Stadler 2/6 DMU in Austin
Stadler 2/6 DMU in Austin. Flikr user Paul Kimo McGregor.

A couple of months ago, Frank wrote a blurb about the Obama administration’s commitment to legalize European passenger train designs, which today are effectively prohibited by Federal Railroad Aministration regulations, by 2015. He chose an illustrating photograph which represents, I’m sure, exactly the kind of thing most Americans think when they hear “European train”, namely a picture of Spain’s AVE high-speed train between Barcelona and Madrid.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that photograph, or that thought: Europe’s high-speed rail services (AVE, TGV, Eurostar, etc.) are indeed wonderful! The FRA modifying its rules to legalize European train designs in the US could make American high-speed services faster, much cheaper to build, and more environmentally friendly, because American trains will no longer have to be built to a completely unique crashworthiness standard, girded with battleship-like quantities of steel. That’s a wonderful and long-overdue advance in itself, but I’m going to argue that cheaper high-speed trains are not the most exciting technology this rule change could unlock.

Europe’s high-speed trains are the icing on a tall cake of public transport, which begins, at a local level, with generally-excellent local bus service, rapid transit in medium to large cities, and extensive high-capacity subway and Metro systems in the biggest cities. At a larger scale, cities and large towns are connected by regional passenger rail lines that run all day and late into the evening, with coach services extending to smaller towns. Most of those regional lines will never carry enough people to justify the massive expense of high-speed rail, but they’re well used, and taken together, carry far more trips than the high speed lines.

The success of the high-speed lines could not happen without the connectivity provided by regional and local services, not to mention the higher-density, less-car-focused land uses they have facilitated for more than a century. These regional services make extensive use of a technology that, thanks to the FRA’s over-zealous regulation, had hitherto occupied only a niche role in American passenger railroading: the Diesel Multiple Unit train.

DMUs are diesel-powered versions of their cousins, Electric Multiple Units, of which American light rail vehicles are an example. Each carriage has its own propulsion system, and trains can be made up of as many or as few as are needed to meet demand. DMUs are typically slightly larger than a light rail car, and seat 100-200 people; the photo above is an example European DMU, a Stadler 2/6, on Austin’s Capital Metrorail Red Line. That design was previously only usable on track not shared with freight trains or other traditionally-constructed mainline passenger trains, but after 2015, it will be legal to operate it on shared track. This is a very big deal, because much of the existing urban and suburban rail trackage in the US has at least some freight or mainline traffic.

This rule change makes passenger rail financially viable and environmentally justifiable in markets where it would never be possible to fill up a full-size locomotive-hauled train; it allows trains to scale down. A local example of a market DMUs could serve post-2015 would be Sounder North, a commuter rail service that has struggled with low ridership, currently attracting (pp. 19 & 20) less than 125 riders per trip in the mornings, and 150 per trip in the evenings  Sound Transit currently runs the shortest trains allowable under federal rules, a locomotive and two bi-level carriages, providing just under 300 seats, half of which go empty. A pair of Stadler 2/6s, with about 100 seats each, or a Stadler 2/8, a slightly larger DMU which seats about 170, could comfortably carry that load.

To get a sense of the economic and environmental cost of America’s overbuilt trains, let’s look at a simple number, the weight of the trains, taking Sounder North as an example. To a first order approximation, the environmental and economic cost of building and operating a vehicle (of a certain type of fuel) is proportional to the amount of metal that goes into it. A three-car Sounder North train weighs about 240 metric tons (50 t carriages, 120 t locomotive), while the Stadler 2/8 weighs 79 metric tons. So, roughly speaking, we could comfortably move Sounder North’s passenger load with a third of the fuel and materials we use today. This would do much to bring down Sounder North’s painfully high cost per boarding; to boot, a DMU train would almost certainly accelerate faster, ride more smoothly, and be quieter to the neighbors. DMUs on this line could be a huge win.

