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(Nederlands) Gelukkig 2018!

Sorry, this entry is only available in Dutch.

Migration and transport

The February 25th, 2013 broadcast of the VPRO TV documentary series “Tegenlicht” on African migration to China came to an interesting conclusion. A conclusion that I share.

Europe, the Netherlands included, is becoming a fortress for people outside Europe. This closes Europe to refugees. But unfortunately also for ideas, cultures, innovations and willpower that immigration brings.

This development is disastrous for Europe. In Europe, the birth rate is decreasing. Therefore a decreasing number of employed people will have to look after an increasingly older population. At some point, the European working class will no longer able to bear the costs to maintain our current level of prosperity and welfare.

At the same time, more and more other countries are developing fast. Especially the BRIC countries are currently on the rise, but also the African continent’s economy sees increasing growth rates.

Another development is that many more of the future 9 billion people on this planet will be prosperous. Hence investment and financial flows will change accordingly. If we in Europe and the Netherlands do nothing and continue to feel fulfilled in our present prosperity we will rapidly degrade to a second-class economy. With a declining birth rate and increasing expenses, the Netherlands must stay interesting to foreign investors. People who are able to create and innovate and thus help to maintain national and European prosperity and welfare.

The Netherlands is a unique country. Not only because the Dutch mostly created it themselves, but also because there is a lot of green area between our cities and urban regions. There is no big metropolis consisting of a completely built-up area like many other metropolises in the world. Even the Randstad, the region bordered by the 4 largest cities and responsible for half the national economy, contains relatively a lot of green area.

But the Randstad alone does not dominate the Netherlands. The other half of the economy is earned outside the Randstad. Even the smartest region is outside the Randstad. So it is regionally well balanced. Yet the current decline in population and employment in some provinces is worrying. It would be regrettable if regional shrinkage would marginalize the Netherlands.

With fewer taxpayers it will be getting harder to keep Netherlands neat, orderly and free of water.

In the TV program Tegenlicht, Ian Goldin advises Europe to remain attractive to migration and hence maintain or enhance prosperity and welfare levels. This also goes for the Netherlands where immigration can complement the declining birth rate.

History shows that another major factor in regional development is transport innovation. The Dutch golden age (17th century) was not only triggered by immigration, but also by technically advanced vessels and waterways. The industrial revolution was driven by the steam engine and the construction of railways with fast trains for that time. Railways, which today still prove their usefulness.

The Freedom of Mobility Foundation wants to secure the position of the Netherlands in the globalizing world by strengthening the infrastructure. Better and faster connections will rebalance the strong regions and the various provinces.

In a country with more bicycles than people, it makes sense to use the (electric) bicycle for local transport. Bicycling trips are often faster than the typical time spent waiting for a local bus. But the average cyclist covers only short to medium distances. In the vision of the foundation, we extend the range of bicycle by combining it with fast public transport to get the best out of both. For example, we suggest replacing the entire intercity service by Maglev to reduce the travel time between the intercity stations and airports by a factor of 2-5. Such a combination can be a sustainable alternative to the car.

With such improved transport the Netherlands will be a unique metropolis of low-rise buildings, lots of green recreational area, a temperate climate and still connected to the rest of the world. The Netherlands will thus remain interesting for foreign investors and immigration as Ian Goldin advises.

Liberalization of the railways

Europe wants to press on with liberalization of the railways. This means that other rail operators may start passenger service on the Dutch rail network.

The goal of Europe is to increase quality and give passengers a choice by introducing more competition. But there is any real competition on the railways?

Operators make a bid for a concession for a passenger revenue service on a section or region for a fixed period. The many parties providing a concession, namely regional and provincial governments, mainly select the offering that requires the least public money to run the service as requested.

But operators go through great creative lengths in producing the cheapest offer possible. Whatever the result, out of this the passengers only get a monopoly from a certain train operator for a certain period on a line. For them there is no choice.

Some advantages of a new operator are that there are often new vehicles that meet the latest and highest standards of comfort, environment and cost. There is also room for innovation and / or insights.

But the existing employees are also taken over. They only get a different uniform fitted. The passenger with its characteristics also remains the same. A disadvantage of such a concession may be that lines disappear, staff can be cut or employment be tightened. This produces tension with other carriers.

Because of the many decision makers the public transport becomes a clock who’s every cog in the clockwork does its own thing. Then you have an unreliable clock that may show the correct time twice a day, but is pretty useless otherwise…

In public transport it is important that operators work together. The ongoing liberalization without strict control from above will see operators pursue their own interests. A normal reaction because every individual, every department within the company, between companies each have their own interests. Companies or personnel no longer work together, but ask who is going to put up the bill.

Without a governing control, all the operators’ staff must comply with more rules that limit them in improvising in emergencies. Staff cannot decide themselves what to do to serve the passenger best. Despite that the staff have the knowledge to safely do so.

If we want to allow more operators on the railways then there must be a certain vision behind it. A central control that governs on the whole system, sets requirements, takes responsibility and makes decisions about rolling stock and carriers. Just like a clock, the public transport needs someone from outside to synchronize the time. Because from within the clockwork, you cannot see what time it should be. You only get a reliable time from the clock if each cog does exactly what it should do.

Interests of operators must be subordinate to that of the passenger. Furthermore, operators should not get in each other’s way or service the same section. And a passenger has no interest in a particular operator, but decides on the basis of time and place. A single operator must therefore service a whole section.

The Freedom of Mobility Foundation proposes to separate the intercity and local trains. In the vision of the foundation are 9 intercity lines and 16 sprinter lines. Each line is separated from the other. Maglevs run on intercity lines and Interregional Sprinter on the sprinter lines. This allows up to 9 or 16 different operators running these lines.

The governing central control sets requirements for stock and operators such as to eliminate operators own interests overrunning that of the passengers. Operators are therefore solely responsible for the service. This also allows for a single operator to service the whole network, if there is a reason to do so.

The central control also governs the RegioTram, which can be run by several operators. This will reduce transfer and waiting time for the passengers. In short, liberalization of public transport is possible if there is one central control governing the whole system.

Dag van Verkeer & Mobiliteit 2012

Sorry, no translation available.

Visit to the Schleifkottenbahn in Halver (Germany)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

At the invitation of Mr Friedrich Wilhelm Kugel the foundation visited Halver, located in the hills the German Sauerland. Mr. Kugel is director of the “Schleifkottenbahn GmbH”.

He has taken the initiative to put the local railway between Halver and Oberbrügge to renewed usage. The line was for the German railways no longer profitable to operate. The company of Mr. Kugel develops a transport concept with low cost, matching the low traffic volume.

He demonstrated their prototype “Schienentaxi” (rail taxi), an ultra-light-rail vehicle on call basis. The vehicle uses the bodywork of a model Mercedes bus and is battery powered. The batteries are charged with (in Germany omnipresent) eco-power and during downhill ride.

The conversion to steel-wheel undercarriage with electric drive and electronics is completely done with and by local entrepreneurs. A good example of thinking outside the box and how to innovate with limited resources. Perhaps a lesson for some experts whos thinking stay on the beaten track…

In Oberbrügge we visited an old signal house, kept in demonstration-ready condition. Given an explanation of the mechanical safety box. We also visited a rare sleeper wagon from the cold war, specially built for the U.S. military to travel to West Berlin.  Re-equipped and in usable state. Thanks to Mr. Arnold for his expert explanation.

After the demonstrations and tour we had a welcome speech by the mayor of Halver and a press conference, together with the German Association GfM. As a guest, the foundation presented our vehicle designs and our new network plans for the Netherlands.

All in all it was a nice day. And we share the some cross-border economic regions with Germany. We thank Mr. Kugel and the GfM for the invitation.

