Caltrain gets $16 million grant for signal upgrades

Federal money would enable design work for 'positive train controls'

Caltrain's effort to upgrade its train service surged ahead Thursday when the Federal Railroad Administration awarded the cash-strapped system a $16 million to design a modern signaling system.

The funds would be used to design a "positive train control" system -- a GPS-based system that would allow Caltrain to more efficiently monitor and control trains. The signal system automatically slows down trains when they reach close proximity, prevents derailments and ensures trains don't go into zones where work is being done on the rails. All rail systems in which passenger trains share tracks with freight are required by federal law to install positive control by 2015.

The signaling system would also allow Caltrain to run more trains up and down the Peninsula -- a key objective of the popular train service that carries 41,000 people per day. Caltrain announced that it will allow "train movements and schedules to be coordinated more efficiently" and enable the ultimate operation of high-speed rail on the Peninsula.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who helped arrange the federal grant, called the award an "important victory" for Caltrain and for her constituents on the Peninsula. Though the awarded funds are far short of what is needed to install positive train control -- a project with an estimated price tag of $250 million -- Eshoo said the grant represents a commitment from the federal government to modernize the train system.

"The $16 million doesn't cover all the costs, but this is the bridge that will get us to complete the design," Eshoo told the Weekly. "That's why it's so important -- it's an improvement for safety and efficiency.

"It's a significant step to upgrade Caltrain."

The signaling technology is a key component of what Eshoo, state Sen. Joe Simitian and state Assemblyman Rich Gordon described in April as "21st Century Caltrain." The concept also includes new train stock and a switch from diesel to electricity. The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which oversees Caltrain, has been working on the environmental analysis for an electrified system and hopes to have the document certified this summer.

Eshoo has been working since spring 2010 to allocate federal stimulus money for Caltrain improvements. In May 2010, she sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, requesting an allocation for positive train control on the Caltrain corridor. LaHood finalized the deal with the California High-Speed Rail Authority this week.

In a prepared statement, LaHood said keeping people safe is the department's "top priority, and positive train-control technology will ensure California's rail network transports passengers more safely and efficiently than ever before."

"This comprehensive safety technology will improve passenger service along the highly traveled corridor between San Francisco and San Jose and will ultimately benefit the entire high-speed rail system in California."

Caltrain officials welcomed the announcement, with Executive Director Mike Scanlon calling it "an important step forward in our efforts to provide Bay Area communities with a modernized, sustainable commuter rail system that is fully compatible with future high-speed-rail service." Though the proposed rail system is scheduled to launch in Central Valley, it would ultimately be extended to the Peninsula along the Caltrain corridor under current plans.

"The Administration and our Congressional leaders should be applauded for recognizing the importance of optimizing safety and promoting integration with regional systems as we continue to plan a project that will transform the way Californians travel," Scanlon said in a statement.

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Like this comment
Posted by Unbelievable!!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2011 at 5:11 pm

> a key objective of the popular train service that
> carries 41,000 people per day.

Unbelievable! The ridership has been about 38,000 a day. This means less than 20,000 unique people a day. And given that the system ran a $30M deficit of late, it's not popular enough for people pay for itself.

Liberal papers can not be trusted to tell the truth!

> total cost is $250 million

Good lord! This is a monstrous amount of money. While it might make the train a little safer, it will not carry one person. And if Eshoo is borrowing this money from the Chinese, it really means $500M! That kind of money would provide a lot of additional lanes on Highways 101 and 280.

As usual .. Eshoo is more interested in buying votes, than for spending money wisely. Oh, and where is the other $234M supposed to come from? (On top of the $1B-$2B for electrification) .. all for 20,000 unique people a day.

No wonder this country is in such a bad financial situation.

Like this comment
Posted by get real
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 23, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Do you really want 20,000 more cars on the roads every day? Adding a new lane to Hwy 101 will cost billions and gasoline taxes will not come close to paying that.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Will this also enable the (very expensive) electric signs at the stations state when the next train is arriving and where it will stop? These signs give useless information, the time and where you are standing. They need to have some useful, real time information, particularly before a passenger has bought a ticket.

Like this comment
Posted by Koa
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm

"The $16 million doesn't cover all the costs, but this is the bridge that will get us to complete the design," Eshoo told the Weekly.

Why on EARTH not?

I almost had a heart attack when I read that this "Positive Train Control System" is going to cost us a quarter billion dollars.

I set up a system using a cheap cellphone and free online software to know where my truck is in real time at any moment. This cost me less than $100 to set up.

This has really gone too far.

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 23, 2011 at 9:12 pm

Unbelievable. How could it cost $250 million to add some electronics to 30 miles of track? Or $16 million+ just to design it? This is a horrifying sum of money. The Chinese would build an entire high speed rail system 30 miles in length with the same money. What is WRONG with us?

