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Jarrod DellaChiesa

The Governor Signing the Symbolic Rail
Issues, Rail Photos, Reports

CAHSR Groundbreaking Ceremony – January 6, 2015

Photos by Paul Dyson, President

Rail Technology

On Board Electrification and Near Zero Emissions for Regional Rail

Dave Cook and Ian Stewart

Rail electrification has been implemented in many urban and regional rail applications in the US and the benefits are numerous. Electrified rail is quiet, quick, clean and generally more reliable and less expensive to operate than similar services with Diesel fueled locomotives. There are significant environmental benefits as well, with the elimination of local release of NOx, diesel PM and other criteria emissions by the train and reduction of overall greenhouse gas emissions by acquiring electricity from stationary power plants where it is generated more efficiently. Further, most current electrified rail is able to capture some of the trains’ energy ( ~30% ) when braking, with several examples demonstrating wayside energy storage capable of capturing most of the train’s braking energy.  So why haven’t all regional rails been electrified. The most fundamental reason is the initial cost.

With the average cost for conversion to electrified rail being $10 million dollars per route mile for infrastructure and new equipment. For example, the 49 miles of CalTrain peninsula route currently slated for electrification is expected to cost $600 million or more, which is $12.25 Million per mile. Other challenges of electrification involve lengthy and complex integration of the electrified infrastructure, disruption of operations during construction and the inherent limitations of dedicated catenary wires or an electrified third rail to provide the power to propel the train. Conversion requires a shift in expectations for the train service. If the power is out in an emergency so is the train and when the catenary or electrified rail ends so does the train service. These limits on the use and versatility of electrification must be weighed against operation with conventional Diesel Electric Locomotives that are internally powered, and can run on any existing rail line. This is a difficult tradeoff for agencies as the conventional locomotive solution is widely accepted and perceived by the industry as preferred given the lower initial cost and greater versatility.  The challenges to full electrification have agencies looking to incrementally improve existing diesel equipment or purchase new diesel passenger locomotives rather than risking conversion.

Of course, retaining the existing diesel solutions also retains the associated higher operating and maintenance costs, lower reliability, and most of all, higher levels of NOx and PM emissions as compared to equivalent electrified system. The current trend is for agencies to purchase new high speed (125mph) locomotives. These new locomotives are excellent for long distance applications with few stops, but what regional passenger agencies need is quickness, not speed. It would take 800 extra horsepower and 13 miles to accelerate today’s Pacific Surfliner to 110 miles per hour. If the distance between the majority of the regional rail stations in the US is less than 6 miles, the train typically does not have sufficient power and distance to even briefly achieve 90 mph, so why does it need to be capable of traveling at 125 mph? The key to efficient regional rail is quickness, not high speed, and what is needed is a new approach.

Enter the ZEBL (Zero Emissions Booster Locomotive)

ZEBLWhat if there was a way to retain the best features of electrified and conventional diesel electric regional rail service? What if it was possible to introduce electrification and the corresponding improvements in performance and efficiency to an existing regional route incrementally while retaining the versatility and reliability of the conventional locomotives? Enter the ZEBL, a new type of hybrid locomotive that is simply added into the existing train consist. The ZEBL is not a replacement, it is an enhancement attached behind an existing locomotive and connected with a small interface controller, resulting in a Hybrid Pair. The Hybrid Pair increases acceleration while consuming less fuel and thus reducing emissions relative to the conventional locomotive alone. The ZEBL provides a ‘plug and play’ hybrid solution for existing regional trains making them quicker; allowing them to attain the same or greater average speed as the conventional regional train on a given route with a fraction of the fuel consumed and emissions produced.  For example, this chart illustrates the difference in performance between the current Caltrain regional train going from San Francisco to San Jose and a ZEBL hybridized version of the same train:

Caltrain speed v distance

The red line indicates the conventional train performance with only a diesel locomotive accelerating it and the green line illustrates the hybridized train performance using a single ZEBL. (Note that only at the longest segment at 4.06 miles can Caltrain actually achieve the 79 mph speed limit on this route.) The hybrid train accelerates much more rapidly due to its additional traction motors. With the improved acceleration rate, the hybrid train has a lower peak speed and spends less time at full throttle on the diesel engine. For the same schedule, the hybridized train will cover the Caltrain route in the same time while consuming 50% less energy. Observe how much longer the conventional diesel train has to run at full throttle up to the peak of the red line and compare it to how quickly power can be reduced in the hybridized train as the green line peaks and the train cruises at a lower peak speed.  This is where the dramatic energy savings is found. The current Caltrain schedule would allow for 6 hybridized trains to perform 4 round trips a day. Each of these ZEBL hybridized trains could save the agency $450,000 per year in fuel costs in addition to significant cost savings from the minimal use and maintenance of the passenger car and locomotive air brakes.
The different technologies that make up the ZEBL and the resulting hybridized train are proven and currently in field service. They have been made viable by the recent maturation of economical, efficient, high power electronics and ultra capacitors, and the growing fleets of hybrid transit buses using them. What is new is the application, interaction and integration of these technologies for regional passenger train hybridization. The ZEBL provides the energy-capture, storage and release capabilities thought to only be available through full electrification and allows them to be applied easily to conventional regional train use.

While the ZEBL Hybridized regional train enables significant reductions in fuel consumption and emissions, it still lacks a vital feature that is inherent in fully electrified systems: connection to the grid. This lack results in excessive reliance on the diesel locomotive to supply the energy necessary to accelerate the train. Inductive power transfer, a recent advancement in the rapidly evolving technology of wireless charging systems for electric cars and buses, can be easily incorporated on the ZEBL Hybridized train. If a ZEBL equipped regional train and the train stations on its operating route were equipped with a Wireless Power Transfer System (WPTS), the ZEBL could be charged at each station. By adding the ability to transfer and store 20kW-hrs of energy at each stop, the fuel use reduction would be increased from 50% to 72%. Also, equipping a train with a WPTS-enabled ZEBL allows it to be parked for extended periods without needing to run the diesel fueled HEP generator.

The addition of WPTS to the ZEBL hybridized train can, again, be accomplished incrementally, train by train and station by station with minimal infrastructure change and interruption in service. With the underside of two locomotives able to wirelessly transfer power, the train is capable of receiving 90% or more of its energy from the grid, while still having on board fuel storage (CNG or Diesel) for when the electric grid load needs to be reduced during peak demand, long segments where full electric operation is not practical or if the grid goes down during an emergency.  If the engine on the lead locomotive is configured with emissions reduction technologies such as natural gas fuel and after treatment systems, the resulting hybridized train becomes a Near Zero Emissions equivalent to fully electrified trains.

Wireless Electrification

The hybrid regional train concept is the work of Rail Propulsion Systems (RPS). RPS is a California based company, ready to demonstrate that the addition of a ZEBL can provide:

  • Hybrid electrification of regional passenger rail at a fraction of the cost and disruption of conventional electrification.
  • Seamless connection to the electric grid incrementally with a simple non invasive station by station transition.
  • Ability to integrate with the main electric grid as a microgrid to balance periods of low or peak demand.
  • Retention of the existing locomotive, allowing the train to continue to operate with or without power from the
  • grid.

Imagine the Acceleration, Efficiency, and Zero Emissions benefits of Electrified Regional Rail without:

  • Unsightly catenary wires or dangerous third rail
  • $10,000,000+ per mile conversion cost
  • Restriction of operating on dedicated electrified track

For regional rail, quickly accelerating and decelerating a train between stations enables the fastest operation. Capturing the braking energy and reapplying it during acceleration allows this to be done with the least amount of fuel and/or electricity consumed. To accomplish this, we must add energy storage and additional tractive force to the existing train. In short, the time has come to hybridize existing regional trains.

The authors can be contacted at:,

Download a PDF copy of this report.



Complete the Santa Cruz Passenger Rail Study Survey

Santa Cruz Passenger Rail StudyYour ideas are important!

The Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC) is analyzing the feasibility of passenger rail transit service along the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line.

Complete an Online Survey on “Passenger Rail Goals & Scenarios”.

