Guest opinion: Caltrain's electrification plans 'a disaster' | January 17, 2018 | Almanac | Almanac Online |

Almanac

Viewpoint - January 17, 2018

Guest opinion: Caltrain's electrification plans 'a disaster'

by Michael Brady

I have been an attorney for 50 years here on the Peninsula and have spent 10 of those years working, at no charge, in fighting statewide high-speed rail (HSR) and the expansion of HSR to the Peninsula. I think I know a lot about the issues and the dire adverse effects faced by the Peninsula if this comes to pass — including Caltrain electrification.

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Comments

7 people like this
Posted by Mark
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 18, 2018 at 7:01 am

Mike says "I think I know a lot about the issues..." I disagree.


10 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 18, 2018 at 7:06 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

@Mark:

Please enlighten us as to how Mike is wrong.


11 people like this
Posted by Mike Forster
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2018 at 9:02 am

I concur with Michael Brady that the Caltrain catenary overhead contact system (OCS) electrification project is the wrong solution for the Peninsula.

For two years, I have advocated for hydrogen fuel cell electric multiple units (EMUs) instead of the Caltrain Peninsula Electrification Project. Both fuel cell and Tier 4 diesel approaches are much less expensive than the current Caltrain project, saving hundreds of billions of dollars initially and millions in ongoing maintenance costs for the large PCEP infrastructure of poles, wires, and various electrical stations. Both avoid unsightly overhead wires and avoid cutting or trimming thousands of trees. Both extend the benefits of improved technology from San Francisco to Gilroy, not just to San Jose. Both approaches enable the incremental future implementation of improved technologies such as improved fuel cell or battery solutions or even personal rapid transit, rather than spending over $2B on a system that would, due to inertia and politics, exclude any technology change for decades.

EMUs provide faster acceleration than locomotives, enabling faster and more frequent service. Hydrogen fuel cells generate no carbon emissions and are quiet, like your electric or hybrid automobile. Hydrogen fuel cell EMUs are a much better solution to achieve "electrification" than the Caltrain PCEP.

In both approaches, California High Speed Rail would terminate in San Jose. Passengers would transfer to and from Caltrain express and local trains, BART for the East Bay, VTA for Santa Clara County, taxis / Uber / Lyft, rental or personal cars, or even walk to downtown San Jose locations. The portion of passengers impacted by a few minutes delay in transfers might be very small - many or most CA HSR passengers likely will transfer in San Jose, even if CA HSR were to continue through to San Francisco. The CA HSR solution across the mostly rural Central California should not dictate the rail solution for the Peninsula.

For presentations and a study paper, see www.mikeforster.net/caltrain.

Mike Forster, Palo Alto


10 people like this
Posted by Pete
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2018 at 11:15 am

Imagine spending your twilight years fighting against faster, cleaner, quieter trains. Maybe take up fishing instead?


4 people like this
Posted by pacsailor
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2018 at 12:10 pm

@Mike Forster
Is hydrogen fuel cell technology viable now? As far as I know it is still in development stage, and I have heard about it over 20 years ago. Will the cost of infrastructure required for it included in the 25% cost you mentioned? Are there already trains in use for this technology? For sure it is the most environmentally clean.


2 people like this
Posted by pacsailor
a resident of another community
on Jan 18, 2018 at 12:12 pm

@ Mike Forster
Is hydrogen fuel cell technology viable now? As far as I know it is still in development stage, and I have heard about it over 20 years ago. Will the cost of infrastructure required for it included in the 25% cost you mentioned? Are there already trains in use for this technology? For sure it is the most environmentally clean.


6 people like this
Posted by Mike Forster
a resident of another community
on Jan 20, 2018 at 9:32 am

Yes, hydrogen fuel cell technology is viable now.

Alstom iLint fuel cell EMUs will start service in Germany in 2018, and are being planned or considered in The Netherlands, UK, Canada, Norway, and additional Germany locations. A Siemens / Ballard joint venture is developing competing fuel cell EMU. In a related situation, a China fuel cell light rail route will start service in 2018.

Fuel cell busses and freight locomotives are being tested. Fuel cell forklifts are replacing battery forklifts in many major big-box warehouses. The growing hydrogen energy market means that hydrogen generation, storage, and fuel cell technology will continue to improve in the next few years.

