Training Day

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Just from a quick glance, you can see that this place was not small.

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The photo of the building from the outside was taken from near that Ford Escape.

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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.

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BIGFOOT here seems like a fun ride. Albeit a far cry from the truck you normally think of when you hear that name.

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What hazardous material is on every passenger train? Oh, it’s poop.

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Many people, in fact, do press this button when lit.

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The suspension, with its familiar yet gigantic components, is possibly my favorite area of the train.

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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?

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The engine cars apparently use leaf springs.

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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.

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The trains are washed in a huge “drive-through” wash very similar to a commercial car wash.

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Complete with big brushes!

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But where do they keep the guitar?

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I love how this zillion pound train is being held in place by two tiny wooden chocks.

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We then proceeded to loop back into the shop.

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A few stairs later, and we’re under the trains.

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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.

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Each of those gigantic pieces is a whole drop-in cylinder.

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Note the valve springs poking out the top.

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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!

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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.

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Inside the train it was shockingly old-school, with big metal levers and a complete lack of soft surfaces and creature comforts.

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This newer train was a bit more luxurious, but still very industrial.

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Right when we walked out of the building this plane was flying overhead, and I just barely managed a snap.

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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?

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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.

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