Category Archives: Commutation

Door sein- en wisselstoring

There was a failure at the ‘traffic control centre’ in Amsterdam this morning. It took me almost four hours to get to work; and being stranded at Utrecht Centraal (34 km south of my workplace) for a good forty minutes and sitting in traffic on the replacement bus from Naarden-Bussum didn’t help either.

The entire rail network of the Netherlands is, according to Wikipedia, controlled from just thirteen control centres. Closing small signalboxes because they’re cute and you want to be evil is all well and good but the effects if something goes wrong spread like wildfire.


Fifteen minutes

Commuting by train in the Netherlands is usually no problem. Yesterday, however, Nederlandse Spoorwegen—the state-owned rail operator of the Netherlands—had to delay some of its services. Back in the UK, I wouldn’t even consider writing about delays on the railways: it would be a waste of my time. Everyone[who?] knows the UK suffers from the worst rail delays in Europe[citation needed] and, in my experience at least, encountering delays on the British railway network is anything but unusual. Dutch railways on the other hand: that’s a different story. I wrote the draft of this post on a reasonably-packed (ten people standing in the aisle of a seventy-five-ish-seat-carriage; 113% crowded) intercity naar Enschede; the stoptrein I usually get home from the office was delayed by… well: the announcements said five minutes, but 18:04–17:55 is nine minutes. Anyway, I’m used to a much quieter train—I don’t care for men talking loudly about “the datas [sic] in the clouds”and how “[in] the future, the normal PC will disappear”; people coughing and sneezing on the blue and striped carriage moquette; at least there aren’t any chavs on-board and I haven’t heard a screaming baby sinc– (Out at Hilversum and there’s a shitcake screaming and whaling in a pram on spoor 2.)

Yesterday morning, the stoptrein to Leiden did arrive, fifteen minutes later than scheduled. I arrived at Duivendrecht with perhaps ten minutes to go before work so instead of risking arriving late by walking, I hopped on the Metro—what a foul and disgusting one-stop journey that was. I’ll have to research, but I swear those carriages were from the 70s, complete with an 8-bit ‘hammers’ voice announcer. Then, after running off the train and elbowing everyone London-style, …I fell down a fifteen-step staircase on the way out of the station: where was this sign when I needed it?

I wrote this post over the course of about an hour-and-a-half yesterday evening and, while waiting for a stoptrein south via oo-treɣt oa-fer-veɣht, in front of me was something I don’t think I’ll ever get used to—a DB service to Hannover Hbf, with announcements for its service in no less than three languages. It’s an odd thought seeïng a train to Germany. I think you need to book a seat reservation in advance, but there’s no glass security fencing like at St Pancras International; no customs or passport control to stress over. It’s an alien idea, this ‘free movement between countries’ thing and that is what I don’t think I’ll get used to.


“Overweg vrij laten”

A few mornings ago, on the slow bus into Hilversum, I saw an sign which intrigued me at the level crossing between the platforms at Hilversum Sportpark railway station. The flashing traffic sign—two lights on top, two lights below; flashing like those motorway-side FOG signs that always seem to be on when there’s clearly no fog at all—read:

“Overweg vrij laten”

I saw this sign the other day but alas: it was unlit and I took less notice of it. It turns out this sign is lit during rush hour periods, and reads something along the lines of “keep level crossing clear”. Basically, it’s to remind thick drivers not to blindingly follow the car in front onto the level crossing—only to get stuck with nowhere to go, then hit by a train calling at Hilversum Sportpark.

I had to ask a colleague about this sign’s meaning since Google wasn’t much help. It was even less help when I stupidly tried to Google Translate (v.) one result of the search query ‘overweg vrij laten’—the Dutch Wikipedia article on level crossings—into English, since I knew the English article on level crossings wouldn’t have anything at all on vrijs or overwegen. Computer translation, or machine translation, is notorious for failing to take the context of words around a particular word under translation into account. When one Google Translates a website—rather than just a few words or a paragraph—upon hover, small bubbles appear over the translated text, showing the user the original text that was translated but, more interestingly, a “contribute a better translation” link—which when clicked, expands to a simple input field with the English (or rather Dunglish) text ready to be corrected.

A Google Translate'd Wikipedia article, showing Google's "contribute a better translation" bubble

First of all, files (pron. fee-lers) are traffic jams; the singular form of the word files is file, perhaps unsurprisingly. Dutch ‘file’ ≠ English ‘file’—as in a document—though file can also mean a file as in a document in Dutch. I’m only at the first word and the machine translation has already proven itself to be context-insensitive. The lead sentence of the ‘crossing equipment’ section—which should really read something like “…”—reads “depending on the level of security, Dutch consider the following items fitted”. The word order isn’t as bad as in some machine translation cases I’ve seen but it’s wrong, for a start; beveiliging, which the translation engine subsititue with “security”, would be more appropriately translated as “protection”, especially since we’re talking about level crossings. The Dutch noun overwegen—‘level crossings’—has been confused with the Dutch verb overwegen—to consider. The word kunnen (lit. ‘can’, as in “Dutch level crossings can be fitted with the following protections…”) has been ignored completely. Again, the word order towards the end of the sentence is getting raped pretty badly. And this is just one sentence in one of millions of Wikipedia articles. Imagine if the other Wikipedias were simply Google Translate’d ‘copies’ of the English-language site; fuck, that would cause a few arguments on the talk pages …in broken English of course.


A taxi driver’s morning in the Netherlands

In eighteen years of being in the United Kingdom, not once was I in a road traffic accident; two months in the Netherlands and I’ve been in one road traffic accident—the culprit being a taxi driver who fled the scene, leaving me and my bike half-wedged under an heavy goods vehicle.

This morning on Emmastraat, Hilversum, there was a lorry unloading in an advisory cycle lane—I’m just going to point out that this wasn’t illegal and the lorry driver was unloading into a property that the HGV could not have accessed any other way. The point of cycle lanes, cycle paths, separate junctions and traffic signals in the Netherlands is that cyclists are statistically far more likely to be seriously injured or killed when sharing roadspace with motor vehicles and so, in the Netherlands, pedal cycles and mopeds are kept away from more dangerous road users where practicable. I had to leave the relative safety of the advisory cycle lane in question—I’m stressing on the word ‘relative’ quite a bit—to overtake the lorry and, with no oncoming traffic, one would expect that a vehicle behind wishing to overtake would pull out further into the road to get around (at this stage of progression forwards) both me and the HGV. Instead, he felt I was in his way and intentionally shunted my recumbent from the side, causing me to hit—then slide under—the side of the thankfully stationary lorry. He fled the scene.

I wish to extend my thanks to the driver of the lorry and the woman who was driving behind the vehicle who hit me; both were a great help in, but not limited to, interacting with the police.

The driver of the taxi in question is responsible. SMIDSY is way beyond a valid excuse; fleeing the scene of a road traffic accident is illegal; and if caught, the Fifth EU Motoring Directive should guarantee that any insurance compensation comes from s/his insurance firm and not mine—though it looks like it’s highly unlikely that the perpetrator will be caught, since CCTV will be the only record of the vehicle registration number and the Netherl– let’s just say that the Netherlands doesn’t have quite as many CCTV cameras as the United Kingdom.


Trains, ferries and cattle trucks

Yesterday, I had the good fortune of taking Dutch trains to my ferry out of the Netherlands, and the misfortune of suffering at the hands of the shambles we Brits call a rail network.

I arrived at Hollandsche Rading station by bakfiets taxi and I’d purchased my ticket (with extreme ease) at Hilversum Centraal the afternoon before. I’ve discovered there are three types of Dutch train: double-decker, average and Sprinter—in ascending order of shitness. I took an average train the ten-or-so kilometres south to Utrecht, seeing far fewer orange-clad Dutchmen as I was anticipating: for it be/was Koninginnedag. Switching to a double-decker?; no problem, just a change of platform. At Rotterdam, another change of platform and a change of train type: this time to a Sprinter. NS Sprinter services are nippy little buggers; the closest I can relate them to is a trip on a Class 313; anyone reading from north London and Hertfordshire will know that these First Capital Connect trains are shit, dirty, cramped and certainly not worth the £20 one paid to get to London. But, aside from my personal opinion, no problems at all and the price for the journey was €15,20.

On the ferry (actually on the Sprinter to Hoek van Holland) I met a lovely American lady called Ann—she’s currently on a ’round-the-world holiday and having got the train up from Antwerpen the night before, was travelling to Harwich (or ‘Har Wick’ in her words) then onto London. I helped many-an old lady yesterday: one in Utrecht, one in Rotterdam and Ann across the North Sea. She was lovely company, I must say.

At the other end, boarding a train at Harwich International required a half-an-hour wait (though I fully understand that a ‘train meeting a ferry’ should come with a little delay) but no problem beyond my British experience with railways. Manningtree on the other hand was a bit different: the train up from Harwich failed to meet a connection with a train heading towards Ipswich. Five minutes for a connection sounds like a long time …in the Netherlands, where trains run on-time (though actually in the past three weeks, they’ve been running and leaving ahead of time). I was intending to catch a train from Harwich International up to Manningtree, a connection from Manningtree to Ipswich, and then grab a nap on the Ipswich–Cambridge service. No. Kevin instead had to wait an hour for a train to Norwich—though another ferry-goer—Evan of Austin, Texas—was company on the platform, and briefly in the platform-side pub until I realised I only had euros on me. The Norwich train was late by a few minutes, and a few minutes at 21:30 on a Saturday can’t exactly be blamed on overcrowding or whathaveyou. Onwards to Norwich where National Express decided to turn off the lights in my carriage to pocket yet more money for its shareholders (and I guess default on yet another franchise when the going gets tough), and then a ten minute-connection to a train to Cambridge. Via Bury St Edmunds was the original plan but hey.

Oh yeah: just to reiterate. Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day) is a public holiday in the Netherlands. Hollandsche Rading has a population and station no bigger than Foxton, Cambridgeshire: it gets two trains an hour on a public fucking holiday. Foxton gets one train an hour Monday–Friday, you’re lucky if you catch one at the weekend, you’re delusional if you think you can catch one on Bank Holidays and Foxton station has forty-six fewer cycle parking spaces than Hollandsche Rading.


Box junction antics

On the morning of 2nd February, I made the mistake of ‘shortcutting’ up Castle Street, Cambridge—which ends at the junction of Mount Pleasant, Victoria Road, Histon Road and Huntingdon Road; locally known as ‘Murkett’s Corner’. At said junction, possibly owing to the morning’s closure of the A14, the signal phases couldn’t take the volume of traffic and thus the box junction on the junction was being misused. I wasn’t going to be a part of this misuse and I waited like anyone else should. As I got to the junction, a coach (reg no. AK02 LPX) had already crossed over both the stop line and the ASL stop line [1] and I was prevented from going anywhere for perhaps four or five green lights. When the coach finally moved off, I assumed my position at the head of the ASL and waited again. The lights turn green, my exit was blocked and the lights went red again—this happened three more times. On the seventh green light, I still couldn’t go anywhere without committing a box junction offence; the male in the vehicle (LL04 GYA) behind me was clearly extremely angry that I was obeying the law that he undertook me and queued across the box junction in front of me.

In the frame above, LL04 GYA with a rather grubby registration plate: the driver who overtook me because I was obeying the law (TSRGD, regulation 29 and TSRGD, part II of schedule 19Road Traffic Act 1988 section 36). He subsequently blocked the box junction. Note also my right foot and KV04 KEN.

I finally was able to squeeze down the offside of a few vehicles …but only on the eighth green light.


Guided busway thoughts, plus the Chisholm Trail

I think about my commute more than most people perhaps. I was thinking this afternoon about the guided busway (after reading the latest Cambridge Cycling Campaign newsletter) and how, when the southern section opens, I’ll be able to whisk myself from Trumpington to the station without having to use god-awful infrastructure (the Trumpington shared-use up-and-down nightmare that is the Trumpington shared-use up-and-down nightmare) and getting stuck behind eight-year-olds doing 10 kph weaving all across the path … and it’s a segregated shared-use path, so the (let me think …) western side is technically a pavement. It’s a horrible piece of cycleway and the worst part is is that (even though I know I don’t have to) I feel I need to use it. I do occasionally cycle on Trumpington Road itself but that’s only to overtake said eight-year-old shitcakes and their shitcake parents (CONTROL YOUR FUCKING CHILDREN and set a good example by cycling legally; thank you) …but I go back onto the cycleway afterwards. During the autumn, it’s mulchy; during the winter, it’s icy; during the spring and summer, it’s (only just) acceptable. The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway will hopefully change this situation—no side roads, no traffic signals and a 3.0 (or so) metre-wide unsegregated cycleway. Not a shared-use path; a cycleway: a piece of infrastructure I’m proud to call a cycleway.

Then there’s the Chisholm Trail which is a proposal to build a cycleway between the northern end of Cambridge station’s car park—I guess—and Milton Road (at the point at which the old railway would have crossed the road; now, opposite the start of the guided busway’s northern section). There’s a “spare” arch on the western side of Mill Road’s bridge over the Fen Line; I’m not 100% sure how much space there is under the Coldhams Lane and Newmarket Road bridges, and there’s also the problem of building a bridge alongside the current bridge which takes said Fen Line over the Cam south of Fen Road. (You know where I’m talking about; don’t lie.)

Cambridge cycleways (with annotation)

Travelling northwards: ...solid line next to A10: awful shared-use path that I never use. Dashed line crossing M11 northwest of 'Westfield' roundabout: proposed cycleway across fields and ex-PBI land. Dashed line curving smoothly into town from the south: guided busway's maintenance track, to be opened and surfaced 'shortly'. Dashed line between Cambridge station (blue square, south of Petersfield) and Milton Road: the proposed Chisholm Trail. Short solid line north/northeast of Kings Hedges: currently open (but unsurfaced) busway maintenance track. Base of image is CC BY-SA 2.0, contributors.

Now … the Chisholm Trail is, unfortunately, a long way off being built (I think) but—the southern section of the guided busway is looking increasingly ‘ready’ every day. Yesterday (Friday 26th) at Trumpington Park & Ride, warning bells (similar to the kind you find at some level crossings; see diagram 781 at bottom of linked image) had been hung from a bar that had gone in on Thursday(?) which had been installed onto two upright bars, which were installed on Wednesday(?). Warning bells have also been installed on the eastern side of the railway where the busway meets Francis Crick Avenue. These are relatively trivial busway features to point out to you but the developers are progressing with the construction of (at least) the southern section. The northern section of the busway looks finished and because of this, perhaps, many are wondering “just when is it going to open?” (by which they mean “when are buses going to start running?” and I mean “when are you going to surface the maintenance track?”).

The point of this post was to illustrate that if the Council upgraded the pathetic excuse for a shared-use path between the B1368/A10 junction (the northern of the two B1368/A10 junctions in the country) on the outskirts of Harston and the southern section of the CBG, and then if a route existed between Cambridge station and the end of the northern section of the busway, and then if the Council surfaced the maintenance track alongside the busway between Milton Road and Kings Hedges Drive … and then I guess if Cambridge Regional College surfaced what they term Railway Avenue, which is currently a sandy muddy track … if these four things were in place, I’d have an alright route to college. Never happy, am I?