Let the EU manage the railway networks

Europe rail electrification

Europe is a real mess when it comes to railway networks. The gauges aren’t the same, the ways they’ve been electrified vary (see the map on the right), and the signal systems aren’t the same.

To quote from Wikipedia:

While most railways use the standard gauge of 1435 mm, some countries, especially Spain and the former member states of the Soviet Union have widespread broad gauge tracks (1,520 mm). Likewise, electrification of lines varies between countries. 15 kV AC has been used in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Norway and Sweden since 1912, while the Netherlands uses 1500 V DC, France uses 1500 V DC and 25 kV AC, and so on. All this makes the construction of truly pan-European vehicles a challenging task […]

It probably would be prohibitively expensive to unify everything, but rational decisions need to be taken, and that can’t happen on a national basis. For instance, Danish politicians are currently discussing whether to electrify anything other than the route from Copenhagen over Funen to the German border; this is obviously a no-brainer on a European scale, but to a small country the cost can still be prohibitive.

At the moment, efforts are concentrated on the high-speed lines, but wouldn’t it be more efficient to hand over the entire railway networks to the EU? I’m not saying EU politicians should necessarily unify everything, but they could at least change situations where one country is the odd man out.

Actually running trains could still be handled/outsourced by the individual countries, but it would be so much easier to create attractive franchises if a train in most cases could run directly from any point in the EU to another other point, and if trains purchased for use in other country could just be used in another.

Rejsekortet og den fremtidige afskaffelse af klippekortene

Da jeg var i København først på ugen, lagde jeg på stationerne mærke til nogle blå cirkler på stolper. Det viste sig at være til brug for Rejsekortet, et elektronisk billetsystem, der ligner Londons Oyster-kort.

Umiddelbart lød det da som en helt god idé, men da jeg så læste efter, hvad planen er, så jeg til min bestyrtelse, at det “med tiden [vil] erstatte klippe- og månedskort”.

At afskaffe månedskort er fint nok, men hvis de afskaffer klippekortene, er det jo problematisk for folk med bopæl i udlandet, der ofte rejser til Danmark, da man skal have bopæl i landet for at købe et Rejsekort (bortset fra det anonyme, der koster meget mere i brug). Det er heller ikke godt for folk, der kun bruger offentlig transport i begrænset omfang (fx ti busture pr. år), da det koster 50 kr. i anskaffelse. Begge grupper bliver dermed nemt skubbet over i enkeltbilletter, der er meget dyrere.

Jeg håber derfor, de snarest finder en billig og simpel løsning for folk, der som mig i den forgangne uge tager et fly til København, tager S-tog og Metro rundt i byen i fem dage, og så flyver hjem igen. Ellers bliver Danmark i praksis endnu dyrere for turister, end det allerede er tilfældet.

Flying around on my mother’s broomstick

Flying with kids
Originally uploaded by viralbus

During our recent holiday in my parents’ house in Tuscany, we spent a fair amount of time practicing our flying skills on my mother’s broomstick.

Anna wasn’t that great at flying on her own, so I sometimes let her ride on my back.

Léon, on the other hand, was quite capable of flying on his own, although Marcel normally would fly close to him to prevent any accident (see this photo).

Perhaps we should buy broomsticks for the entire family?

Automatic transmission

When I was learning to drive a few years ago, I bemoaned the complexity of manual transmission and suggested a better way: “As far as I can see, all of this could be done with the vertical part of a joystick or similar, holding it still to maintain the speed, moving it forwards to go faster, and pulling it backwards to slow down (and braking depending on how hard you’re pulling it).”

When I wrote this, I had never tried to drive a car with automatic transmission. However, during our recent holiday in Tuscany, we rented an automatic Lancia Delta Sport, so I got the opportunity to try it.

At first I hated it! It seemed to disengage the engine just as I was trying to go faster for the purpose of changing gear, and in the same way slowing down was interrupted at the wrong time.

With time I got used to it, though, especially after I found the manual override – it allows the driver to select plus to go up a gear and minus to go down one, which is useful to anticipate the gear change.

However, it did show me what the problem of my old suggestion was: If the driver is slowing down, the best gear change depends on what happens a few seconds ahead. For instance, if the driver goes down from 40 to 30 and then back up to 40, it might be best not to change the gear at all, whereas if the change for 40 to 30 is followed by a further deceleration to 20, it would have been better to lower the gear sooner rather than later. The car cannot know this, however, so it will have to err in one of the two situations.

The only way to make a better automatic drive would be for the controls to be different. If for instance cars had a control for target speed and a brake, in the first scenario the driver would leave the target speed at 40 but press the brake to go temporarily down to 30, whereas in the second scenario the driver would alter the target speed to 20 without pressing the brake at all.

Why aren’t the car companies coming up with ideas like these? 😉

The new Transport Museum is great!

We had to take Phyllis’s mum for a hospital appointment today, and instead of waiting at the hospital, we went to the brand-new transport museum, which is now called the Riverside Museum.

It’s a great improvement on the old Transport Museum, which was already a great place to spend an afternoon. There are many more exhibits, and they are presented in a much more interesting way, so we all had a great time (see Anna’s face in the photo!).

The only downside is that the car park is far too small and there is nowhere else to park nearby, so I recommend arriving ten minutes before they open (11am on a Friday).

As almost all other museums in Glasgow, it’s entirely free (although you need to pay to see the Tall Ship next to it).

Dutch roundabouts

When I was in Ljouwert/Leeuwarden last summer, my hotel was placed next to a huge roundabout. This gave me a great opportunity to observe how the Dutch have managed to make roundabouts that are safe for bikes – something which so far has been beyond most other countries.

Have a look at the picture on the right, and in particular at the bike (marked with an arrow).

The bike lane is red, and cars are warned with triangles to give way to any bikes. Also, there is a car length between the edge of the cars’ roundabout and the bike lane, so a car can leave the roundabout first and then look out for bikes.

All in all, it seems like an excellent solution. I wonder when we’ll see something similar here in Scotland?

Driving faster on the motorway

speed limit
Originally uploaded by perlmonger

As I’ve written before, it’s an British anomaly that the speed limit is the same on motorways and dual carriageways (70 mph).

The CoLD coalition now seem to considering raising the speed limit on motorways to 80 mph (129 km/h), which would make good sense.

However, I think they should also lower the speed limit on dual carriageways to 60 mph (97 km/h), and on single carriageways to 50 mph (80 km/h) at the same time, but that isn’t mentioned in the article, so I probably shouldn’t get my hopes up.