Wheel Talk Episode 4: Caltrain Maintenance 101 (Part 1)

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ALEX EISENHART:             Hey Dan.

DAN LIEBERMAN:              Hey Alex.

EISENHART:             You know that thing when you eat too much Burmese food and you haven’t even shaved this morning and you are still recovering from a major weekend long event and you still have to sit down and record a podcast and be on?

LIEBERMAN:            That’s like every Monday morning for me.

EISENHART:             If we recorded this podcast every single Monday, I don’t think we would actually have another job.

LIEBERMAN:            No, no I think pretty much---will they just pay us to do that? That would be awesome.

EISENHART:             I have---I have not made that request to HR just yet but yeah holiday train that was a lot.

LIEBERMAN:            That was a lot.

EISENHART:             That was a lot, a lot of people, a lot of presents, a lot of rain. That was dedication going through and elfing it up and costuming up all through the like the one super wet Saturday we’ve had. I guess it hasn’t just been one. I don’t know it’s been a rainy beginning to the winter.

LIEBERMAN:            A little bit but it was it’s always a lot of fun, it was, and I don’t want to do it for a year.

EISENHART:             Well there’s a whole amp up too. Like it’s months and months of preparation, project management, decorating, blah, blah, blah which is super great and fun and then the event happens and it’s just this rush and you just give so many people high fives and all the germs and then you’re just beat like I’ve been taking vitamin C every single day.

LIEBERMAN:            That’s wise. I just snort a full satsuma orange every morning and that seems to be a fit for me. But yes, this is us also just completely tooting our own horn for the great job we did running the holiday train.

EISENHART:             And a thank you to every single one of our partners, volunteers, staff members, community and to everyone who turned out and participated because we did this for you.

LIEBERMAN:            I was just going to thank us but yeah, those other people are good too. Thanks guys.

EISENHART:             Yes, yes, yes.

LIEBERMAN:            Magnanimous of you.

EISENHART:             I think if I were to have the perspective of LIEBERMAN it would be that we are inherently great, and it doesn’t need to be said but here we are.

LIEBERMAN:            Is that your impression of me?

EISENHART:             Uh no that’s not the no.

LIEBERMAN:            Do I want to hear your impression of me?

EISENHART:             Probably not.

LIEBERMAN:            Should we just start the podcast?

EISENHART:             We probably should.

LIEBERMAN:            Okay. Let’s start the podcast.

EISENHART:             Cue the music.


LIEBERMAN:            Welcome to Wheel Talk.

EISENHART:             A show where we dive into the inner workings of Caltrain, SamTrans and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority. We’re your friendly neighborhood public servants and hosts, Alex Eisenhart.

LIEBERMAN:                        And Dan Lieberman. Join us as we take a wonky ride through the world of transportation and the work, we do to keep you moving.


EISENHART:             Episode four.

LIEBERMAN:            Yeah that’s a lot.

EISENHART:             Episode four.

LIEBERMAN:            One more than three.

EISENHART:             Episode four part one.

LIEBERMAN:            Ooh even better.

EISENHART:             Which is a big deal. We’re very, very excited to talk with everyone about this but before we get into the nitty, the gritty, the wonky, the honky-tonky can I say that?

LIEBERMAN:            You just did.

EISENHART:             I just did.                    

LIEBERMAN:            It’s done.

EISENHART:             Social media, funny things on the Twitter verse that have to do with Caltrain or SamTrans. They’re always about Caltrain. We’re still looking for SamTrans stuff.

LIEBERMAN:            Say funnier things about SamTrans people.

EISENHART:             Say funny things about---tell me a joke. Anyway, okay so first one comes from @woodyaz. To the Caltrain engineer who played Shave and a Haircut on the train whistle this morning you are the good I want to see in this world.

LIEBERMAN:            See that’s what I want out of this podcast. Some good wholesome content.

EISENHART:             I can’t think of the Shave and a Haircut song without thinking about Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

LIEBERMAN:            I was in the same place on that one.

EISENHART:             You thought of that too?

LIEBERMAN:            Which is amazing we’ve both seen the same movie which has never happened before.

EISENHART:             Never happened, never, ever, ever happened. Ever, ever, ever uh ever.

LIEBERMAN:            Yeah so, I’m pretty confident our engineer was not about to murder a cartoon shoe. Something that you know has still traumatized me.

EISENHART:             Well as good as a movie as that people could get hit by you know there could be like “violence” but it’s a cartoon, so no one ever actually died.

LIEBERMAN:            Well and come to think of it wasn’t the villain’s plan to build a highway? That’s a pro-transit show right there. In fact, Bob Hoskins rode around on a cable car. That’s some quality pro-transit content. The idea of a highway was so crazy only a toon would come up with it. You hear that Washington?

EISENHART:             Yeah wow we just brought a pop culture reference back into transit.

LIEBERMAN:            Bring in the revolution, I love it.

EISENHART:             Thank you, @woodyaz. And the next one take it away Dan.

LIEBERMAN:            Alright at @adriandaub this is a Halloween tweet just to give it a little context. My entire car on Caltrain is full of tech workers in unicorn, cow and sheep onesies. I feel like an idiot in my sexy article impeachment.

EISENHART:             I think the most notable thing about this tweet is that it was taken listen to me it was tweeted at 9:16 in the morning.

LIEBERMAN:            Oh yeah, he meant it.

EISENHART:             On like a Thursday or whatever day however it was not a weekend.

LIEBERMAN:            Oh yeah no but still people go out man like it’s and let me tell you something Adrian the rules of impeachment may have been laid out in Article 1, but you dressed up as a sexy article impeachment. You are an Article 10.