Regarding infrastructure: The Caltrain PCEP requires over 50 miles of poles and wires, plus 2 electrical substations, 1 switching station, and 7 paralleling stations. The fuel cell approach functions like the diesel approach - only 1 fueling station is needed, likely in San Jose. Initially, natural gas would be piped in, hydrogen extracted and stored on site, and EMUs refueled in a few minutes. Later, new hydrogen-from-sea water extracting technologies will likely eliminate the need for the natural gas.

Regarding cost: It was Michael Brady who mentioned that Tier 4 diesel locomotive approach would cost 20% of the Caltrain PCEP. I presume Michael's recommendation is to replace the existing locomotives but keep the existing passenger cars. The fuel cell EMU approach requires replacing the existing locomotives and passenger cars with EMUs. The fuel cell EMU approach should cost about 40% of the Caltrain PCEP approach, including the fueling infrastructure. Either approach would reduce the ongoing maintenance costs, because there would so much less infrastructure to maintain.


14 people like this
Posted by Politicians
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 20, 2018 at 11:18 am

Politicians do not change direction easily. When politicians take a stand on a subject, they will hold onto that stand to the bitter end even if circumstances change that would warrant a reasonable person to change his mind.

And so it goes with this electrification debate. In recent times, hydrogen fuel cells have clearly become a better alternative to catenary electrical from a time, cost, and technical perspective. But the politicians can't acknowledge that the technology has improved, probably because they don't understand the engineering. But the truth never matters in politics, only perceptions. And politicians are experts in manipulating perceptions. They tied themselves politically to electrification for over a decade. Changing their mind now would make them look foolish, even if it was better from a public policy perspective.

Regular electrified passenger service is still around five years away for Caltrain. Construction takes a long time because it can only occur when no trains are running. Then, there is a long period of testing and verification before trains are brought into regular service.

So, we wait and spend more so that the politicians can pretend they are not foolish. They tell their constituents they made the best decisions. Only the few that understand the current state of locomotive technology understand those politicians are wrong.

The politicians are not incorrect when they say overhead electrification will provide more frequent service and environment benefits. What they don't tell you is hydrogen fuel cells will give you those same benefits, at a cheaper price, and sooner.


17 people like this
Posted by Spread the Word
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 20, 2018 at 11:27 am

Mike, thank you for your considerable efforts over the years on the taxpayers' behalf. I don't know if the answer is newer diesel or some other technology, but why aren't these questions being posed more broadly? Why have only 7 people commented on your days-old post? Have you shared your views with elected officials or news reporters who cover high speed rail? These are important questions that should be answered. I think you needer a taller platform than the Almanac.


Like this comment
Posted by Tesla
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 21, 2018 at 4:41 am

Tesla is a registered user.


Tesla has developed a very energy efficient array of solar panels and solar electric storage batteries.

I'm sure in the future they will be good enough to power the the whole system, in the meantime it could help augment/work with electrification until the technology is refined.


6 people like this
Posted by Neilson Buchanan
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2018 at 2:07 pm

Neilson Buchanan is a registered user.

Has anyone added up the ridership expectations for the massive increases in Transit Oriented Development up and down the rail corridor? What happens when the powerful economic TOD incentives create so much housing and office developments that new Caltrain capacity cannot handle the demand? Has anyone in professional transportation class conducted rough estimates of ridership supply and demand? If those studies, then I cannot find them.

Major transportation projects historically have three characteristics.
1. Over budget
2. Delivery delays
3. Underestimated demand...that is why new freeways are congested upon completion.

I have no problem accepting the three laws of mega transportation projects. I urge everyone to think about how TOD office and housing tenants will react if new train capacity should fail to satisfy mobility between home and work.


13 people like this
Posted by Standard Designs
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 22, 2018 at 9:31 am

I don't see anything wrong with CalTrain's design or technical approach. Everything they are proposing is in keeping with what other train systems already have in place or are in the process of changing to. To work effectively, CalTrain, which will be an extension of the High Speed Rail system, needs to work in concert with HSR on a standard design.

There are myriad reasons why electrification is better than other modes of motive power. Pollution and noise is only one aspect of the issue. The cost, overall complexity, volume requirements, weight issues, and maintenance, etc.; all carry important engineering, cost, design considerations. On all of these counts, diesel looses against electric trains.

And, since the HSR train-set design uses an electric platform with overhead catenary, they will be installed up and down the peninsula anyhow? What is the advantage of using fuel cells?

And, positive train controls is new standard for all rail lines and it being managed at the federal level. Europe's system is essential the same? I'm not even sure CalTrain could avoid deploying it if it wanted considering it still carries freight?

