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Commentary, Electrification, High Speed Rail, Rail Technology, Technical and Rolling Stock

RailPAC sends letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in response to letter from California Assembly Speaker Rendon on High Speed Rail Settlement Agreement

The Honorable Pete Buttigieg
Secretary of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, DC 20590

July 7, 2021

RE: Response to California Legislature’s Electrification Technology Letter

Dear Secretary Buttigieg,

The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC) is an all-volunteer
bi-state organization that has advocated for the improvement of commuter and intercity
passenger rail service since 1978. Many RailPAC members are veterans of the railroad
industry or have considerable knowledge and experience of energy application and
transmission.

Recently the Speaker of the California Assembly and several co-signers sent you a letter
regarding the FY2010 High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Grant Settlement Agreement.
The letter from the Speaker argued that battery and hydrogen technology make overhead
power delivery obsolete and that the Settlement Agreement should not restrict funds
solely to an overhead power system. In addition,that letter contained optimistic
assumptions and omissions which we would like to highlight.

While there is potentially a role for battery and fuel cell technology in rail transportation,
it is clear that neither hydrogen fuel cell nor batteries can deliver enough power to
operate a high-speed train. The key issue is the impact of weight and speed on the power
requirements.The critical advantage to overhead catenary electrification is the ability to
“offload” the power source to stationary power sources. This “off-loading” avoids
significant vehicle weight by eliminating thousands of pounds of fuel cell, hydrogen fuel
or batteries. Simply put, batteries and hydrogen fuel cells will never be light enough, or
have the on-board energy storage density to match the power efficiency of overhead
electrification for high speed rail operations. Overhead electrification has proven reliable
and is safe and cost effective for high-speed rail systems around the world.

Some members of RailPAC work on the design and building of prototype battery electric
locomotives while others own hydrogen powered automobiles and are involved in
advocating for adoption of hydrogen power. They were uniformly critical of the
Speaker’s proposal. They note that battery and hydrogen technologies are still unproven
both from the technical and economic perspective. There are scalability issues around the
production and distribution of green hydrogen which will require a significant investment
to become viable.Overhead electrification is “off the shelf” technology with decades of
proven service and continuous technological improvements.

Finally, given the lack of technical awareness and the lack of due diligence in the
Speaker’s letter,one can only presume the real intent of the letter was to sow confusion
in order to delay the project further,adding costs. Certain members of the Assembly
hope to divert funds to projects in Southern California seemingly unaware that there is
planned or ongoing investment of over $30 Billion in funded rail projects in the region.
Neither Southern California public agencies nor the construction industry has the
immediate capacity to take on additional large scale projects even if the funding were
made available.

RailPAC remains committed to the California High-Speed Rail project Early Interim
Service as the most viable path to the phase one high-speed network and the only viable
alternative to increased highway and airport investment. RailPAC sees no need to alter
the existing language in the Settlement Agreement. Thank you for your strong support
for passenger rail.

Sincerely,

Steve Roberts, President

Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

cc: Chief Counsel, Federal Railroad Administration

Electrification, High Speed Rail, Rail Technology, Technical and Rolling Stock

RailPAC submits letter to Speaker Rendon, asking him to reconsider anti-electrification position in letter to Secretary Buttigieg

The Honorable Anthony Rendon

California State Assembly, 63rd District

State Capitol

Room 219

Sacramento, CA 95814

July 2, 2021

Subject: Please reconsider position stated in letter sent to Secretary Buttigieg on California HSR

Dear Speaker Rendon,

I hope that you will reconsider your position on amending the Settlement Agreement between the California High Speed Rail Authority with the U.S. Department of Transportation.

You sent a letter Tuesday June 29, 2021, signed onto by seventeen of your Assembly Democratic Caucus colleagues, to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. It asked that California to use the money to build California High-Speed Rail without overhead electrification. The letter argues that improving battery and hydrogen technology will make overhead wire obsolete, implying that the Federal grant money shouldn’t be used for that purpose.

Batteries and hydrogen fuel cells will never be light enough, or have the energy density, to power high speed trains. It is the laws of physics that prevent these technologies from ever advancing enough to power a high-speed train from Anaheim to San Francisco.  Overhead wire electrification is proven to be economical and reliable for high speed rail around the world. It is the best technology available, and will remain so. Battery-only and hydrogen trains have not even been proven to be reliable and safe- there are only a handful of prototypes of either type.  I know this because I have actually helped design and build a prototype battery-electric locomotive- it is fine for local use within a railyard, but it cannot go very far. However, we do know that these technologies incur significant losses in energy efficiency, will add significant weight, and will add costs.