EISENHART:             Ah.

LIEBERMAN:            See? We’re just trying to help people out over here man.

EISENHART:             I don’t have anything better to say in response to that. It’s just like I’m just taking it all in. I don’t want to shame anybody for dressing up at work in broad daylight because I’ve done it myself. It’s one thing to go as a unicorn, a cow, a sheep or another animal real or otherwise uh but it’s a totally new thing to go into work as a self-identified male in full head to toe drag as Winifred Sanderson from the movie Hocus Pocus.

LIEBERMAN:            Yeah and we did that on purpose too. You got paid for that.

EISENHART:             We did, I did get paid for that. I did, I did. Yeah, I did. Thank you, government. That was great and the last one comes from well the name is Nicole Galardo.

LIEBERMAN:            @nikineuronrd. I don’t know what that means. Is that a euron? I’m confused.

EISENHART:             I feel like we sound super old trying to read the tweets.

LIEBERMAN:            What’s the Twitter say?

EISENHART:             It says today on Caltrain Etiquette Breakers we have a hard-boiled egg eater followed by a tuna eater. Eww.

LIEBERMAN:            Yeah. That’s too much for one car people. If you haven’t figured this out at this point that public places are not the place to eat eggs and tuna I don’t know where to start with you.

EISENHART:             You just you shouldn’t eat this at work. You shouldn’t eat this on the train.

LIEBERMAN:            This was at 8:52 in the morning. Who’s eating tuna at 8:52?

EISENHART:             Oh, I didn’t even look at that.

LIEBERMAN:            I’m just picturing someone opening up a can and like eating it right out of it with a fork while not breaking eye contact the whole time.

EISENHART:             Now this was if this was tweeted on Halloween, this was tweeted the day before Halloween incidentally. If it was on Halloween and there was a whole like story happening---

LIEBERMAN:            You’d be getting into character.

EISENHART:             That could be a costume, that might be the one day that for whatever reason if eating a can of tuna is consistent with some character that you decided to dress up as and be and take on that might have been okay but no.

LIEBERMAN:            Yeah absolutely not.

EISENHART:             I just love that today on Caltrain Etiquette Beakers that would be a really juicy reality TV show.

LIEBERMAN:            Oh yes, that could be fun staffed.

EISENHART:             What are we doing doing a podcast? Why aren’t we doing that show?

LIEBERMAN:            Let me call my do I have an agent? Somebody get me an agent and then call them.

EISENHART:             That would be funny. Okay well thank you everybody for continuing to engage with Caltrain on social media. I think in the past I’ve said thank you for sending those in. No one sent them in. No, we’re just talking to all of you.

LIEBERMAN:            Yes.

EISENHART:             So, thank you for providing beautiful publicly consumable content and thank you for allowing us to celebrate and share that with all of you.

LIEBERMAN:            And if you want us to stop you have to actually like talk to us.

EISENHART:             And you have to listen to the show to know that we actually talked about you.

LIEBERMAN:            There you go.

EISENHART:             And with that let’s jump into this month’s topic.

LIEBERMAN:            While tens of thousands of people write Caltrain everyday they only get a glimpse of our overall operation. The great deal of work happens behind the scenes to keep our trains running and your daily commute depends on the people who get it done.

EISENHART:             In this two-part episode of Wheel Talk because there is so much to discuss we’ll take a deep dive into train maintenance. First up, we have our Deputy General Manager of Maintenance of Equipment, Anthony Ruiz and the Deputy Director of Rail Vehicle Maintenance, Henry Flores as they walk us through the maintenance operations that keep our trains moving and the future of electrified service.

LIEBERMAN:            Alright we’re here in the centralized equipment maintenance and operation facility of Caltrain with Anthony Ruiz and Henry Flores. Gentleman, thanks for being with us today. Who are you and why are we talking to you?

ANTHONY RUIZ:     Hi, I’m Anthony Ruiz. I’m the Deputy General Manager for mechanical department for Caltrain.

HENRY FLORES:      I’m Henry Flores. I’m the Deputy Director of Rail Vehicle Maintenance for Caltrain.

LIEBERMAN:            Alright and what brought you guys here? How did you end up where you’re at here with Caltrain?

RUIZ:  I’ve been with Herzog Transit Services for 23 years now. I started out in at TRE in Dallas, Texas and went to New Mexico to start up the Rail Runner and then ended up taking a job here at Caltrain in January of 2013. Over my 23 years I’ve had the opportunity to work in different departments and different capacities so I’ve worked everything from mechanical department just about every position within the mechanical department and operations department, locomotive engineer for 14 years while I was transportation manager as well and here I’m the Deputy General Manager so I’m strictly mechanical now.

EISENHART:             Got it and then Henry what about you?

FLORES:                    I’ve been here for a year and a half. Before I got here, I worked for FedEx for 31 years. All of my years were in fleet maintenance, so I worked in a shop, I ran a shop. I was the Western United States parts manager and then I was the United States programs administrator for fleet maintenance. I came with a diesel background just a different body, a bigger engine, bigger locomotive compared to trucks and trailers, but fleet maintenance is just everything I know. I mean my uncle was one of the first mechanics that ever worked for FedEx so it’s in our blood, it’s in my family it’s what we do.

EISENHART:             Wow, that’s really cool. So, let’s talk about continuing on the maintenance conversation. Caltrain. Can you give us and our listeners a basic overview of Caltrain’s maintenance operations, facility and infrastructure?