I should be clear that I’m not advocating that we build a nationwide passenger rail network of the kind found in Europe. In much of the interior of the country, the population is far too sparse to pull in significant intercity transit ridership, population centers are two far apart to allow trains to easily compete with flying, and half a century of freeway building has created a network much more direct than the railroads of the 1900s. What I am arguing is that in those places where regional density exists, DMUs could allow services to exist that otherwise wouldn’t, and that is potentially revolutionary. Later this month, I’ll have a detailed post on how we could apply this idea locally, but I’m sure readers will chime in with their ideas of where DMUs could be useful.

69 Replies to “The Cheaper, Brighter Future of American Passenger Rail”

  1. Yes indeed, a very, very big deal for most of America, where they havn’t squandered away abandoned rail ROW or thought creatively to create new.
    Unfortunately, we in the Puget Sound have pretty much given up that option of finally being able to mix Euro-style regional rail equipment with current freight traffic
    1. BNSF has set the price for every new time slot from here on out at $50+ million upfront.
    2. When coal and oil trains get rolling, there will be precious few new time slots even at those prices.
    3. The only other viable corridor running N-S (Woodinville Sub) along I405 has beeen cut up into so many parts, and promised to so many groups that it becomes another 3rd rail of the rail bank program. “Touch it and die’.
    4. There was an effort in the 90’s to better utilize freights and passenger rail on both UP/BNSF tracks and clean up some crossover problems. Most of that remains a ‘turf war at stalemate’problem
    When I was on the Board of the state rail passenger association, the idea of advocating for future passenger rail corridors for local, regional (DMU), and HSR got as much traction as an oil train going over the pass with only one engine.

    1. I’d have to agree that what little “wiggle room” we once might have had in Pugetopolis is pretty mich gone. BNSF will forever call the shots on slots and costs, and except for Uncle Pete (NO friend of passenger trains either) from Tukwila to Tacoma, they own all the track in WA. Certainly, however, there are miles of right of way around cities like Indinapolis, Columbus and many others in The Great Middle that could be used for DMU (and dare we hope EMU?) frequent commuter and short distance services.

    2. Seattle is not and has never been Chicago or Indianapolis — you can’t squander what you never had. We don’t have abundant heavy rail lines radiating from the city in every direction through major town centers; we only have this arrangement (or even the terrain to support it) in one corridor, which happens to be our one successful commuter rail corridor.

      Certainly we’ve abandoned plenty of passenger rail (largely because it was on the surface and in the way of roads), and now we’re scrambling to build new passenger rail. This is the story in lots of cities, even rail-rich Chicago, which has probably abandoned more rail than Seattle ever had.

  2. Class 1 railroads have adamantly opposed light equipment (not just light rail vehicles) running within their right-of-way if they could not withstand collisions with the likes of full derailed coal hoppers.
    Denver’s RTD resolved the issue by implementing a separate class of train, the heavy rail commuter trains similar in size to the DMUs in this article.
    Also, the USDOT enforces a Buy America program so European designed trains would need to be manufactured in the USA with a high portion of components made here too.
    I like the trains discussed above and agree with the flexibility of small, scalable train sets sized for peak or off-peak demand service.

    1. This is not actually consistent. UP has opposed any passenger equipment operating within 50 feet of its tracks, and so has CSX, but that’s because they’re run by assholes and idiots. The attitude from NS and BNSF has been quite different.

  3. Ottawa, in Ontario, Canada, solved this issue in 2006. See my picture of one at

    They imported a DMU from Europe and ran it on tracks shared with fright trains. Canada and the US share the use of FRA rules. The safety case was simply that the trains would occupy the track at different times. Few passengers want to ride local or regional services overnight – so that’s when he freight trains run. While Class 1 railroads oppose new passenger trains, there are now many lines which would be suitable that are no longer Class 1 and many short lines would welcome the revenue.

