Archive for the ‘travelling’ Category

I really need to think up more original blog titles.

I wanted to double check some details on the wood wagon I’m building, and I remembered photographing the original in Breisach,on the German/French border.

The last time we went to Breisach was probably about 2012/13. This raises the question of why I can remember useless information like this for years but instantly forget important stuff like where I just put my boots.

Anyway, I not only remembered this, but even managed to find the pictures on the hard drive, so there.

These wagons are pretty well used. Looking at the load they were carrying and the loading methods, I can see why they look so hammered. This being Germany I could wander right up to the wagons and have a good look about, I suspect they figure no-one is about to walk off with one of those logs.

The locomotive is from the Südwest Eisenbahn Gruppe or South west railway group, who are owned by the state government. They own and/or operate a few local railways in this part of Germany, including the line from Breisach to Freiburg.


By a rather wonderful coincidence someone on the NGRM forum posted a link to the German railways wagon catalogue just as I was writing this entry, so I now know this is a type ‘Snps (typ179)’ heavy duty wagon for timber, pipes, and other thumping great big objects. They are equipped with Extra wide stanchions, and inbuilt ratchet systems with rollers in the stanchions themselves, so loads can be fastened down by one operator. The wagons have wooden bolsters for each pair of stanchions and extra slightly lower bolsters in between so the loads doesn’t sag while being carried.


Re-reading that last paragraph makes me realise why I’m rarely invited to parties.

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Life is intervening, again. The last few weeks have been a right thumper of an exam session because all the tutors decided that with the half-year report due very soon, they need to have a test at the same time, so I’ve been doing lots of revision, amongst other things about an hour of maths each night which is not very exciting blogging material, hence lack of posts, and replies to comments.

I’ve been feeling slightly guilty for a while about this post giving the impression that our local transport system was run by incompetents or possibly monkeys and that isn’t the case. (Having grown up in the UK I have experience of a transport system run by incompetents, or as they are known ‘politicians’. I think monkeys could do better) so in the interests of balance here is a ‘normal’ commute home.


When things are working, the last lesson finishes about ten minutes before the train and gives plenty of time to walk to he station. Even better the German rail system runs proper trains with class 143 locomtives with double deck push-pull trains made by (I think) Bombardier.


The novelty of being on a top deck coach will never wear off. Bay seating fortunately hasn’t gone out of fashion in Germany.


Large amounts of bike space and a massive disabled privy downstairs. The things I photograph for you, honestly. This is in the driving coach (Driving Van Trailer in UK parlance). In the UK these are kept as luggage vans but in Germany they are a bit more relaxed about this.


Cavernous bike and push chair (stroller) friendly doors. Loco hauled trains have a future here: DB has ordered some sets of double deck coaches and locomotives to work local services as push-pull trains, so hopefully there will be real trains around for some time yet.


Off train and on to bus which leaves exactly six minutes later. The bus takes longer to cover the next five kilometres than the train needed for 20, but saves me cycling 200 vertical metres so we’ll gloss over that. I can get off at the next village to ours and comfortably ride the last few kilometres straight over the fields, while the bus goes off on a tour of local landmarks, so I save about ten to fifteen minutes and I can start on assignments fresh and awake from the ride.

I don’t of course: I faff about and end up trying to solve maths problems when I’m half asleep before rushing to get ready for the next day, but never mind.

Half year reports are coming next week, so the pressure should let off for a bit.

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System goes ‘boink’

This post is very unfair because the train journey in it was not typical of last year: most of the trains I travelled on were on time and connections went well. It is just occasionally that the system falls on its nose. The post is also shamelessly lifted from my other blog in a desperate attempt to get back to posting things here. Now I’ve started posting again, I’ll be more regular. Definitely. Honest.

On the last day at college last year, we went to visit a machine factory. The reason for this escaped me, and it didn’t help that we were allowed out a bit too late for the train home and just as a massive storm began. Note to tutors: most of us don’t have cars, it does not gain you any friends if you decide you’d like to see “one more thing” and make us miss our train, then get in your car a and drive off past us as we are running towards the station in the rain*.

