Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Caltrain lands FRA waiver for passenger operations

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Caltrain officials say the Federal Railroad Administration has granted a waiver allowing operation of electric multiple-unit (EMU) passenger rail equipment built to European standards in mixed traffic.

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The waiver, deemed by Caltrain to be critical to its electrification and modernization program, relies heavily on installation of Positive Train Control along Caltrain’s 55-mile San Jose-to San Francisco route. Without the waiver, Caltrain says it would be unable to complete its $1.5 billion project to electrify its route, which is linked to the Golden State’s 700-mile, $44 billion high speed rail plan.

Though the waiver allows EMU and diesel-hauled passenger equipment to operate concurrently, freight operations remain subject to temporal (time-of-day) separation along the route.

“People thought they could only get this level of service by having BART. This out-BARTs BART,” said Bob Doty, head of the joint Caltrain-high speed rail program. “This tiny little streak of rust out here will be the first in the United States to allow mixed operations of service.”

In a statement, FRA said  “collision avoidance … is the first line of defense in assuring passenger rail safety, and that collision management, achieved through the operation of vehicles designed with CEM [crash energy management], is the second line of defense that effectively reduces the severity of an incident, should it occur.”

Supporters of California’s HSR project note that California must apply for a similar waiver from FRA for the statewide project, but since Caltrain has established a guideline, such a waiver might be more easily attained.

FRA says it will revoke the waiver if Caltrain fails to meet various criteria in implementing its plan. Caltrain must conduct crash tests after its new equipment is built, and must construct rail bridges at several intersections, as well as install PTC.

Doty said that in testing to date, EMUs passed each safety test laid out by the FRA, which had never tested its assumption that the European cars were less safe. “In every case, the equipment we wanted to bring in was equal to or better than what’s running in the United States today,” he said.