Other People's Rail: Amtrak, commuter rail, rapid transit news & views outside New England

F-Line to Dudley

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https://www.masstransitmag.com/rail...ete-electric-multiple-unit-trainset-assembled



The bugfark high-and-low door scheme damn near killed 'em with design dead-ends on at least 3 different occasions and they will remain a cromulent cautionary tale on DO NOT OVER-MOD A DESIGN, but Caltrain's first complete EMU set has finally been assembled for testing. It's a shame they couldn't keep their grubby incompetent hands off the carbodies because of their cognitive dissonance on door heights, because otherwise the Stadler KISS make would've become the shoo-in reference case for breaking wide open the market for successful wholesale import of a proven Euro lightweight to American soil free from FRA cruft since Caltrain got granted with all the right waivers to do a properly clean straight import. But alas, Caltrain couldn't stop Caltrain'ing itself both hands around necks, so the resulting product is an overbudget half-unicorn that'll be a hard sell anywhere else. Primarily because one-time capital expenses to raise platform heights is less expensive than every-time vehicle-side solutions, and such truths rate as "DUH!"-obvious to everyone on Planet Earth except for the geniuses running the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board straight into the ground.


Stadler did bid the Caltrain KISS-derived design sans low-level doors for the T's EMU RFI, but because it's still carrying the majority of the Caltrain mod cruft its chances are average-at-best for this procurement even without the dual-boarding door insanity. There had to be lots of carbody mods to fit in both, with Stadler importing the Euro low-boarding version and modding it for high-floor vestibules rather than the other way around because that was the easier template for Caltrain's requirements. High-boarding Euro KISS'es run primarily in Eastern Europe on Russian broad gauge track, while standard-gauge Germany and Switzerland run shitloads of 'em...but only the low-boarding version. So as an import prospect the broad gauge high-level version was a mod too far quick bidding vs. the Caltrain half-unicorn that's already blessed with all the right FRA waivering...therefore that's what Stadler went with in the T's RFI. That forces it into somewhat square-peg supply chaining for lifetime maint, and makes us uncomfortably dependent on Caltrain not self-pwning itself on the rollout in order to net the manufacturing scale for a good price point. So, in no small part to Caltrain doing the "Hold my beer..." on ill-advised modding, we take on a little elevated risk in Stadler's RFI presentation. Probably ends up blunting its chances just a bit. Whereas all of the low-boarding U.S. agencies considering future electrification or all-new service starts (diesel Metra/Chicagoland, Texas, Florida, Pac Northwest, Canada, etc.) would have a shoo-in choice picking the total unmodded Swiss/German low-board KISS straight off the global supply chain. Unfortunately East Coast platfom fittings don't today have quite as shoo-in an import template from Stadler, and have to rely on a *very* wobbly guinea pig in Caltrain for the proof-of-concept.
 

Andrew

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I'm actually surprised there isn't more of a market for a design like this (I've seen that referenced other places, not just your post F-Line) in the US. Don't a lot of US routes have a mix of high- and low-level platforms? Isn't that why Amfleet and MBTA coaches (presumably among others) have to have the trapdoor-becoming-stairs design?

Unless there are other major modifications that Caltrain did, maybe it's not the doors you're referring to for the customizations.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I'm actually surprised there isn't more of a market for a design like this (I've seen that referenced other places, not just your post F-Line) in the US. Don't a lot of US routes have a mix of high- and low-level platforms? Isn't that why Amfleet and MBTA coaches (presumably among others) have to have the trapdoor-becoming-stairs design?