Weekly magazine Intermediair #25 – new speed revolution

Dutch weekly magazine “Intermediair” published a cover story on Maglev in edition #25, 2012.:

a new high speed revolution lures after half a century of failures
Amsterdam – Istanbul in 50 minutes
By car or train from Amsterdam to Eindhoven today is not faster than it was in the sixties. Flying over the Atlantic Ocean has become even slower. Faster transport methods failed one after the other. But a new technology promises a revolution – with 4,000 km per hour through a vacuum tube.
(…)

The article mentions Daryl Osters ETT (or is it ET3?) system as a promising development. The article also mentions Transrapid and Maglev in general as not a complete failure, despite not becoming the dominant technology it was once believed to be. It opposes that to Concorde that will never return to service, TGV as a dead-end and high speed trains in general as a matured development that will not go any faster than they already do.

Unfortunately, the article contains a number of disputable or incorrect statements (on maglevs).

To be specific, these are my personal comments on the article:

Lathen accident, silent death of an once promising technology
It’s a pity that the article emphasizes the Lathen 2006 accident again. The accident didn’t mark the end or failure of the Maglev technology. It merely painfully reminded us that even the safest technology can’t prevent some accidents from happening.
As a paradox, the accident also proved Maglev to be safer compared to conventional high speed rail as there is no such thing as wheel failure or derailment leading to horrific jack-knifed destruction of following cars as happened in the 1998 ICE Eschede accident. At comparable speed, in the Lathen accident only the first car of the Transrapid was demolished.

Hopefully the ET3 test track will not be abandoned as the one in Lathen now
The article hints at the decommission of the German Transrapid test facility in Lathen (TVE) as the death of the technology.
But in fact, the German government had approved Transrapid Maglev technology for commercial deployment as of 1991. After that the TVE was mostly retained for promotion, improvement and testing of newer vehicles, as well as training of staff during construction of commercial application routes.
Now the industry has no further need for tests as the latest vehicle generation is fully approved and (partly as a result of the credit crunch?) they don’t see a near term deployment of a maglev route, at least in Europe.
I wouldn’t say they gave up on it, as the industry is still holding on to its patents on the technology. Perhaps they hope to license it when the future brings a new opportunity?

Most important advantage of maglev is the absense of rolling resistance
I feel this has been over-emphasized by maglev promoters in the past. The rolling resistance is neglectable compared to aerodynamic resistance at high speeds. Only at low speeds, lack of rolling resistance is of any importance.
IMHO, other advantages of Maglevs are more important:

  • highly reliable and weather-resistant vehicles and track (no broken overhead wires, autumn leafs, no service disruptions for a few cms of snow)
  • no mechnical contact, so less maintance of track and vehicles
  • less noisy compared to conventional trains (where panthograph and wheels are the most audible noise source; Maglev has neither)
  • fast ac-/deceleration, allowing Maglevs to call at intercity distances like in the Netherlands, in contrast to high speed trains.

Discovery of superconductors made Maglev possible,
German Maglev used superconductors
Two mistakes in the article here. Maglev doesn’t require superconductors to work; any magnetic source will do. It was space age advancements in electronic controllers (microprocessors) that made Maglevs like Transrapid possible.
The German Transrapid only uses electromagnets.

Fastest existing train: TGV
The article mentions the TGV as the fastest existing train at 574 km/h. But actually that title belongs to the JR Maglev, at 581 km/h. Anyway, the TGV record used a heavily modified, shortened trainset with unconventional trackside changes. A normal, stock TGV trainset can’t run anywhere near that speed.
In fact, the fastest commercially operating existing train is a Maglev, the one in Shanghai (431 km/h).