    It is also entirely possible that even the US will wake up to the environmental consequences of fossil fuels and those long coal and exploding oil trains could be a thing of the past.

    1. I’m aware of the Ottawa solution; it’s used in several places in the US, notably San Diego, where most of the light rail system, along with the suburban Sprinter DMU service, use that mechanism to separate non-FRA compliant cars from freight. My point is that this rule change will expand the number of places where lightweight rolling stock can operate, because there are many places where it’s not possible to completely shut down the line to freight or non-lightweight traffic eighteen hours a day.

    2. Canada does NOT have the same FRA rules as the US, although they are similar.

      Canada’s rail regulator has been much more open-minded. Trains can run at 100 mph without cab signalling. Waivers to allow lightweight equipment on tracks shared with freight tracks are *much* easier to get in Canada. VIA Rail’s “Rennaisance” equipment is too lightweight to be legal in the US.

    1. Check your browser? I know that a lot of browsers include autocorrect, and after disabling it in my browser, I’ve never noticed autocorrect on this site.

    2. STB does not use any autocorrect feature. What you submit is what you get, unless it gets manually moderated by a human.

  4. Shame that Austin’s line still goes literally nowhere and serves practically no one, and came at the expense of the transit needs of actual flesh-and-blood human beings.

    The relaxation of FRA weight regs is an unequivocal good thing, but care must be taken not to let it stoke the urge to build shiny-but-stupid political projects just because you now can.

      1. Austin’s system needs to be expanded to new routes.

        The initial route was frankly terrible. It does serve some people — specifically, its champion was from the one suburb which it serves very well. But there are at least four better routes in Austin.

        Hopefully some will get built.

  5. Next question: Would regional rail authorities allow One Person Train Operation on single or two-car DMUs? This would be a game changer for many mid-west cities, especially Chicago (where existing Metra service gives one per hour frequencies off-peak, if you’re lucky).

      1. No, its not. FRA-regulated trains are required to have a minimum crew complement of 2.

        Makes sense for a long-haul loco running on dark lines; not so much for transit operations.

  6. How much would it cost to get DMUs for Sounder North, and how much of a dent in ST3’s other projects would it cause (mainly extending Link to Everett). It almost could be free to ST if it could reuse the existing trains on the south line and eliminate a heavy-train purchase, except that an ST rep said it already has all the vehicles needed for ST2’s almost-hourly schedule, and it may require an inter-subarea reimbursement for the trains.

    The other places that have been suggested for commuter rail are Everett to Bellingham, Auburn to Black Diamond (the John Bailo Memorial Line), the Eastside north-south corridor (cut up now), and extending Sounder South to Olympia (would use the battleship trains).

    1. Does anyone know how long it would take for the fuel savings from running DMU’s to pay back their capital price?

      1. Nobody knows how much DMUs would cost!

        That’s the thing. There have been so few FRA-compliant DMUs in existence that they’ve been ludicrously expensive. If the FRA rules are changed, it’s a different ballgame. DMUs might be quite reasonably priced.

    2. If Link goes to Lynnwood, and especially Everett, why do we need to run any trains on North Sounder at all?

    3. Because Mukilteo and Edmonds like Sounder? Seriously, I’d love to cancel Sounder North and put the money into Link and feeder buses. But Sound Transit has not been willing to consider that so far. There was a curious statement in its initial response to the long-term plan feedback, that it will consider all suggestions except those that are outside the scope of ST’s mission or are inconsistent with what voters have said in the past. The latter may have meant things like cancelling Sounder North.

      By the way, the initial response also said that most of the comments came down to “More rail now!”, so I guess that’s the sentiment across the subareas. That’s a good sign. The detailed summary will be out later.

      1. Quite unfortunate, since the amount of money wasted on Sounder North might have been enough to run Link on 99 instead of the center of I-5.

      2. Geographical distribution of goodies strikes again!

        Remember, Link basically didn’t exist at the time of Sounder North — the northern suburbs wanted something, and by something they meant rail, quick.