Unless there are other major modifications that Caltrain did, maybe it's not the doors you're referring to for the customizations.
It's because the Northeastern states who started with the largest concentration of full-highs agreed by written compact to explicitly standardize with platform-side solutions and not vehicle-side. Development of the NEC commission from the 70's to the present slowly codified that, and so the 10 states from the Canadian border to Maryland + D.C. who live large off the Amtrak NEC franchise signed their lives to a kludge-free infrastructure commitment. Now, keep in mind that at the federal level it is 100.00% ADA-compliant to have a 1-car retractable edge mini-high sufficing as the level boarding interface on a freight clearance route. It's only in MA where the Mass. Architectural Board sets the strictest standards in the land where that's not enough and is only granted in the most extreme "no other alternative" cases like the to-be-build Ballardvale & Andover second platforms. Elsewhere, where the state regs don't go further than the fed regs, they get it done more loosely. NH, for example, has some renders of Downtown Manchester station on the Cap Corridor (a freight clearance route) with mini-highs...and that's absolutely OK if it comes to that, because they don't have the M.A.B. lording over them.

Now, it's an entirely different set of issues that you have severe laggard agencies like SEPTA who have zero accessibility of any kind at majority of their Regional Rail stops out of institutional indifference. If it isn't an Amtrak co-use stop where the feds are putting a gun to their head they basically don't give a shit. It's an entirely different set of issues that MARC is so cash-poor relative to its peers that it's the second-worst laggard in the Northeast. It's another intensely political problem that NJ Transit so shamelessly picks favorites prioritizing accessibility in some counties while letting the stations rot in others. Or that MBTA Commuter Rail is this weirdly bipolar world of mostly "very good" systemwide accessibility compliance...unless you're on the Fitchburg, Franklin, or strictly inner-half Worcester & Haverhill/Reading lines where 0% accessible stops are still the far majority. But those are political and funding issues, not feasibility issues. And with accessibility progress across the Northeast already well past half-or-better stride...point-blank easier fixes to just fund the station backlogs and get it over with rather than entertain kludgy vehicle flights of fancy. But they couldn't even do vehicle flights of fancy if they wanted...they too long ago signed their lives away to trackside-only accessibility in exchange for the perks of NEC membership.



Washington D.C., Ohio border, and Canadian border are the hard cutoffs between Northeastern full-high and 8-inch territory outside. The westernmost full-high of the region (probably forevermore) is Niagra Falls, NY...and PennDOT has eventual plans to raise all Pennsylvanian platforms to Pittsburgh once the Amfleet-replacement cars allow for gapped (as opposed to seamless) full-high installations for freight clearance...i.e. pop-out 4-inch gap fillers at each door as specced for the next-gen cars (something which would also all mini-high Downeaster stops on the PAR Freight Main to get raised to full-high). Virginia (and the tiny bit of MARC service overlap in WV) is the tricky subject, as Virginia Railway Express commuter rail is strictly an 8-inch boarding service but the Northeast Regionals need special accessibility accommodation for the low platforms...and all new-construction AMTK-only stations in the state are being built full-high. VA will probably "graduate" itself into full-high territory at some point, but with 20 VRE commuter stops to treat and wholesale commuter coach fleet replacement required that's not going to happen soon (but might be a founding mandate if VRE, MARC, and DelDOT commuter subsidy all merge into a bigger tri-state "DelMarVa Rail" agency).

Everywhere else it's 8-inch, with 3 system isolated full-high exceptions:
  • Metra Electric and the NITCD South Shore Line (Chicago-South Bend). Quirky case that historically started as an old-timey rapid transit interurban that slowly morphed over time into an FRA railroad. Because of that legacy, still no network connections to Greater Chicagoland Metra & Amtrak (8-inch boarding)...and retains the 1.5 kV DC inturban electrification alien to any other continental CR system.
  • Denver RTD. New-starts EMU line (opened 2016) planned from Day 1 for high-boarding. All AMTK routes hitting Denver are stocked with low-boarding Superliners, so Denver Union Station has a few tracks with a high platform on one side and a low on the other (same track).
  • Mexico City Tren Suburbano. New-starts EMU line (opened 2008, substantially expanding) planned from Day 1 for high-boarding. There's no intercity service in Mexico right now except for a couple ritzy "tequila trains" shuffling primarily U.S. tourists to resorts, but the national network is nominally 8-inch boarding for border-crossing compatibility.


