Regional Rail (RUR) & North-South Rail Link (NSRL)

F-Line to Dudley

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Do you have it on good authority that FRA is likely to impose operating conditions under (b)(2)(iii) on 238.201(b)(2) compliant equipment that would make it unusable for this application? Or somehow otherwise put the kibosh on it? I had the impression TexRail had the authority to operate among traditionally compliant passenger equipment and some degree of freight traffic (maybe not heavy mainline?) without temporal separation, but I haven't gotten around to FOIAing the bits of their waiver submittals that didn't seem to go in the public docket file. Really eager to see what happens when we see the first couple of alternative complaint projects begin operating under the new regs, rather than a waiver.
Can't see it ever happening here, because northside you've got one of the biggest freight customers in New England (Boston Sand & Gravel) switching dozens of cars of heavy crushed stone right in the gut of North Station's main interlocking. And NSRL would be no different portaling up in exactly the same spot.

South you've got CSX-Readville running all day touching the NEC/Franklin/Fairmount. While the activity level is pretty tame by freight standards, Amtrak being the terminal + NEC dispatch lord and ruler means they're going to have little stomach for unorthodox waivers when it's their dispatchers shouldering the liability. Extreme unlikelihood of a co-sign from them; that's worth the turf warrage from their insurance perspective.
 

Arlington

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From the Amtrak thread, the idea of a train carrying its own gap-filler so as to operate on high level platforms (single-level, high-platform coaches are a key part of RUR's plan to shorten dwell times) on freight clearance routes.

F-Line's example is from Florida East Coast RR (the freight RR that owns the tracks, and would not permit their freight ops to be spoiled by their child-later-spun-out Brightline (now Virgin))
  • Technological solves for non- level boarding: Believe it or not, Amtrak has the answer for retiring those cumbersome lifts! Read it straight from the horse's mouth. The PRIAA No. 305 next-gen single-level car specs--ratified by Congress and the NEC Region member states 8 years ago--calls for automated gap-filler door mechanisms to shoot out from each vestibule door to cover any gapped platforms. This is a feature already implemented on the Siemens Viaggio Comfort-derived coaches ordered by Virgin Trains USA (formerly Florida Brightline), for VIA Rail delivery in 2022, for the Amtrak midwestern single-levels, and as prohibitive frontrunner for the Amfleet replacements.
E.g. on the Lowell line (and on all routes into Maine (Downeaster) and NH (if it happens)) this would have been a elegant solution at Winchester Center, and then applicable at Wedgmere and critically, would allow a simple 2 track CR tunnel (or 2 CR & 2 GL) at West Medford,
 

F-Line to Dudley

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From the Amtrak thread, the idea of a train carrying its own gap-filler so as to operate on high level platforms (single-level, high-platform coaches are a key part of RUR's plan to shorten dwell times) on freight clearance routes.

F-Line's example is from Florida East Coast RR (the freight RR that owns the tracks, and would not permit their freight ops to be spoiled by their child-later-spun-out Brightline (now Virgin))


E.g. on the Lowell line (and on all routes into Maine (Downeaster) and NH (if it happens)) this would have been a elegant solution at Winchester Center, and then applicable at Wedgmere and critically, would allow a simple 2 track CR tunnel (or 2 CR & 2 GL) at West Medford,
It is explicitly less elegant for commuter rail, and even moreso for the densest inner regions seeing 15 min. headways. There is a minor door-opening delay while the bridge plate pops out at an upward angle (up-and-out so as not to uselessly strike the side of the platform and require manual resetting) and lowers itself in place. And it does require onsite staff assistance, because a wrong step to the sides of the bridge plate sends you or your belongings into the gap. It's appropriate for Amtrak where there's higher degree of staff assistance, often an available station attendant able to pitch in on additional doors, and far fewer boardings/alightings at minor intermediate stations vs. big city-center stations that are more likely to have the track separation from freights and the budgeting + traffic levels to do full-edged no-gap platforms from the get-go. RUR's still going to have multiple onboard conductors because of FRA regulations governing crew rank (i.e. lead conductors do safety checks and have direct supervisory authority over the engineer), but for efficiency's sake they're going to need to be more ruthlessly managed to keep spare staffings (esp. for any assistant conductors that can be pared from overstaffed trains) to a minimum. That goes out the window if they all have to be door helpers for minding the gap.

