A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

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A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby joshg1 » Fri Oct 04, 2013 9:57 pm

There was a gee-whiz story in the Boston Globe a few weeks ago about a scheme to run DMUs from Back Bay to the convention center. Which hasn't been mentioned again. Debate on RR.net http://www.railroad.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=65&t=152499 is divided on three lines:

1- this is an operational nightmare (my view)
2- but we're getting DMUs! They're great!
3- we're not getting DMUs for several reasons.

I want some background on #3. Leave aside the FRA waivers and the amazing potential of DMUs. If, for example, the MBTA could get a Federal DOT grant/matching funds to buy DMUs, would they be able to order units ready to go, that meet whatever the Federal US-content requirement is, right now?

And, how do they ride? Stadler is most common, and as far as I can tell the only one available, how does it compare to a loco hauled coach? Unfortunately I don't think we can compare them on the same line. 25 years ago I rode on DMUs in France that were very smooth, but I doubt we went much over 30mph. And I've been on Budd cars on slow, swaying, diesel scented tourist operations- awful and irrelevant.
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby F-line to Dudley via Park » Sat Oct 05, 2013 2:07 pm

Stadlers are not FRA-compliant. So they can only run in the U.S. where there's a time separation exemption. And there's nowhere on the MBTA where it's physically possible to do that. Their purchase would have to be FRA compliants. So the only units that would work are something akin to the Nippon-Sharyo DMU's with full FRA compliance. I agree...the Stadlers have been very successful. But you almost have to set those aside as a sub-species..."DLRV's", for lack of a better term...for their future growth curve because the applications are very different. They're for doing real LRV-like lines like NJT's RiverLINE where the freight-free ROW just isn't available for doing traditional light rail, or for suburban feeder lines. But they aren't going to be intermixing with commuter rail at a downtown Union Station in this country. There are too few places where that's physically possible. So I think you will see more dilineation in DMU applications that co-mingle (the FRA-compliants) vs. the ones that are quasi- light rail.



The Boston Seaport DMU plan was suspect from the start not just because of the operational complexities, but because they stated they'd have the new service running in 2 years. It's impossible to make a vehicle procurement in that time, because there are no used FRA-compliant DMU's to buy. You're talking the usual 4-5 year bid/design/build cycle for all-new vehicle purchases. And a very limited number of FRA-compliant manufacturers offering vehicles...which makes the unit prices high from lack of scale and tends to encourage lots of price-bloating customizations because there aren't a lot of off-shelf options that match one agency's specs in as-is condition.

There's also the issue of how to scale a small fleet to a larger fleet, since right now there are no models available that can sandwich an off-shelf coach in the consist to increase capacity. They can only work with special dead trailers custom-designed for that single DMU make. So you can't add seating capacity very easily in a pinch. And, once you buy into one particular make you better be satisfied with it and its manufacturer...because changing vendors on a subsequent order means starting from scratch with another wholly incompatible fleet. It's not even as flexible as multi-generation EMU designs like SEPTA Silverliner I/II/III/IV/V's or Metro North M2/M4/M6's being able to trainline with each other. Or even the multiple generations of RDC's.

So Tri-Met, which bought 3 Colorado Railcar vehicles before that company went belly-up...is stuck. It can't expand its fleet because the company that bought CRC's intellectual property has no manufacturing capability. So the only way they can do more DMU's is to 1) buy a whole new make and run two sets of completely incompatible makes at twice the maintenance overhead, or 2) junk the CRC's already and replace them all with a new make. Or...3) forget about it all and start running push-pull diesels. In their case, #3 is more likely. If so much as one of their units gets wrecked in an accident, that's probably the end of their DMU experiment right there.

So that aspect of fleet scale also establishes that DMU's are risky unless you're buying a substantial-size fleet at the start. You can't just buy a few when the FRA-compliant market has such slim pickings. You have to buy a substantial-size fleet that has the scale to sustain a few years' growth, and sustain that growth regardless of whether the manufacturer will even be able to produce additional compatible orders later. Which increases the up-front investment substantially.