FLORES:                    So here at CEMOF, the centralized equipment maintenance operations facility we perform all the heavy repairs and mechanical maintenance on the fleet. We run ninety-two trains a day on a weekday and we do that with 22 consist twenty in service and then we have one spare consist in San Francisco.

EISENHART:             And consist that’s just a train set?

FLORES:                    Correct.

EISENHART:             A locomotive with a bunch of cars behind it?

FLORES:                    Yes.

EISENHART:             Got it.

FLORES:                    So, we run five to six car consist at Caltrain. All the equipment rotates through CEMOF at least two to three times a week and one of the fleet the 22nd consist is our maintenance consist so every week we shop one consist, five to six cars and we perform maintenance services on them. All the heavy repairs are done here as well. On the end points Gilroy and San Francisco, we perform daily inspections and just turn around cleaning. Gilroy, we run three trains out of there in the morning and three trains back at night. San Francisco, we have 46 trains that turn there everyday and nine trains that stay there overnight so it’s a lot of trains to perform turnaround service cleaning and so forth. Mechanical employees are stationed at all three and San Francisco and CEMOF we run pretty much 24/7, 365 days a year.

EISENHART:             So, you mentioned a little bit about what happens to these trains on a regular basis whether it’s at San Francisco or at CEMOF. Can you give me like what’s a snapshot of the day to day maintenance cycles on these trains? Like what’s done to or on a train everyday to keep them running?

FLORES:                    On a daily basis we perform daily inspections that includes inspection of the interior, the exterior, undercarriage, any roof installations and that includes all mechanical, electrical, cleaning services, servicing the toilets, restrooms whatever and that also includes over the pit inspections here at CEMOF.

EISENHART:             Like over the pit you mean the train is over a section of track that has space underneath it for someone to actually work on it below?

FLORES:                    Correct. We have two full length pits at CEMOF. S and I one and two and the trains would come over there and that’s where we fuel and sand them and do all the dailies.

EISENHART:             Got it.

LIEBERMAN:            I got to say folks having a million pound train drive in over you was a really cool experience and well you could try it but you should probably work for us first or they’ll get pretty mad at you.

EISENHART:             Right and actually on the topic of fuel I did want to ask about when you refuel what how much fuel do our trains actually use and how much can they hold?

RUIZ:                          It varies based on the model of the locomotive, but we use about a hundred and fifty gallons per trip, one-way trip.

EISENHART:             Between San Jose and San Francisco?

RUIZ:                          Correct.

EISENHART:             Okay. And what’s so what’s the fuel capacity generally speaking on each of these locomotives?

RUIZ:                          We run with about 1500 to 2000 a little over 2000 gallons. We don’t normally top them all off so that’s about average what we’re running in them.

EISENHART:             So, okay you’ve got the day to day cycles, so you said you do a cleaning. Is that just onboard cleaning or do you wash the exteriors as well?

FLORES:                    Yeah so, we do interior cleaning on the daily inspections and then two to three times per week we run them through a car wash so everything rotates back through CEMOF so that it can be washed three times per week.

EISENHART:             So, this train wash if you will how does that work? I think people are familiar with the automated car wash that they go though like a gas station. How is this one different? It’s bigger obviously.

A Caltrain locomotive rolls through the train wash at CEMOF

FLORES:                    Yeah so it is automatic and the crew, the train crew would just need to slow down to three miles per hour or less and as soon as they enter the car wash the car wash would come on and as they go through the car wash there’s various sensors that acknowledge the train’s location and it turns on several segments of the car wash.

EISENHART:             Oh, okay got it. So, they wash it a couple times a week then on the outsides.

FLORES:                    Correct.

EISENHART:             Okay. Now what about when you’ve gone through all your daily maintenance cycles and you’re getting all the trains organized for service the following day. What’s the operations of that?

FLORES:                    Yeah so we run our fleet based off of an equipment rotation and that equipment rotation entails daily inspections, fueling and everything that goes along with prepping the trains for the following calendar day or for the following day and part of that is adhering to the rotation not all the equipment comes back to CEMOF so we have to rotate the equipment and then it comes in on S and I one and two and from there we push it out to the S and I tracks 6-7 and that’s where it’s stored overnight and then the next morning we stage it according to departure times.

LIEBERMAN:            And help me out S and I is---?

RUIZ:                          Service and Inspection.

FLORES:                    A lot of these intervals are actually set by regulations from the FRA that we have to inspect the equipment on certain date intervals so our maintenance plan is scheduled a year in advance so we know what’s going to be here a year in advance and what needs to come in that’s regulated by the FRA so it’s a big plan that’s that we do every year to make sure it’s laid out and any interruption in service in any form can kind of throw off that whole schedule.

EISENHART:             Got it.

RUIZ:  And it needs to get rebalanced if it does get thrown off anytime in the evening it needs to get rebalanced that night so we can run back into service and be back on track for servicing and make sure that we’re meeting the requirements that were regulated by.

EISENHART:             Right and so actually on that topic of rebalancing some riders will sometimes notice that if they get on the same train everyday and it’s normally like a six car train set every so often those numbers will shift like it will actually cut down to a five car train set. What kinds of shifts happen on the maintenance side that sometimes require like a rejiggering if you will of which trains go out at what time?

RUIZ:                          That can be we hit a vehicle, or you know its trespasser strike or any kind of mechanical failure out in the tracks. It can what happens is the cars are all lined up to come to go out in service and come back in a certain area and land in either San Francisco or San Jose so if we have a breakdown strike or we hit something the other trains will pass it so therefore it throws off the whole rotation and in the evening we have to try to reset that rotation so the equipment lands in the right spots and the right counts will be there for the morning rush and everything else that we set up for the schedule.