It is a possible very very very last resort for any lines that simply cannot have their platforms raised gapless. Haverhill Line on the Pan Am freight main, for instance, is never going to be able to do more than retractable-edge mini-highs at Ballardvale and Andover (which are not abandonable stops, being in vibrant village centers) because their positions direct-abutting grade crossings rule out freight gauntlet tracks. Haverhill Station may also have a problem there accepting a gauntlet because of the adjacent install of guard rail on the Merrimack River Bridge approach. That may be the very last schedule on the whole system that still has to flip door traps after the other malingerers have all been stamped out. I'm not sure just one single outlier that already manages to have full ADA-compliant mini-highs is going to justify the fleet purchase of auto bridge plates (they are a little maint-intensive for icy climates, even when rarely used). And it's certainly not going to be worth it for keeping a Wedgemere or Mishawum on an Urban Rail schedule; it's bad if stations that small/redundant are consigned to the highest-end dwell outliers needing the most staff assistance around the gaps. Starts undercutting the principles of what Regional Rail is to start expanding the range of exceptions (esp. if they're optional like those two Lowell Line zits).


The purchase Amtrak (and VIA...and Virgin) is making is very right-sized for corridor intercity. Much denser than that...bleh, starts getting to be a real ops impediment to have gapped platforms on a commuter run. I can definitely see all the Downeaster platforms in NH & ME (excepting gap-filled Portland) getting lengthened w/gaps after the new cars...and maybe they try extra-special hard at Haverhill because it's a combo DE stop or drop it altogether from the DE schedule or swap it with full-high Lawrence for platforming consistency on the route. But it's not really going to be a strategic consideration anywhere for the MBTA, including on the other freight-clearance routes (outer-Worcester, inner-Franklin, all-Lowell) where RUR service volumes will demand gap-free platforms and nearly all affected stations within those clearance territories have plausible solves for getting there.
 
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FitchburgLine

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The MBTA has posted an RFI (RFI # 8-20) for EMU procurement and technical spec development, available here. Some important parts:
  • Formally states a goal of 15/20 min headways in urban areas.
  • Says that EMU service will start on Eastern to Lynn, Fairmount and Providence
  • Says that platform raising will occur in the order prescribed by PATI (the Program for Accessible Transit Infrastructure, basically their existing ADA compliance arm).
  • Asks what benefits would the T achieve by allowing alternative compliance to 49 CFR 238, Subpart C
  • Asks if any of the TVM’s [Transit Vehicle Manufacturer] existing vehicles meet MBTA’s stated goals with only minor modifications
 
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Arlington

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The MBTA has posted an RFI for EMU procurement and technical spec development, available here.
... start on Eastern to Fairmount and Providence...platforms per PATI...49 CFR 238...TVMs
Thanks for updating, I withdraw my questions with a "no further questions, Your Honor"
But will add a further clarification on how "Eastern" == "Lynn"
Eastern = (B&M's) Eastern Route (to Maine, from North Station, via Salem & Newburyport)
(pre-B&M's 1884 acquisition, it was the Eastern Railroad)
 
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Equilibria

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The MBTA has posted an RFI for EMU procurement and technical spec development, available here. Some important parts:
  • Formally states a goal of 15/20 min headways in urban areas.
  • Says that EMU service will start on Eastern to Fairmount and Providence
  • Says that platform raising will occur in the order prescribed by PATI.
  • Asks "What benefits, if any, would MBTA achieve by allowing alternative compliance to 49 CFR 238, Subpart C?"
  • Asks "Would any of the TVM’s existing vehicle designs meet MBTA’s stated goals with only minor modifications?
Sounds like you have an industry login?

FWIW, how is it legal for the MBTA to lock the public away from technical specs? I realize they release them to any company that asks, but what plausible justification could they have from keeping them from everyone else?
 

FitchburgLine

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I've tried to edit the post to make these things more clear, some of the RFI language is acronym soup. For (4), I believe this is what is happening, except the regulation here is more recent and allows alternative compliance for lower speed equipment.
 