In the MBTA's case they could never get buy purchasing 2-3 sets for the Seaport alone. It has to be a combo Seaport + Fairmount order, which is the intent. But that also means they have to buy with enough fleet padding to cover Fairmount service growth over the life of the vehicle, and also take into consideration what their fleet needs are going to be if DMU's start creeping out on the Worcester Line to the new Yawkey station, the planned public-private Allston/New Balance station...and, if those two take off, almost inevitably out to Newton Corner, the 3 existing outer Newton stops, and Riverside/Route 128. Could they stretch this fleet in 10 years when that Worcester Line creep begets a full DMU line unto itself? Are they going to be forced into a tough situation of having to buy a whole new incompatible make? What guarantees can they get from their bidders that they can produce later orders that'll trainline? Etc., etc., etc.

None of this is necessarily fatal. The FRA-compliants industry in the U.S. has to be able to answer for all this before it grows, so the vendors are very very well-motivated to offer answers to those long-term considerations just like the transit agencies are very well-motivated to find a solution that lets them economically use the vehicles. But you get the picture...this is waaaaay more complicated than impulse shopping, and there are some definite cautionary tales with Tri-Met, SPRINTER, Metrolinx United Pearson Express, and others about jumping too soon before all these little wrinkles were properly thought out. It'll take a big agency like the MBTA much longer than 2 years to study it and plot out best bang-for-buck, and in the meantime the moribund market for FRA-compliant offerings has to start getting substantially more lively. It's a huge amount of inertia to overcome to take DMU's out of the realm of single upstart lines and Airport dinkys and get the really big/Top 10 commuter rail agencies using them. But there are very good reasons for that inertia because of these scale issues that haven't totally been solved. We haven't hit that scale breakthrough yet in this country like we thought would happen almost 10 years ago. The FRA-compliant vehicle market is just not quite clicking, and too many big manufacturers--the Bombardier's, Kawasaki's, Alstom's of the world--are still sitting on the sidelines (despite doing robust Euro DMU business) waiting to see if a Nippon-Sharyo or someone like that can be a successful FRA-compliant guinea pig. So there's reciprocal hesitation amongst big manufacturers that has to be overcome just like with the big transit agencies.
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby Sir Ray » Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:52 pm

Not so fast about the Stadlers and non-FRA compliance - because they do have FRA compliance units available (instead of sheer buffer strength, they use crash-energy management) - Article from 2012 Progressive Railroading.
It's a bit hard to get a follow up on how well the new FRA-compliant DMUs are working - the line claims to be a success, but I found no mention of how well the Stadlers DMUs are holding up...
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby electricron » Thu Oct 10, 2013 3:20 pm

Stadler doesn't build fully FRA compliant DMUs, but they have waivers that allow operations with FRA compliant trains without time separations. DCTA runs them that way today, and DART & FWTA expects to do so in the future. So LIRR and MBTA can too!
The biggest obstacle in the American market is that all their existing DMUs running in the USA have been built in Switzerland, they wouldn't qualify for federal funds. Although a large enough order would help Stadler establishing an assembly line here.
The largest problem DCTA has experienced has been single DMU units, the 2/6 model, shunting properly. CapMetro only runs single units has set their signals so sensitive that frequent false signals occurs, DCTA hasn't and therefore runs two units in a train for proper shunting. DCTA was going to order additional sections to convert some 2/6 into 2/8 models to see if they would shunt better, but hasn't yet. It'll be interesting to see if an additional two axles would help with shunting. DCTA hasn't experienced any loss of shunting running two units trains with 12 axles.
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby Sir Ray » Mon Oct 14, 2013 10:52 am

electricron wrote:Stadler doesn't build fully FRA compliant DMUs, but they have waivers that allow operations with FRA compliant trains without time separations. DCTA runs them that way today, and DART & FWTA expects to do so in the future. So LIRR and MBTA can too!

