Archive for September, 2008

Caltrain safety awareness continued

It is disappointing that some people continues to get killed by ignoring warning bells, flashing lights, and lowered gates and trying to cross the tracks. Causalities like these are unnecessary. These incidents take an emotional toll on the engineers and conductors, and cause passengers to miss their appointments. Is it worth risking your life to save 30 seconds?

Above is an Australian public service announcement on train safety.

Even for someone who is deaf or other hearing difficulties, there’s no excuse because flashing lights and lowered gates provide a visual warning. Of course everyone should always look both ways before crossing the tracks.


September 22, 2008 at 12:48 am Leave a comment

Metrolink tragedy

Last Friday’s head-on collision between a Metrolink train and a Union Pacific freight train shows that we are still a 3rd world country when comes to our railroads.

Generally, a lot of people think heavier is better. In the previous Metrolink collision three years ago in Glendale, a cab car was leading the train. As a result of that tragedy, there has been attempts by some people to ban the use of cab cars, with the belief that the accident would be less severe if a heavier locomotive were leading that train. However, this accident shows that, due to the strength and the weight of the locomotives, the locomotives would essentially transfer the energy to the next railcar rather than to absorb it. That next car was where most fatality occurred when it was pushed into the Metrolink locomotive by its momentum.

Also, this collision appears to be preventable. For a head on collision to happen, or for any collision between trains on the same track, someone must have ignored signals. Unlike driving an automobile, train signals (like regular traffic lights by the tracks) determine how fast trains should go. Train signals are to be observed strictly. More advanced railroads (including the Northeast Corridor) deploy an automatic system where the train would stop if the engineer violates a train signal. As a part of the electrification program, Caltrain is currently investigating some form of positive train control that would be built on top of the current system. Such system would prevent train to train collisions.

September 16, 2008 at 3:55 am Leave a comment

New Caltrain cars

To my surprise a new rail car is already in service. Caltrain ordered 8 new Bombardier cars to supplement the fleet. Caltrain placed these cars in service ahead of the original schedule as some older Gallery cars are still out of service due to a product defect.

The new car at the left look almost identical the older Bombardier car at the right, except with larger windows.

The new car features vinyl seat covers, which hopefully will be kept cleaner overtime. A problem with cloth seat covers is that they trap dust, odor and dirt overtime. The older Bombardier cars are starting to smell bad because of that. Otherwise the seating configuration is the same as the older cars.

The windows are larger on the new cars. For some reasons, Caltrain has included overhead racks on the new cars. It is very easy to hit you head against the overhead rack when you try to stand up. Even Norm Mineta, then Secretary of Transportation, accidentally bumped his head against the rack when he publicly rode on the Baby Bullet a few years ago.

September 12, 2008 at 7:34 am 1 comment

Portable wheelchair lifts

When a wheelchair rider wants to take Caltrain, wheelchair lifts must be used to load and unload that passenger. On trains with a broken wheelchair lift, or without a wheelchair lift (as evidenced by the cars recently removed from service due to product defect), a portable lift would be used for loading and unloading.

Using a portable lift is a time consuming process. As you can see from the picture above, it is not a simple procedure either. The lift must be taken out of the enclosure on the platform and place it by the door. The conductor would have to hand crank the rider on and off the train. The train would generally be late when portable lifts are used.

11 years ago when I first take Caltrain, only portable lifts were used. The newer cars with automatic lifts did not arrive at Caltrain until 2000. However, most stations were not ADA compliant, so Caltrain did not provide lifts at those stops. At that time, very few wheelchair riders take Caltrain as they can only board and exit at some major stations. Eventually, Caltrain slowly add more ADA compliant stops by rebuilding station platforms.

September 11, 2008 at 6:48 am Leave a comment

Caltrain 2015 presentation

This video provides an overview and update of the electrification program. It was presented at yesterday’s meeting by Bob Doty. Because of the YouTube’s limitation it is broken into 3 segments:

This is the second presentation. The first presentation was given by another staffer which was more policy and detail oriented. I’ve recorded that too but it is not on YouTube.

September 6, 2008 at 6:24 am Leave a comment

Threats to Caltrain and electrification

This is what I wrote on ba.transportation in response to the lack of onboard bike capacity at Caltrain and the notion that some people will no longer support Caltrain because of it:

The bicycle issue is much more complex than it is. The gallery cars are not longer suitable for the kind of service Caltrain wants to provide. The dwell time is already excessive given the high steps and poor interior layout. You know that Caltrain has consistently added minutes to the service over the years because of that.

Caltrain actually deserves our praise for its commitment toward electrification. 10 years ago, the same Caltrain believed that it can operate the same way it has been with diesel trains and no Baby Bullets, and it was those decisions made back then that contributed to the problems we have today. Think of the new gallery car orders made in 1998, in which some of them were removed from service today due to a product defect.

I just think the call from some people for more on-board bike space now is shortsighted. Caltrain is facing more threats than they think. High fuel prices is impacting the budget. Equipment is getting run down due to poor design and high use. Measure B in Santa Clara County is directly threatening electrification.

Caltrain staffers are taking the blame because they can’t really tell these people what the real story is, but Caltrain advocates should know better.

Although Caltrain has been much more progressive today than ever before, past decisions (like the gallery car purchase) nonetheless have consequences. Over the last 30 years, Caltrain has missed several opportunities to get the upgrades it deserves. 2008 is a critical year for Caltrain, and all of us need to look at the big picture and support Caltrain aggressively. We cannot afford zero-sum games like seating vs. bike capacity on the aging equipment. With the introduction of new electrified equipment, we will have an opportunity to seriously evaluate issues like onboard bike capacity.

I went to the Caltrain Board meeting earlier today partly for the electrification/Caltrain 2015 presentation by Bob Doty, who was hired by Caltrain a few years ago to develop the Baby Bullet program. Basically the presentation stressed that this year is a critical year. I’ve recorded the presentation and will upload those hopefully soon.

September 5, 2008 at 4:33 am 3 comments

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