HenryAlan

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@Arlington

TVM = Transit Vehicle Manufacturer (from the summary to the GL Type 10 RFP)
The RFI # is RFI # 8-20 but you can't download it without some sort of approved credentials.
 

Equilibria

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Great stuff! It spawns a bunch of questions!
1) Could you post the RFI number too? I can't find the details you're seeing at the link you provided.
2) What is "Eastern" to Fairmont & Providence. Is that "NY Penn's Railroad East" == NEC?
3) What is "PATI"
4) 49 CFR 238 C is some kind of crashworthiness standard, right? Is this what Acela 2 has alternative compliance to? (crash energy management instead of raw buff strength?)
5) Is TVM ticket vending machine? How'd that get in there?
2) I suspect "Eastern" is the Chelsea/Lynn route

3) Plan for Accessible Transit Infrastructure

4 and 5) The T is trying to get worldwide standard products. They're looking for advice on how to sell vehicles to the Feds that don't comply with the crashworthiness standards that have traditionally kept worldwide EMUs and DMUs off of US mixed-use ROW. Exceptions to those (dumb and archaic) rules were made in 2012/2013 and so far Caltrain has taken advantage. I'd assume the T is looking to secure a waiver as well but the manufacturer needs to convince them they'd get one.
 

Arlington

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Is it fair to say that buying an off-the-shelf EMU (with few exceptions) require crashworthiness waiver, and that crashworthiness waivers are granted on a mix of
1) PTC ability to prevent crashes
2) Limited (or time separated or grade separated (parallel tracks)) freight ops so that the vehicle isn't going to get crushed by tank cars and gravel hoppers
3) The mix of other (lighter weight) vehicles on the system, eg. Acela 2
 

F-Line to Dudley

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Anything waiverable that they seek is going to need to be waiverable anywhere on the North American continent or else "off-shelf" doesn't really have the buying advantage of off-shelf". Including parts supply chain because you don't want to get tarrifed into oblivion being the only-ever U.S. user of some import make such that a domestic-source supply chain for certain replacement components never develops and Total Cost of Ownership ends up bloating from parts being import-always.

So since the FRA process for that is so very new they're seeking further guidance on fleshing out the details and want that fact duly noted by the manufacturers (who can answer to that TCO question about domestic vs. import supply chains). In short, every imported EMU today is breaking first-time new ground and some "off-shelf" choices are going to fetch more interest than others. If nobody else (for variety of reasons) ends up following suit buying the same import EMU's the T does, they want to make sure their TCO isn't taking an undue hit. That means FRA firming up the range of "waiverable" systems into standardized categories so the exceptions morph into the rule...and the manufacturers firming up their supply chain costs whether the free market ends up breaking for or against their product's fortunes.

And they have to do this in part because Caltrain--the first such import waiver--ended up going so stupid off the deep end with hyper-customization of the doors on their Stadler EMU's that the whole project is in grave danger of imploding. Nothing's "off-shelf" anymore with how invasive the agency's design mods got, so the first-time waiver the rest of the U.S. hoped would be a trailblazer for others ends up having little usable precedent. Therefore the T's got to cover its butt on these questions like it's starting from scratch NOT trying to follow Caltrain's lead.

It's hyper-technical legalese, but absolutely the right set of questions to harp on for ensuring they get firm answers and more definition of standards before making a buy.
 
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fattony

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Therefore the T's got to cover its butt on these questions like it's starting from scratch NOT trying to follow Caltrain's lead.
What if the T followed Caltrain's lead... exactly? Could they say "I'll have what Caltrain is having" and thus build momentum for a supply chain for a particular model? Sure it was customized when Caltrain bought it the first time, but if we buy it and then Denver, Philly, etc all buy the same then its not custom anymore. I'll grant that its not as good as being part of the global market, but it might be better than doing our own trailblazing.
 