The plan I believe is to re-interpret the FRA rules so that instead of relying on sheer weight for crash protection of train passengers, crash energy management (like crumple zones in modern passenger road vehicles) will be used to protect the passengers. This is what the FRA should have been thinking about from the beginning - different methods of obtaining the same level of crash safety protection.
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby electricron » Tue Oct 15, 2013 10:41 am

Sir Ray wrote:
electricron wrote:Stadler doesn't build fully FRA compliant DMUs, but they have waivers that allow operations with FRA compliant trains without time separations. DCTA runs them that way today, and DART & FWTA expects to do so in the future. So LIRR and MBTA can too!

The plan I believe is to re-interpret the FRA rules so that instead of relying on sheer weight for crash protection of train passengers, crash energy management (like crumple zones in modern passenger road vehicles) will be used to protect the passengers. This is what the FRA should have been thinking about from the beginning - different methods of obtaining the same level of crash safety protection.

True, it's the crash energy management design that was the basis for the DCTA GTW's waiver. Never-the-less, there are additional FRA compliant devices on the DCTA units over the CapMetro units, and as things stand now the very similar looking CapMetro units wouldn't qualify for that same wavier. Emergency egress, glass, seats, fuel tank construction, coupler/pilot heights, etc are fully compliant with existing FRA regulations with the DCTA units that CapMetro also had to get waivers for.
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby wigwagfan » Sun Oct 27, 2013 1:28 pm

F-line to Dudley via Park wrote:So Tri-Met, which bought 3 Colorado Railcar vehicles before that company went belly-up...is stuck. It can't expand its fleet because the company that bought CRC's intellectual property has no manufacturing capability. So the only way they can do more DMU's is to 1) buy a whole new make and run two sets of completely incompatible makes at twice the maintenance overhead, or 2) junk the CRC's already and replace them all with a new make. Or...3) forget about it all and start running push-pull diesels. In their case, #3 is more likely. If so much as one of their units gets wrecked in an accident, that's probably the end of their DMU experiment right there.


TriMet, when planning for the Westside Express Service (WES), went above and beyond to say that Budd RDCs were not an option because they are not FRA compliant.

Guess what? They now own two ex-Alaska Railroad RDCs as their "backup" vehicles, although they are cycled into rotation and used somewhat regularly. However the crews do not like them as they don't accelerate as well (no big deal, as the train schedules allow for nine minutes of time upon arriving at Beaverton and 27 minutes of time at Wilsonville, after EVERY trip - that means for every 90 minutes of service, the train is parked and tied down for 36 minutes - longer than a one-way trip), the doors (the baggage doors are used for loading/unloading, not the doors originally designed for passenger use) must be manually opened and closed, and the HVAC systems are unreliable. For riders, they also do not have the wireless internet installed.

There is next to no need for additional equipment, as trains are nearly never near capacity. Average loads are around 50-60 riders per train; the cars have around 80 seats (single car). Ridership just hit 2,000 daily riders, when the expectation was 2,500 daily riders after the first year of service. It's been, what, three or four years, and we're just hitting 2,000? And that ridership bump is only because of a computer tech support call center that relocated from Beaverton to Wilsonville.

As for using locomotive-hauled cars, that is impossible, as the viaduct carrying the WES train over Beaverton Creek to the Beaverton TC cannot support the weight of a locomotive. If a locomotive had to be used, the train would have to short-stop on Lombard Street, probably between Farmington Road and Broadway, and passengers would have to walk several blocks (or use a shuttle bus, or catch a regular bus). Ironically, where that location is, was for many years the location of Tri-Met's Beaverton Transit Center and the original location of the Oregon Electric Railway depot...and it's also located IN downtown Beaverton, not behind a strip mall.
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby joshg1 » Sun Nov 03, 2013 2:32 am

In my original post I glibly used the phrase "ready to go". I meant to say, "ready to take bids from companies that fulfill the US content requirements, who are ready to add the order to their production queue as soon as the bid is accepted". I just had a vision of a vast lot of DMUs south of Chicago under strings of bare yellow bulbs and Friendly Fred, chewing a cigar, "This one's a cream puff. Only 25,000 miles. Used by a Methodist church for day trips."

