The Swedish Doubling Project

The Swedish initiative to increase the share of public transport is called the Doubling Project, i.e. doubling the share. While this goal seems a bit suboptimal for me (more on that below in the notes), this umbrella covers quite some initiatives from small to big to improve transit attractiveness, such as marketing campaigns or through-city train tunnels.

The video below describes case studies from four cities:

Some notes:

  • Gothenburg is introducing the congestion charge in 2013 and plans to fund transport infrastructure and vehicles from this revenue. Given the experience from previous city-scale road charges, such as London or Stockholm, this seems to be a very ambitious/fragile idea: when organized well, road charge revenues can cover the system costs and some more, and certainly beneficial on a societal level, but can hardly be used to build a huge infrastructure fund. — Also, it is a bit questionable whether the Gothenburg tram system is already prepared for the extra load, as the network is very congested already in the city centre and renewing the tram fleet goes slowly as problems arise with the new Italian trams.
  • It is great to hear that Stockholm is “extending its tram network”, what this really means is that during the big subway works, most of the previous network was discarded — just like many other cities — and now the city struggles to reconnect the remaining pieces.

    Stockholm Metro (photo: Patricia Poon)

    Stockholm Metro (photo: Patricia Poon)

  • Malmö: I covered the new City Tunnel on its opening day, an interesting note to those of us living in the Netherlands is that you can get for your ticket using “any means of payment” — good luck buying a train ticket here with a credit card or with banknotes.
  • In Sundsvall, we learn a new sentence in Swedish: det är inte rocket science, and really, all speakers note that what is key is not some technological innovations, but the vision, commitment and to break away from the former bureaucratic attitude of operator companies.
  • It gives some credit to this initiative that the minister is the last speaker. I can’t resist to notice, however, that the idea of doubling transit market share is not really a sound goal to set for yourself: (1) what about urban regions where the share of public transport is already around 40-50%? Barcelona, Vienna, Central London, Eastern Europe. It is clearly impossible to double the 55% market share, but investments and innovation here is just as important, regarding how many people already trust the transit network. (2) no matter how much some nerds like trams and buses, the real goals are safer transport, less emissions, higher land value/quality of life: no need to replace cycling or the occasional car trip with transit. If you need a simple goal, it is to reduce driving, be it by a shift to transit, cycling, Het Nieuwe Werken or Whatever Works*.

* just kidding, it is a bad movie.

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The Delft Superbus

I have already wrote once or twice about different “superbus” projects that claim to reach the capacity of trains and light rail on the public roads. In fact, Delft does have its own Superbus project, and the Batmobile was shown this week on campus. The photo credits are due to @adolfochaves.

Let’s just say that a strength of Dutch transport policy might be that the Netherlands is audacious in trying out brave new concepts and solutions, even if some of them undoubtedly fail. I am not the first to come to this conclusion, you can read about storm-torn shelters on the high quality (super?)bus line Zuidtangent or the Shared Space policy.


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Happy Birthday, @ns_online

NS Twitter party in Utrecht Centraal (photo: Daniel Sparing)

NS Twitter party in Utrecht Centraal (photo: Daniel Sparing)

Doesn’t get much nerdier than this: a train operator celebrating a twitter account anniversary(!) in a Fatboy lounge. It is too much for even me 🙂

I have to say I am not a big twitterer, although I do acknowledge Twitter’s role in train delays, breakfast cereals or national revolutions, as I am in the stage of life when I should devote long uninterrupted hours to research (and grow out of addiction to RSS, email and a certain social network), something as realtime and hyperlinked as Twitter sounds fairly suicidal to me. But you guys @adolfochaves, @stevevance, @amsterdamized, @krisztab etc. keep on, I do try to read you.

Update: According to a marketing research agency, NS is the best twitterer among the top 100 Dutch advertisers.

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Win a ride in a train simulator!

I am kind of surprised that there exists a train simulator with suspension systems resembling airline pilot training simulators (Full Flight Simulators in aerospace lingo). Besides accidents and tilting trains (which do not exist in a flat country like Holland), and the eventual emergency brake, frankly there is not that much physical dynamism happening onboard a train, especially not ones the driver has to react to. Maybe it helps the driver practice comfortable braking.

According to my Swedish friend working with fighter jet simulators, even those are “down to Earth” static cockpits, although for another reason — because it really is impossible to simulate military jet movements on Earth, so they don’t even try.

(click for the video)

NS SimulatorCentrum (click for the video)

Another simulator in the railway museum in Utrecht (photo: Daniel Sparing)

Another simulator in the railway museum in Utrecht (photo: Daniel Sparing)

But such a simulator exists, since 2009, in Amersfoort, which is the railway centre of the Netherlands together with Utrecht. As you can see in the video above, although the graphics is far from the most realistic PC simulators (such as this Jubilee Line track), this simulator is indeed a suspended cab, used for training drivers the Dutch Railways. And it is housed in a spectacular building, have a look at the pictures on

This second video shows a 18 min train ride in the same simulator — and yes, “shit, tien seconden te laat” does mean “shit, ten seconds too late”. Funny language.

If you are interested, you can actually win a training ride if you register to the Rail Carrière Dagen next week.

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Take your bike on the bus in Gdańsk

Bicycles on buses is possible in Eastern Europe (Poland) too

Bicycles on buses is possible in Eastern Europe (Poland) too

Sometimes discussions about bikes on buses (and trams) can swift to high-level arguments about the priority of public transport vs bikes. If you are cycling, why don’t you cycle all the way, why do you need the bus vs. let’s prioritize cycling all the way, even at the expense of bus travel times etc.