F-Line to Dudley

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What if the T followed Caltrain's lead... exactly? Could they say "I'll have what Caltrain is having" and thus build momentum for a supply chain for a particular model? Sure it was customized when Caltrain bought it the first time, but if we buy it and then Denver, Philly, etc all buy the same then its not custom anymore. I'll grant that its not as good as being part of the global market, but it might be better than doing our own trailblazing.
No...because Caltrain is literally unicorning itself into a corner "de-Flirting" a standard Stadler Flirt starting template trying to build dual 8-inch + 48-inch platform level boarding interfaces. An animal that does not exist anywhere in the world for those *specific* pairs of platform heights. They're modding the whole carbody carving new doors into it for the low platforms in pants-shitting aversion of ever raising their own station platforms. When common sense would tell them that raising their platforms ONCE (incl. temp one-car mini-highs for the stations that take longer) beats buying a one-of-a-kind custom make every time.

There's a reason why every CR agency in high-platform territory like all the T's Northeastern cohorts and many many other world systems that have made the same transition always 100% of the time address their low platforms with platform-side and not vehicle-side fixes...even when it requires playing the long game stamping out low-platformed malingerers. Amortization of investment trying to do that vehicle-side is...patently insane.

And quite likely physically impossible. Caltrain's design hack is stuck in purgatory because the low doors can't shoot out a bridge plate long enough to interface with a low platform at accessible slope. Not enough room under that point on the carbody to stuff a longer bridge plate, so the whole thing is ensnared in one big ADA violation (this sufficiently explains why no East Coast bi-levels have ever tried notching a low-platform door on the bottom level). Stadler's contract puts nearly all liability for fixes on the design deviations apart from the generic Flirt base model square on Caltrain's shoulders because they (smartly) didn't invite the customization risks to their product and sweetened the pot with a steal of a unit price if Caltrain could execute the mods. It's blown up square in the agency's face (and largely spared Stadler of any blowback). They are now grotesquely over-budget, with no fix yet for the ADA-illegal ramps now many months on, and the whole works is in danger of melting down and getting outright canceled if they can't fix this issue of their own creation. It is now entirely possible they'll be opening their electrification with rented NJ Transit electric locos pulling their same-old push-pull coaches while they start over from scratch.

It is basically every overcustomization horror show coming home to roost. And not for the first time as Caltrain *also* last year took a 9-figure write-off junking their completely homegrown unique-as-snowflake PTC system contract because the piece of shit failed all its prelim tests. They thought they were "innovating" going it alone instead of passenger-adapting the way more generic freight signal system or importing Amtrak's 19-years-proven NEC system from the East Coast (like all the Northeastern CR agencies are). Now they're overpaying for a rush-install of the same vanilla freight PTC they could've done from Day 1 and seriously risking missing the end-of-year deadline nearly every other RR in the country is going to safely make.

"Caltrain--HSR Compatibility Blog" details these missteps in gruesome detail. When the T has even gotten religion on the payoff of the generifying a GENUINELY unique system like the Green Line with GLT, Caltrain obstinately cutting the opposite way on generic-by-nature commuter rail is akin to tattoing "NOT INVENTED HERE" across your chest in a pique of drunkenness. The hangover is going to be a real doozy when they sober up and realize they can't take back those uninformed decisions. Even if they do fix the ADA interface on these Flirts they've already wasted more $$$ than a one-and-done platform raising program, already destroyed their TCO over life of these vehicles, and made it that much harder next procurement to stop this insanity.

The T put that legalese in its RFP because they know they're wearing the training wheels on a first-time incursion into EMU purchasing and want to stay the hell off the slippery slope that led to Caltrain's comedy of errors if they ever want to realize full value-over-life for this procurement. Nobody will ever do what Caltrain just did; they just newly minted the latest/greatest new cautionary tale for everyone else.
 

Deetroyt

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F-line, how does this RFI fit with your posts about the NJ Transit "Slush" order of bi-level EMUs? I seem to remember you suggesting that would be the fastest/easiest way to get EMUs up and running, does that jive well with the technical specs of this RFI?
 

F-Line to Dudley

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F-line, how does this RFI fit with your posts about the NJ Transit "Slush" order of bi-level EMUs? I seem to remember you suggesting that would be the fastest/easiest way to get EMUs up and running, does that jive well with the technical specs of this RFI?
Yes. All of the bulleted points above are satisfied by self-powered Bombardier MLV sets. We don't yet have the full PDF of the specs circulating to the public so the fine print isn't available, but as Request For Information is mainly tasked with stirring up manufacturer interest and not actually locking down a procurement (that being what a Request for Proposals is for) they are mainly publishing reams of specs to see what imports could fit U.S. system requirements. The MLV is already an incumbent domestic product, so it has almost nothing to prove suitability-wise. It is suitable because a most-similar CR system is adopting it in mass quantity.