The letter sent to Secretary Buttigieg also contains multiple falsehoods, as detailed in a June 30, 2021 editorial by Roger Rudick titled “Own it, L.A. Politicians–You’re Trying to Kill California’s Bullet Train” on the cal.streetsblog.org website. Can you please explain why you are taking such an anti-electrification position, in an open letter to the Biden Administration, based on false information?  The timing of such a falsehood-laden letter to the Secretary of Transportation could hardly be worse- California needs to show resolve and consistency when dealing with the Federal government on this vital infrastructure project. The Biden Administration wants to firmly support the project, and all that you are doing with this letter is sowing confusion and demonstrating technical ignorance about the state of rail technology. I would think California Democrats would be all in to get at least a test track and an electric high speed train set up and running by 2024 so that President Biden, and the state of California, can do a victory lap.

We cannot afford to further delay the California High Speed Rail project, and its electrification of the initial operating segment in the Central Valley. Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Brian Yanity

Vice President- South and Board Member,

Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada (RailPAC)

Amtrak Long Distance, Arizona, Central Coast, Coachella/Imperial Valleys, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, High Speed Rail, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, San Joaquin, Technical and Rolling Stock

Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2021 issue available online

Download the pdf of Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2021 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • San Diego County rail improvements
  • Public transportation in a post-pandemic world
  • Prospects for future LA-Phoenix passenger rail
  • Letter to California High Speed Rail Authority
  • Arizona rail news
  • Russ Jackson commentary on state of U.S. passenger rail in 2021
  • Andrew Seldon commentary on future of Amtrak
  • Battery vs. hydrogen trains
  • European night trains- lessons for USA?
  • and more!
Amtrak Long Distance, Antelope Valley Line, Arizona, CA Rail Statistics, Caltrain, Commentary, Editorials, Electrification, eNewsletter, High Speed Rail, LA Metro, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCCRA, Metrolink/SCRRA, Nevada, Rail Technology, San Joaquin, SMART, Technical and Rolling Stock

Steel Wheels magazine, 2nd quarter 2020 available online

Download the pdf version of Steel Wheels, 2nd Quarter 2020 by clicking here.

In this issue:

  • RailPAC President’s Commentary on COVID-19 and passenger rail
  • California High Speed Rail Update
  • Amtrak pandemic “Lessons Learned” commentary
  • RailPAC recommendations for Nevada State Rail Plan
  • RailPAC’s recommended priority rail investments for California
  • California company makes progress with zero-emissions locomotives
  • Dick Spotswood commentary on SMART
  • Arizona News
  • “From the Real Platform” – Editor’s Column
  • LA Union Station – looking for a lower cost solution

Antelope Valley Line, CalSTA TIRCP, Central Coast, Electrification, LOSSAN, Metrolink/SCRRA, Rail Technology, San Diego County, Technical and Rolling Stock

2020 Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP) Grants Awarded

This past week the California State Transportation Agency announced the 2020 grants distributed as part of the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP). Created by SB 862 in 2014, the TIRCP utilizes revenues from the State of the California’s cap-and-trade program and vehicle registration fees to fund capital projects that reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) and increase transit and rail ridership.

More information is available on the TIRCP website.

Two major 2020 TIRCP awards for intercity and commuter rail were $107 million for improvements to Metrolink’s Antelope Valley Line (see RailPAC 4/26/2020 commentary), and $38.7 million to LOSSAN for new maintenance facilities in San Luis Obispo and San Diego counties along with overhaul and modernization Pacific Surfliner railcars.  Detailed description of these two major rail project awards are quoted below from the 2020 TIRCP Detailed Project Award Summary. A particularly positive detail in the San Luis Obispo maintenance facility description is where it was noted that “facility is also supportive of future service expansion to northern California once additional investments are made in improving the infrastructure on the Central Coast.”  This is one of the many small steps to build the foundation for frequent Central Coast – Bay Area service, which RailPAC has long supported.

Another TIRCP grant awarded to San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG), with San Diego MTS & North County Transit District, includes $4.9 million in funding for Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project, which is critical to a reliable and safe corridor for passenger and goods movement.  This TIRCP funding will “expand the work achieved by Phase 5 of the Del Mar Bluffs Stabilization Project, in combination with other federal, state and local funds committed and being pursued for the project”.