The discussion is certainly not over as you have quite a diversity in bike-on-bus rules: in the (low transit and low cycling rate) US, front cycle racks on buses are ubiquitous; in the cycling heaven Netherlands bikes are usually not allowed on buses and trams; while to give an example in several German states bikes are allowed on most transit vehicles.

A low-floor bus in Gdańsk

A low-floor bus in Gdańsk

I believe, however, that bikes on transit vehicles is simply a pricing and demand management issue, not a strategic decision:

  1. When and where your vehicles are not full, do allow bicycles and possibly for free. (you get extra customers! while also promoting cycling, thanks for that.)
  2. When and where the vehicles are full, it is completely acceptable to deny bicycles. (invest in station bike parking instead, please.)
  3. In the gray zone between, a well chosen price for the bicycle is the solution.

This can also work in Eastern Europe, my friend Jani sent me these pictures from Gdańsk, Poland.

See for example this post from almost exactly two years ago about more transit-bike integration.

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London recommendations?

A subsurface stock of the London Underground (photo: Daniel Sparing)

A subsurface stock of the London Underground (photo: Daniel Sparing)

I am taking the Eurostar to London via Brussels (as there is no direct train yet) to meet good friends and look around again after 6 years. I was wondering if any of you have some recommendations of what’s great there these days?


I know I want to

  • have a look at the Circle line to see how bad it is (the Circle line was reorganized as the “Teapot line” to improve capacity towards Hammersmith and reliability in the Circle — it seems that the latter was not all successful)
  • go to the Woolwich Arsenal extension of the Docklands Light Railway and see the three-car DLR operation, all part of the Olympics preparations
  • check out the new bicycle hire scheme and the infamous bike superhighways
  • do something else than trainspotting, such as the Spitalfields market

Thanks for any other tips.

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Streetfilms explains Transit-Oriented Development

The guys at Streetfilms do such a great job that it is really hard not to link to them all the time.

In this new video, they describe a New Jersey area as a successful example of Transit Oriented Development.

There is indeed a demand now even in North America for less car-dependent building patterns, as apparently 88% of our generation (Generation Y) prefers to live in “an urban setting” (unfortunately The Infrastucturist is not online anymore).

By the way, according to just published “new” data on 2008, two-third of the Dutch population lives within 5 km of a train station — which is still a fairly convenient distance to cover by bike.

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Fiddling with highway speed limits: A small step in the wrong direction

Spain reduces highway speed limit to 110 km/h to decrease oil dependency. Meanwhile, the Netherlands starts a pilot to increase speed limit to 130 km/h on some highways. What’s going on?

The Afsluitsdijk where drivers are now allowed to consume a bit more oil (photo: TobyA)

The Afsluitsdijk where drivers are now allowed to consume a bit more oil (photo: TobyA)

Briefly, nothing. A small 10 km/h change over 100 km/h will not make a big difference either to decrease oil consumption in case of Spain, nor on the Dutch highways — especially if the new limit will be coupled with tighter speed camera tolerances, which leaves you with pretty much the same de facto speed limit as today (I would say 135 km/h). But it does send a political message.

To look back a bit, note that highway speed limits range from 100 km/h (Norway) to 140 km/h (Poland) in Europe, as well as the infamous unlimited speeds on (parts of) the German Autobahnnen. This latter one-country exception provides the car industry with the excuse to sell cars all around the world which are carefully designed for breaking the law everywhere except certain German highway segments.

These differences, luckily, force us to stop searching for “best practices” (although an argument in the Netherlands was that “abroad” the limit is already 130 km/h — this fictional country named Abroad always intrigued me) and really think about what could be an optimal speed limit on the highway.

Capacity and consumption/emissions characteristics guide us to an optimal speed of about 80-90 km/h, above which the capacity is reduced and emissions per traveled km increase again. Traffic safety of course monotonously decreases by speed, and in fact the difference is also significant in this speed range: the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research (SWOV) calculated that at the current speed of 120 km/h, a speed increase of 1 km/h (not 10 km/h) already means a 3,3 % increase in deaths.

On the other hand, the pleasure of speeding is hard to quantify, but travel time isn’t: in case of the Afsluitdijk, where the new speed limit is introduced, a time saving of only 1 minute and 10 seconds is possible over the 30 km length.

In short, although a general maximal road speed limit of 80 km/h does not seem to be politically feasible, any further increase above this range is also scientifically not justifiable — it is nothing else than a cheap way to please some voters. Surprise: there are elections today.

Update: just like most scientists, the “most senior traffic offence official” is also against the speed limit raise.

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Ride a cabrio U-Bahn in Berlin

Starting from Valentine’s Day, it is possible to register for this year’s cabrio subway rides organized on some Fridays in Berlin. The underground journey gives you a detailed picture of one of the oldest and most extensive metro systems in Europe.

U-Bahn-Cabrio in Berlin (photo: Gabriele Kantel)

U-Bahn-Cabrio in Berlin (photo: Gabriele Kantel)

The Berlin U-Bahn is the backbone of the urban public transport network in a city with surprisingly low car ownership (compared to other German cities), especially now that the S-Bahn has serious problems.

Continue to the BVG site for more info and registration.

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We are heading off to Rome for the 4th International Seminar on Railway Operations Modelling and Analysis (“RailRome”), so no long posts coming up this week.

If you are not attending but are nevertheless interested in railway optimization, you can for example have a look at the presentations of RailZurich two years ago.

Italian high speed trains (photo: Ciccio Pizzettaro)

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