Comments on "Draft Assessment of Electrically Powered Rolling Stock Equipment"

To: Michael Scanlon, Caltrain JPB staff and consultants
1250 San Carlos Avenue
San Carlos, CA 94070-1306
From: Richard Mlynarik
Re: Comments on August 2000 "Draft Assessment of Electrically Powered Rolling Stock Equipment"

Thank you for the opporunity to provide comments upon this draft document. As in most fields of study, external review and comment can only help to produce a clearer, more accurate and more relevant final result and I am pleased to be part of this.

It is disappointing, however, that neither this report and its supporting materials nor any other Caltrain studies are published on the World Wide Web. Limiting distribution to printed paper copies both limits the availability of the information and makes it more difficult for interested parties to locate and respond to relevant information.

Please consider making future reports available on the web. We would be pleased to assist if there are any technical difficulties in doing so.

Overall comment on the scope of the document

It is very discouraging that Caltrain should presume to undertake an "assessment" of all available "options" of equipment and, upon that analysis, make procurement decisions which will affect the type of transportation service available on the San Francisco Peninsula for the next thirty or more years.

It would be far more appropriate for Caltrain to develop performance-based requirements for new rolling stock (and for other equipment and services), and leave it to the ingenuity and experience of the global rail industry to produce bids which meet those requirements. Caltrain electrification is a project of sufficient size and of sufficiently high profile to be of interest to and to attract innovative solutions from a number of engineering/construction consortia.

Locomotive-hauled operation: a decision based on data not contained in the report.

The authors of the report appear to have a strong belief that new locomotives hauling the existing Caltrain passenger car fleet is the correct technical and fiscal solution to the problem of electrifying Caltrain. However, this conclusion is not strongly supported -- or indeed supported in any fashion -- by the data presented in the document. In fact it is possible to reach exactly the opposite conclusion, as will be noted below.

It should be borne in mind is that the global rail market, responding to the actual needs of and actual costs incurred by rail operators around the world, has overwhelmingly reached a conclusion different from that of that in the Rolling Stock Assessment Draft.

The most telling lesson should be the present situation in the United Kingdom, where I am unaware of a single passenger locomotive on order, compared to hundreds or EMU and DMU vehicles. The privatized Train Operating Companies and Train Leasing Companies of the UK are intensely aware of the bottom line, and would not be ordering equipment which extremely high operating costs (as stated but not supported in the Caltrain Rolling Stock Assessment Draft) or high capital costs if there were not an excellent return on investment. The UK's passenger equipment procurement situation is hardly unique -- the same could be said of train operators in Japan or Italy or Australia or Norway or many others -- but it is most compelling in the case of the UK because of the forthrightness of the commercial pressures and the quantity of new equipment on order.

Locomotive-hauled trains for suburban and regional service is now largely perceived as a solution which responded to technical limitations of the past (which have changed as the size of primary power transformers in particular has shrunk) and at best a stop-gap solution in the present, one with little currency for a system such as Caltrain's. (For example, operators with large numbers of general purpose locomotives might choose to buy unpowered passenger cars because of an expectation that the locomotives might be used for freight at night, or operators with large immediate equipment deficits might choose to buy and refurbish existing passenger cars for use with existing locomotives.)

But to reiterate: it should not be the job of Caltrain or its consultants to determine one "solution" and then solicit bids (or, in the case of all of Caltrain's recently over-specified rolling stock and fare collection specifications, only one real bid) to meet that narrow technical goal. I am willing to believe that there may be information of which I am unaware which would tilt the decision in favour of locomotive-hauled trains, but I do not think that Caltrain has the commercial information or the technical expertise to dictate this decision.

Specific comments on the report

Comments on Section 6, Conclusions

Richard Mlynarik
Last modified: Thu Dec 14 14:34:34 Pacific Standard Time 2000