Believe me, I'm not super excited about having more rail traffic, but I believe that it is needed and that they are taking a prudent approach.


9 people like this
Posted by Why Fuel Cells
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Jan 22, 2018 at 9:36 am

Why should a train use Fuel Cells instead of diesel or electric only? This doesn't make sense to me. What am I missing?


12 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2018 at 12:31 pm

"CalTrain, which will be an extension of the High Speed Rail system"

This is not correct. If this were to be correct, HSR would stop at San Jose and let Caltrain handle the SJ<->SF leg of transit. It would be more accurate to say that Caltrain "will have to share the right-of-way with" High Speed Rail.

Not mentioned as part of that sharing is that caltrain may...ironically...have to DEGRADE travel times to accommodate HSR use of the ROW, since HSR will likely want to pass caltrain trains as part of trying to meet travel time goals.

So...faster electrical service may end up resulting in slower travel times. Your 3 billion dollars in action.


'Caltrain...needs to work in concert with HSR on a standard design.'

(ignoring the ROW recent fire-sale for the moment)...soo...you are implying that because HSR would be electrical that Caltrain needs to be electrical. And that is just not true: caltrain does NOT need to work in concert with HSR to provide better public transit.

The ROW must continue to support freight, and freight will definitely continue to be diesel. It would be more accurate to say: "Caltrain and HSR need to work in concert to ensure that the ROW supports freight operations, and freight operations is DIESEL."


"positive train controls is new standard"

No, the requirement for PTC is not new. It's just been horribly mismanaged by Caltrain.


"it being managed at the federal level."

No, the design and deployment of PTC is managed at the local (in this case, Caltrain) level.

Caltrain's goal for the ROW is for the ROW to have 3 separate PTC systems: 1 for Caltrain, 1 for HSR and 1 for freight. Insanity.



11 people like this
Posted by Standard Designs
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 22, 2018 at 1:34 pm

@peninsula resident

Thank you for cleaning up my comment. Your input is helpful here. I agree with your point,"Caltrain and HSR need to work in concert to ensure that the ROW supports freight operations, and freight operations is DIESEL."

The point I'm still struggling with is, that some commenters here and in other posts on this topic, seem to think that if Caltrain would only agree to use diesel (or an alternative motive technology), that we would no longer need overhead wires on the peninsula. And, my understanding is that this simply isn't true. HSR will use overhead electrical service to power their trains. So my point is, that if you are going to have overhead wires anyway, why wouldn't Caltrain want to use electric locomotives?

My intended point about PTC is that PTC is being planned, developed and deployed across the nation with coordination and planning done at the federal level. The fact Caltrain didn't select a good vendor is a valid point, so if they aren't working out, Caltrain should sack them and move on to the many other PTC vendors out there. Union Pacific has been running PTC in the East Bay for a while; in many other Western States as well.


3 people like this
Posted by Mike Forster
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2018 at 3:15 pm

To re-iterate and expand on some points made earlier regarding hydrogen fuel cell EMU electrification vs overhead catenary EMU electrification:

This discussion starts with the question: What would be the best system for the Caltrain corridor, separate from what would be the best for California High Speed Rail?

Tier 4 diesel locomotives would be better than the current, older generation diesel locomotives. But they don't satisfy the goals of eliminating emissions altogether and of faster and more frequent service provided by more quickly-accelerating EMUs.

Hydrogen fuel cell EMUs would: 1) save more than $1B in initial costs by eliminating the large infrastructure required by the overhead catenary EMUs; 2) same millions of $ each year in maintenance savings of that infrastructure; 3) save additional costs in rework of the poles and wires as cities finally raise or lower tracks for grade separations; 4) inherently extend electrification to Gilroy and later across Dumbarton without having to add more expensive poles and wires; 6) avoid removing or trimming 4000 trees; 7) avoid the somewhat unsightly overhead poles and wires; and 8) allow future upgrading to improved fuel cell and battery technologies, which would never happen once the overhead wires are in place.

As mentioned earlier (Jan 20, 2018, 9:32 am), hydrogen fuel cell EMUs are a viable technology that was not proven or viable years and decades ago when the overhead catenary approach was chosen.

CA HSR does require overhead catenary wires, so CA HSR would terminate in San Jose. Passengers would transfer to and from Caltrain express and local trains, BART for the East Bay, VTA for Santa Clara County, taxis / Uber / Lyft, rental or personal cars, or even walk to downtown San Jose locations. The portion of passengers impacted by a few minutes delay in transfers might be very small - many or most CA HSR passengers likely will transfer in San Jose, even if CA HSR were to continue through to San Francisco. The CA HSR solution across the mostly rural Central California should not dictate the rail solution for the Peninsula.

