Friday, March 30, 2012

Electrification of Caltrain short-circuits those of us who object to high-speed rail on the corridor

Caltrain has issued an 89 page report on their "Blended Operations Analysis," a first step of which will be to electrify the Caltrain corridor from SF to SJ. 

Caltrain/California HSR 
Blended Operations Analysis 

Prepared for: 
Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) 
Prepared by: 
LTK Engineering Services 
March 2012 

Please find the Executive Summary and Introduction below these comments.

Some of us had hopes that Union Pacific, the freight operator that has a trackage agreement with Caltrain, would exercise their power to prevent any new inter-city passenger rail operator from using the Caltrain corridor.  Indeed they have that right and their agreement for the CHSRA to use the right-of-way is a required step. 

What we are now reading in this report suggests UPRR's compliance with Caltrain's blended ambitions.  Based on this, I would assume that UPRR will not oppose either the blended system or the advent of HSR's use of the Caltrain corridor.  There is nothing that would please me more than to be wrong about this. 

Here is what UPRR say in their comments, as identified in this report: "Request that UPRR be provided opportunity to participate in future studies involving the blended system. Future studies should include potential impact and possible mitigation to protect freight operations and freight rail customer access."

There are two interested parties, Union Pacific, and their customers who have organized themselves into the "Peninsula Freight Rail Users Group." Their shared biggest concern, as stated in their comments,  is that the blended system must not interfere with full access "to current freight access points."  

Even CHSRA has some concerns addressed in this report that should give us a warning light. In the comments section, they say "Analysis of grade crossings, bridges, tunnels, track structure and alignment is needed before endorsing speeds up to 110 mph."

Why is this so important? The blended system is based on the premise that there will be not major additional infrastructure construction on the rail corridor. That means, after electrification, signalling with PTC (positive train control), and a limited number of additional passing tracks, both rail operators, Caltrain and the CHSRA, can function in a "blended" way on those two tracks. Nothing else would need to be changed. We have learned elsewhere that actually, both train operators will not exceed the current speed limit of 79 mph.  

It should be noted that the CHSRA has not explicitly relinquished its intentions of building out the corridor to four elevated tracks. This is, in their terms, an interim, or temporary accommodation to the lack of further funding. 

Here's the bottom line on this entire exercise. At first, the Peninsula was directly and confrontationally threatened with vastly extended elevated viaducts bearing four tracks.  Such an infrastructure would require massive and highly intrusive construction along much of the rail corridor. The harm to each of the cities would be enormous on a number of measures, including economic, adversely impacting individuals and whole towns along the route.

Let's call that coming in the front door by knocking the door down.  A number of vocal citizens on the Peninsula objected. They (we) having been making a lot of noise over this for nearly a decade.

Also, this "preferred" plan would cost well beyond $10 billion, which the rail authority doesn't have and may not obtain for some while, if ever. So, since our voices have gone unheard, the absence of funds is the most persuasive in Caltrain's and the rail authority's accepting this blended scheme, since it's better than nothing.

So, the CHSRA and Caltrain, along with a dozen local and regional transportation agencies, got their act together quickly and behind closed doors and decided that instead of the front door, high-speed rail could sneak in through the back door. That may not have been the intention of Senator Simitian and his colleagues, or maybe it was. We'll never know.  But that's what the "blended system" provides.  And electrification is the first step into that Caltrain back door.

The rhetoric from the rail authority (Dan Richard) is that, in recognition that there might, just possibly, not be further funding, it would be wise to make investments locally for regional transit systems that will, in the future, provide the "foundation" for high-speed rail. Further, it will subdue angry voices, and please lots of voters and taxpayers in the two major population centers. 

Clever, what? That's what we are calling "take the money and run." 

I have many naive colleagues who have dedicated much time to examining the evolving rail situation and perceive that even if they don't want the threatening elevated viaducts with four tracks, the blended system with Caltrain electrification is a good thing.  

They refuse to acknowledge that it's nothing more than a Trojan Horse.  The cities themselves, even as they submitted their comments, have been decidedly by-passed in this recent flurry of decision-making and fund accumulation by the transit groups, such as the Bay Area's MTC.  Nonetheless, nobody is putting their foot-down.

What do I mean by that? Example: A decision by a town -- no, all the towns -- with track street crossings to deny Caltrain the right to string high-voltage catenary cables across those streets.  Confrontation? Damn right. A national media opportunity? Also right. 

As it is, all 17 of our Peninsula cities along the corridor are lying down and playing dead. Perhaps the cable-ban idea isn't the most viable one, but there is clearly no intention among any of the cities to actually prohibit access to the coming high-speed rail part of this "blending."

It has been clear from the outset of all those who protest and object to high-speed rail's use of the Caltrain corridor, and, indeed, develop as a rail system in California at all (that includes us), that there was painfully little agreement among any of us.  Each town has its own idea and agenda.  Elected leaders continue to devote their time to polite disagreement about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, if you see what I mean. 

