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New beer and old trams 24 February 2016

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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
https://www.facebook.com/enstoemelings

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

Quiet in the suburbs 24 November 2015

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The picture the world is getting of life in a paralysed Brussels is a little overstated. Perhaps it’s a result of the massive concentration of journalists who normally report arcane policy battles – but don’t know very much about the town’s daily life.

So how was the first working day of the lockdown (warning: cat pictures)? I’m afraid I have nothing dramatic to report. I missed the weekend’s unfestivities since I escaped to Amsterdam before the metro closed, noticing only that the STIB had sealed the waste bins in the stations. Above ground all was normal. Arriving back at Midi on Monday morning on a very empty Thalys I expected to be greeted at the very least by a passport check, but apparently that is only for passengers travelling south to Paris. For me, not a camouflage jacket or a rifle to be seen. It was a minor inconvenience to have to walk to my flat, but that is mainly because they are renewing the tramtracks around St-Gilles town hall. From there on the good old 81 tram was still trundling its circumferential inner-city suburban route from St-Gilles to the AEIDL office in Etterbeek. Shops, cafes and restaurants are all open. I’d expected traffic gridlock, but the odd thing was that the streets were uncannily quiet. Many parents are at home looking after their children since the schools are closed. And after all we are having a cold snap.

At the office the tension mounted, because yesterday was a big day – the launch of our first ESF Thematic Network, on Partnership. We’d already had 2 cancellations – one a public official complying with her employer’s instructions to work from home – and the Commission had cancelled external meetings (but not internal ones). We feared we would have to eat all the buffet lunch ourselves. But with stalwart lack of drama 10 people found taxis and buses, and turned up. The meeting went off well, and was followed by dinner.

And this morning I’m overjoyed to find the replacement buses are back (some drivers had evidently declined to work on Monday) and contributing to the usual bidirectional traffic jam beneath my windows. I had to wait for the 2nd tram as the first one was jam-packed. I think everyone has woken up to the facts that (a) after a day’s lie-in they can’t suspend life for ever; and (b) there are trams that handily circumvent the city centre. It’s struck me that Brussels has temporarily become what Berlin used to be: a no-go area in the centre, with life going on pretty much as normal round about.

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

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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.

Update

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

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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 in the framework of an ESF project in 2010-2011. The challenge the company intended to address was the increased stress of team managers due to a higher complexity of the work and the inability of teams to cope with certain technical problems due to a lack of authority or support from outside the team. With the redesigning of the work organisation, Bombardier aimed at reducing the stress at
managerial level and increasing the efficiency at team level.The innovative response consisted in the introduction of the star-model, a new organisational architecture with the redefinition of the team members’ roles and their increased responsibility.
According to the new model, specific functional tasks (e.g.: safety, quality, maintenance), impacting the work of each production team, are taken up by individual team members. Communication processes and information flows between and within teams have also been revised. As a result, participants have expressed that their autonomy and the information flow have 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

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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

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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.
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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

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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!

Streets ahead 11 November 2012

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Autumnal beeches along the Jachtdreef in the Zoniënwoud, Brussels

I took myself for an autumn walk in the Zoniënwoud yesterday. It was a failed attempt to find more edible mushrooms, but did enjoy the colours. On my mycological meander, I followed the Jachtdreef northwards from Jezus-Eik to Vier Armen, a route which, like a Roman road or a street in San Francisco, takes no account of the topography and marches straight up the side of the Flossendelle as a flight of steps. Apart from the visual wonders of the autumnal beechwoods, the walk also opened up a new sort of connectivity in my use of public transport. It connected one radial route – the E411 axis towards Wavre – which had hitherto been almost out of bounds because it required the use of a car – with another – the Avenue de Tervuren – which is one of Belgium’s few remaining interurban tramlines (and the one we traversed during my 50th birthday party).
This sort of multimodality is terribly important in enabling us to live carfree lives. And route-planning software is a major aid in this. But it is imperfect. I used De Lijn’s route-finding service, and the first barrier is that you have to be unreasonably precise in entering your starting and destination addresses: it has to be precisely ‘Jezus-Eik’ and ‘Sint-Gillis (Brussel)’ with the hyphens. There is a look-up table from which you have to choose, but this has the effect of always making you feel you are in the wrong. Surely it could try to work more intuitively with the ignorant traveller’s guess of ‘Jezus Eik’ or ‘Jesus Eik’ or even God voorhoede ‘Notre-Dame-au-Bois’?
Secondly, you have to know the exact address of where you are going, and if you don’t know what street names and numbers actually exist in Jezus-Eik, it is reluctant to help you. Seeing as there is only one bus stop in the village this seems over-exigent. (Truus has a handy tip for use in Dutch route-finding: head for ‘Kerkstraat 10’, as almost every settlement in God-fearing Holland has one of those.)
Thirdly, the route it proposed was absurd. It suggested I take the no. 3 tram down to De Brouckère, step onto the irritatingly long moving pavement to the metro, and get a train out to Hankar. From there I should walk over to Delta to get a bus: this would take 10 minutes – why not get out of the metro at Delta itself? It ignored two much easier connections: via the 94 at Herrmann-Debroux, or the 7 at Etterbeek Station. I chose the latter, and only had a two-minute wait, although finding the bus stop necessitated careful reading of the STIB routemap. It’s typically Belgian that TEC’s ‘Comforto’ route C terminates on Avenue de la Couronne on the right-hand side of the station while De Lijn’s 341, 349 etc. buses wait on Boulevard de la Plaine on the left-hand side, 150 metres away – and neither is signed from the station or the tramstop.
When I got back I checked out Google maps, and it offers a dazzling variety of routes, including a very intricate Arabesque through Watermael-Boitsfort on bus 41. It too misses the Etterbeek connection, but at least it gives you a mass of information in under a minute, in any language, and laid out graphically rather than timetable-fashion. De Lijn is trying to be helpful, but its system has the feel of a high-handed bureaucracy rather than a service for the poor dim public. This is not the way to attract new users to public transport.
Just don’t get me started on the SNCB’s ticket machines!

Besançon’s cheap trams 12 October 2012

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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.

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