jump to navigation

New beer and old trams 24 February 2016

Posted by cooperatoby in beer, Brussels, tram.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

I’m delighted to have discovered, albeit 7 months after its opening, Brussels’s 3rd brewery . The first is the venerable Cantillon and the second is my staple  Senne, which is currently brewed on the wrong side of the tracks in the not-to-be-dreaded Molenbeek) but, being faced with 30% annual growth, is soon to move to Tour & Taxis. En Stoemlings is just round the corner from the renovated art nouveau Palais du Vin with its restaurant, conference centre, small business incubators (one of whose tenants uses the brewery’s spent grain to grow mushrooms) and excellent biomarché. What complementarity! It’s making the Rue des Tanneurs a very hip place to be.

En Stoemelings – a Brussels phrase meaning ‘on the sly’ – brews a 7% triple called Curieuse Neus which I will report back on when I’ve had the chance to extract it from its 75cl bottle. They say it is well balanced as they are leaving very hoppy beers (the IPA craze) to Senne, and recommend it be drunk cold, which I hesitate to do but will experiment with. What’s more, the beer-and-trams nexus heaves back into view with the forthcoming launch of draught lemon-flavoured Geele Tram (in memory of the town’s old tram livery) at Moeder Lambic in Place Fontainas.

Brasserie Stoemelings
Rue du Miroir 1, 1000 Bruxelles

Late news: Yet another beer-tram-wholefood triad – the Beerdays on 14-15 May 2016 at the Ecuries van de Tram in Schaerbeek.


STIB’s new map design – back to the 60s 5 November 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in Brussels, tram.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

STIB's disastrous new depiction of St-Gilles

STIB’s disastrous new depiction of St-Gilles

I don’t like the STIB’s flashy new network map at all. It’s no clearer to read, and around where I live in St-Gilles it’s a disaster. You would never guess from it that Horta metro is just steps away from the Barrière tramstops and the TEC/De Lijn bus stops at Place Morichar. The damage can be limited by searching out their plans of the area around each station, but that is unhandy to say the least.
The new map’s incoherent mixture of topological and topographic styles entirely fails to emulate the elegance of the London tube map. It’s ugly and positively misleading. The existing map doubles very conveniently as a street plan, but now visitors will have to buy a De Rouck as well.


Brusselnieuws reports that Cameron Booth, who blogs on Transitmaps, agrees it’s not the clearest of maps.

Social innovation in tram-building 26 March 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in Brussels, tram.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

Four Flexcities meet at Churchill

Four Flexcities meet at Churchill

The ESF has helped Bombardier in Brugge to improve the way it builds trams (including Brussels’s Flexcities) as featured in the European Commission’s new Guide to Social Innovation:

Work organisation – tram production in Bombardier

The tram producing department of Bombardier Brugge redesigned its work organisation as part of an ESF project in 2010-2011. The challenge the company addressed was the increased stress of team managers due to the more complex work and the teams’ inability to cope with certain technical problems due to a lack of authority or support from outside the team. By redesigning the work organisation, Bombardier aimed to both reduce managerial stress and increase the team’s efficiency. The innovation was to introduce the star model, a new organisational architecture which redefines team members’ roles and gives them more responsibility.
Specific tasks (e.g. safety, quality, maintenance) are taken on by individual team members, and communication between and within teams has been revised. Participants say that their autonomy and the information flow have both improved significantly. The tram production department in Brugge is currently the best performing unit within Bombardier Brugge in domains such as quality, on-time delivery and productivity. The project has been followed up by all shop floor supervisors and is going to be implemented in other production units.

Sex on rails – tram-trains 19 December 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in tram.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