EISENHART:             Got it. So, what about the other maintenance because again you mentioned that this is determined by the FRA. You got your daily inspections so as I understand it you also have quarterly maintenance cycles, annual and the four year. Can you two talk about like what goes into those like longer term maintenance cycles?

FLORES:                    Yeah so, the periodic, the quarterly inspections those are required by the FRE and the quarterly is really for anything with a cab so the cab car or the locomotive. The cab car is also considered locomotive because it has a controlled stand. So, you did the quarterlies on those on that type of equipment, that quarterly rotation you do four of those per year and the fourth one will always be the annual inspection. The quarterly just includes all the cab equipment which a coach car would not have and then on a locomotive you would also include the main engine and the head and power. The head and power supplies power to the cars. So, you have those two engines and generator that needs to be maintained as well and on the annual inspections it’s a compound inspection. It includes the daily, the quarterly and then the annual and the annual portion of it is actually just an air brake portion where you change out certain filters and certain valves and from there you move on to the larger inspections. Those inspections just continue for three years and then on the fourth year you have the four-year inspection or the quad annual. The quad annual includes a COTS, Clean, Oil. Test and Stencil and that’s basically an air brake replacement of all the valves so all the valves get removed, sent out for overhaul, a new kit goes on and all the rubber and trucked car body hoses, trucks have to come off. It’s pretty intense maintenance.

EISENHART:             And how long do the longer cycles take? The quarterly, the annual, the you said the quad annual?

FLORES:                    Yes. So a quarterly can take on a locomotive it’s obviously going to take a lot longer than on a cab car because you have to maintain the engines so on a cab car it takes a couple of hours because we’re just adding the cab to the daily. On a locomotive it’s the cab and the engines that’s going to take every bit of two days and then as we progress to the annual inspections it’s about three to four days and then the four year is going to be a full week.

EISENHART:             Okay. And you mentioned earlier that you have one spare consist operating at this point given your weekday, your very busy weekday schedule so I would imagine you have to time them such that you don’t take more than one out of service and still meet your maintenance deadlines?

RUIZ:                          Correct. Yeah so like Flores was saying like Mr. Flores was saying we have-

EISENHART:             Mr. Flores so formal.

RUIZ:  So like Mr. Flores was saying we have a rotation that we know in advance for a whole year and what we do is we have 22 consists so those 22 consists we spread out one consists per week over 44 weeks so everything comes in every 180 days on the car side. The locomotives we separate from the cars and we just you’ll see locomotive swaps based on the quarterly maintenance, right?

EISENHART:             Okay.

RUIZ:  And the cars you’re only going to see them missing out of the rotation a consist will be missing twice per year.

LIEBERMAN:            You talked about this a little bit earlier but yeah when incidents or catastrophic breakdowns come up what kind of impact does that have on how the work gets down here? I mean if we’re planning things out you know this far in advance; I imagine getting a curve ball at the last minute just throws everything makes everything go haywire.

FLORES:                    Yes, it does and that’s one of the things that we’re really good at is recovering from service breakdowns or from grade crossing incidents or trespasser strikes.

It’s really part of our day every day you know because something’s going to throw the schedule off or the rotation. We have to work on the fly you know with the dispatchers and with the operating crews to make sure that we turn trains immediately to try and accommodate service. We try not to annul trains, we’re not in the business of annulling trains or terminating trains so we have to make every effort to keep those trains moving not just moving to accommodate the passengers but also to accommodate our rotation and you know our maintenance needs as well.

RUIZ:  Yeah as he was mentioning everything has a time frame you know involved as far as how much how long a service takes so any hiccup like that could throw it off because now the trains are coming in later so his window of opportunity to get those inspections done just shrinks so it makes it more difficult for the next morning to make service. There’s a lot of stuff going on overnight that a lot of people are not aware of to make sure that we’re balanced out for the morning you know passengers.

LIEBERMAN:            Like what? What all does have to happen after hours?

FLORES:                    For example, if there is a grade crossing incident that can throw everything off because now the fleet’s coming in out of rotation so we may end up unbalanced so we’re always trying to balance the fleet in the morning for the morning and what’ll happen there is trains that we expected to come back to CEMOF or that were supposed to go to Gilroy or San Francisco are now not in the proper locations so now we’re chasing trains, we’re making extra moves, we’re sending pinup crews to go get equipment from San Francisco or Gilroy that was supposed to come back to CEMOF so that we can pull it for the inspections, the scheduled inspections and also just balancing fleet.

I mean we have to have a certain number of consist here in San Jose and the same in San Francisco and Gilroy and sometimes we end up with 3 six car consist in Gilroy and now we’ve got to balance out the equipment so we send pinups out to go get the equipment, balance it out just to get ready for morning service. We have 47 minutes for equipment to come in on S and I and we can get our dailies done. We have to have it off in 47 minutes before the next train comes in so whenever anything happens, any type of service disruption is going to back us up on the service and inspection tracks and then that backs up our maintenance crews on their inspections you know and all we can do is make the best of it and make sure that everything has the proper inspections. Once we balance out fleet you know that’s a huge relief, but nobody really sees what it takes to get there in the mornings.

EISENHART:             So when we do have a pedestrian strike or a vehicle strike can you talk maybe general because I know every situation is different but what are the like what’s the maintenance protocol once you get the train back into CEMOF to address it and also like what’s the typical extent of the damage that will happen? Obviously, a car is going to cause more damage than the tragedy of hitting a person on the rails but I’m wondering just from your end like what that looks like to get that train back up and running?