Even when five cities amalgamated themselves into a group called The Peninsula Coalition of Cities (PCC), their purpose was endless meetings and discussions. At no time was, or is, there serious consideration of a unified opposition to high-speed rail on the Caltrain corridor, much less in California.

Indeed, a group formed, called Friends of Caltrain, who are actively promoting the scenario that got all those organizations on the Peninsula started in the first place. We were all anxious about the harm that would be done to the Peninsula, and became opposition activists.  That effort is now being under-cut by the so-called "Friends." 

What a lousy, devil's bargain. You want electrification? You also get high-speed rail.  

This Report, based on a computer simulation model, is conceived as a rationalization for what is intended here; that is, electrification and combining the inter-city and the regional commuter rail operators to share two tracks. It is a justification for getting the camel's nose in the tent.

Such persistent divisiveness among all the cities and among the various protesting organizations plays directly into the hands of Caltrain and the rail authority and enables the implementation of their agenda. 

Thereby I draw the conclusion that there will be no hope of relief from these costly and destructive government driven forces that intend to impose their harmful rail project upon us.  

That is the case at the local level, beginning with my own town of Menlo Park, all the other towns along the corridor who continue to exercise their own understanding of what they do and don't want.  And it is certain that we will not obtain relief at the regional and state level.  We have been outweighed and are being out-gunned and out-fought by our own elected officials and our government.

The only glimmer of relief that I now count on is that there will continue to be a House majority in Congress, since that is the only source of power that resists the growth and development of high-speed rail in California. 

Meanwhile, before this decade is out, the rail corridor will be electrified.  I probably won't live to see it.  It will rest with the generation after mine to see the consequences of the opening Pandora's Box. 

Executive Summary

This report presents the results of detailed operational analyses of multiple “blended system” solutions for accommodating future Caltrain commuter rail and high speed rail services on the Caltrain Corridor between San Jose and San Francisco. These solutions are based on two services sharing rail tracks along most segments of the Corridor.

The operational analysis was based primarily on a computer simulation model of the Caltrain Corridor, capturing the trains, station stop (dwell) times, tested schedules, track, signals and track junctions (interlockings) of the future system. The computer simulation model software used to conduct the analysis, TrainOps®, is a proprietary software application developed by LTK Engineering Services. The model was customized for application to the Caltrain and high speed rail operations analysis.

The virtual world modeled in the simulation software is different than the current Caltrain system. Key differences include electrification of the Caltrain system, new Caltrain rail cars (“rolling stock”) that have electric propulsion and an advanced signal system (CBOSS PTC). With electrification and an advanced signal system in place, the simulation model reflects a Caltrain Corridor with superior performance attributes compared to today’s diesel system. This results in the ability to support more train traffic than can be supported today.

In some versions of the simulation model, limited new tracks in select areas of the corridor to support high speed rail stations and passing (overtake) locations to allow high speed rail trains to bypass Caltrain trains were assumed. Versions of the simulation model also varied in terms of simulated Caltrain and high speed rail train speeds, ranging from 79 mph to 110 mph.

The key findings from the simulation model and associated operations analysis are as follows

A blended operation on the Caltrain Corridor where Caltrain and high-speed trains are sharing tracks is conceptually feasible.

An electrified system with an advanced signal system and electric trains increases the ability to support future train growth in the corridor.

The blended system without passing tracks for train overtakes can reliably support up to 6 Caltrain trains and 2 high speed rail trains per peak hour per direction.

The blended system with passing tracks for overtakes can reliably support up to 6 Caltrain trains and 4 high speed rail trains per peak hour per direction.

Supporting high speed rail trains result in non-uniform Caltrain headways. 

Increasing speeds from up to 79 mph to 110 mph decreases travel times for both rail services.

The findings from this analysis should be viewed as a “proof of concept” in analyzing the conceptual feasibility of blended operations. The assumptions in the analysis should be considered as test inputs for analysis and should not be considered as decisions on what the blended system will look like. It is also important to note that the findings are based on a simulation modeling exercise; additional due diligence is needed to ensure that the findings provide sufficient reliability and flexibility for “real world” rail operations.

With a key finding that the Caltrain Corridor blended operations is conceptually feasible; this technical report should be used as a basis for additional discussion by stakeholders for exploring and refining the many blended system alternatives. Subsequent work to be completed include: engineering, identifying maintenance needs, cost estimating, ridership forecasts and environmental clearance.


This report provides a high level overview and detailed technical assumptions of the feasibility analysis of Caltrain Corridor “blended operations.” The blended operations concept reflects Caltrain commuter rail and California High Speed Rail (HSR) trains commingled on the same tracks for much of the Corridor between San Francisco and San Jose. A number of smaller scale infrastructure enhancements have been suggested to enhance the blended operations concept, allowing a greater number of overall trains on the Corridor and/or ensuring that trains operate with virtually no delay due to congestion on the line.