        The choice to run Link on I-5 rather than 99 may not have been solely due to money. There was definitely some NIMBY stuff going on.

  7. I think you buried the lede:

    “We could comfortably move Sounder North’s passenger load with a third of the fuel and materials we use today. This would do much to bring down Sounder North’s painfully high cost per boarding; to boot, a DMU train would almost certainly accelerate faster, ride more smoothly, and be quieter to the neighbors. DMUs on this line could be a huge win.”

    Looking forward to your future posts on this topic!

    1. Nor did Bruce mention the savings of a smaller crew complement.

      That said, planning for DMUs that have capacity only slightly larger than current ridership doesn’t sound like sound long-term planning. If, indeed, these vehicles can shave several minutes off travel time, and the mudslide problem is solved, I’d expect ridership to increase.

      I’m not sure which is safer to be on when a mudslide hits the train: the taller, heavier train or the shorter, lighter train. But then, how long has it been since the last mudslide? This winter seems to have been a significantly better one for North Sounder safety and reliability.

      1. If Sounder North reaches 200 riders per trip and fills two Stadler 2/6’s then you just tack another DMU onto the end of the train… that’s kinda the point of them, same as how Link operates at night versus at peak.

  8. Physics question: Why would freight companies want passenger trains using the same tracks to be as heavy as possible? Doesn’t that magnify the damage to their own vehicles, and risk more serious derailments of their own trains?

    1. I’m guessing (off the top of my head) it’s a liability issue: if there’s an accident and they’re found at fault, the worse the passengers’ injuries are, the more they’d have to pay.

    2. Yep. If a coal train gets banged up, the insurance claim is pretty straightforward. Cost of doing business. If a person (or god forbid hundreds of people) gets hurt, the sky’s the limit in terms of liability.

    3. Frank and William are correct, but it’s also worth noting that the freight companies don’t actually care that much about passenger car design. The FRA regulations which are the problem are *antiquated*, dating originally from the 1940s, before any proper understanding of how energy transfers in a crash.

      The freight companies want to avoid spending money on signalling to prevent crashes, which is another important point here. They’re stuck doing so due to the PTC law however. :-) Past time they were forced to man up and do that.

    4. The “damage to their own vehicles” is peanuts compared to the liability claims by injured riders of the transit vehicle. No, hoppers aren’t free, but they’re south of $250K; no liability claim is going to be less than $1M.

  9. Would using 2 smaller DMUs allow you to double the headway (e.g. a 100 person train every 15 minutes rather than a 200 person train every 30 minutes)? Or would you be unable to because running trains every 15 minutes would conflict with freight trains?

    I don’t know what type of capacity north sounder BNSF line has, but I assume the route is not very heavily used since there are still at-grade crossings.

    Which also brings up the question, how practical would it be to expand the span of service?

    1. Sounder North needs for more help that lighter equipment, lower labour costs and more frequent service. It need s a walk-shed and “transit connection”-shed that it will never have because half the “shed” is Puget Sound. Let it go.

      1. They could use ferries to connect to stations near the water. If they have an ad on the ferries for Sounder walk on passengers could take the train to work. With people who live near the station who do not need to take the ferry use buses to connect the people to the stations. This would increase ridership on the train.

      2. Sounder North already connects with the ferry terminals at Edmonds and Mukilteo, but it’s difficult to get the train and ferry schedules to align for good connections.