For presentations and a study paper, see www.mikeforster.net/caltrain.

Mike Forster, Palo Alto


11 people like this
Posted by Why Fuel Cells
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 22, 2018 at 4:20 pm

I'm calling an audible. CA voters passed 1A for high speed rail from L.A. to SAN FRANCISCO, not San Jose then off-load, wait, reboard onto a different train to continue on!?!

The timetables are already tight and pushing the promises made to voters and used in the ridership models. Any further delays to the L.A. to S.F. travel will only act to reduce ridership and threaten project economics.

To your points, I concede to them except for, (1) Getting a commercial-grade, fuel cells, train rated H2 storage tanks, and a network of methane reformation and H2 filling stations will exceed the promised $1B in savings (2) everything I mention in #1 has significant O&M costs, not to mention stack replacement (3) poles and wire are reused and are incredibly cheap relative to the overall cost of grade separations.

As much as I like the direction you're attempting, the HSR plan is fixed and it does not include changing trains in San Jose. BTW - thank you for posting your content online. If is very informative.


6 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 22, 2018 at 6:19 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

why fuel cells?:

What the voters approved will NEVER be delivered. It was all a giant LIE. If anyone wants to economically eliminate diesel exhaust on the Cal-train corridor they need to understand that batteries or fuel cells are the only way to go. Primarily because HSR will NEVER come up the peninsula. In all likelihood it will NEVER make it to San Jose. There is no funding for it and there won't be in the future.


10 people like this
Posted by Brike Mady
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 22, 2018 at 9:27 pm

When you want to know about cutting-edge transport technologies, you talk to an ATTORNEY- it's just common sense, people!!


Like this comment
Posted by Mike Forster
a resident of another community
on Jan 22, 2018 at 10:48 pm

To respond to "Why Fuel Cells" comment of earlier today:

One could interpret prop 1A as 2 hours 20 minutes between LA and San Francisco. Passengers could transfer between CA HSR and a Caltrain Express train by crossing a platform, scheduled so there would be no waiting, with perhaps 2 minutes dwell time. As I mentioned, the number of people impacted might be very small - I expect that most passengers would transfer in San Jose anyway, to and from the many other modes of transportation to many destination.

To the other points: 1a) commercial-grade fuel cells and train-rated H2 storage tanks is already solved - Alstom iLint will be in revenue service in Germany in 2018, China will have a fuel cell light rail in service also in 2018, fuel cell freight and switcher locomotives already exist, and a Siemens / Ballard joint venture is developing competing fuel cell EMU; 1b) automobiles would need a network of (initially natural gas) hydrogen generation and H2 filling stations - Caltrain needs only 1, likely in San Jose or Santa Clara; 2) fuel cell components do have O&M and stack replacement costs, but these are likely less than comparable costs for maintaining over 50 miles of poles and wires plus multiple electrical stations; 3) poles and wires would be reused, but the labor to install them on the temporary shoofly tracks, remove them from the main line, then reinstall them on the raised / lowered main line and remove them from the shoofly tracks is a rework cost that can be totally avoided with any independently-powered solution, either Tier 4 diesel locomotives, Tier 4 diesel EMUs, or fuel cell EMUs.

If a commercial company was partway through an improvement program at a specified cost, and someone came along and could accomplish a better solution for half the cost, that commercial company would change direction and simply write off the money already spent. Caltrain could do the same. And the CA HSR plan should not be so fixed that it prevents the Caltrain corridor from implementing the best technical and cost-effective solution for Peninsula passengers.

Mike Forster, Palo Alto


13 people like this
Posted by Thomas Paine IV
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 23, 2018 at 9:31 am

So we are going cut down thousands of trees and spend billions of dollars to prepare the CalTrain corridor for High Speed Rail. Maybe you missed the latest news that the HSR project is on its deathbed. "But that plan (HSR) has been crushed by the acknowledgment Tuesday that the cost of building just 119 miles of rail between the farm towns of Madera and Wasco has soared from about $6 billion to $10.6 billion, siphoning off money that the authority had planned to allocate to the ultimate goal of connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco." LA Times Jan 21, 2018. Web Link

Just two weeks ago Dan Richards, chair of the CHSRA assured us that everything was on budget. A $4.6 billion overrun on a $6 billion budget is just chump chnage to him. If the budget on a flat section through farmland nearly doubles goes from $6 billion to $10.6 it is fair to assume the $64 billion budget will increase to $128 billion.


