Transit Briefs: Caltrain, NCDOT/CATS

Written by Carolina Worrell, Senior Editor
(Photograph Courtesy of Caltrain via Twitter)

(Photograph Courtesy of Caltrain via Twitter)

Three of Caltrain’s electric trains have completed testing. Also, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) orders the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) to pull all older light rail trains from service.


Caltrain announced Jan. 5 that three of its eventual 23 electric trainsets have completed 1,000 miles of testing along the agency’s corridor. The entirety of the new fleet must meet all safety and quality standards prior to the launch of electrified service in fall 2024. 

According to Caltrain, this 1,000-mile testing process is required to “ensure all safety and quality standards are met in order to ensure that the trains can safely operate on Caltrain’s tracks.” The trainsets will continue to undergo additional testing before they can be deemed ready for passenger service in 2024. Caltrain currently has six train sets on property, with the remainder expected to arrive from the Stadler US manufacturing facility in Utah over the next year.

“Rigorous testing of equipment is how we make sure that our corridor remains safe for passengers and the communities we serve,” said Caltrain Executive Director Michelle Bouchard. “I thank our crews for all their hard work testing these vehicles through the night while we continue to carry passengers during the day. I look forward to the rest of the new fleet going through the same safety testing process and for the rollout of this impressive fleet for our passengers later this year.”

Caltrain’s Electrification Project is the first undertaking in North America in a generation in which diesel trains and their infrastructure components are transitioned to an electrified system, according to the agency. Electrification, Caltrain says, “means faster and more frequent service,” including doubling the frequency on weekends. “The passenger experience will be greatly improved, as well with the new trains featuring wi-fi, power outlets at every seat, onboard displays with digital trip information, increased storage capacities,” the agency said.

Electrification, Caltrain adds, will also help meet ambitious regional and state climate action goals by lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, improving air quality and relieving traffic congestion. Additionally, electrified service will advance equity along the corridor by reducing noise and air pollution while increasing access for priority equity communities. It will also set the framework for California’s future High Speed Rail network that will run on the Caltrain corridor. 

The proposed Electrification service plan would see weekday peak hour trains go to 79 stations per hour, an increase from the current 66. Eleven stations would experience four train arrivals hourly per direction, a notable improvement from seven stations currently. Midday trains would cover 44 stations per hour, up from 34 today.

The Electrification of Caltrain coincides with the 160th anniversary of passenger rail service. There will be another train public tour and celebration of the anniversary in the spring. 


NCDOT on Jan. 6 ordered CATS to pull all of its older light rail vehicles from service, according to a letter the city sent to the Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC), WFAE 90.7 reports.

The state acted after a light-rail driver detected a “flat spot” in one of the wheels, according to the WFAE 90.7 report.

According to the report, a Lynx train was pulled from service in late December because of an apparent flat spot on a wheel— a small imperfection that makes a clicking sound and is measured in millimeters. The car was repaired and put back into service on Dec. 30.

On Friday, Jan. 5, a driver operating the same train reported the same sound. The vehicle was pulled from service again.

While being repaired, WFAE 90.7 reports, a CATS machinist “noticed an abnormal sound coming from the center truck,” according to NCDOT.

The light rail vehicle, which was inspected again, showed that there was “abnormal movement” coming from one wheel of the train.

According to the report, CATS contacted NCDOT, which oversees safety at the transit agency, on Saturday and the state ordered CATS to remove older Lynx trains.

In an email to MTC, one of the governing bodies for CATS, the transit system said Sunday that “it doesn’t believe that this wheel problem is related to a previous problem with ball bearings in wheel axles, which caused a May 2022 derailment,” according to the WFAE 90.7 report.

Following the May 2022 derailment, CATS fired General Manger of Rail Operations Deltrin Harris.

According to the report, CATS said, “it doesn’t believe the ‘flat spot’ wheel problem is a safety issue,” and added that it can maintain the current Lynx schedule, even without roughly half of its vehicles. CATS said it may have to adjust schedules in the future, depending on its maintenance schedule from the manufacturer, Siemens.

NCDOT’s order impacts the 100- and 200-series vehicles from the Lynx Blue Line. The 300-series vehicles—which came on line when the Lynx extension opened in 2018—will be used for now, according to the WFAE 90.7 report.

CATS said it has inspected all of its light rail vehicles and hasn’t found any similar problems.

In the email to MTC, interim CATS Chief Executive Brent Cagle praised the transit agency’s response. “This is an exemplary demonstration of a system that truly works. Staff proactively collaborated across various divisions to address the mechanical concerns, ensuring these were promptly reported to NCDOT. This is a testament to our collective effort to uphold our commitment to safety for our employees and passengers,” CATS wrote.

Asked Monday by Charlotte City Council members whether riders will see an effect, Cagle said no, WFAE 90.7 reports.

“The short answer is no. To the riding public, the impacts of this will be negligible if, if not completely non-existent,” he said.

The agency’s response to the recent problem is a “marked departure” from the safety issues that first emerged almost two years ago when John Lewis was the CATS Chief Executive, according to the WFAE 90.7 report.

After the May 2022 derailment—which didn’t cause any injuries—NCDOT “blasted” CATS for its response to the accident, criticizing the agency for not doing the required maintenance on its older vehicles and ordered a systemwide speed limit of 35 mph for all trains, according to the report.

According to the WFAE 90.7 report, CATS staff didn’t inform Cagle about the problem when he took over as the transit system’s leader, “instead keeping him in the dark and contributing to an embarrassing series of disclosures about safety problems including an understaffed rail control center and missed inspections on bridges and other critical infrastructure.”

Councilmember Ed Driggs, Chair of the city’s transportation committee, said, “The way in which that was detected by the driver, reported in accordance with procedures—which frankly a couple of years ago might not have happened,” according to the report.

“We’ve come a long way from the conditions that (Cagle) inherited,” he said.

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