Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A really smart analysis of Caltrain's situation

A number of days ago, I posted the following comment on Clem's blog. If you live on the Bay Area Peninsula, and you haven't been following this blog, you should. It's usually very substantive if not downright technical. Clem Tillier, it's author, is very pro-HSR. However, his blog is, nonethless, a very useful source of information.

"Caltrain HSR - Compatibility Blog" <>


Martin Engel said...


What I’m asking for is putting your attention to detail to work based on the hypothesis that the Caltrain corridor will not see any HSR construction for ten years.

There certainly are enough indicators in the new Washington D.C. as well as the decision to put all their eggs in the Central Valley basket, that make's that a plausible hypothesis. In any case, indulge me with an analysis of Caltrain’s options without HSR.

1. Electrification

2. Grade Separations

3. Subsidy funding for operational costs

4. Caltrain/JPB/SamTrans management

There may be other issues that you consider significant. Without HSR, what could the next ten years look like?


23 December, 2010 11:42


On the 27th, I received this response comment from Richard Mlynarik. Although I don't agree with everything that Richard says, this is a very well reasoned analysis of Caltrain's shortcomings.

The biggest flaw, as I keep saying, is that the executive team thinks and acts as if they were in the Railroad Business. That's the wrong business model. They should understand that they are in the public mass-transit and commuter business.

Thanks, Richard, for your thoughtful comments.

Richard Mlynarik said...

Martin Engel:

Re: "the hypothesis that the Caltrain corridor will not see any HSR construction for ten years."

That sort of thing is called "being in possession of a strategic plan" and is equivalent to "employing a staff with the collective intelligence of a slime mould.

Unfortunately for us, Caltrain fails on both counts.

In a better world, one in which public agencies were staffed by public service professionals possessing rudimentary levels of professionalism, competence and/or ethics, we'd have found that the plan for the Caltrain corridor without HSR is exactly the same as the plan with HSR ... the only differences would be the rate and scale of funding.

The key is that the exact same projects that benefit regional (local, regional express) transportation service in the publicly-owned Caltrain corridor are those that set the stage for and can be used by the first stages of inter-regional high speed service.

The highest priority, of course, would have been for a staff with skills above that of slime mould to have spent the last 15 years constructing stations suitable for level boarding instead of wasting hundreds of millions of your tax dollars not doing so.

The second highest priority would have been to have been fully prepared when the inevitable federal ruling came down (I have in my mail archives memos to Caltrain staff saying just this, from nearly a decade ago), to be ready to implement a global standard Positive Train Control system and at the same time finally release transportation service on the public's right of way from the dead hand of Federal Railroad Administration 19th-century freight regulation. Instead, Caltrain less than slime mould intelligence staff have actively worked in favour of FRA regulation and of being run as a freight railroad (with all the massive unnecessary costs and backwards technology that entails), and have actively promoted a unique, insider-consultant-rewarding, guaranteed catastrophe home-grown PTC fiasco.

The third highest priority would have been to have have a prioritised and step-by-step staged series of capital investment (ie track build-out) tranches ready to go, all of which are clearly in support of clearly defined incremental steps of increasing levels of rail service provided to the public.

Well, you know where we are with that. (Instead we have the impossibly stupid San Bruno grade separation as the only capital priority of the agency! Death really is too kind a fate for any of those involved in either designing or promoting or approving this catastrophe.)

Electrification comes in next, implemented in stages if necessary for funding or for transition reasons.

Note that all of these priorities, each of which can be and should have been broken down into incrementally fundable but clearly progressive (not doing the wrong thing and then knocking it down and doing it over, Caltrain style) stages, would all be directly useful for HSR at each stage, and would benefit both Caltrain riders and Caltrain neighbours and HSR riders at each stage. There's no conflict at all, if you have are in possession of a strategy. If money comes in slowly without the HSR tooth fairy sprinkling funding dust, then less stuff is done, but all the stuff that is done is useful. If an avalanche of cash descends, then there is an intelligent and well-defined plan for undertaking useful projects in an adult fashion.

As for Caltrain staff's "plan", well, it was basically to do nothing, bend over, offer up the entire corridor to HSR, pray that money would come from somewhere or other, have no plans of any type for improving Caltrain service, and in fact to actively work for the worst possible technical and service delivery outcome.

Happy New Year.

And death to the Peninsula Rail Program.

27 December, 2010 11:01