9 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 23, 2018 at 1:50 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

" If the budget on a flat section through farmland nearly doubles goes from $6 billion to $10.6 it is fair to assume the $64 billion budget will increase to $128 billion."

Exactly as many of us predicted. They need to kill this project now before they waste any more money.


1 person likes this
Posted by Mike Forster
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:03 pm

In response to Spread the Word's comment of Jan 20:

Yes, I have written to the Caltrain Board, the Boards of Supervisors of the 3 counties, California state transportation committee members and my own assembly member and senator, and Representative Eshoo, Senators Feinstein and Harris, and the Dept of Transportation at the federal level. So far, I've only received a few acknowledgements from Ms. Eshoo and state representatives, and a response from Caltrain. I have also contacted or submitted letters to the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle, with no publication (yet) from either.

The Caltrain response came down to 2 objections: 1) hydrogen fuel cells are not a proven technology - not true; and 2) expectations for jobs have been set and contracts in place, and many people would be "disappointed" by a change in direction. The Caltrain response did not directly address the substantive aspects - the technical and cost-effectiveness of the PCEP vs. fuel cell approaches.

I am considering initiating a Meetup.com group to gather together interested parties to discuss this topic.

Mike Forster, Palo Alto


5 people like this
Posted by TAY94025
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 23, 2018 at 2:34 pm

responding to the last post... I think CalTrain has it right on both points. They are making rational decisions. Fuel cells are not proven for this application, and I can't quite understand the merits for them -- for some of the same reasons listed in the Why Fuel Cell post. Electric commuter trains, metros, light-rail, etc. are efficient in part because they use use regenerative braking to back-feed the grid (brakes only provide ancillary support.) Fuel cells don't work in this way, so you need yet another energy storage technology on board (flywheel, batteries, capacitors) to store the energy from braking and downhill operations.


2 people like this
Posted by Mike Forster
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2018 at 3:07 pm

In response to TAY94025:

My initial comment on Jan 18 and my expanded comment on Jan 22 above list the many reasons to consider and favor fuel cell EMUs. The technology is proven enough that Germany will implement one route this year, and Germany and at least 4 other countries are planning or considering their own implementations in the next year or so.

Also, the Alstom iLint fuel cell EMU also has a battery which stores excess energy generated by the fuel and also captures the electricity produced by regenerative braking.

Mike Forster, Palo Alto


4 people like this
Posted by Politicians
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 23, 2018 at 4:09 pm

@TAY94025

Regular electrified commuter service is five years away according to the Caltrain construction schedule. As construction timelines are always too optimistic, it's probably longer than five years. And even when that regular service arrives, only some of the trains will be electrified, not all. There are no plans to for poles all the way to Gilroy.

With fuel cells, you could electrify 100% of Caltrain service SOONER and LOWER COST. Caltrain won't go the fuel cell route because it would make the politicians look stupid for promoting overhead electrification for so long and the construction trade unions would stop donating to those same politicians.

This decision to stay with catenary electrification is only rational if you are in a construction trade union or a politician. It is not rational if you are a commuter, taxpayer, or environmentalist.

The problem is that the average citizen is not well-versed on the technology and the costs, which is why so many people continue to believe catenary electrification is the best choice.


6 people like this
Posted by Jack Hickey
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 23, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Jack Hickey is a registered user.

Does not HSR, or electrified CalTrain, recapture braking energy? Sending it back to the grid would reduce the need for buffer batteries.


5 people like this
Posted by Why Fuel Cells
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 23, 2018 at 5:28 pm

@Jack Hickey,

Yes, both the HSR and the proposed electrified CalTrain trains would recapture braking energy. As I understand Mike Forester's proposal, HSR would terminate in San Jose (so no S.F. to San Jose HSR service), and that the CalTrain trains would use fuel cells. Since fuel cells cannot recapture braking energy themselves, those trains would also be equipped with an energy storage device (batteries).