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro) and Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink)

Project: Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements

Award: $107,050,000

Total Budget: $220,850,000

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 584,000 MTCO2e

The proposed Metrolink Antelope Valley Line Capital and Service Improvements Project will add targeted capacity-increasing infrastructure on the Antelope Valley Line, increase service in step with new capacity, and assess the feasibility of rail multiple unit and zero-emission propulsion service through a pilot project on the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line. The 4 infrastructure projects included allow Metro to initiate regular 60-minute, bi-directional service, followed by introduction of regular 30-minute bi-directional service from Los Angeles Union Station to Santa Clarita, in deployment waves that accelerate delivery of new service as planned under the Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) program.

The 4 infrastructure projects include:

1. Balboa Double Track Extension

2. Lancaster Terminal Improvements

3. Canyon Siding Extension

4. Brighton-McGinley Double Track

This award builds on the investment in Phase 1 of the Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion (SCORE) Program awarded in 2018 and expands those benefits. This award accelerates delivery of key AVL Projects, which provide regional “bookend” capacity for state-supported Intercity and High-Speed Rail, as well as significantly advances the County’s ability to integrate the regional rail system into the Metrolink station communities.

In addition, this project includes funding for a zero-emission rail multiple unit (ZEMU) equipment pilot to assess potential to provide more cost-effective and flexible rail service and reduce the carbon and emissions footprint of rail service. The ZEMU pilot tests rail technology in one of the more challenging Metrolink corridors due to topography, density, temperature variations and elevation differences between Lancaster and Los Angeles. If the pilot project is successful on this corridor, it will bode well for ZEMU operations throughout the entire Metrolink regional rail network and help provide data and performance measurements useful to other agencies in California seeking to implement similar ZEMU rail technology. Technical assistance will be provided by the California Department of Transportation to integrate rail demonstration pilot efforts with statewide rolling stock planning.

Over 1 million residents of the 3.3 million residents in the census tracts in the Antelope Valley station catchment areas are from Disadvantaged Communities. The AVL investments will improve rail mobility and access for these priority populations to major employment centers and other regional destinations, including Hollywood Burbank Airport.

Due to the extended timeline for delivery that goes beyond this cycle’s 5-year program (completion date: 2027), the project is expected to receive allocations over the life of the implementation schedule.

Los Angeles – San Diego – San Luis Obispo Rail Corridor Agency (LOSSAN)

Project: Building Up Control: LOSSAN Service Enhancement Program

Award: $38,743,000

Total Budget: $87,196,969

Estimated TIRCP GHG Reductions: 325,000 MTCO2e

Designs and constructs two new maintenance facilities in San Diego and San Luis Obispo that enable longer trains and better departure times to be operated out of both locations, contributing to both frequency and ridership growth for the Pacific Surfliner. Aligned with needs identified in the 2018 State Rail Plan.

Provides funding for design and construction of a dedicated maintenance, support and storage location for the Pacific Surfliner service in National City, at the southern end of the LOSSAN rail corridor. The facility will allow storage and maintenance of additional and longer trains (up to 7 7-car trains, or equivalent), increasing the efficiency and ridership of services into San Dan Diego. It also will move primary maintenance activities away from the Santa Fe Depot in San Diego, which is primarily surrounded by residential and commercial land uses. In addition, this new facility can be utilized by COASTER service to support service expansion goals within San Diego County, supporting additional opportunities for integration and connectivity to the regional transit network.

Provides for design and construction of an expanded maintenance and layover facility south of the station in San Luis Obispo, allowing for the storage and maintenance of additional and longer trains (up to 4 7-car trains, or equivalent). Allows for train movement between maintenance facility and station without impacting mainline passenger and freight train operations. Facility design and construction will be coordinated with the City of San Luis Obispo to integrate the facility into the community plan for the roundhouse district and provide the opportunity for the City to connect the surrounding development within the district to the station in San Luis Obispo by way of a pedestrian and bike trail that will also provide a natural barrier between the facility and the existing and planned developments within the district. Ability to maintain more trainsets in San Luis Obispo is aligned with the State Rail Plan and allows for better departure times that capture higher ridership. Facility is also supportive of future service expansion to northern California once additional investments are made in improving the infrastructure on the Central Coast. The San Luis Obispo investment is coordinated with additional investment through Proposition 1B and the State Transportation Improvement Program, reflected in the project matching funds.

As part of the overall scope of this project, state funding from the Public Transportation Account will be used to enhance the condition of the Pacific Surfliner fleet, providing a fleet that has improved reliability and meets customer expectations. Technical assistance will be provided by the California Department of Transportation to integrate maintenance facility planning with statewide rail planning, facility development, and fleet deployment efforts.