RUIZ:  Whenever we have anything happen on the main line our number one goal is to put that consist off to the side and continue service. You know we still have passengers to move and once we see a window of opportunity to get the train back to CEMOF we’ll take that opportunity, we get the pinup out there, take that opportunity to get that consist back and we have to clear up S and I to get it over the pit for a good thorough pit inspection but once we assess the damage and we can make a determination if it’s going to be a couple of hours to repair the consist or the locomotive or the cab car or if it’s going to be a couple of days.

Once we make that determination we’ll decide if we need to swap the equipment out we’ll just swap a single cab car or you know the locomotive out and then we’ll put it off to the side if it’s going to be days. If it’s only going to take a couple of hours, then we’ll make the repairs and you know just keep in mind that this doesn’t happen until we’ve already balanced out equipment and put everything back to normal from morning fleet. Some of the vehicle strikes can take us a month to make repairs.

EISENHART:             Wow.

LIEBERMAN:            Yeah. I’ve seen some of them where like where the car caught fire afterwards and that really does a number on an engine I would imagine.

RUIZ:  Yeah and a lot of it is those that take longer you spend a lot of time just tearing down the locomotive or the cab car and then assessing the damage and there’s always a damage behind the scenes that you can’t even you know you pull the plow off for the pilot plate then you look behind there and you see conduit and stuff that’s damaged. That’s going to obviously take a lot longer than a couple of bent handrails or something.

LIEBERMAN:            Now another piece of all this is special offense service with the Chase Center opening up we’re now looking at there’s five major like sports arenas in the Caltrain corridor so when we offer extra service to those offense or to concerts or to whatever else we have coming up how does that affect the rotation?

FLORES:                    Yeah so, a lot of those events are planned. We work very well with the event planners.

LIEBERMAN:            There’s not a lot of spontaneous hockey games at SAP.

FLORES:                    Correct.

LIEBERMAN:            They plan that ahead. That’s good.

RUIZ:  Yeah so those are planned, and we work well with operations, mechanical operations and JPD works very well together to plan those events and we plan service and plan to turn trains for those special trains.

EISENHART:             So Caltrain operates a pretty old fleet. A lot of our locomotives date back to 1985. What are the challenges on the maintenance operation side that come with a fairly old fleet like that?

FLORES:                    Well I try to put in perspective as it would be the same as you driving an older vehicle everyday fifty miles one way, fifty miles the next. If you had a vehicle that was it had 250,000 miles on it, you’re not going to just be changing oil anymore you’re going to start dealing with bare components that are going to be going out on your older vehicle. The transmissions, starters all the bigger components are going to start going out. You might even start having major engine problems as opposed to just minor leaks and things that you would normally have on a newer piece, newer vehicle that you owned yourself so and with bigger component failures it takes longer to repair. I mean it takes longer to repair, it’s more money, it’s more cost, everything associated just like looking at your own vehicle.

EISENHART:             So, when we do have breakdowns and by the way while I understand just from a prodigal sense the term catastrophic breakdown I have to say as a drama queen myself that is a pretty dramatic description of these breakdowns. Catastrophic, it’s kind of an act.

LIEBERMAN:            I thought catastrophic breakdown was your nickname in college?

EISENHART:             On a really bad day maybe. But when we do have larger breakdowns what is it what component of it and I don’t know the first thing about components of trains other than the wheels maybe but what components typically do breakdown and what’s going to create you know just minor delays to allow it to continue to move forward versus like that train’s not moving, we need to bring another.

FLORES:                    So.one of our most common breakdowns is the doors.

EISENHART:             Oh okay.

FLORES:                    But they also cause the least amount of delay because they’re easy to recover from.

EISENHART:             They can manually open and close if they need to.

FLORES:                    Correct.

EISENHART:             Okay.

LIEBERMAN:            And with the doors like these are for those who don’t know like our doors are not just a simple door, it’s a little more complicated. You want to let us know how the doors work?

RUIZ:                          Yeah so, the doors are electric pneumatic, they have electric components and they also have a lot of pneumatic components and what happens with the doors is they’re pretty complicated even though they’re just doors. They also have safety overrides, they have air cutouts, they have electronic cutouts and there’s also the door bypass you know the emergency exit feature on the doors so there’s a lot of moving components behind the panels there and with that there’s a lot of safety features that the riders can trigger. So sometimes they’ll get on there and they hold the door open and to them they’re just holding the door open for a family member or someone that’s running a little late.

EISENHART:             They’re having a Game of Thrones moment.

RUIZ:                          Exactly but in reality; they’re causing damage to the doors you know because the mechanisms that close the doors, the door operator or the safety features are being overworked. Essentially, they’re just being forced in a manner that they’re not intended to function.

LIEBERMAN:            And it particularly matters because if we can’t get all the doors shut, we lose the load and that train isn’t moving correct?

RUIZ:                          Correct and that’s the biggest impact is the engineer all they see is they don’t have a door close light which is a little green light on the cab. If they don’t have the door close light that tells them that they’ve got a door open somewhere and that’s going to cause them to not be able to load that way the train doesn’t depart with a door open.

EISENHART:             Speaking of trains departing if you hear a train operating in the background that is because we’re literally next to an operating track at CEMOF.

LIEBERMAN:            Keeping it real over here.