. . .
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Part II. . .

Now...Caltrain. Always was a legacy 8-inch system, until CAHSR came along. The whole tortured "blended system" alignment into San Fran Transbay along Caltrain's tracks is what kicked off this fiasco. For one, CAHSR decided to be extra-precious and adopt Euro 50-inch full-high as its standard instead of East Coast 48-inch...so not even Amtrak has out-of-box compatibility with 500+ pieces of its rolling stock without kludging a door-lip riser. That was stupid. There's functional-zero vehicle design difference between 50 & 48 inch, several hundred extant 48-inch platforms (including the new-starts ones in Denver & Mex Cty.) on the continent, and goddamn thousands of compatible railcars. But they were bullheaded enough about "clean" Euro importing that they stuck a thumb in the eye of the national Amtrak specs least deserving of a thumb in the eye. So right then and there Caltrain was not going to be buying anything we'd seen before in this hemisphere.

Then the institutional pushback started coming from within the Joint Powers Board to raising platforms at all 23 regular-service stops on the initial electrification (which doesn't yet include the 6 southermost stops to Gilroy). Assumptions of early starts with mini-high platforms and leased single-level rentals at the front car of each diesel consist while the remaining cars were typical 8-inch boarding faire seemed like they'd be duh-obvious, but were arbitrarily rejected. The NIMBY's got involved. The communities the institutionally weak Joint Powers Board has to answer to got involved. Shit started taking on Rube Goldberg proportions. Until you ended up in a sort of "consensual paralysis" where it was dogma that every car had to have accessible doors...but vaporware as to when any one platform would be raised, or what the endgame was for getting them all done. With said decision torpedoing any interim options for the period in which the diesel fleet will be overlapping with the EMU's (i.e. until the unfunded Gilroy leg ever gets funded), because now they can't rent anyone else's cars.

What that means? Basically, they have abdicated any responsibility for raising any of the platforms ever, and it'll just stay an 8-inch system until somebody puts a gun to their heads to get moving. Maybe with 1 or 2 "showcase" stations renovated to full-high just for the over-complication of it. Right now there's no money for finishing the electrification to Gilroy so there's no end date in sight for the malingering minority of diesels, and CAHSR has enough of its own issues right now with Gov. Newsome putting a shank in the later phases that the pressure isn't exactly intense on Caltrain to keep its dwell times low on the "blended" segment. In their minds, the first CAHSR trains that traverse the peninsula should feel very, very lucky that they exist at all and not be so haughty as to call Caltrain out for not living up to commitments.

On the vehicle side, Stadler gave them an outright steal on the Euro reference design...but structured the contract so Caltrain bore all the risk for modding it. Almost no risk to the manufacturer if things didn't work out. On at least 3 different occasions, things didn't work out to project-threatening stalemate. They could not make the door interfaces work. The most recent--and closest-call near-lethal--snafu being with the low-level doors (remember: the source Euro design is an accessible low-level). Because they moved so much shit around modding the thing for high-floor vestibules that there was no longer enough room to shoot out an ADA-compliant slope bridge plate from the door lip down to the 8-inch platform. It took them months to resolve it on the protype, and they were shitting bricks that this was going to be a project-cancel level self-immolation. You heard that right: they did so much Frankenstein shit they nearly permanently broke the car's incumbent accessibility. The Aristocrats! This is in addition, mind you, to Caltrain attempting to do its own unique-as-snowflake PTC system that was completely incompatible with all other PTC signal systems in North America. Adding another layer of complexity to the vehicle build. That contract actually DID have to be canceled at several hundred $M in write-offs while they now rush-install the freight-derived I-ETMS system that they should've been installing all along. So over-customization fetish is literally destroying the organization from within. At least they're required to follow the Amtrak specs guide (inefficiencies and all) for the actual electrification because that's what CAHSR adopted...so they won't screw that one up.


