04 June 2014

The Great Platform Construction Extravaganza

Redwood City in August 2000
One of the arguments against level boarding is that it would involve a massive reconstruction of just about every single station platform along the entire peninsula rail corridor without interrupting rail service.  On the face of it, that sounds like a very expensive logistical challenge, simply too hard to take on with all the other modernization efforts currently underway.

Would you believe that Caltrain has already done it?  Over the last 15 years, no fewer than 37 station platforms have been built from the ground up.

Following Caltrain's forward-thinking strategic plan, these new platforms were all built for future compatibility with level boarding rolling stock, after a hard-fought waiver of CPUC General Order 26D.  This regulation had previously limited platform heights to 8 inches, causing lengthy station dwells and slowing Caltrain trip times, which thankfully have improved by several minutes over the last decade.

Um, never mind, scratch that entire last paragraph!  All of these new platforms will have to be re-built all over again to achieve level boarding.

Station Qty Opening Cost Comments
Bayshore 2 Mar 2004
San Bruno 2 Apr 2014 part of grade separation project
Millbrae 3 Jun 2003 part of BART to SFO project
Burlingame 2 Jun 2008 $20.5M
San Mateo 2 Sep 2000
Hayward Park 2 Nov 1999
built for future third track
Hillsdale 1 Oct 2005 $2+M new northbound only, with southbound improvements
Belmont 1 Oct 1999 part of grade separation project
San Carlos 2 Oct 1999 part of grade separation project
Redwood City 2 4Q 2000
Menlo Park 2 Aug 2000 $3.3M
Palo Alto 2 Feb 2009 $35M (cost shared with Cal Ave)
California Ave 2 Feb 2009 $35M (cost shared with Palo Alto)
San Antonio 2 Apr 1999
Mountain View 2 Dec 1999
Sunnyvale 2 May 2003
Lawrence 2 Mar 2004
Santa Clara 2 Dec 2011 $40M (cost shared with San Jose)
San Jose 2 4Q 2012 $40M (cost shared with Santa Clara)

Caltrain has demonstrated that they know how to build a large number of new platforms over a time span of a decade or so, which is why it's particularly important that the new EMU rolling stock (which will last three decades) be pre-configured for a future level boarding platform interface.  It would truly be a shame if an effective level boarding solution--fully compatible with high-speed rail--were to be precluded through bad procurement choices made today in 2014.

Here's hoping that Caltrain's 2014 strategic plan will reflect a new vision for level boarding and a new understanding of its advantages for reducing trip times, improving service punctuality, increasing train average speeds, and increasing the overall throughput capacity of the peninsula rail corridor.

03 June 2014

An Enduring Photoshop Job

Way back in October of the year 2000, I was dismayed to find no good renderings of what an electrified Caltrain might look like.  In those days, before copyright became a huge deal, I pointed my Netscape browser to the European Railway Server and grabbed an unremarkable photo of an Alstom EMU taken by Benoît Géhant at Hellemmes, France back in 1998:

Original photo
The next several hours were spent in Photoshop, adjusting hues and pixels, moving doors around, adding more train cars, pasting in a background of the TOD condos at Caltrain's San Antonio station, and "Americanizing" this Gallic EMU with some number boards, grab irons, and a five-chime railroad horn.  The result was this:

After Photoshop
Over the years since, this Photoshop job has found its way into all sorts of places, from newsletters to websites to business plans and countless documents across many agencies and groups involved in modernizing the peninsula corridor.  I even spotted a framed copy at the Station Café in San Carlos, among hundreds of railroad photos from all over the world.  I'm glad it took off like this, and I wish to give Benoît belated credit for the original photo.