averaged 1 fatality per a little less than 7 billion passenger-km, which is thirty-five times the rate of JR East and a little less than one thirtieth the rate of American cars.

I had my little chuckle about the picture for this article… It looks amazingly familiar, but I must say that the artist did get it pretty well…

The base for the picture is the Zürich S-Bahn Class 514 train by Siemens … another view (in original livery) can be found here, for example:

Bruce, I can’t comment on DK as I’m not a member. But some relatively painless 1% solutions include:

– Tax credits for diesel-powered cars, which pollute about the same as gasoline-powered cars but are more fuel-efficient;

– Tax credits for good passive solar design;

– Abolish FRA buff strength regulations (=lower train energy consumption, and lower costs inducing more people to ride trains);

– Mandate OPTO and POP on every commuter line instead of multi-conductor trains (more people riding trains, again);

– Accelerate transit agencies’ adoption of hybrid buses (currently about 20% of new orders, should be closer to 100%);

– Once train running costs are low enough, start running regional rail more, on the model of Zierke’s proposal for the Rogue Valley;

– Replace the current single-use sample zoning codes for cities with codes that encourage more TOD and mixed uses.

These are 1% solutions toward petroleum free transport in particular, so 2 is on a different slice of the problem, and 1 is shifting kinds of petroleum products.

3 5 and 6 are great. I assume that 4 is great, as long as POP does not mean Point Of Presence.

The mixed use zoning easements around oil-free transport corridors is more like a 5% solution.

and 1 is shifting kinds of petroleum products.

Not exactly, because diesel engines are more efficient and they do have lower consumption in the same kind of load.

But that is automatically covered by a fuel inefficiency / efficiency feebate … no need to specify technology to reach the fuel efficiency rebate level in that case.

I’m not sure the new fuel efficiency laws allow switching to diesel to count as increasing efficiency. Diesel is more energy-dense than gas, which means that switching to it slightly reduces oil consumption, but does not reduce pollution or GHG emissions. You should check – I have no idea what the new standards’ priority is. Overall, diesel-powered passenger cars have had limited success in the US, unlike in Europe.

The EU gives some priority to reducing oil imports, so its countries tax diesel at a lower rate than gas. But even with the reduced tax, diesel costs nearly twice as much in Europe as in the US.

The feebate was a reference to the previous piece on 5% solutions. It should have been obvious that it was not a reference to “the new fuel efficiency laws”, given that they are not structured as a feebate.

No, POP means proof of payment.

I view the mixed-use zoning as more of an enhancer to the other points. By itself, I don’t know if it’s that useful; new urbanist developments and TOD condos often have high car use. Its greatest use is generating demand for transit, in the style of the Japanese railroads. (This also suggests that the most important TOD is not just residential construction near suburban stations, but also parking-free shopping centers at the urban stations and the junctions.)

I view the mixed-use zoning as more of an enhancer to the other points. By itself, I don’t know if it’s that useful; new urbanist developments and TOD condos often have high car use.

Mixed use, multiple use and height allowance easements in a quarter mile around an oil-independent transport corridor stop is not measured merely in terms of its shift of mode from car to transit – its also measured in terms of its shift in mode from car to foot and in terms of reduction in VMT due to multi-tasking car trips as opposed to classic sprawl design forcing the single-tasking of car trips.

What we have to fight with land use design is automobile dependency – given sufficient freedom from automobile dependency by design, the coming waves of oil price shocks will reduce car use.

Leave a Reply