As we arrived at the station the rain really started properly so we waited for a soggy half hour, then caught the train which took exactly six minutes to the main station.

There were two trains coming. The first would trundle a down the line for seven minutes then stop in the middle of nowhere. I’d then have to change for another train to Esslingen, our ‘big town’, where I would have exactly one minute to catch a bus up the hill. The next train ran direct but would get me to Esslingen just in time to see my bus leave and sit another half hour waiting for the next one to turn up.

I got on the first train, changed, arrived in Esslingen on time. ran through the station, out to bus station and arrived at my stop with seconds to spare. Victory.

Except that the bus wasn’t there.

Half an hour later the bus after the bus that wasn’t there also wasn’t there and none of the staff knew anything and I abandoned all hope and went looking for any bus that may be going roughly the right direction. Thus it was that I had a tour of another town some distance from home, found to a tram to the next village, and then had to walk across Next Village to where my bike was thankfully still locked to a bike rack, and cycled home. Total travel time: three hours. For a twelve kilometre journey.

All because my tutor wanted to look at a saw.

On the other hand, our system allows me to use my travel card on all public transport, so it didn’t cost me anything, it took so long I’d dried off by the time I was home, and at least it gives me something to blog about.

Perhaps I need to get out more.

*The ‘information’ we were given about the venue gave a long detailed description of roads and options for car parks, including a map, then concluded “If you are coming by public transport, you’ll need to work out where the station is”. Thanks for that.

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Trial and error

[This is an edited version of a post in the other blog to keep people up to date. More ‘on topic’ material will hopefully follow soon.]

I’m back home. This was not part of the plan.

The plan (skip this if you’re read it before) was to go off to north Germany for just under a month and learn how to be an ambulance driver, come home in June, get eight weeks experience and go back for exams in the beginning of August. The plan worked, despite certain practical problems, right up to arriving at the school. Unfortunately that’s where things began to unravel.

The problem was not the many-headed monster, the language or any of the other stuff I was concerned about. It was decibels, specifically coming from our teacher.

He started shouting in the first lesson: this school wasn’t going to be ‘average’; it would be the best; we were going to be pushed to the limit; he’d make us stressed as far as we could bear and then some. Everything taught each day would have to be learned in its entirety by the next morning. It would be tested by pulling people up to the front and grilling them, and woe betide any student that was not Good Enough.

Quite what this was meant to achieve I don’t know: all it did for me was stop my brain working.

To stay I’d have to spend the next three weeks trying to make myself fit into the ethos of the school, and that wasn’t the sort of person I am or want to be, and wouldn’t have made me a better ambulance driver either, so after watching five people get shouted at for an entire lesson I packed my bags and came home.

Now I’m back, and with a bit more time than before, so maybe I’ll get some modelmaking done. I’ve got the carpentry apprenticeship place in September which means I’ll learn to make some baseboards. (I’m not doing three years of carpentry so I can make baseboards for my toy trains, honest), and I’m digging up the modelmaking things from the corners they have been lurking in. Mind you, it’s also planting season, and I still want to ride a century, and the boys seem to have broken their bikes in unusual ways while I was away, and I think it’s about time I unearthed some material I was writing for certain model railway magazines…

*Exams in Germany are typically graded from 1.0 (perfection) down to 4.9 or 5. Britain as usual has to be different so my grades are all in letters, which causes no end of confusion.

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I’m about to head to north Germany for a short school to learn to be an ambulance driver, in part so that I have an extra qualification I can hopefully use to work part time while I’m learning carpentry next year. I’ll be going north on the train in just over a week so I’m busy getting my last-minute panicking started nice and early, and incidentally doing a few other things, which unfortunately aren’t remotely connected to model railways:

I’ve been fixing the bike I’ll use, which went fine until the seat post broke: I have no idea how I managed that.

I spent some time buying a pannier/bag luggage set which when delivered was missing the panniers, so I’m trying to contact the company and see if they’d like to send me the rest of it.