Your feedback will guide station, service scenario, and ridership analysis. Ensure the passenger rail study reflects everyone in the community.  The Survey closes at midnight on August 3. Continue Reading


Annual Steel Wheels Conference

Steel Wheels in CaliforniaSaturday – November 15th
10:30 – 3:30 PM  |  Doors open at 10:00
California State Railroad Museum Auditorium,  Sacramento

Register Today
Members:  $35 / Non-members:  $45

Conference Agenda

There’s still time to register for Steel Wheels in Sacramento, your chance to meet and question railroad officials and advocates and to learn about the state of the passenger rail state here in California.  I have been told that Jeff Morales, CEO of CHSRA will be the presenter for High Speed Rail, and Chad Edison, Deputy Secretary for Rail of California DoT will update us on the state intercity rail program and passenger rail in general.  These are the top two state officials for passenger rail.
In addition this is your chance to meet the new NARP President, Jim Mathews, who is coming from Washington DC for this meeting.  This is a not-to-be-missed event.  Take advantage of the 15% Amtrak discount on travel to Sacramento and bring a friend.  See you there!
– Paul Dyson

Save 15% on Amtrak travel to Sacramento


Not Exactly the Happiest Place on Earth – the New Anaheim Station as the Passenger Will See It

From our Orange County Steel Wheels correspondent

I don’t think Anaheim City Council was ever shown the trashy view that reality has presented to future riders. You will enter the breathtaking vast public space that is Artic wedged between California Route 57 overhead and the Santa Ana River to be shuffled to the platform to await amongst Anaheim’s growing homeless population and pigeons that live next to the river under the overhead Route 57 bridge. What a squandered opportunity. While waiting at track level you can admire local graffiti artists work on the drab concrete piers. You will have no view of the station, the ballpark or the Platinum Triangle.


While Fullerton and Irvine now have more train riders, Anaheim City Councilmember Lorri Galloway says ARTIC will give the OC a branding monument worthy of its price: “It is iconic, futuristic — something that draws people, the mere beauty of it.”


Cap and Trade Funds

Paul Dyson

You know that a program has established itself when it sports an acronym.  Cap and Trade is now CnT (or CapnTrade to others) and has everyone at the State Capitol excited as it appears to represent a way to pay for a lot of people’s favorite environmental programs.  As I write in mid-May there is some arm wrestling going on in the Senate Budget Committee as to how much may be reserved for intercity passenger rail, for transit, and for High Speed Rail.  Much will depend on the Governor.  In my opinion the Governor is almost alone (one or two reps from the San Joaquin Valley being the exception) in being firmly committed to High Speed Rail.  But given the near certainty of the Governor’s re-election, with a Democrat majority in both houses, he has the power to push through his own program.

Of course no one really knows how much money there will be. Every fee or tax has its loopholes. How much can industry avoid paying, or will they leave the State?  So the discussion centers around percentages as much as around dollar amounts.  The Governor’s first proposal was for $300 million for “Rail Modernization”, of which $250 million would be for High Speed Rail.  The Capitol Corridor JPB immediately wrote a letter calling for 5 times as much for intercity, based on the total capital needs of the three state corridors of $4.1 billion.   Senator Jackson and others have called for from 5% to 10% to be reserved for intercity passenger.  A compromise is being sought that does not give the Governor a political black eye but nonetheless reserves a guaranteed part of the money for intercity. Negotiations continue.

Meanwhile Senator Pavley, author of the CnT legislation, is very concerned about the way all of the money generated by the program will be distributed.  With the Governor keeping the purse strings tight this is one of the few pots of money available and so legislators are desperately trying to find a “green” angle to their favorite programs.  This is where groups like RailPAC are invaluable to supporters of passenger rail in the legislature.  We have to help make the case for investment in new rolling stock to increase service, low emissions locomotives, including rebuilding and updating the existing fleet, electrification, and infrastructure that removes bottlenecks and improves both journey times and efficiency.

RailPAC’s long term policy of continuous incremental improvements is a sensible and affordable option, but let’s face it, it’s not exactly the sexiest of ideas.  “Going so less often” is not a slogan that will set the world ablaze!   But it does parallel the Governor’s call for fiscal responsibility, and it does ensure that we do not build any stranded assets.  As for electrification, recent reports on our air quality highlight what sensible people already knew; that our freeways generate pollution.  Electrification, initially with our urban passenger routes such as Caltrain and Metrolink, could significantly alleviate this problem and is, as far as I am concerned, the ideal candidate for Cap and Trade dollars.  If you agree, share your thought with your State Senator and Assemblymember.