7 people like this
Posted by Why Fuel Cells
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 23, 2018 at 5:49 pm

To TYA94025,

Agreed. The status quo leaves a lot to be desired. Not sure if helps, but here is how I compare the different options; in overly simple terms:

Present: Diesel is the source of energy and it is stored in the locomotive.
step 1 -- the engine converts diesel to shaft power
step 2 -- the engine drives a generator to make electricity
step 3 -- electricity powers the electric motors to turns the train's wheels
There is no ability to recapture/store braking energy (braking energy is lost)

Current proposal for CalTrain and HSR: Electric trains

Electricity is the source of energy and it is transmitted to the train continuously via overhead wires
Step 1 – trains draws electricity from the grid to power electric motors

During braking, the motors behave as generators and feed electricity back to the grid.

Fuel Cells option:

Natural Gas is the source of energy. First natural gas is reformed to make hydrogen. This is done at one or more points along the track. The H2 is compressed to high pressure and then transferred to hydrogen storage tanks on the train.

Step 1 – The fuel cells produce electricity from H2
Step 2 -- Electricity powers the electric motors to turns the train's wheels
D
uring braking, the motors behave as generators and feed electricity to an onboard energy storage device (i.e. batteries). When the train needs power, it uses the energy stored in the batteries in addition to making electricity from the fuel cell stack.

In short, the fuel cell is an energy conversion device. Over a number of steps, natural gas is converted to electricity using H2 as an intermediate fuel source stored on the train. This is a different energy conversion device than the current pathway (diesel to electricity) or, alternatively, the use of compressed natural gas in a conventional reciprocating engine-generator (natural gas to electricity).


5 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 23, 2018 at 9:51 pm

We've already been down the kooky experimental route once with BART, and we're still paying for it.

There are zero production scale deployments of fuel cell trains. There are hundreds of production scale deployments of electric trains (mix of third rail and OCS), spanning more than a hundred years.

Caltrain's leadership may have its faults, but they are wise in sticking with proven, widely deployed, off-the-shelf technology for power delivery.

Instead of blocking progress that will benefit future generations, perhaps the OP should take up making ships in bottles or some other less destructive hobby.


5 people like this
Posted by Mike Forster
a resident of another community
on Jan 23, 2018 at 11:30 pm

Responding to MP Resident's comment of Jan 23 about 10 pm:

There is no attempt here to block progress, but an attempt to make even better, quicker, more cost-effective progress for future generations with a different approach based on an emerging technology.

Human-driven gasoline cars, diesel trucks, and diesel/electric locomotives have been around for 100 years. Does that mean that we should never consider moving to self-driving electric cars?

Someone has to be an early adopter of new technologies. Germany and other countries will be that for fuel cell EMUs, and innovative Silicon Valley could join them. One advantage not yet mentioned of any independently-powered option such as Tier 4 diesel locomotives or EMUs, battery EMUs, or fuel cell EMUs is that they can be tested incrementally. Caltrain could delay the current PCEP plan, purchase perhaps12 2-car Altom iLint fuel cell EMUs grouped into 4 6-car trainsets plus one small capacity hydrogen fueling station. Caltrain could observe the fuel cell EMUs in operation and also observe how the technology progresses elsewhere, before continuing to spend more than $2B on a solution that might have become obsolete when it might be completed in 2022.

Most if not all the comments and discussion in this thread have been cogent and thoughtful. There is no need in this forum or any other for dismissively disparaging people who are sincerely attempting to improve our society with innovative ideas, as in "... perhaps the OP should take up making ships in bottles or some other less destructive hobby."

Mike Forster, Palo Alto


6 people like this
Posted by voter
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2018 at 10:24 am

California voters approved HSR with some restrictions such as having a business plan and funding. That hasn't happened. Voters did not approve what is happening now.

For Caltrain, it is wise to look to the future and select technology and track design that is best for the long term. That means planning now for significant - significant - increases in demand for public transit. In Menlo Park alone, gridlock has hit, and that does not include thousands of new commuters about to come from already approved projects in our city alone. We have much to learn from other countries about technology and where to put trains. Modern diesel and underground tracks would allow use of ground-level spaces for revenue-producing uses that help offset costs and allow avoidance of costs of solutions that won't stand the test of time.

Mike Brady calls for common sense. About time! Unfortunately decisionmakers are not looking ahead.


5 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 24, 2018 at 1:48 pm

"Modern diesel and underground tracks would allow use of ground-level spaces for revenue-producing uses that help offset costs and allow avoidance of costs of solutions that won't stand the test of time."

Some obvious BIG drawbacks of attempting to relocate rail underground.

1. Three to five years of construction means huge local traffic disruption, noise, emissions, dirt, etc.

2. Caltrain would need to build a temporary rail bypass the entire length of Menlo Park adjacent to the new construction. This is problematic.