Mate a tram with train and you get a tram-train, it seems obvious enough. They’ve been doing it in Germany – Karlsruhe, Kassel, Zwickau – for ages, and have cottoned on in France (Mulhouse) and Holland (Rotterdam) too. To differentiate it from an interurban (like Swiss mountain railways or the Belgian Kusttram) it uses vehicles that can operate on both systems – a Zweisystem-Stadtbahn. It means more than BR talked about doing on the Penistone line, which is running light railcars on ordinary railway track. It means actually joining the Sheffield tramlines up to the main line to Rotherham, as is now the plan.
tram-train logicThe benefit is that it suddenly opens up a seamless journey from outlying areas into the city centre, as this diagram shows. It is borrowed for educational purposes from my favourite magazine, Tramways and Urban Transit, which in its November edition runs an excellent article by Günter Koch from DB International. He sets out the conditions planners have to take into account.
Not cheaper
• The first lesson is that the aim should not be to save money. If you replace a heavy train with a light one, you have to run a more frequent service to retain capacity. You can run more trains but they have a smaller capacity. The benefit it does bring is shorter headways – i.e. a more convenient service.
• You need stops between 400 metres and 2 km apart as the top speed is 100 km/h, giving a commercial speed of 40-60 km/h. This requires a certain population/employment density.
• The minimum demand for a new line would be 3,000 passengers per day, or 1,500 for converting an existing track. The maximum would be 15,000 ppd – above that stay with an ordinary train.
• You can mix tram with high-speed and goods trains – the Karlsruhe trams share track with the Basel-Amsterdam ICE! – but only over short distances.
• The fastest trains on the lien should only go at twice the speed of the slowest.
• Maximum line length is 35 km which gives a 60-minute journey time.

Mapping congestion for Brussels trams 21 November 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in Brussels, tram.
Tags: ,
1 comment so far

Some great maps of how and where the traffic holds up Brussels’s trams can be found on the excellent Brussels Studieswebsite. An example is:

Time lost by Brussels trams, 2006 (Dobruszkes & Fourneau, 2007)

Personally (and by British standards) I find Brussels’s public transport excellent, but I work mostly from home. You can just imagine the frustrated commuters trapped in the queues shown by the thick blue lines such as the Chaussée de Charleroi and at Place Liedts. To be fair, STIB tried to free up the Chaussée de Charleroi, and a pilot was run in 2002 to divert traffic via Rue Defacqz – but the local shopkeepers insisted that the parking places were more important and it was scrapped. It’s now in the Ecolo/Groen manifesto. But this whole bottleneck is totally unnecessary anyway as there is already an unused tunnel under the Goulet Louise, dug when the metro was created, but never brought into use. Antwerp recently brought some of its unused tunnels into use, so why not Brussels?
Read the full papers on the Brussels Studies site.

It seems that the plan that is in fact being studied is to take more cars off the surface by building a tunnel from the Porte de Hal direction to the Ave Louise. That would be nice because it would keep the trams in the open air. And if you did put the trams in the tunnel, where would you put the ramp in the Chaussée de Charleroi?

Triple point 17 November 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in beer, cooperative, Leeds, tram.
Tags: , , ,

It’s always amusing when two obsessions collide unexpectedly – it gives that frisson of the interconnectedness of all things – and even better when three do. I had that enjoyable thrill upon learning that there is a bar in Wilmersdorf, Berlin called Die Straßenbahn (The Tram) and that it bills itself as Berlin’s oldest collective. As trams are a collective means of transport, and beer is best enjoyed in a group, I suppose it’s not so strange.
Die Straßenbahn was founded in 1977, which puts it slightly ahead of the Ale House in Leeds, which was founded in 1979 and opened its doors in 1980. Our take on worker collectives was the common ownership worker’s co-operative, which put a legal form around the loose operating principles of collectivism: non-discrimination, equal pay, job rotation, collective decision-making. In creating this model constitution, ICOM, provided a quick and easy way for radical groups to establish businesses that would express their political values. It managed to bridge the gap between company law (IPS law actually) and the arduous processes of collective decision-making, which at their best are intuitive and rewarding, and at their worst require endless discussion until all opposition is persuaded, crushed or bored into acquiescence, without even the dignity of recording a vote against.
The beer revolution

Timothy Taylor’s Ale Shop, 79 Raglan Rd, Leeds

The Ale House undertook the experiment of transplanting a radical organisational model from the wholefood sector to the licensed trade, which was a much more traditional environment. It coped with the reality that a small retail business – the first real ale off-licence in northern England – was not capable of supporting a team workforce, and would in fact rely on a single manager plus part-time assistants. It may have been, in some of the members’ minds, a ‘dry run’ for a possible future career move into running one’s own pub.
In our case, we diversified into a wholesale operation and eventually a microbrewery, but the co-operative eventually collapsed and the shop was taken over by Timothy Taylor’s – which is a noble enough end for any real ale business. The collective in Berlin have carried on living that dream, complete with equal pay, fortnightly team meetings and a tips pot which goes to good causes – I very much hope to go and drink a pint or two there soon. And the same ideal is coming true across England as more and more village pubs are rescued by community co-operatives making use of the community shares principle.
PS (thanks Hans-Gerd) and not only in the UK:

Hooray for Brabantnet 11 November 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in Brussels, tram.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Tomorrow, public consultation starts on 4 new tramlines to ease the lot of commuters into Brussels from Flanders. Three are radial – from Boom, Heist-op-den-Berg and Ninove in to the centre – and the last is a tangential line from Jette to Tervuren via Zaventem – relieving pressure on the notorously overloaded NE quadrant of the Ring. Here’s an outline map:

The 4 new tramlines proposed as part of Brabantnet

These lines have been prioritised because they fill the gaps in the railway network and should relieve congestion motorway congestion. A full presentation showing travelling times, car occupancy and traffic jam likelihood is on the Brabantnet website. Route proposals are here.

Update 19 Nov 13 – STIB has doubts

Seemingly bad news – Brusselenieuws reports that STIB’s director Brieuc de Meeūs opposes De Lijn running through services to Nord: “Everything is well taken in terms of mobility and the proposed lines are a good addition to the RER. But there are technical problems. De Lijn wants an express tram but it will lose time when it arrives in Brussels. It is not possible in to integrate it into the STIB network, and passengers will have to change trams.”

Update 6 Dec 13 – 2 routes approved

The Flemish government has approved two of the routes (see maps) – from Noord & Jette to the airport and Willebroek. Negotiation is now on about whether De Lijn can run through Brussels territory (like its buses happily do) or not. I hope sense and passenger convenience will prevail. Imagine if the railway was regionalised too!

Besançon’s cheap trams 12 October 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in tram.
add a comment

A forensic article in October’s Tramways and Urban Transit (soon to go online!) analyses how Besançon managed to chop €50m off the cost of its new 14.5 km tramline which will open in 2015 – an example that impressed the British government so much it turned down the Leeds scheme! A capital budget of €228m was agreed – that’s €16m/km as against the usual €20m/km in France. Here’s how the savings break down:
• avoid buying land, use narrow streets and areas that have already been renovated (saving €20m)
• cut number of substations from 12 to 7, and share low-voltage e.g. information systems with existing bus network (€8.5m)
• use short but frequent 23m trams, which can be lengthened later if needed (€300,000 each = €6m)
• avoid grass tracks – create easy-to-maintain rustic spaces around track that don’t need watering (€5m)
• simple direct project management – avoid external consultants (€5m) – also the lesson from Madrid by the way
• open-air stabling (€3-4m)
• simple trams stops like bus stops (€2m)

Metros cost much more: Madrid’s recently-opened Metrosur line cost €44m/km, while recent expansions in Paris and Berlin cost about 190m/km.

Vicinals are on their way back 31 July 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in Brussels, tram.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Vicinal car 10485, preserved at the Woluwe tram museum

Anyone who studies the public transport map of Brussels will notice an odd thing – the holes in the network. There are certainly a lot of trams (indeed Brussels is one of the top 10 tram cities worldwide) but they are often to be found off the beaten track: they tend to avoid the main radial thoroughfares. This is because those main ‘N’ roads – like the N5 to Waterloo or the N8 to Ninove – used to have trams of a different sort – the chemins de fer vicinaux or buurtspoorwegen. These ran on narrower gauge (1 metre) tracks and so could not easily be taken over by the STIB. After the war the country could boast 4,811 km of these ‘neighbourhood railways’, but most of them closed in the 60s. The principal remnant is the 68-kilometre coast tram, the world’s longest tramline.

The plan with a hole in the middle

I’ve been reading the Flemish Mobiliteitsvisie 2020, published in 2009, which gives a remarkably clear and detailed insight into the tangled web of transport in and around Brussels. It is produced by De Lijn, whose business is public transport, so you might say “well they would wouldn’t they” but nevertheless it’s persuasive – as anyone who’s taken the train to Zaventem and whizzed over eight lanes of stationary traffic on the ring can imagine – if they don’t see it instinctively.