RUIZ:  So what we do is try to minimize things like that is we look for trends, we know that doors are our biggest issue so what we do is we look for specific parts or components that are breaking down, we analyze them, do they have a certain life span, have they been changed, is it something that we actually serviced during one of our preventive maintenance services just to check to see how do we check that part that we might see multiple failures on to try to minimize it so we’re always trying to think about the passengers, how we can minimize delays and how we can minimize any kind of interruption to service whatsoever. We know that we’re going to have challenges and things are going to happen but we try to do everything that we can to minimize it by breaking down a lot of the data and looking for trends and just trying to get ahead of it.

EISENHART:             Right. I mean it sounds like you guys have a constant challenge of like I mean until electrification happens the reality of the age of your fleet is going to continue to be a constant so it sounds like you’re just trying to make the best of it.

FLORES:                    Yeah you do but that’s why you want to concentrate your time and efforts on things that make sense or are going to make the biggest impact knowing that those are

our biggest cause of delays not the biggest cause of minutes but the cause of interruptions and service that’s why we try to you know look into dive into the data that we have, why they’re breaking down, what they’re doing, what’s going on with them and can’t we just change this part, change out the whole fleet so we could make sure that this doesn’t happen again or minimize it to the best degree we possibly can.

EISENHART:             Okay so doors create a lot of delays and we’re constantly working on addressing problems like that. What about when there’s large engine failures?

RUIZ:  So the engine failures do there’s a far less engine failures than door failures however the engine failure once you have an engine failure that locomotive’s not going anywhere so those are pretty I mean that’s what we would consider a catastrophic failure.

EISENHART:             Right.

RUIZ:                          Because now the locomotive isn’t moving, it’s what the engineers call dead in the water and we have to go out there and rescue that locomotive. So, we make every effort to get on the radio with the engineer and the crew members and we work with dispatch as well. We try to get the train moving at least move it off the railroad tracks into a siding that way we can clear up and keep the passengers moving. We can always go back and pickup the locomotive later unless we can trouble shoot it and we get mechanical forces in route you know to try to address the issue in the field. If it’s something that we can’t fix in the field we’ll bring it back, we’ll rescue the engine, bring it back to CEMOF where we can make repairs but those failures there they don’t happen as often but they do hit us on minutes. They are our biggest delay when it comes to minutes.

LIEBERMAN:            What does troubles hooting an engine look like? I mean this isn’t like just like getting at the jumper cables and giving it a bump like how do you get a locomotive working when you’re just out in the field?

RUIZ:  Yeah so, we have our 1985 locomotives, we actually still have five growlers which are locomotives with direct drive. They have gear boxes with the generators on the back and then we also have the newer ones that have the separate head and power unit that powers the cars that sends 480 power to the cars.

EISENHART:             So, just so I’m following the growlers are older technology.

RUIZ:  Correct.

EISENHART:             And the other ones are newer technology?

LIEBERMAN:            I can hear our rail fans listening shaking their head at you asking that question.

EISENHART:             Just like that fool. What is he doing hosting a train podcast?

RUIZ:                          So, with that said our older technology it’s a lot harder to trouble shoot. I mean we do have a lot of employees that are really good at it you know because they’re used to the old relay logic equipment but the newer equipment is a lot it’s far easier to trouble shoot because we run a QES system on the newer locomotives.

LIEBERMAN:            A lot more user friendly.

RUIZ:                          Exactly.

EISENHART:             Less floppy discs.

RUIZ:                          No floppies, what’s the word I’m looking for?

EISENHART:             I don’t know. I only know floppy discs.

LIEBERMAN:            Are we talking about CD’s?

RUIZ:                          They actually have a CDU that tells you everything, so they have a display unit there that tells you all your faults.

EISENHART:             Whereas the growlers don’t.

RUIZ:  Oh yeah where the growlers don’t, and we have five growlers and we also have something in between there. They’re 1985’s as well but they were upgraded to separate HEP units.

LIEBERMAN:            The growlers all come with an old timey guy saying well my knee hurts, so I think it’s got to be the HEP is out like it’s that sort of stuff.

EISENHART:             No, I can’t put it out there.

LIEBERMAN:            You don’t work as the old timey prospector. Stay in your lane there.

EISENHART:             I’ll stick with Greta from the last episode.

RUIZ:                          The technology is definitely different on the various locomotives, so I mean it takes a different level of trouble shooting for each one.

EISENHART:             Sure, and with some you mentioned upgraded technology. I understand that some of our older locomotives recently or are in the process of going through some overhauls. Could you talk about that a little bit?

FLORES:                    Yeah, we had three of our F40’s recently go out. Two of them came back the 920 and 921 came back. The 922 is still getting a mid-life overhaul so it’s basically just getting pretty much everything redone to it and should come back fairly new.

RUIZ:                          Those were actually they were Boise locomotives.

EISENHART:             What does that mean?

RUIZ:                          They were built by Boise locomotive.

EISENHART:             Okay gotcha. So, these overhauls how does all that work? So, do they go back to Boise locomotives to get I assume that’s in Boise?

LIEBERMAN:            They swim upstream like salmon.

RUIZ:                          So, in this case yes, they did go back up to Boise, Idaho but the company’s name they went to Motive Power Industries in Boise, Idaho.

EISENHART:             Okay now I just want to paint a locomotive like with the whole salmon liver. Okay so they get what is the word shuttled? They get brought back to this facility in Boise and then what happens to them?

RUIZ:                          During that overhaul they completely tear down the locomotive and overhaul the entire locomotive. That doesn’t just include like a in frame overhaul would just include the main engine. This includes everything from nuts to bolts to the entire painting of the locomotive.

EISENHART:             And how long does it take while they’re out there?

