Caltrain Faces Electric Hurdles

There’s a new twist in the quest to electrify Caltrain, as ANG Newspapers (which includes the San Mateo County Times and Oakland Tribune) reports. With Caltrain eying non-FRA-compliant Electric Multiple Units to increase capacity and reduce trip times — and Positive Train Control as added safety, there is new pressure on the Federal Railroad Administration to re-examine its perspective:

But Caltrain is arguing that the rules are an archaic throwback hampering growth on the rails for a new century, and a multitude of rail agencies and advocates are singing the same tune.

“There clearly has to be some delineation between freight and passenger services … but just to discourage the whole thing entirely is a mistake,” said Richard Silver, executive director of the Rail Passengers Association of California.

“Planes crash, automobiles have accidents, ships sink — these things happen,” said Silver. “We want all things to be safe — but sometimes you go to the point of ridiculousness for safety.”

Caltrain has decided to convince the Federal Railroad Administration and state agencies that there is room on the tracks for both trains.

“This is a big move — out on the front lines and out on a limb,” said Caltrain board member Art Lloyd, adding that a Caltrain victory could make great strides in modernizing the country’s commuter rail industry.

One can argue that Caltrain (and, of course, advocates) are resisting the same type of regulatory environment that was at least partially responsible for how Amtrak’s Acela trainsets were engineered. All the subsequent problems, from the four inches of extra girth, to the truck hunting and yaw damper cracking, to the brake rotor cracking, would probably have been avoided through safe, proven, off-the-shelf technology and designs (read: “non-FRA-compliant trainsets”) from overseas.

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