2. A trench would likely cost more than a billion dollars IF construction were actually started in 2018. And a tunnel is much more expensive.It could not be started for at least another five years so costs will continue to rise far faster than general inflation.

3. Huge transportation projects usually have huge cost over-runs and major unforeseen delays.

4. Not clear Caltrain would ever approve a long tunnel that serves both commuter and freight trains.

5. Even if Caltrain permitted a tunnel there is no treason to believe that commercial development of any kind would be allowed in is "right-of-way". Menlo Park does not own this space.

6. Menlo Park expects state, county and high speed rail funding sources to pay most of the cost of grade separations and these might view a trench as a luxury.


5 people like this
Posted by Phillip Whalen
a resident of Woodside: other
on Jan 24, 2018 at 4:44 pm

I'm really surprised that many are still supporting the HSR plan, mostly just because it is already in place. And the current plan is one we never voted on or agreed to. The original concept was exciting, had many positive aspects, and garnered support from many of us for those reasons. But the practical implementation has shown the vision does not meet reality.

Here we are in the birthplace of many of the world's greatest technological developments, yet even with all of the issues now surrounding the HSR project, there is strong resistance by some to try a new technology for this problem. Thank goodness for early adopters, otherwise Silicon Valley and the luxury we enjoy here would never have happened. I for one think we need a different path, and we should look at new possible solutions.

Also, what are not being taken into account in this discussion are other new technologies that will impact the future of the HSR. The technology that I believe is specifically relevant is the self-driving vehicle. It is estimated that by 2035 (just a few years following the supposed completion of the HSR) motorized vehicles will be operated completely independent from a human occupant’s control. I suspect that there will be caravans of busses and trucks running in special high speed traffic lanes, transporting people and goods on highways at significantly higher speeds than are currently allowed for driver vehicles. If this vision is correct, there will be a dramatic reduction in rail passenger traffic.

Thus, a lower cost, near term solution makes a lot more sense than pursuing a vision that was never agreed to by the public, that seems to have lost federal government funding support (key to its success), and that seems to have unlimited costs that just keep mounting beyond any amounts ever initially considered. Any rationale for continuing such a path simply escapes me.


14 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 24, 2018 at 5:29 pm

And while you all resurrect your cuttings from Popular Mechanics and spend non-existing billions, worrying about some poles and wires, we're still sitting next to 60 year old diesel trains and the second-hand passenger cars from Los Angeles.

Stop the dreaming and/or pointless complaining and find a ready-now solution.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2018 at 12:28 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Existing EMUs that do surge charging at each stop would do just fine - with no poles and no wires between stations.


6 people like this
Posted by Stephanie
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2018 at 11:58 am

Excellent article. Mike knows everything about this issue, folks. Listen to him. On the other hand, the electric trains will give lots of retired men jobs at the crossing gates.


10 people like this
Posted by maximusgolden
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 25, 2018 at 12:30 pm

One section of Michael Brady's article is quite revealing:

"Peninsula residents have no clue as to the financial and aesthetic disasters awaiting them. Is getting to the Museum of Modern Art four minutes faster on an electric train worth all this? "

Many Atherton and Menlo Park residents try not to acknowledge that they live in a metropolitan area--The Bay Area--which has transportation needs that transcend local residents and local trips. 60,000 people commute on Caltrain daily. With better service, this number will grow dramatically. Rush hour trains are mobbed. Companies run large bus fleets to augment capacity. Commutes are miserable and local traffic is unbearable, especially where commuter auto routes intersect local streets.

Will the parochial concerns of San Mateo county residents again obstruct necessary improvements to our Bay Area transit system as occurred with BART? Think about how much better off we would all be if BART rounded the Bay as originally planned--a quiet electric system on a dedicated right of way. The key complaint revolves around Caltrain cutting trees in the Caltrain right-of-way. Note that the neighbors didn't pay for a view easement into the right of way and the right of way was there when they bought their properties.


4 people like this
Posted by Politicians
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 25, 2018 at 1:24 pm

The Mercury News editorial board has just written an editorial advocating that California should stop working on HSR.

Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 25, 2018 at 2:14 pm

"the electric trains will give lots of retired men jobs at the crossing gates."

I know some of you probably assumed that was a joke. She wasn't joking: sadly this is likely to happen.

