I like mechanical transportation. All mechanical things are interesting, but if it can take you somewhere? Even better. So when I was offered a chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the Caltrain maintenance facility, I was very intrigued.
We met up at, of course, the train station. Specifically, Diridon Station in downtown San Jose. I actually used to commute out of this station for a couple years, so it was cool to see the familiar sight again.
But even cooler, I was going to have a peek at something I’d always seen and wondered about on that commute: the maintenance facility behind the station.
Just from a quick glance, you can see that this place was not small.
The photo of the building from the outside was taken from near that Ford Escape.
I was with Brendan, who was banging off questions rapid-fire to our host, but I kinda drifted in and out as I was taking photos. I did learn that they actually keep sand on board to put on the tracks as a traction agent.
BIGFOOT here seems like a fun ride. Albeit a far cry from the truck you normally think of when you hear that name.
What hazardous material is on every passenger train? Oh, it’s poop.
Many people, in fact, do press this button when lit.
The suspension, with its familiar yet gigantic components, is possibly my favorite area of the train.
It seems to me like these springs would bind, but I guess they don’t have much travel. I wonder what the spring rate is?
The engine cars apparently use leaf springs.
It was really cool walking through the train yard, but I was pretty bummed that the weather didn’t play ball. The sky was coated in a thin layer of clouds, which did diffuse the shadows (a bit), but that turned the sky into a big white over-exposed mess.
The trains are washed in a huge “drive-through” wash very similar to a commercial car wash.
Complete with big brushes!
But where do they keep the guitar?
I love how this zillion pound train is being held in place by two tiny wooden chocks.
We then proceeded to loop back into the shop.
A few stairs later, and we’re under the trains.
One amazing thing you notice when your eyes are at the height of the track: just how little the wheels actually come in contact with the rails.
Each of those gigantic pieces is a whole drop-in cylinder.
Note the valve springs poking out the top.
It was a cramped space and I only had my 50mm, so I couldn’t exactly capture the majesty of the enormous camshaft. It was several feet long!
To give you some scale of the enormity of the engine, that’s the turbo for it, which stands easily three or more feet tall.
Inside the train it was shockingly old-school, with big metal levers and a complete lack of soft surfaces and creature comforts.
This newer train was a bit more luxurious, but still very industrial.
Right when we walked out of the building this plane was flying overhead, and I just barely managed a snap.
Possibly the most fascinating revelation of the day for me was how little the wheels make contact with the tracks. I would love to see what happens in a long sweeper–does the “camber” of the wheel come in to play?
And then, as soon as it began, we were done. I’m pretty focused on personal four-wheel transport, but it was pretty interesting to step out of my comfort zone to look at another wheel-driven way of getting around.