Like this comment
Posted by Florez
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 23, 2011 at 9:23 pm

CA Treasurer Bill Lockyer, the California politician responsible for selling these CAHSR bonds, said on March 14, 2011 to an LA news reporter that no one is interested in buying CA HSR bonds because the CAHSR is more interested in issuing bad PR, rather than coming up with a sound business plan. Until there is a sound business plan, or even a half-baked one, then no one will invest in this stinker of a project. Interviewer asks: “so are investors saying we’re interested, but it doesn’t look like you guys [CAHSR Authority] know what you’re doing” & Lockyer responds: “that’s what they’re saying”; Interviewer: “what do you think?” & Lockyer responds: “well, I think the same thing.” High faluting ideas are one thing, wasting your nest egg investing in a stinker is quite another - see interview here:
Web Link

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 23, 2011 at 9:24 pm

The California High Speed Rail Authority and CEO Van Ark regularly ignore and refuse to consider public comment and input from members of communities through which HSR mandates they will bring their train - some examples:
Web Link
Web Link
Web Link (CAHSR ignoring CA farmers, destroying vital farmland)

Like this comment
Posted by HOmey
a resident of Meadow Park
on Jun 23, 2011 at 9:26 pm

In case you were looking for them, the two recent lawsuits brought against the CA High Speed Rail Authority, based on inadquate ridership projections, flawed EIR process under CEQA, etc. can be found here: 1. lawsuit filed 10/2/2010 pdf here: Web Link and 2. The second lawsuit filed 4/25/2011 found here: Web Link and 3. first lawsuit brought by little town of Atherton, Menlo Park, Bay Rail Alliance, Transdef that won against CAHSR back in 2008 found here: Web Link And, Here's the pdf link from Judge Kenny (Sacramento Superior Court) ordering California High Speed Rail to redo their EIR because they lost the 2008 lawsuit by Atherton/Menlo Park, and other parties (back in 10/2009): Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 23, 2011 at 10:18 pm

Great first step! Now, can we please get additional federal high speed rail money for electrification? That would be, electrifying Caltrain in the current track configuration, and run the HSR trains during Caltrain off-peak hours.

Like this comment
Posted by Walter
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 24, 2011 at 6:15 am

On June 15, 2011, the United State House of Representatives Budget Committee awarded the coveted “Budget Boondoggle of the Year Award” to California’s “Train to Nowhere” due to the huge multi-billion dollar cost, inadequate ridership projections, insufficient funding, requirements for operating subsidies, fiscal infeasibility, inability to find any private investors or federal funding, the fact that no high speed rail lines in the world make a profit and require ongoing operating subsidieis, that the Central Valley segment in California will be non-operational with no trains, electrification for $6.9 billion. Add in that free spending tax and spend liberal Democrats control almost 66% of the State Legislature, the Governor’s Office, Lt. Gov, Treasurer, etc., have a $28 billion yearly deficit, want to ask taxpayer to raise taxes on themselves in this Recession, have 12% unemployment, the worst credit rating of any state by Moody’s, and are laying off teachers, releasing convicted felons, encouraging illegal immigrants to come to California, closing state parks, senior centers – all due to a bad budget – but still planning to spend hundreds of billions on a “Train to Nowhere”, then this national boondoggle award is well deserved. The billions to be wasted on CA’s Train to Nowhere will make Boston’s Big Dig $20 billion cost overrun look like a mere pothole by the time California/Feds waste over a hundred billion, on an incomplete system. Way to go California taxpayers! See Award here: Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by SB
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 24, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Am just surprised, how ineffectively govt is spending public money. Did'nt Caltrain authorities worked couple of months back on improving signals and installing new "pedestrian walkway". Now again..just curious and surprised how much more money they are going to uselessly spend in the name of safety.

If they can just increase the signal time by a minute or two, things will be more under control and money will be wisely spent on other necessary areas like "education".

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 24, 2011 at 3:07 pm

$250M? is that a misprint? If "positive train control" will cost Caltrain $250M, and its mandatory for all of Amtrak and every commuter rail that shares track with freight, how much will this cost nationally? This is the first time I've even heard of it.

Like this comment
Posted by Dan
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 24, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Wiki says "as much as US$10 billion" nationally, so Caltrain is 2.5% of national passenger/freight rail?

Like this comment
Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 24, 2011 at 4:40 pm

This award represents the worst kind of our Federal and Local government throwing money away.

Rep. Eshoo essentially engineered an "earmark" for CalTrain. The funds are to be used to engineer a new non-compatible system of Positive Train Control" (PTC). Rather than buy off the shelf, well proven technology, CalTrain has been on a rampage to develop their own system.


Web Link

the link to the award on the CalTRain site and read:

June 23, 2011

The Federal Railroad Administration has announced the award of a $16 million cooperative agreement to the California High Speed Rail Authority for the design of a new, modernized signaling system on the Caltrain corridor between San Francisco and San Jose.

The new system, known as the Communication Based Overlay Signal System, includes safety improvements required by federal law and is the first step in the modernization of the Caltrain corridor, which is being planned to support electrified passenger rail service, including high-speed rail, between San Francisco and San Jose.

Here you see the system known as CBOSS will be the object to spend these funds.

A more ridiculous expenditure would be hard to imagine. Why in the world re-invent the wheel?

Congresswoman Eshoo either doesn't know and understand what she has done, or really doesn't care.

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 24, 2011 at 8:36 pm

If this system is required on tracks which share freight and passengers, then Union Pacific should cough up a few million toward it, as they use the tracks, too. Has any politician thought of that?

Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Why is Caltrain developing a new system CBOSS, when the world standard ERTMS can be purchased off the shelf, and will be what the future HSR will use?

Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Why not just close all grade crossings and electrify?
Electrification could be accomplished at NO COST to the public if PG&E were to install the system and own the locomotives and charge by horsepower hour. Transit corridor would additionally function as another transmission line right of way.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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