24/7 manned crossing guards at every Caltrain at-grade crossing isn't just a possibility, it's LIKELY. And yes, it's a side-effect of electrifying the right-of-way, as the current constant-warning-time circuitry is incompatible with an electrified Caltrain.

The solution Caltrain's vendor...balfour beatty...wants to use REQUIRES CROSSING GUARDS in Denver because the gates stay down too long. They consider their solution WORKING AS INTENDED.

You people have no idea what you're about to face. For anyone who ever needs to drive over the caltrain tracks, you will be pining for the days when Caltrain was diesel and the gates operated properly.


4 people like this
Posted by Standard Designs
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Jan 26, 2018 at 8:59 am

Regardless of our individual views about CA the high speed rail project, the point that is often overlooked/forgotten, is that the motivation for new large infrastructure projects is not to solve an immediate need, but rather, be a solution for future needs. Regional and transportation planners look at future growth patterns in the State under many different model cases and then look at which transportation solutions which are best able to service this future populations, including with cases which include wild-card scenarios such as autonomous fleets of passenger and cargo vehicles. The ability of current airports, and the timing, costs and locations for airport expansion, future airport locations, etc.

This same type of planning precedes most large civil works projects -- new interstates, new electricity transmission corridors, dam projects, etc. And in many cases, when first built, they seem to be unnecessarily, underutilized, or overbuild. That is, in part true. Most of these project really only come into to their own after 10 years or 20 years. And for the decades that follow, it is almost impossible to imagine live without them.

I firmly believe the same will be true about a better rail system in California. Rail is an important piece of the transportation mix and it really doesn't make sense to neglect it or not make the necessary investments in it to improve its function, utility, and safety. In many ways, the CA high speed rail plan is not blazing new trails with new technology, but is implementing what is already in use over most of the EU and UK. And from a State level transportation solution, it makes sense. Yes, construction will be noisy and it will be expensive. All large civil projects are. But it is the right thing to do.


6 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2018 at 11:38 am

Standard said:

"the motivation for new large infrastructure projects (like HSR) is not to solve an immediate need, but rather, be a solution for future needs.

If the motivation is to be a solution for "future needs", why are these projects always so short sighted?

The real motivation for large infrastructure projects in California is to create a conduit to funnel taxpayer money to favored construction companies, trade unions, and the wealthy real-estate developers that fund California's corrupted political establishment.


5 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2018 at 12:09 pm

Regardless of our individual views about the CA high speed rail project, the point is that Proposition 1A has conditions in it that are required BEFORE construction and are requirements BEFORE funding from the Prop1a bonds. It also has REQUIREMENTS for operations, from travel times to no taxpayer funding of operations. CAHSR is not meeting these voter-mandated requirements.

HSR wants the money, but doesn't want the terms that comes with that money. That's not how it's suppose to work.

The Prop1a requirements are constitutionally protected; CAHSR nor the governor nor the assembly nor senate are legally empowered to change the terms of what people voted for, though they clearly try.

Pro-high-speed-rail sycophants are fully empowered to address the discrepancies on what voters voted for vs what HSR is attempting to build: just put another proposition on the ballot explaining the REAL cost and the REAL travel times and and the real price of a ticket and the need for a taxpayer operations subsidy in perpetuity.

They don't want to do that because they know that proposition would fail...spectacularly.


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Posted by TAY94025
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 26, 2018 at 12:40 pm

Regarding the prior comment. I tend to agree that, knowing what we now know, voters may not pass 1A again in the same form. I was not aware that there is a provision that CA HSR operations must be self-sustaining. Who does that? I can't think of a single country in the world that has a rail system with self-sustaining operations. Why would CA want to do that here? That makes no sense.


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Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of another community
on Jan 26, 2018 at 1:15 pm

"I was not aware that there is a provision that CA HSR operations must be self-sustaining."

Yep, here's the language from Prop1a:
"(J) The planned passenger service by the authority in the corridor or usable segment thereof will not require a local, state, or federal operating subsidy."


"Why would CA want to do [no HSR operational taxpayer subsidy] here? That makes no sense."

They added it to the language to get votes, to get Prop1A to pass. In a nutshell, they lied.

More precisely, they grossly fudged the numbers to make people believe it could be self-funding for operations.


"I can't think of a single country in the world that has a rail system with self-sustaining operations."

True, there are no countries in the world where their combined high-speed rail lines run without a taxpayer subsidy. More precisely, there are roughly 130 high-speed-rail lines in the world, but only 2 run at a profit: Paris/Lyon and Tokyo/Kyoto.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.