What I've gotten from this thread is that there are FRA compliant, no waiver required DMUs, but they aren't built in the US. Has any builder gone past "Yeah, sure, we can build 'em in the States" to look for the bids that would make that feasible? Have any of the- how can I say it- bigger/ older CR authorities made studies of how they might use DMUs on current loco-hauled lines (let's arbitrarily limit that to since 2000)?
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby electricron » Tue Nov 05, 2013 1:39 am

joshg1 wrote:In my original post I glibly used the phrase "ready to go". I meant to say, "ready to take bids from companies that fulfill the US content requirements, who are ready to add the order to their production queue as soon as the bid is accepted". I just had a vision of a vast lot of DMUs south of Chicago under strings of bare yellow bulbs and Friendly Fred, chewing a cigar, "This one's a cream puff. Only 25,000 miles. Used by a Methodist church for day trips."

What I've gotten from this thread is that there are FRA compliant, no waiver required DMUs, but they aren't built in the US. Has any builder gone past "Yeah, sure, we can build 'em in the States" to look for the bids that would make that feasible? Have any of the- how can I say it- bigger/ older CR authorities made studies of how they might use DMUs on current loco-hauled lines (let's arbitrarily limit that to since 2000)?

Nippon Sharyo, with Sumitomo, is building fully FRA compliant DMUs for SMART in Rochelle, IL. I believe SMART has 12 units, 6 married pairs, on order. GO has 18 units, 6 triplets on order. Here's their brochure:
http://www.nipponsharyousa.com/nisshadmucatalog.pdf
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby joshg1 » Tue Nov 05, 2013 8:53 pm

Excellent. In my mind at least, this puts DMUs in the US into the realm of "a thing" as opposed to an ideal. I recognize some of those images from the central NH CR proposal from a year or two ago.
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby Nasadowsk » Sun Dec 08, 2013 1:16 pm

joshg1 wrote:And, how do they ride? Stadler is most common, and as far as I can tell the only one available, how does it compare to a loco hauled coach?


My few trips on NJT's Riverline - and realize their 2/6s are cut down in size a bit so they may not be like the full size version - were jaw dropping.

The performance is close to an EMU, at least to 40 or 50mph, the engine noise, while there, isn't overbearing (in fact, you tune it out pretty fast), the ride noise is a bit high on concrete tied track, but the ride quality itself easily beats most equipment out there. Boarding is a snap with 550mm platforms.

Depending on what the FRA's tier III regulations are like, Stadler's car might become more available in a few years, and it sets a very high bar for a DMU, or really any railcar, for that matter.
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Re: A Few Questions About DMUs in the US, Now

Postby mtuandrew » Sun Dec 15, 2013 8:39 pm

Nasadowsk wrote:
joshg1 wrote:And, how do they ride? Stadler is most common, and as far as I can tell the only one available, how does it compare to a loco hauled coach?


My few trips on NJT's Riverline - and realize their 2/6s are cut down in size a bit so they may not be like the full size version - were jaw dropping.

The performance is close to an EMU, at least to 40 or 50mph, the engine noise, while there, isn't overbearing (in fact, you tune it out pretty fast), the ride noise is a bit high on concrete tied track, but the ride quality itself easily beats most equipment out there. Boarding is a snap with 550mm platforms.

Depending on what the FRA's tier III regulations are like, Stadler's car might become more available in a few years, and it sets a very high bar for a DMU, or really any railcar, for that matter.

I was impressed by the acceleration as well, but less so by the noise and how lightweight it felt. I admit that might be unfair since I'd just ridden from New Brunswick on a MLV set, and the Stadlers are marketed as light rail vehicles rather than full-size conventional rail vehicles. Someday I plan to ride the Nippon Sharyo/Sumitomo cars, and I suspect they will feel less toy-like than the RIVERline Stadlers without being clumsy (see: Colorado DMUs.)
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