Mountain View Voice

Opinion - May 2, 2014

Plans for electrified Caltrain

by Mario A. Lecce

Once again, it seems that special interests are leading the way into any substantial changes in our society. The Caltrain electrification project as described by a recently released environmental report states that thousands of trees must be cut and power poles installed in order to replace diesel trains with electric ones.

This is nothing more than replacing 1950s diesel technology with 1920s electric technology. The largest content of this $1.5 billion project is profit.

Industrially speaking, the development of both technologies have been completely amortized and there is no research costs, making the production of this equipment highly profitable. Here in America, majority shareholders once again dictate what the public will have.

In the rest of the world, the public rides on quiet high speed electric trains even on short commutes with no overhead wires. Here in America, only in Disneyland can we experience the future electric train, or perhaps in some airport. The Dallas airport has installed fully automatic electric trains which shuttle thousands of passengers back and forth along miles of elevated track from concourse to concourse without flaw.

Rather than spending millions of dollars for tree cutting and lumber hauling, let's keep our feet on the ground, get in focus a moment and look up, into the future. Leave the trees where they do the most good, right where they are. Let's put the power cables on or very near the ground.

The obvious example is the famous third rail system used by BART. That would be 1960s technology. Better yet, let's put on a contest. Silicon Valley is home to some ot the brightest thinkers and innovators in the world. Why not ask for suggestions? Why not offer a moderate prize of money and honor to the best idea, the most innovative alternative to power poles and wires 50 feet in the air?

Right off the bat, let me seed the thought with a suggestion: a high frequency multi-phase, multi-contact, multi-channel power rail strip. In between the existing rails why not have a T-shaped stand, perhaps a foot off the ground, where multi-mini rails are affixed. These rails could each carry say, 100 volts in multiple phases. The train cars underneath having a multi-wheel contactor that rides under the T-shaped isolator.

High frequency AC lowers the noise, multi-phase and multi-rails lowers the power concentration per contact making it safer and the system more flexible. These power rails could also theoretically carry other signals. In addition to train service and car status, data such as cable TV, telephone, Internet. and so on, could be carried on the rails.

The T-structure itself can be made of recycled materials. Solar panels on each and every rail car can provide some power and keep batteries charged for auxiliary services.

Come on folks, we have 64-bit computers in our cell phones now. Why not in our electric trains? Let's demand innovation and not accept condemnation.

Killing of trees that took decades to grow in the name of the future for cleaner public transportation is absurd. Replacing them with poles and wires is obscene and a sin.

Mario A. Lecce lives on Rialto Court

Comments

Posted by Greg David, a resident of Old Mountain View
on May 5, 2014 at 9:25 pm

Greg David is a registered user.

What are you smoking Mario? The only way third rail power systems are feasible is with total grade separation and a secure right of way, something Caltrain won't see for at least a decade. Then you are talking about creating new technology when there are proven off the shelf solutions and rolling stock.

As for propulsion technology, the only reason the US favors diesel railroads is cheap oil and vast distances that are not practical to electrify. The Northeast US has had electric trains since the 20's as has most of Europe.

The bottom line here is that people need to get over this weird cult like fascination with not cutting trees! They grow back! They are renewable! I bet you even live in a wood house! Until you ditch your little condo for a mud hut, don't be a hypocrite about cutting trees in the name of progress....


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