Yeah, so now they have an actual design. Which is good. And if it runs to completion smoothly enough without teething issues they may recoup the value of it in good unit cost (propulsion guts and whatnot weren't altered from Stadler generics, so the worst of the anxiety is over). But you can see why nobody else is going to have any interest in this...because there's enough senseless design derivation in the Caltrain carbody mods that supply chain-over-lifetime is always going to be a question mark. I mean...deleting the lower doors doesn't lower the T's costs any when all of the mods got sunk into the high doors. We'd be way better off taking the Polish high-door, broad-gauge version of the KISS and straight-importing that for qualified FRA compliance if we wanted a Stadler and wanted it done right. But that wasn't what Stadler was bidding for the T's RFI...they were bidding the Caltrain version because that order would still be ongoing by the time we first-dipped. It was the easiest fit for them being able to string together all the Buy America reqs from an active supply chain. Unlucky timing for us.

In the meantime, Caltrain is trying harder than anyone has ever tried in their lives to leapfrog SEPTA as the consensus worst-run major transit agency in the Western Hemisphere. All of their planning atrocities are detailed to the nines in the "Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog"...but I caution against reading the comments section if you have a shred of sanity you want to preserve.
 

Stlin

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We'd be way better off taking the Polish high-door, broad-gauge version of the KISS and straight-importing that for qualified FRA compliance if we wanted a Stadler and wanted it done right. But that wasn't what Stadler was bidding for the T's RFI...they were bidding the Caltrain version because that order would still be ongoing by the time we first-dipped. It was the easiest fit for them being able to string together all the Buy America reqs from an active supply chain. Unlucky timing for us.
From what I recall, Stadler explicitly told the T in the RFI that the Caltrain sets were incompatible, full stop. Besides, it's substantially similar enough that the same Buy America supply chain should be able to execute a EU spec KISS relatively painlessly. None of this is true volume rate production, and it's all going to be small run from a supply base perspective; what is true volume rate is likely to be common regardless.

Edit: excerpt from the June fcmb meeting: "Stadler indicated that the Caltrain version of their KISS vehicle is not compatible with MBTA’s existing standard high-level platform dimensions."
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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From what I recall, Stadler explicitly told the T in the RFI that the Caltrain sets were incompatible, full stop. Besides, it's substantially similar enough that the same Buy America supply chain should be able to execute a EU spec KISS relatively painlessly. None of this is true volume rate production, and it's all going to be small run from a supply base perspective; what is true volume rate is likely to be common regardless.

Edit: excerpt from the June fcmb meeting: "Stadler indicated that the Caltrain version of their KISS vehicle is not compatible with MBTA’s existing standard high-level platform dimensions."
It's only a 2-inch difference, 48 inches (exactly 4 ft.) East Coast + Denver/Metra Electric vs. 50 inches (1270 mm) Euro/Cali. Or, in other words, the sum total of a rounding error imperial vs. metric measuring (48 converted to millimeters starts going off into decimal places). 2 inches is not a consequential fix; they pretty much square that by chopping down the rubber padding at the door lip and grade the floor rubber accordingly. It was just stupid for CAHSR to go all specs-war on that of all barely-relevant things when it precludes about a thousand pieces of extant rolling stock already in-use in this country from ever being used on those routes, be it commuter rentals or Amtrak. There are plenty of Euro specs worth stanning for; 2 measly design-inconsequential inches of platform height isn't one of them. And to get so precious about 2 inches while letting the whole high vs. low debate on the "blended segment" completely get away from them like this is Hall of Fame-caliber bad management.