Project benefits are enhanced through complementary service improvements in the corridor awarded in previous years, which includes investments in signal optimization and various capital improvements which prepares the corridor for higher frequency services to be introduced by the Pacific Surfliner.

Due to the extended timeline for delivery that goes beyond this cycle’s 5-year program (completion date: 2026), the project is expected to receive allocations over the life of the implementation schedule.

CA Rail Statistics, Commentary, Editorials, High Speed Rail, Issues, Rail Technology, Technical and Rolling Stock, Tracking Rail News

President’s Commentary – Key RailPAC priorities for 2020

By Steve Roberts – RailPAC President

[Originally published in Steel Wheels, 1st Quarter 2020]

Greetings!

In early January, members of the RailPAC Board developed options and came to a consensus on RailPAC’s policy priorities for 2020.  The two major ground rules were that the priorities had to be focused and actionable in 2020.  A list of about a dozen initiatives was consolidated and prioritized into four key priorities with two additional initiatives RailPAC will be following, but don’t appear to require RailPAC to take the lead.  RailPAC can offer support if the opportunity arises.

The four key 2020 RailPAC priorities are:

Surfliner Service Crisis and Vision – The recent collapse of the cliff at Del Mar clearly shows the threat of rising sea levels and more intense storms to Surfliner/Coaster service.  There is no future for the Surfliner/Coaster route at its current location.  Given the magnitude of relocation project, it needs to start now.  And the collapse of the cliff at Del Mar is not the only threat. The route is also threatened by the same forces at San Clemente.  In addition, the Surfliner route has not developed an expansive vision that would deal with both the climate change issue along with dramatically re-imaging the rail line as an faster, electrified, high-frequency, high capacity service that would incent transit oriented development, generate maximum ridership and contribute to enhancing travel capacity within the Southern California megaregion. Southern California RailPAC’s members are focused on calling attention to the immediate threat to the route as well as championing the development of a robust long-term vision of an interconnected high-performance auto competitive passenger rail system. 

California High Speed Rail Funding Strategy – Even though this initiative is one to watch rather than take the lead, Board members clearly felt it had high importance because of the magnitude of the HSR program. This initiative is both complex and challenging.  It is challenging because, unlike most discussions which often take place at the staff level (which RailPAC can influence with information), the high-speed rail funding discussion is taking place at the highest levels of the Newsom administration and legislature.  Add in the attempted “claw back” of funds from the administration in Washington and as they say “this is way above my pay grade”.  It is complex because all of the discussions and the power plays are happening legislator to legislator with only flashes of light as legislators on both sides make their cases or work behind the scenes for a compromise.  RailPAC will keep members updated and stand ready to weigh in on this issue at the appropriate time.

Daily Sunset Campaign – One thing I think all RailPAC members can agree on is tri-weekly service for a long-distance train route generates sub-par ridership and ticket revenue results.  So not surprisingly, this initiative was identified as a key priority for RailPAC in 2020.  Building on the grassroots outreach over the past few years by advocates along the I-10 corridor, 2020 will see a new phase of the daily Sunset Limited campaign.  Details are outlined in an article on page XX of this issue of Steel Wheels.                

SCORE/Metrolink Vision – SCORE, Southern California Optimized Rail Expansion program, is a $10 billion capital program that will upgrade the Metrolink system, adding additional tracks, grade separations, signal work and investments to facilitate zero-emissions operations.  Currently Metrolink is working on rail operations modeling; development of design alternatives, identifying and prioritizing proposed capacity improvements, undertaking preliminary engineering and the environmental assessment for the proposed projects.  SCORE service goals would deliver faster, more reliable service with greater frequencies system wide and high frequencies within the core network.  This initiative will be being championed by RailPAC’s Southern California members who are especially focused on developing a robust long-term vision of an interconnected high-performance auto competitive transit system.  Near-term goals for these members is advocating for the timely completion of the third main track Hobart to Fullerton including the Fullerton interlocking project, double tracking of the Antelope Valley and Ventura lines and a new station at Pacoima.