FLORES:                    If we don’t have any issues it should take about eight months, but you should expect some issues. Once they start breaking them down, taking and tearing them apart you’re going to find some hidden damage or hidden repairs that need to be done and it’s going to extend the time.

EISENHART:             And that eight months is just an estimated eight months, that’s just the amount of time that they’re at this facility in Boise?

RUIZ:                          That’s how long they should take if everything goes one hundred percent perfect as planned.

EISENHART:             Got it. Then they’re done, they’re shiny and new, they do their thing and they’re brought back here. How does that work actually? How does the transportation of these locomotives from here to Boise work?

LIEBERMAN:            We should watch our Twitter followers for that because they’re giving us updates whenever those locomotives come back. I was like well we just spotted it leaving Nevada. It’s like wow that’s thank you for the information.

RUIZ:                          You get the pictures too.

LIEBERMAN:            Oh absolutely. They’re good shots.

RUIZ:                          UP brought them back for us, so they get hired by the contractor that’s overhauling our locomotives to bring them back to CEMOF. Everyone once in a while they find their way somewhere else, but they always come back.

LIEBERMAN:            When I said not to make a metaphor, I make a metaphor dammit. I make that stick.

EISENHART:             So, alright they’re back here and then what? What happens to them before they can re-enter revenue service?

FLORES:                    So, they have to be tested. We go through we have TASI and Herzog go through them with Motive Power. They send a representative out here and we do a big checklist off to make sure everything’s running correctly, and everything was repaired as we expected. We do some tests here, run it in service a little bit actually not in service but we’ll run in behind a locomotive or out here.

EISENHART:             Oh, because I’ve seen some of the trains doubled up like you’ll have two locomotives on there. One dirty and one super clean.

RUIZ:                          Correct.

EISENHART:             So, the super clean one is the one that you were testing?

RUIZ:                          Right.

LIEBERMAN:            I thought they just get lonely and needed another one as a service animal sort of service locomotive. Make the other one feel---

RUIZ:                          They’re not dirty they’re just it’s just old paint.

EISENHART:             Okay, okay, okay right because they are washed three times a week. Right okay that’s true. I should clarify that.

LIEBERMAN:            Keep it on message, Alex.

EISENHART:             So, we’ve got some older trains, we’ve got some trains that are getting a new coat of paint on them and then we’ve got some even newer trains coming as we electrify. How will I mean this is a big topic, but we want to know how future electrification is going to change the way that maintenance operations function. Can you talk about that?

FLORES:                    Generally it will be like we have a crew right now that’s used to working on an older fleet just like an older car or if you go to an old auto garage technicians are used to working on old equipment now if you get a newer car with new technology and you have to hook everything up to laptops and it does a lot of the diagnostics for you that’s the level of our technicians are going to be having to be risen to. We’re going to need a lot of extra training; we’re going electric so there’s a lot of safety issues that go along with that as well.

EISENHART:             Sure.

FLORES:                    So, really going to invest in our technicians and make sure that everything is safe and running the way it needs to be.

LIEBERMAN:            So, we’re going from a ’63 Cadillac to a Tesla.

FLORES:                    Exactly, exactly.

LIEBERMAN:            And I know with electrified service we’re going to be more frequent service, we’ll be seeing larger trains, larger train sets. How’s that going to affect like the day to day of what happens?

RUIZ:                          It’s going to change the way we do we currently do preventive maintenance. We’re going to have to go to a progressive maintenance plan. Progressive maintenance plan is nothing like what we’re used to.

LIEBERMAN:            What’s the difference?

RUIZ:                          The difference is you basically breakdown the larger inspections into small inspections. For example, instead of doing quarterlies and 180 or 184 day inspections and the annuals and so forth now you’re breaking those down into 10 day inspections or monthly inspections so you take those big inspections you can make every ten, twenty, thirty, forty whatever and use that as the rotation and so when you get to the 180 day you’ve already completed all the tasks so you do it in smaller increments yeah you do it in smaller increments so that you can complete the inspection by the due date.

EISENHART:             And still meet the FRA’s requirements for maintenance.

RUIZ:                          Correct. So, instead of eating the whole pizza in one day you get a slice every day.

EISENHART:             That’s probably healthier.

LIEBERMAN:            Yeah, I don’t understand that logic at all.

EISENHART:             We always make people hungry when we do this show. Last week it was eating tacos now we eat pizza.

LIEBERMAN:            I’m fine with the snack budget I think we can work on that.

EISENHART:             So, why actually one thing why don’t we do progressive maintenance now?

RUIZ:                          With the fleet that we have today and with the extra consist we are able to continue doing what we’re doing today with the scheduled maintenance. There’s really no need to do progressive maintenance unless you’re going to be limited on the amount of time that you have with the equipment.

EISENHART:             I see okay.

RUIZ:                          So, running more trains you increase the frequency you have less time to do maintenance, so you just have to the progressive maintenance allows us to accommodate that.

FLORES:                    It’s dictated by the schedule that we run daily for our passengers.

EISENHART:             So, just because we’re getting more trains doesn’t mean that you’re going to have more spare like they’re all going to be used in service and now you have you’ll have the same situation where there’s not a whole lot to spare but you have more that you need to get through so you have less time with each train is what it sounds like.

FLORES:                    Correct.

EISENHART:             Okay.

LIEBERMAN:            Once we go electric also are, we going to expand the amount of people we have here at CEMOF in order to just get everything done? I mean if these things are moving faster and we’re going to be needing to do more it seems like we’ll just need more bodies to do it.