What this all means in terms of their statement in the T RFI is that the version they bid us could not be schlepped verbatim off the back of Caltrain's options, because that much minor interior modding was required (as well as likely deleting the whole lower-door sets). That's a distinction Stadler had to make in the RFI because rival bidder Bombardier was pitching the MLV EMU with possibility of direct picking up some of NJ Transit's 500+ slack options on that make (like SEPTA is doing) if we went with the NJT-spec unaltered product. i.e. Since we have the 200-car coach order coming, and we order MLV's for that, we could possibly schlep around NJT for the power car options because they're so back-padded on that agency's order that we had easy avenues for getting easy supplemental units if the T was still squishy on its base requirements. Stadler was making it clear in contrast that such fungibility is not in the cards for their Caltrain assembly factory. However, the make they were bidding was templated off the Caltrain import already blessed by the FRA and not the Euro high-levels which would have to go through a new FRA approval process because of the (very academic) required adaptation from broad gauge to standard gauge. By break of luck they simply don't sell any high-floor KISS'es to standard gauge countries right this second.

The one thing that is consistent about Stadler's bidding is that they do not take on unnecessary risk as a manufacturer when doing the customer's mod bidding. They'll offer steal prices on a ref model, but on the condition that you and only you fall alone if your unicorn mods run into teething problems. Worldwide they're pound-for-pound much smaller a builder than some of the other biggest players like BBD, Siemens, Alstom, Hitachi...so they structure themselves instead to move units like the big boys by eliminating as much of the design haggle as possible or putting that overhead on someone else's dime. That's how Caltrain was able to bring itself to the brink of death on this order with no curbs on their over-modding behavior, but also why they're setting arbitrary limits for the T's RFI on their Buy America sourcing. Yes...cleansheeting the Polish highs-only version would probably be a better value all around, and broad-to-standard gauge conversions happen all the time (you basically can't get by in the Euro market without being able to change bogies with minimal invasiveness, as gauge breaks are basic East vs. West fact-of-life in the EU). But Stadler's trying to fortify its Buy America margins after so much R&D time got burned up by the Caltrain experience, and they'd rather do that with the existing lightweight FRA waivering in-hand rather than doing the paperwork process anew. So that was their wholly arbitrary choice here. It's consistent with their corporate behavior...just probably not the best fit timing-wise for the T's procurement windows.
 
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F-Line to Dudley

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First complete trainset of new Amtrak single-levels for Cali/San Joaquins is now assembled and in-testing out of Oakland. New cab car not yet delivered from Siemens so they're stealing one of the Caltrans-rental F40 "cabbages" from their temporary Comet IB sets for the tests. No word on when revenue-service tests begin (def not before the cab car pilots are delivered and given full testing), but shouldn't be too many more months before we get real rider testimonials on what the most-likely East Coast Amfleet replacements are going to look/feel like from the inside.




^Look at the size of those windows!!! 😻
 

The EGE

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Heh, those are my pictures that I posted on rr.net. They don't do justice to how ridiculously shiny the things are.
 

jass

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No word on when revenue-service tests begin (def not before the cab car pilots are delivered and given full testing), but shouldn't be too many more months before we get real rider testimonials on what the most-likely East Coast Amfleet replacements are going to look/feel like from the inside.
Was supposed to be October originally, but they cancelled the July public meeting so we didnt get an update on the plan.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Video of Cali/Midwest's new toys.

San Joaquins (4:20 in vid):

Midwest, with as-yet-unseen new paint job sorta matching new Chicago hub Charger locos (10:00 in vid):

(YouTube URL's were supposed to be copied straight from the relevant timestamps because they're embedded in long videos...scroll to the times listed if it doesn't work for you).


Midwest livery, while clearly derived from their Charger paint jobs...look a smidge Aveila-y, no?
 

Arlington

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Chicago should absolutely invoke Avelia on their corridor trains, particularly with 110mph service being a real thing CHI-Michigan and supposed to be a thing on CHI-STL
 

ceo

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I thought that old demotored F40 on the back looked silly, but the CSX freight loco hauling the Midwest set looks sillier.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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I thought that old demotored F40 on the back looked silly, but the CSX freight loco hauling the Midwest set looks sillier.
Delivery from Siemens plant by Union Pacific...wasn't an Amtrak test movement.
 

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