First of all let me comment that it’s comical that the plan, like a Polo mint, has a hole in the middle where Brussels ought to be. It prefers to talk about Vlaams Brabant to avoid treading on anyone’s toes. I can only guess that behind the scenes STIB/MTUB must be on board this plan. In fact my compulsive reading on this issue, Tram 2000, reprints in its June edition excerpts of the parliamentary debate on mobility, wherein Céline Delforge of the Greens questions the region’s mobility minister Brigitte Grouwels about just this issue – line-sharing between STIB and De Lijn. If we have De Lijn running its trams into Brussels along the STIB lines, she asks, won’t we risk destroying our integrated public transport system? No, she is assured, cities are not obliged to open up their public transport to competition. So from that point of view Brusselaars can relax – what’s proposed is an extension of Brussels’s tramlines out into the surrounding region. This happens already in places – notably on the delightful line to Tervuren (on which I celebrated my 50th birthday with beer and a tram-shaped cake). I’m reminded of the RTBF television spoof of 13th December 2006 where Flemish UDI meant the 44s were halted at the regional border. The spoof was making a good point – which is the Brussels regional border is acting like a straitjacket: we have a booming economic zone to the north-east of the city, round the airport, that is cut off from the rest of the town. Meanwhile Brussels has 20% unemployment while Flanders has under 7%.

Exponential growth

The Mobiliteitsvisie first of all notes that public transport patronage is likely to jump by 55% between 2009 and 2020 (in passenger-kilometre terms). The wonders of exponential growth are such that although that sounds massive, it’s only 4% a year. Investing in 513 km of new tramlines, it says, will shorten journey times and swing the modal spilt away from cars. The result is plans for new tramlines radiating out from Brussels to Ninove, St-Niklaas, Boom, Heist-op-den-Berg, Aarschot and Diest, figuring among an amazing 33 new tramlines for Flanders as a whole. The vicinal is coming back!

The report is careful to explain its methodology: the consultants asked people where they need to go and constructed a ‘desired network’ (wensnet). Which links do people want, and what would the cost-benefit be of improving mobility? It finds that there’s a potential to save 9,000 hours of time in each peak time hour – i.e. 15% of the time that is being lost. By separating public transport from cars, it can decrease the ‘VF factor’, which is the time of a journey by public transport divided by the time of the same journey by car. The lower the VF factor, according to research by TNO Delft, the greater the swing in the modal split.

It maps the travel nodes – from international level (Brussels, Zaventem, Antwerp, Lille) down to local. It then defines what transport modes are available. Interestingly between train and ordinary city tram it defines two separate concepts where something like ‘tram-train’ would be: ‘light train’ and sneltram or express tram. The difference here is that ‘light trains’ run on existing tracks while sneltrams run on new tracks. The end result is that the light trains are in effect the GEN (RER) while the sneltrams in effect rebuild the buurtspoorwegen (vicinaux) that were torn up on the 60s! Brilliant!

I have to say though it leaves out of consideration two modes that Brussels has been investing heavily in – shared cars (car clubs) and shared bikes. I guess it thinks these aren’t appropriate at regional level – and to be fair the Cambio shared cars are already in Flanders.

Coming out about trams 2 February 2012

Posted by cooperatoby in tram.
Tags: , ,
add a comment
5008 in rue Moris

5008 in Rue Moris

It’s time I came out and wrote a bit about trams. I don’t doubt that my fascination with them is some kind of boyish enthusiasm: as someone I admired (Adrian, if you read this, get in touch) at university said in a life-changing moment “oh I didn’t know you were into trains”. His benediction was significant. If one could describe something so shamefully nerdish in the same hip terms as one referred to music preferences, then clearly the world was a friendlier place than I was finding it in that painful period of insecurity and growing up. I suppose it was touching base with being male. I had found out that boyish enthusiasm is basically okay.

Vehicles of my dreams

So, I like trams. For some inexplicable reason I find them friendly. They cheer me up when I see them. This quite probably has deep psychic roots, and indeed on occasion I dream about them. At some periods of my life I have had clusters of dreams involving trams. The typical scenario is that I am changing trams and there is a confusion of tracks. It might be a multi-level interchange. Or more exotically, tramtracks are winding out over the countryside like some psychedelic album cover from the 70s. I confess this to people at parties, and if they fall into that sadly small category of people who think dreams are interesting, they ask me what I think that means. I think that to me trams signify regularity and predictability. A tram knows where it is going and it proudly displays the fact. What’s more, it is democratic and open – everybody is welcome on board for a shared journey. To that extent – and it’s remarkable the things you discover sometimes just by writing down what you think on the spur of the moment – they are like co-operatives. A piece of synaesthesia too far maybe. But at any rate, trams are a proud monument to the mobility of the masses. It’s not just me, because if you ask older people, they mostly have great affection for trams. (Full disclosure, my Mum would never dream of taking a taxi even given the difficulty she had walking, because she always remembered hopping on a tuppenny tram.) It’s no coincidence that publicists so often include a photo of a tram in their promotional leaflets.