RUIZ:                          Well it’s twofold because we’ll definitely need to go from mechanics to technicians you know because the newer equipment is a lot more advanced then the current fleet and yes, we will need more electricians and the mechanics what we know today are going to kind of I don’t want to say they’re going to fade away but we’re going to need less mechanics, more technicians and I think I already repeated that twice.

FLORES:                    We’re still going to have diesel fleet because we’re going to need to service Gilroy, so we plan on keeping nine locomotives for the Gilroy service from San Jose to Gilroy.

EISENHART:             Plus, it’s not an immediate switch either. It’s as we get more electric trains over the years you’ll be shifting from solo diesel to a hybrid of diesel and electric trains. So, is there so you talked about you need to hire more people to be able to maintain both the electric and the diesel fleet. I guess separate from any new staff are there any specific things that will absolutely cost more or less money just to maintain let’s say just the electric fleet alone?

LIEBERMAN:            I assume our diesel fuel budget is going to go down really fast.

RUIZ:                          I mean we’re actually doing repairs to CEMOF right now to accommodate the fleet besides the length of the new trains so there’s a lot of things that we’re thinking about. We’re going to need new tooling for the shop. Some of the shop tools that we have here will no longer be needed or they’re still going to be needed but maybe not as often but we’re going to need new tooling and everything else that goes along with it, training on all of our techs to make sure they understand the new intervals, service intervals.

LIEBERMAN:            Man, we’re going to have a hell of a garage sale once we get started on that.

EISENHART:             So, what kinds of large-scale improvement? Obviously, you have to add overhead electric lines throughout the facility. Are there any other maybe less obvious things that you have to modify? Is there like a height thing or just general divisions?

FLORES:                    Well you talked about our train wash earlier. We’re going to have to modify our train wash to be able to accommodate the new locomotives because they are bigger, they’re higher.

EISENHART:             Wait, they’re higher because of the overhead catenary system or they’re higher just because they’re higher?

FLORES:                    I think it’s both.

RUIZ:                          Yeah, the catenary is going to have the biggest impact on the car wash.

EISENHART:             Okay so, what kinds of you just need to make the whole thing taller?

RUIZ:                          Yeah right now CEMOF is under construction to accommodate a lot of the you know to accommodate the equipment. So, track five is completely ripped out right now and they’re going in with the full-length pit. The car wash we haven’t made any modifications to it yet but that’s coming up next and the height is an issue currently. We really don’t have anything in the works right now to change anything so I’m not a hundred percent sure what changes we’re going to make but we have held off on a couple of modifications or improvements to the car wash because we need to take into account the catenary line.

EISENHART:             So, this goes a little bit more into just general benefits of electrification and service operations but while occasional large breakdowns are reality with the current fleet that’s not necessarily going to be the case with the newer fleet. I mean it’s newer right so breakdowns are not really to be expected but they operate differently, they have multiple traction units, multiple engines if you will rather than just the one locomotive. Can you talk a little bit about I guess just the increase in reliability of service that comes with that?

RUIZ:                          Yeah, there’s definitely going to be an increase in service reliability however getting to that point when we get the new equipment there’s the conditional acceptance phase, there’s the testing phase and then there’s you got to get the bugs out of the equipment right and then once you get past that you still have the learning curve of not only the mechanical department but also the crews and it’s going to take a little bit of time for us to for these things to really get moving to a point where we’re moving people efficiently and in a very reliable way.

FLORES:                    With new equipment comes new challenges.

RUIZ:                          Yes, and that’s basically what I’m trying to say is those new challenges are the hurdles that we’re going to have to get past to increase reliability however the new equipment is going to be much more reliable than the current fleet. I mean---

LIEBERMAN:            It’ll be brand new.

RUIZ:                          Exactly.

EISENHART:             Are there any other benefits that come with the advancements that the new electric fleet will bring whether it’s the engineer being able to quickly address any issues that might come up or just the actual maintenance of them? I mean I hear that it’s better designed for maintenance as well as just service in general.

RUIZ:                          Yeah, so my electricians and my mechanics are really looking forward to having a newer fleet because the trouble shooting will be easier. When you’ve got a computer telling you exactly what’s wrong with the fleet and you know diagnostics it’s a dream come true on those right and then you also have less failures, it’s going to minimize our unscheduled repairs.

EISENHART:             Sure.

RUIZ:                          So, we’re going to be able to focus more on the equipment and the reliability of the equipment with less failures. Today, we’re focusing a lot on unscheduled repairs.

EISENHART:             Is there anything else that you want our riders to know about how we’re maintaining our fleet?

FLORES:                    Just let everybody know that our number one priority here is safety and our passengers and making sure that we get them wherever they need to go on time, every time, all the time. That’s our main focus. We listen to everybody: we hear all the you know we get all the complaints as you will. We make sure we address them; we try to do everything we can to minimize them with the focus on our passengers. Make sure that we provide them the service that they expect every day like I said all the time, every time. It’s just like you get in your car every day, you get in your car every day, you expect it to start and get you to work there every day that’s exactly what we try to do and focus on it for our passengers.

LIEBERMAN:            Gentleman, thanks so much for joining us today.

FLORES:                    Thanks for having us.

RUIZ:                          Thank you.


EISENHART:             Wow. To quote you know me after seeing the plethora of attire on display at the Met Gala “that was a lot.”

LIEBERMAN:            Yeah, my brain is fried. I feel like I need at least a month just to process everything we’ve learned. So, join us next month as we continue the discussion with Caltrain’s Chief Operating Officer, Michelle Bouchard.

EISENHART:             Enjoy the New Year. Stay safe. Ride transit. Bye!