CBOSS Goes Sideways
Caltrain's CBOSS project, criticized for years on this blog, is in ever deeper trouble. According to Caltrain's latest project update, the $231 million previously allocated for this project are nearly spent, but the project is way behind schedule and struggling in the most perilous and delay-prone phase of all: testing of the integrated system.
|Not Ready for FRA|
Caltrain's update mentions "software release delays" relating to the I-ITCS product that CBOSS is based on. There are worrying signs that I-ITCS may become a technological dead end: the company that makes it, GE Signalling, was recently acquired by French rail giant Alstom. Alstom's mainline signaling product portfolio does not give it top billing. Furthermore, the FRA process is described as being "in flux", meaning that the goal posts are moving.
What we have here is a classic foundering IT project, and it isn't clear if throwing more money at it (at a burn rate of about $50M/year) is going to save it. With the federal PTC implementation deadline now pushed out to 2018, this is a good time to stop and re-assess the project before escalating the commitment.
HSR Buys Radio Spectrum
Meanwhile, the California HSR Authority is about to spend $50 million to secure the rights to a key chunk of radio frequency spectrum. The frequency bands being purchased are 757-758 MHz and 787-788 MHz, not the usual 220 MHz band used for freight PTC systems. Instead, the CHSRA has documented its intent to deploy ERTMS, an increasingly mature and proven train control standard that originated in Europe and is increasingly in worldwide use. The two bands purchased for HSR are not sufficiently wide to deploy GSM-R, the obsolescent communications standard currently used as part of ERTMS. It is more likely that California's deployment of ERTMS will use a more modern, secure and spectrum-efficient LTE communications layer, following the evolutionary path beyond GSM-R already being planned for ERTMS.
Connecting the Dots
Suppose the following conditions come to pass:
- CBOSS proves unworkable (increasingly likely)
- HSR shifts its focus to Northern California (possible)
- HSR finalizes plans for ERTMS as its high-speed train control standard (very likely)
- Due to construction delays, HSR needs new and productive ways to spend federal funds that expire by 2017 (possible)
In the unforgiving world of system integration testing, reality always wins.