Construction of maglev track is expensive
The article makes a somewhat out of context statement here. The construction of any high speed infrastructure is expensive, regardless of technology. Reduction in construction costs for Maglev over the last decades, compared to ever increasing costs for conventional high speed rail, makes Maglev more and more interesting. See http://namti.org/?page_id-275 for an American comparison. However it should be noted that in order to take ultimate advantage of maglev’s higher speed, the necessity of further minimizing curves can lead to substantial costs-tunnels, etc.

In some cases Maglev can already be competitive. For instance, the Dutch Ministery of Transport estimated in 2008 for the (now canned) 44km OV-SAAL project in the Amsterdam area:
- conventional rail costs (RER) to be 5.8 billion euro;
- and for Maglev 4.5 billion, despite being longer and unable to re-use any existing track in/near stations (!).
Reference (Dutch language only) “20082555 Eindrapport OV SAAL maart 2008_tcm195-215948.pdf”, Page 9
Note that the infrastructure component of both solutions makes up for roughly 3 billion.

ET3 costs would be low
The article suggests that ET3 construction costs would be low because the vehicles are light. I’m worried that the advantages might not pay out significantly, because:

  • infrastructure ROW is a major part of the costs as with any project
  • high speeds require stiff and precise construction, driving up the costs as with other high speed maglevs
  • so far, superspeed maglevs only function when the propulsion is in the track. So little cost reduction there unless there will be a radical change in propulsion.

But I’m not too familiair with ET3. Perhaps Daryl Oster can make some comments on this.

There needs to be a technology that combines both magnetic propulsion principles
The article author failed to notice that there already is a magnetic propulsion technology that functions at both high and low speeds. Both superspeed Maglevs, Transrapid and JR Maglev, have their motor in the track instead of in the vehicle.

frame “Flying on rails” – seperate propulsion magnets
This part of the article gets some details on the Transrapid wrong. There are no seperate “propulsion magnets”; the electromagnets in the track make up the engine. Transrapid uses further electromagnets to hover and align the vehicle on the track. It works from standstill to max speed. There is no motor in the vehicle.

High-Speed Metro NL

The Dutch newspaper “Volkskrant” of February 24, 2012 contained a submitted article by ir. Eric Winter on public transport in the Netherlands. He compares the current public transport system to a road network without highways. Imagine that all current traffic had to flow through local and provincial roads only; it would take many hours to traverse the country.

Yet that is exactly the state of the public transport, according to him. All stop, fast, intercity and freight trains travel through and from city to city on the same track, causing much time lost in mutual waiting. He therefore proposes a kind of express network for the public transport, enabling true high-speed transport between different regions of the Netherlands. The benefits would be much like how the highways greatly improve nationwide road travel.

For the Dutch situation, he sees Maglev as an ideal means of transport. It is very fast and can still stop on our intercity distances. The technique has become affordable and he proposes to build a little each year to be ready before the Olympic games of 2028. Once completed, this high-speed metro network would speed up travel times for any one travelling throughout the Netherlands, including car owners. As per one of his examples, a door-to-door trip from the city Groningen in the north to Eindhoven in the south would take 1 hour and 20 minutes as opposed to the current well over 3 and 4-hour trip by car respectively public transport. Finally this would be a real alternative to the car. And also very reliable, no problems with leaves, broken overhead wires or frozen points. With the permission of Eric Winter, we refer here to his brief presentation (Dutch language only), taken from his website.

The Foundation for Freedom of Mobility welcomes initiatives such as Eric Winter wholeheartedly. It doesn’t matter if his ideas differ slightly from ours on details. We all pursue the same goal, and hey, the public even gets to choose from more ideas :-). It’s nice to see that other people are seriously thinking about solutions for the Dutch transport problem too.

Now we, all residents of the Netherlands, should convince the government that we really want better transport. That something akin to the “Deltaplan” waterworks is required for the public transport instead of piecemeal, low profile patches that don’t solve anything on the long run. Sign the petition at www.pro-maglev.net. For we are voters, and that is what the current politicians listen to.