      3. It’s not just that it’s up against the water. It’s that the vast majority of the trip it’s stuck between water and cliffs. Many successful train stations throughout the world are at the edge of towns or neighborhoods or up against bodies of water — it isn’t the ideal arrangement but if other conditions are fine it’s not fatal. Along the Sounder North route there are only a few places where the tracks are accessible except by following them, let alone a break in the cliff significant enough for anything like a town. Between Everett and the Ship Canal they are:

        – Everett, from which a trip to Seattle is so indirect it’s not time-competitive with buses.
        – Mukilteo, which barely qualifies — most of the land is far uphill from the water, and the main way down toward the station is a big highway pointed toward Seattle, making transfers to the train way out-of-direction for most.
        – Edmonds, which has the topology to be a town centered near the waterfront, and indeed is an actual town with something like a center near the waterfront. Still, there isn’t much of a way in from the north or south aside from the Sounder line, limiting plausible transfers to routes from the east. It’s far from the worst situation for a new-ish commuter rail station in America, but if it’s the best you have you don’t have much.
        – Richmond Beach, whose topology and layout is sort of like Mukilteo’s, so if it was in Snohomish County they might build a station there but North King Subarea has more important stuff to worry about. Also the one road in and out is guarded day and night by hardened NIMBYs carrying concealed yard signs, ready to strike.
        – West Ballard, far from the action and an out-of-direction transfer for most, see Richmond Beach.

        Say there were no mudslides, double-track all the way, no payments to the railroad, and all the agencies and cities along the line decided North Sounder was really important for some reason; this would mean stuff like Edmonds reserving station-adjacent land for uses other than boat parking and Seattle and Shoreline pouring their ST money into infill Sounder stations. Maybe some huge Point Wells development (I’m optimizing for Sounder ridership here, not plausibility or logic, and ignoring the possibility of Shoreline blowing up the one road in and out of there). DMUs, by virtue of being lighter and able to accelerate better than existing trains, might help take it from “total embarrassment” status to “modestly successful by some narrow definition but ultimately of little impact”. Without these impossible conditions I don’t think DMUs could bring Sounder North up to the level of mediocrity.

        And now that I’ve posted this my new year’s resolution is never to post about North Sounder or the FHSC ever again.

      4. “Shoreline blowing up the one road in and out of there”

        The Points communities actually did something like that. Northup Way/Points Drive used to go all the way from Bellevue Way to 84th. But so many people used it to bypass the 520 traffic and get on the bridge at the last entrance, annoying the posh houses adjacent to it, that Yarrow Point put up a big sign saying road closed to through traffic, then put a concrete barrier across the road around 92nd or so (presumably after asking its own residents where to put the barrier), and now I think it has been split into two roads.

      5. @Mike (re Points Drive): This road is still open to cyclists and pedestrians going through, as 520 isn’t, and despite the big hill is actually the least hilly way to get from Kirkland to the 520 bus stops, so it’s a fairly well used bike route. I think during 520 construction one of the streets (96th Ave?) briefly switched which side of the barrier it was on, and I think the street was briefly open to through traffic.

        Anyway, that sort of closure, specific to cars cutting through to avoid congestion, is common (and often a good idea). Just off the top of my head I can think of many examples: Paulina just south of 18th in Chicago; Broadway E at Edgar St. near Roanoke Park; many intersections in Bath, UK; Ina Ave in Cody, WY. For Shoreline to cut off the road would be something different — I could spill lots of words on it, but I actually think the most reasonable thing would be for Shoreline and King County to annex Point Wells.

      6. Yes, they blocked car access but not ped/bike access. And it was probably east of 92nd, I just don’t remember exactly where.

      7. “Sounder North already connects with the ferry terminals at Edmonds and Mukilteo, but it’s difficult to get the train and ferry schedules to align for good connections.”

        This is kind of crazy and needs to be fixed. What exactly is preventing the schedule coordination?

      8. “What exactly is preventing the schedule coordination?”

        Ferry crossing times are different from each other, and also different than train headways.

    2. The difference between single track and double track capacity is like night and day – somewhere between 4 and 8 times the capacity for double track, depending on a lot of other factors.
      Here’s a recent study:
      Moving most through-routed freights to a double tracked UP line between Seattle and Tacoma and actually double tracking the SEA-EVT section would provide all the capacity needed for many years to come.

      1. I’m confused– I thought that it was double tracked between Seattle and Everett. At least, looking at google maps it looks like there are 2 tracks. Is one of them not actually a valid track or something?

      2. Most of Seattle to Everett IS double tracked, but the last mile into the new Everett station is in a tunnel under the city.

      3. Take a closer look at Google maps…

        There are many areas where it is double tracked, but certainly not everywhere. There are a lot of places where the ROW narrows down to a single track. Check out the track where it runs down by the Edmonds Ferry for example. It does split out into two tracks soon after there, but its a single track for some miles before that point.

        Other choke points of note:
        – Between Edmonds and Mukilteo (next to forested land.. room to expand?)
        – The tunnel under downtown Everett (good luck expanding that one)

      4. Actually, a lot of preliminary work has been done from MP16 – MP18 (the current Edmonds single tracked area).

        When BNSF determines that freight traffic demands it, they will double track that segment.

      5. Mic,

        The UP is not double tracked anywhere between Black River Junction and Tacoma. There are a few sidings, but it’s a single track railroad with lots more grade crossings than the BNSF tracks whose have mostly been overpassed.

        North of BRJ the two lines are operated as one triple-track bi-directional railroad. When an Uncle Pete can take the westernmost track it removes the need to cross-over the two BNSF tracks as was historically required both at Argo and BRJ.

  10. Point of order: It is already legal to run DMUs on tracks shared with freight as long as the agency obtains a waiver.

    Odd that Austin’s exclusive-ROW DMUs were mentioned without pointing out that a couple hundred miles up 35E, the Denton County Transportation Authority achieved the first-of-its-kind shared ROW DMU waiver almost two years ago, thus setting the precedent for getting it done. I’ve been on their trainset and it is awesome. The Denton local paper has been running articles for several months showing how DCTA’s A-Train has grown in ridership and popularity, even with the sub-optimal connection to DART’s light rail.


    1. Getting a waiver is a pain in the neck and a lot of work, though. The rules changes will mean that anyone can do it.

      It’ll also mean much lighter (therefore faster and cheaper to run) EMUs. And much lighter (and therefore faster and cheaper to run) passenger rail cars.

      For anyone worrying about “crashworthiness”, all these changes are associated with some new requirements: one is the requirement for crumple zones (which European trains usually have already), and the more important one is better signalling to *prevent* crashes.

  11. Rule change is very good news. Crash-worthiness against full-size trains not universally necessary for what I see as best use: transportation for places that the last generation turned into the kind of real estate development that caused the crash of 2008. And that the next two or three generations will clear and re-convert to a less stressful and wasteful way of life.

    Columnist John Talton noted awhile ago that a lot of the structures built these last few decades fortunately don’t have the “bones”, meaning the structural strength, to blight the landscape forever.

    Also, places that used to be both cities- including all their infrastructure- and also formerly part of the United States of America before our country moved its borders outside of places like Detroit. Detroit city limits have a great deal of railroad right of way presently carrying nothing but rust. As well as large parts of the Interstate system that might as well carry trains as part of the rebuild.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Of course. Nifty cars and still running up in Canada, but can’t recall where off the top of my head.

      1. Vancouver Island IIRC.

        BTW we’ve (USA) had variations of the RDC/DMU since way back like in the 1920s

    2. RDCs meet FRA crash worthiness standards AFAIK. Denton’s A-Train used RDCs before they got their waiver and new trainsets.

      Colorado Railcar tried to make a go of building FRA-compliant DMUs but were only modestly succesful at it.

      1. Trimet’s WES service in Beaverton, OR has A few of those problematic Colorado Railcar units, and they bought a set of Budds to back them up during repairs.

  12. I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Nippon Sharyo’s DMU’s.

    They currently are building for SMART in California and GO Transit in Ontario. and yes, FRA, ADA, EPA compliant.

  13. A good read! A few corrections are needed.

    Austin Cap MetroRail can run with freight and often does. The rail line itself isn’t used that much for freight however.

    BNSF does not charge $50 million per train/timeslot.

    Milepost 16-18 is single track (Edmonds) with grading completed for double track, sans the station.

    Milepost 27-28 is single track and graded for double track.

    At Everett Jct, the rail lines split. Commonly for freight, continuing North via Bayside yard will use the low line, which is slated for improvements and upgraded from its current 10mph to 30mph with a new work lead. Trains going east will use the high line to Stevens Pass. Passenger trains also use this line. The Cascades trains split at Pa Jct and run thru Delta Yard back onto the Bellingham Sub.

    Right now, now passenger trains use the Everett – Seattle line than freight. That would of course change if/when the Cherry Point or the new Canadian terminals open up.

    There has been some talk for a while now about BNSF or WSDOT purchasing the UP line between Black River and Tacoma for freight. The bottleneck, like the BNSF line, would be the bridges that would need to be replaced. The UP line has a few more bridges and some areas do not have the room for double track without buying a few businesses out. The single track setup and expanding the siding between Kent and Auburn would be good enough to support 135 daily trains between Tacoma and Seattle. The biggest advantage would be BNSF can run intermodal trains directly into Tacoma Rail, reducing the time and eliminating a huge bottleneck in Tacoma that happens on a daily basis.

    I’ve been pushing and talking about ST using DMU’s for a very long time now. It makes far more sense for it to go that direction for the North line or when the South line ever becomes hourly on non-peak trains.

    Finally, the host railroad has no say as to what equipment can run. As long as it is not OVER the weight restrictions for a bridge, height for said bridge and tunnels, the railroad could care less. What they do care about is the FRA compliance, which most European equipment doesn’t meet (San Diego Sprinter for example) and thus requires a separation of passenger and freight movements.

      1. Jim,

        They added 3 “marsh” tracks as we call them. There will be two more added later this summer. This weekend the tie and rail gang are working on the Sumas branch. There is a group working on the Vancouver WA wye to increase the speed from its current 10mph to 25mph. My understanding is that the bypass main will start construction later this year (finally)

  14. Actually, the possibilities are extremely numerous, as this would significantly decrease the operating costs.

    For an example of how this might look in a place that has the lack of population density normally associated with “Not enough Passengers”, there is someone in Germany that has taken a very detailed analysis of what could be done along Interstate 5 between Eugene and northern California. His basic conclusion is that:

    No, you can’t justify passenger rail here with traditional FRA equipment, but with modern DMU designs available (and not compliant with FRA standards) it could work, even in a very light corridor such as Eugene to Ashland.

    Seattle might not have any good places for such a service now, but Tacoma has a number of interesting possibilities, including putting regular service on Tacoma Dome – Lakewood – DuPont.

  15. Some confusion on detail.
    (1) There is no federal “minimum train length” requirement. North Sounder’s “minimum train length” requirement comes from BNSF, which is worried about its archaic signals failing to detect a short train.
    (2) The big reason there are no DMUs in the US is, indeed, the federal “weight the trains down” rules, which means off-the-shelf DMUs from foreign countries can’t be used here. And because the US market is small, there are essentially no “US-specific DMUs”.
    (3) But DMUs aren’t the biggest issue with the FRA “weight the trains down” rules. The biggest issues are that heavier trains are slower, and less fuel-efficient.

    With the rules changed, every single train will accelerate faster — locomotives and coaches and EMUs as well as DMUs — and they will all be cheaper to operate.

    In fact, the main difference in the US between “light rail” systems and “commuter rail” systems is that the “commuter rail” systems have to have these overweight, heavy, slow, inefficient trains. This will mean that “commuter rail” trains can be as fast and lightweight and efficient as “light rail” trains.

    It’ll also mean that it’s OK to mix “light rail” traffic with freight traffic. It eliminates so many problems.

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