So, trams are lodged in people’s affection, and this is not only pure nostalgia, but hints at something fundamental about them. This is that you know where you are with a tram. You can pretty much rely on it to turn up in the right place and the right time. Sometimes people ask me at Horta, the station next to my flat, “does this tram go to Midi?” and I say – “Yes, it’s the 3rd stop.” And then I add – “There are no points, so it has to.” They don’t understand what I mean of course. But every vehicle that leaves Horta can do no other than pass through Midi about 4 minutes later. This is a very reassuring thing to know at the start of a busy working day.

You know where you are with a tram

Trams are also very pedestrian-friendly. When you are in a busy shopping street, you can know to the centimetre where the tram will go – it can’t swerve and run you over like a bus can. The acme of this safe ‘closeness to the citizen’ is to be seen in Leidsestraat in Amsterdam, where 3 busy tramlines run the length of a shopping street only 12 metres wide. The lines in each direction are interlaced (i.e. they overlap), to allow as wide as possible pedestrian space at either side. They spread out to allow passing places on the bridges over the three grachten. It’s true the service speed isn’t very high, but it is convenient. And this is another good thing about trams – their ‘hop on, hop off’ nature. They pull up right in front of you and you step right in, with baby buggy, double bass or other encumbrance. They have pinpoint precision in delivering people speedily and directly to busy targets.

Customer satisfaction is certainly a vital part of the jigsaw. But there are more aesthetic reasons for tramophilia too. Trams adorn the urban landscape. Placing a tramway in the middle of a street instantly elevates it to an important thoroughfare. Visually, it has the opposite effect from a carpet of snow, which wipes out clutter and simplifies outlines, making a street seem peaceful and infinitely wide. A tramtrack does the opposite. The hypnotic stretch of the parallel bands of steel emphasises the length and directionality of the street. It seems as if it is going somewhere with an added sense of urgency. The best example I know of this is a negative one, also in Amsterdam, where traffic planning is simplified by the successful suppression of cars. Spuistraat runs up the western side of the city centre ‘island’, and is (since the closure of the Haarlem line) tramfree. A few years ago it was ‘reprofiled’ to provide a single-lane one-way carriageway with loading bays, a broad cycle path, and of course ample pedestrian space. In my view this makes it a much more attractive public space, one with clarity and perspective, echoing how it was in earlier decades.

The French are past masters in using the installation of a tramway as an excuse of the entire makeover of a street. But the best book on the subject that I’ve come across, surprisingly, is American. Street Smart – Streetcars and Cities in the Twenty-First Century (Reconnecting America) is a large format multicolour extravaganza showing the benefits trams can bring (being American, this includes property values). We need more of this results-oriented publishing in Europe.

A timeless way of travelling

This is one reason why I find so astonishing the omission of trams from one of the most seminal works of urban planning, Charles Alexander’s A Pattern Language (OUP 1977). This astonishing book is a hypertext avant la lettre, being structured in the form of 253 ‘patterns’, which are nested one within the other. Thus at the top level we have ‘1: Independent regions’ via ‘126: Something roughly in the middle’ (brilliant!) all the way down to ‘253: Things from your life’ It’s a ‘language’ in the sense that it gives us a way to talk about towns and the way we live in general.

Pattern 126 - something in the middle of Villingen, Black Forest

Alexander certainly thinks about getting about in great detail, and sees public transport as the only possible way to do it. Pattern 11, ‘Local transport areas’ discourages the use of cars for short journeys, and ’23: Parallel roads’ proposes that they should be channelled into parallel roads between 100 and 400 yards apart, one-way and in alternate directions, connected to ring roads. You can experience attempts at this in many city centres that were redesigned in the 70s.

The pattern most relevant to trams is ’16: Web of public transportation’. This is mostly about intermodal connectedness, and mentions ‘rapid transit’ (Alexander worked at Berkeley and so had the Key System and then BART on his doorstep). But he’s more interested in what you do when you step off your light rail vehicle than what it’s like while you’re in it – he proposes that it’s community-owned  interchanges (pattern 34) that should come first, and the mode that links them second. His model for this is the Swiss railways.

It may have been that in the 70s he thought streetcars were already out-of-date. Thank heavens, the turnaround in public policy since then is proving him wrong.

%d bloggers like this: