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Monday, March 1, 2010

10-03-01 VIDEO: Let's Ride Caltrain (480p)

They say that every cloud has a silver lining. Well the Bay Area in March is nothing but clouds so I sort of had no choice but to root out the silver. In this case since reasonable still photography was out of the question I switched my camera into video mode and boarded the first Northbound Baby Bullet express train which, thankfully still uses Gallery car equipment. The baby Bullet service is equivalent to the Metro North New Haven super-expresses or NJT NEC Princeton Expresses. This particiular run made only 4 stops on the 60 mile run between San Jose and San Francisco, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Millbrae and 22nd St.

The run is almost entirely at 80mph as there are few of the curves that plague rail lines elsewhere and since railroad managed to squash NIMBY complaints they can run full speed over the grade crossings and through stations. Also because Caltrain does a good job with dispatching and scheduling we got clear signals the entire way from CP-JULIAN to CP-ARMY, which isn't so cool if you like interesting signal aspects.

I felt it was important to take this video because I wanted to show what will be destroyed if the line is rebuilt by the High Speed Rail nuts in the state. Gone will be the quaint downtown stations with trackside parking. Gone will be the tall stads of whatever sort of trees they have out west. Gone will be the accessible right of way that can be easily traversed without having to hike to a limited number of overpasses. This video will show that the Caltran Caltrain line is plenty fast already and does not need to be grade separated or run with Euro-trash MU cars.

If you would like some reference materials here is the original 2005 Caltrain Timetable and here is the 2007 update.

I began the video at Santa Clara because I was dealing with limited memory card space and I didn't want to waste video time showing the train crawling out of the San Jose Terminal so I just started filming at CP-FRANKLIN where the speed was already at 80mph. The first video runs between there and Mountain View. After the train passes the CP-DE LA CRUZ crossover north of the Santa Clara station look for the begining of the Speed Signaling territory which replaced the former Southern Pacific route signaling system. Past that we enter the southern 4-track passing zone where local trains which depart in advance of the expresses, are then passes by the expresses on the center tracks. This run however does not pass a local here. Oh that strange noise that occurs every time the horn sounds was some problem with the air system.

Next we run from Mountain View to Menlo Park. The Menlo Park station replaced the one closed by the Pennsylvania Railroad when it opened MetroPark in the late 1960s although it is not very convenient for Menlo Park residents to use.

Next we have the run from Menlo Park to San Carlos. Due to constraints of storage space I cut the video at CP-DUMBARTON to a previously recorded front end video taken in 2008 in sunnier weather. San Carlos was not a stop for the train I was riding last year. This segment contains the previously grade-separated bit and you can see how much less scenic it is compared to the traditional portions of the line.

This video picks up at San Carlos at the full track speed of 80mph and runs to the BART connection at Millbrae.

Next we have the run from Millbrae to 22nd St. There is a small cut after Bayshore due to my needing to swap out memory cards.

Finally we have the short hop between 22nd St and the 4th and King street terminal. We pass a southbound train in Tunnel Number 1 which releases a wee amount of diesel exhaust into the confines of the tunnel, but it is nothing to really bother electrifying over. On the compact signal gantry into CP-COMMON we see the proper way way to pull off Medium Approach Slow with R/Y/Y, Also note the double slip switches and pneumatic point machine in the 4TH ST interlocking as well as the new lunar marker lights installed for the Terminal Slow Approach and Terminal Slow Clear indications which basically drop slow speed from 20 to 15mph.

So I mentioned that Caltrain changed to a speed signaling system in 2004. Well they decided to implement a brand new set of signal rules, inspired by NORAC and Seaboard, but with a few tweaks to eliminate several problems therein. For example R/Y is now Medium Approach while Restricting uses a flashing red. The clever boffins who designed this new system also designed Amtrak's high density cab signaling between Portal and A on the NEC so double gold star to them. The Caltrain system is the best non-position signal aspect system in North America today and Caltrain went even futher to ensure that almost all interlocking signals had 3 full heads, all distant signals had 2 full heads and all simple block signals had 1 full head weather they needed all those lamps or not.

Anyway I mention this because I have two additional videos taken at night between Millbrae and San Francisco that show a diverging route taken at CP SIERRA and CP TUNNEL. I provide a little commentary on this one and for the record I was right, Limited speed on Caltrain is 50mph, as opposed to 45 in the east.

Here is the segment between Millbrae and just past Tunnel 3 where my batteries suddenly died. This was the last northbound express train of the night.

And between 22nd St and the King Street terminal. In this case I was wrong the R/Y/Y was Medium Approach Slow, now Limited Approach Slow.

Anyway let me know if you would like to see me go back and voice over some commentary to these videos or if you would like me to stick with my usual policy of allowing the route to speak for itself. I really don't want to narrate the videos live because it makes me look like I'm talking to myself :-
If you want a more Cinematic experience you can watch the whole thing with one click by invoking my Let's Ride Caltrain playlist here.

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