Blended operations being conceptually feasible means identifying future scenarios where the desired level of commuter and high speed rail service can be accommodated and these services can operate with virtually no delays (increased travel time) from terminal to terminal. The basis for assessing the conceptual feasibility of blended operations must include “practical” – as opposed to “theoretical” – assumptions such that any forecasts operational results are achievable under the inevitable day-to-day variations in weather, passenger loads, rolling stock performance, infrastructure availability and the like.

LTK Engineering Services (LTK), working closely with multiple Caltrain departments and California High Speed Rail Program Management staff, was responsible for performing the feasibility analysis of blended operations. LTK was retained by Caltrain for the analysis and worked closely with both future rail operators to ensure concurrence with assumptions and methodologies before advancing the work.

The blended operations analysis used a computer simulation model of the Caltrain Corridor that spanned the territory from Tamien Station, south of San Jose, to the San Francisco terminal at 4th and King. The model replicated the behavior of trains, station stop (dwell) times, schedules, track, signals and track junctions (interlockings), including the dynamic interaction of these entities in the complex railroad operating environment.

The smaller scale infrastructure enhancements consist of short sections of additional railroad track to be used by faster trains (HSR) to overtake (pass) slower trains (Caltrain). During the morning and evening peak period, the higher volume of both HSR and Caltrain trains means that overtakes happen in both directions at about the same time.

The overall guiding criterion for defining overtake segment options is that operational overtakes should improve integration of HSR and Caltrain services with neither service being routinely delayed at an overtake location by the other service. Other criteria include the following:

Overtake tracks should be located where their construction and operation limit impacts to adjoining communities,

Overtake tracks should be sufficiently long to support 7+ minute travel time difference between commuter and HSR trains; and

Overtake tracks should connect to existing four-track segments of the Caltrain Corridor where possible to minimize capital cost.

The computer simulation model software used to conduct the analysis, TrainOps®, is a proprietary software application developed by LTK Engineering Services. The model was customized for application to the Caltrain and high speed rail operations analysis.

The future “no build” (no action) scenario modeled in the simulation software is different than the current Caltrain system, including differences in propulsion (electrification versus the current diesel propulsion), rail cars (electrified vehicles versus the current diesel locomotive-pulled coaches) and signal system ( advanced communications-based system versus a wayside-only system with discrete update locations along the track). With electrification and an advanced signal system in place, the simulation model reflects a Caltrain Corridor with superior performance attributes compared to today’s diesel system.

An incremental approach was used in the development of blended operations scenarios. The model started with the “6/0” scenarios (6 Caltrain and 0 HSR trains per peak hour per direction), then layered in additional HSR trains.

HSR frequencies were increased from an initial service level of 1 train per hour per direction to up to 4 trains per hour (bringing total Corridor train volumes to 10 trains per hour per direction). At the same time, Caltrain scheduling strategies (i.e. modifying train stopping patterns) varying maximum operating speeds and assumed infrastructure were also tested, with each scenario changing only one variable (scheduling strategies, train volume, infrastructure or maximum operating speed) at a time so that the impact of the change could be precisely understood.

Where a simulated train volume in a given scenario resulted in unacceptable train congestion and delays for a given infrastructure and a given maximum operating speed, the follow-on simulation scenarios with higher train volumes appropriately included additional infrastructure or changes in maximum operating speeds to eliminate the unacceptable train congestion and delays.

This incremental “three dimensional matrix” of service level, maximum train speed and infrastructure produced a very large number of potential scenarios, which was limited to a number that could actually be simulated in a reasonable time by using the results of initial scenarios to guide the study team in identifying subsequent scenarios that showed promise of blended operations conceptual feasibility. By using “practical” (conservative) input assumptions and appropriate schedule margin (“pad” or “recovery allowance”), the Study team had confidence that simulated blended operations conceptual feasibility can be translated into actual operational feasibility in “real world” conditions.

Included in this report are the details of the simulation modeling effort and the key findings. Chapter 2 provides information about the TrainOps simulation modeling tool used for the analysis. Chapter 3 focuses on the assumptions and inputs into the Caltrain Corridor model and the individual scenarios tested. Chapter 4 details the simulation results specific to individual scenarios as well as overall assessment of the conceptual feasibility of blended operations. Chapter 5 summarizes the key findings and next steps.

The report also includes three appendices. Appendix A includes detailed tables of Caltrain tested schedule changes required for certain future simulation scenarios. Appendix B includes graphical time-distance (“string”) charts that reflect the peak period simulated train performance of all of the trains operating in the Caltrain Corridor in each scenario. Appendix C provides a glossary of technical and railroad operational terms for the reader’s convenience. Appendix D includes information about stakeholder outreach and public comments on the draft report.

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