What the RFI hopes to stir up are pricing options, and probably some single-level makes to benchmark against since those really don't exist for U.S. shopping needs at the moment (the MTA M#'s being hyper-custom for NYC and the Silverliner V being a freshly dead Rotem lineage with pungent lemon stench). The tipping point for the MLV, however, has nothing to do with with this RFI. It's what the T does for its 200-coach RFP. Kawasaki isn't making K-cars, and at 200 units they want to have fully ajar door for qualifying for some federal funding which means Buy USA is in effect...which most likely tosses Rotem despite them having their separate +80 order ongoing as they no longer have U.S. factories. That means most likely a departure from more K-car clones and a different bi-level make this time. That pretty much leaves either Bombardier--World #1 and North American #1 in commuter coaches--or an upstart like CRRC. Despite Bombardier's devastating recent missteps on rapid transit orders, their coach biz retains high quality control with multiple orders ongoing. CRRC is making a very small order of SEPTA push-pull coaches with different design, but has yet to debut a test car so is a very risky prospect. Plus all the uncertainty over Chinese tarriffs effectively eliminates them from the fed funding sweepstakes...so again, if the T wants that fed funding door ajar they're going to be extremely risk-averse about looking at CRRC, Springfield plant or no Springfield plant.

So Bombardier comes in with a pronounced (though not insurmountable) edge, and if the T is up for adopting 200 MLV's on the push-pull coach order then it will immediately have trainline-compatible trailers and cab ends for the self-powered NJT version. At that point with 200 plug-compatible bodies coming in you have to start thinking "Duh!" about the scalability for electrification, and ordering the power packs for these coaches becomes somewhat of a no-brainer. Since I doubt the T is as wedded to the single-level vs. bi-level war that TransitMatters is, if purely intra-128 service on the Fairmount Line needs to run MLV's because that's the most duh-obvious and scalable thing out there for fleet management...then that's what they'll run. At 2 x 2 seating they're a big flow improvement over the incumbent K-car bi-levels anyway and are supposed to have tweaked vestibule design for the 3rd-generation NJT order to speed boarding/alighting. The self-propelled configuration requires a stock cab car at each end bordering a mid-set power car...and then each power car can be sandwiched by 2 stock coach trailers. i.e. A minimum Fairmount set would thus be 3 cars: Cab==Power==Cab. A Providence or Worcester 6-car would be: Cab==Power==Trailer==Trailer==Power==Cab. And a 9-car maxi Providence set would be: Cab==Power==Trailer==Trailer==Power==Trailer==Trailer==Power==Cab. They'd only have to 'slush' 1 out of every 3 cars from NJT to augment their own 200-coach order with the power cars to make themselves all set. Maybe also slushing a few more cab ends since the total trailer v. cab ratio would change somewhat to feed the self-powered configuration, though if the 200-coach order is ongoing at the time they make their EMU pick they can simply change the ratio on the homegrown coach order to more cabs and keep their 'slushing' of NJT options to just the power packs not covered by their home contract.


It's impossible to predict right now how this is going to go. An RFI is just info-collecting from manufacturers, so doesn't tell us anything about ironclad commitments to buy EMU's...much less quantities or where the T falls on final preferences vs. the wider-open questions it's asking now. All you need to know is that the 200-coach order and NJT's extremely option-packed MLV EMU contract that's already sent a monster 'slushing' SEPTA's way do exert a gravitational influence over the whole proceedings. And being able to kick off the electrification era with considerable pre-existing U.S. vehicle scale definitely matters a lot as a consideration. In general the goings-on with Bombardier & NJT make the North American EMU market look kind of exciting between now and 2025 for what could develop...because it's all set up for maximum inter-agency wheeling-and-dealing. That doesn't foretell what will happen, here or elsewhere. Just that there are lots of moves in-play internally and externally and it's a ripe environment for the T to be taking the EMU plunge. This will be relatively fun trending to watch develop, wherever it leads us. . .
 
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