Initiatives being monitored:

Several initiatives proposed as 2020 priorities were not rated as highly as the others listed above but they still are important.  These are:

Dumbarton Transportation Corridor (Dumbarton Bridge) – The Dumbarton Transportation Corridor is a critical connection linking San Joaquin Valley and East Bay housing to job centers in southern San Mateo County and northern Santa Clara County.  The current highway bridge is at or near capacity with job growth continuing.  Building a replacement rail line and bridge utilizing the current rail right-of-way would add substantial cross bay capacity to this corridor while facilitating connections and/or direct service from several existing high-capacity transit operators – Bay Rapid Transit District (BART), Caltrain, Capitol Corridor and Altamont Commuter Rail (ACE).  From the transit perspective the lack of service on this corridor represents a critical gap in network connectivity.  Because of these connectivity benefits, RailPAC considers this an important priority.  Currently the project is undergoing the Environmental Review Process so advocacy opportunities are limited until the report draft is completed.  RailPAC’s Northern California members will be monitoring this project.

Mental Health/Homelessness/Security – For riders on intercity and commuter rail their “final mile” is most likely on transit and/or walking.  In addition to being concerned about this as a social justice issue, RailPAC members are also concerned about how mental health and homelessness impacts the perception of security both on-board and around transit stations.  This perception results in lower ridership and thus reduces the community benefits from the large investments in transit systems.  There appear to be several initiatives underway in Sacramento in an attempt to address these issues.  While RailPAC has no expertise to offer solutions to mental health and homelessness, RailPAC can comment on the impacts of failing to address these issues.  RailPAC will stand ready to support any legislative action around these issues.

Freight Rail Carrier Cost Shifting – This priority focuses on actual and proposed changes in rail freight operations, long-mega trains and single person operator freight trains that potentially have significant negative public impacts.  The issue is not so much the changes to operations, but the implementation of these changes without the investments by the freight railroads to mitigate the potential public impacts of these changes; i.e. blocked crossings and delays to passenger trains.  In effect the freight railroads are shifting the costs of these operational changes, which should be internal and borne by the carriers, to the general public.  While RailPAC has no expertise in the specifics of rail freight operations and investments to mitigate the negative impact of these operational changes, RailPAC can attest to the public costs of these changes.  RailPAC will stand ready to support any legislative action around these issues.

 

Technical and Rolling Stock

Amtrak At Last Looking to Renew or Upgrade Locomotives

From Amtrak Press release:

Amtrak to Improve National Network Locomotive Fleet

New or rebuilt locomotives will provide more reliable service, a smoother ride and improved safety features

WASHINGTON – With demand for Amtrak service at record levels, Amtrak is moving to either acquire new locomotives or rebuild its current diesel fleet of locomotives to supplement and replace its aging National Network diesel locomotive fleet used on Long Distance and some State Supported routes.

In a Request for Proposals (RFP), Amtrak is seeking to rebuild its current diesel fleet or purchase a minimum of 50 to 75 next-generation locomotives, with options to rebuild or acquire additional units. The locomotives will offer the latest safety features, have more horsepower, and the lowest emissions possible.

“Our diesel locomotive fleet is nearing the end of life expectancy and we must act now to modernize Amtrak for the future,” said Amtrak President & CEO Richard Anderson. “We expect that any new, state-of-the art locomotive will offer improved reliability, a smoother ride, improved safety features and make major contributions towards lowering emissions and we’ll also consider how rebuilding options of the current fleet could achieve these goals.”

The rebuilt or new locomotives will primarily replace Amtrak’s aging P40 and P42 locomotives, some of which have been in service for more than 25 years. As part of the contract award for the locomotives, Amtrak will also seek to enter into a multi-year Technical Support, Spares and Supply Agreement to ensure an optimal and cost-effective maintenance strategy.

Amtrak is working aggressively to make immediate changes to the customer experience with improvements including refreshed trains, new fare structures, improved on-time performance, enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity, upgraded facilities and expanded onboard experience options.

Additionally, the rebuilt or new locomotives are part of Amtrak’s long-term upgrades that include buying modern equipment, including new Acela trainsets; ongoing improvements at New York Penn Station and the new Moynihan Train Hall; and further development of stations in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia.

A link to the RFP can be found here.

About Amtrak®

Amtrak offers a more comfortable and convenient travel experience with free Wi-Fi on most trains, plenty of leg room and no middle seat. With our state and commuter partners, we move people, the economy and the nation forward, carrying more than 30 million Amtrak customers for each of the past seven years. Amtrak operates more than 300 trains daily, connecting more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian Provinces, and reaches 400 additional destinations via connecting bus routes. Learn more at Amtrak.com.

We’ve only been waiting for about 20 years.  it will be interesting to see what level of emission controls they will get from rebuilt P42s.  At least some of the will likely go to Siemens at Sacramento for Charger diesels but at $7 million each they won;t get many for their money.  I also hope that they will incorporate the emissions systems developed by Rail Propulsion Systems in Fullerton.  Go California!

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