NARP Resolution in Support of Returning Passenger Rail Service Between New Orleans & Florida

The new NARP board has unanimously approved the following resolution in support of returning passenger service between New Orleans and Florida:


             WHEREAS, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (“NARP”) has previously endorsed the re-introduction of passenger rail service along the southern route linking New Orleans, Louisiana to Orlando, Florida, which is being pursued by the Southern Rail Commission (the “Commission”), and

WHEREAS, the Commission has made application to the Federal Railway Administration for the funding of a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery discretionary grant (“TIGER” grant) in order to determine the feasibility of re-establishing this service, and the Commission has also requested NARP to endorse the Commission’s effort in this regard and to also pledge its best efforts to assist with monetary or “in-kind” contributions to this effort, including staff communications and outreach, as well as administrative support for public meetings and review of the report, and

Whereas, NARP continues to support the re-establishment of this route as being vital to creating transportation alternatives through passenger rail service, as well as promoting economic development across the southeastern portion of the United States, now therefore be it

RESOLVED that the NARP Board of Directors hereby endorses and strongly supports the Commission’s application for the TIGER grant, and pledges to assist the Commission with monetary or “in-kind” contributions including staff communication and outreach, as well as administrative support for public meetings and review of the report in order to assist the Commission with the required “matching funds” necessary to successfully procure the federal funding.

            EXECUTED effective this  April 30, 2014 in Washington, D. C.

                                                                                    National Association of Railroad Passengers


National Train Day in Santa Barbara

May 10th, 2014 National Train Day Celebration!

Theme:Why should everyone be stuck in traffic? With 101 construction to last over a decade, the obvious solution is waiting at the station. Ventura to Goleta commuter rail is needed NOW!


  • Rail Passengers Association of California & Nevada (RailPAC)
  • Coalition for Sustainable Transportation (COAST)
  • Alliance for Sustainable and Equitable Regional Transportation (ASERT)
  • Coastal Rail Now (CRN)
  • Elected Officials  invited include Das Williams, Salud Carbajal, and Helene Schneider
  • Train lovers from far and wide!

What: A train ride at 9:20am to Carpinteria, and back to SB at 10:15. Munch on food from OmniCatering, decorate train cookies from Fresco Café, and enjoy giveaways from Amtrak. The Press Conference begins at10:30 with elected officials.  You’ll hear them address the vital role that rail plays in creating a sustainable community, the importance of rail in relieving congestion on the 101, and the necessity of working across county lines. Videographer Larry Nimmer will capture all the action.

When: May 10th, 2014

You’re invited to ride along with local families and elected officials to Carpinteria and back starting at 9:20am, or greet the train’s arrival at 10:15 am at the Santa Barbara station, which coincides with the event’s official kick-off and 10:30 press conference.


  • 9:00 am: Arrival at Santa Barbara train station to prepare for 9:20am departure.
  • 9:20 am: Depart the Santa Barbara train station southbound for Carpinteria.
  • 9:20 am: Ventura County attendees depart Oxnard station northbound for SB.
  • 9:35 am: Southbound riders detrain at the Carpinteria station.
  • 9:57 am: Board the northbound train for return to Santa Barbara.
  • 10:15 am: Train arrives in Santa Barbara – National Train Day 2014 begins!
  • 10:30 am: Press conference with elected officials, with press availability to follow.

Where:  Santa Barbara Train Station (209 State St, Santa Barbara, CA 93101)

Contact: Dennis Story
(805) 455-2926


Caltrain Board Honors Art Lloyd for 26 Years of Service

Art Lloyd Retirement On April 3, RailPAC’s Vice President Art Lloyd was commended for his 26 years of service on the Caltrain Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board.He will remain involved with “Emeritus” status as a consultant and for his vast railroad historical knowledge.

We at RailPAC can only echo the sentiments expressed therein and add our congratulations and acknowledgement of your service to that organization.  Without a thorough knowledge of the past, and the decisions that were made which created the circumstances of the present, it is not possible to make good decisions about the future.  Your passion for the subject and the determination to bring improvements to mobility and the quality of life that public transportation can bring combines with that knowledge to make a unique contribution that has benefited the community, state and nation.

Heartiest congratulations! Continue Reading