I filled in paperwork informing the Job Centre I wouldn’t be at home, so they sent me more forms, and then had a hissy fit and said I’m showing dangerous levels of initiative and I’ll be away longer than paupers are allowed, so they will reduce my unemployment payments while I’m in north Germany. They then demanded different form which has to be delivered a week after I leave.

I spent a day applying to thirty different hospitals and ambulance stations trying to get an internship, and several more days being inundated with refusals and worrying that I’ll have to go somewhere else for that part of the course which would mean (a) Not being with family, and (b) either losing all my unemployment benefit, or being naughty and not telling the Job Centre.

I ordered the train tickets with seat and bicycle reservations. I can get from here to within 30 kilometres of the school in one day, whereupon I’ll stay overnight in a bike-friendly bed and breakfast before riding the last bit. Hopefully this will mean some blog posts connected with trains…

I bought a cyclists map and a German-English medical dictionary, and then realised I didn’t understand half the English words.

I’ll have to buy a mobile phone for the first time in my life so I’ve been getting advice, some of which I actually understood.

I’ve been dispensing hugs to The Boys, who have been staying noticeably close this week.

I was suddenly interviewed and offered a placement in an emergency room at a major children’s hospital as long as I don’t get in the way too much (I’ll have to wear a white uniform. Beautiful Wife finds this hilarious)

I read the electricity meter.

I lost some files on the computer, made a mental note to sort it out and forgot about it three minutes later, several times.

And a few minutes ago, I was offered an internship at an ambulance station, subject to an interview next week.

So things are happening fast, and I’m about to do something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but the process doesn’t make for exciting blogging.

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Not like it used to be.

After one ‘interesting’ road journey (ever tried crossing a suspension bridge in a typhoon?), a remarkably punctual flight to from Nagoya to Helsinki, and an almost comically delayed flight from Helsinki to Stuttgart, we are back where we started five weeks ago, although there will be a couple more posts about Japan to hide my lack of modelmaking progress…

We found another railway museum. This time it was in Kyoto, which we were visiting by happy coincidence, so my beautiful wife agreed to visit it*.

The Kyoto Steam Museum is built in a former roundhouse in a triangle of major railway lines which radiate from Kyoto station. To the south is the Shinkansen line to Osaka, to the west a large container terminal, and to the north south and east run commuter and intercity lines.

This makes it even more ironic that we had to get a taxi because there’s no rail service to the museum.

The entrance to the museum is through a former railway station which is a beautiful contrast to the concrete blocks we’d been traversing through for the last couple of weeks. I don’t understand why Japan Railways don’t make buildings like this any more. I wonder when someone high up in the Japan Railways firmament decided: “I’ve got an idea, let’s stop making beautiful buildings: from now on we’ll process everyone through ugly concrete slabs with barriers.**” And more to the point, how come they got away with it?

Yeah, I know: economics and all that.

I’m still not convinced.

I’ll talk more about the museum soon.

*For the boys. Of course.

**Or maybe: “Let’s have our stations designed by plumbers

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Nagoya to Tokyo

I think Japanese railway stations are designed by plumbers: they consist of tunnels with complex and sometimes contradictory signs pointing down other tunnels to various different sections and occasionally a set of steps to the mythical upper level where trains can be found. To add to the experience they like to make sure you go at least twice the distance you really need to, and put in several ticket barriers just to make sure you have actually paid for your journey.

We’re travelling to Tokyo on the Shinkansen (Lit: new railway), known outside of Japan as the ‘bullet train’, because the first trains had a nose shaped like a bullet. This is a bit misleading as they have new trains now with a nose shaped like a duck. The station is like a military compound, and we’re separated from the lower orders in the normal trains by high barbed wire fences and a lot of track -either to prevent a mass commuter invasion or maybe there are some very determined fare dodgers in Nagoya- and the trains are legendary, not just for their speed but also for stopping in exactly the right place. This is partly because they have to: the platforms are fronted with hefty barriers with gaps for train doors, so if they get it wrong no-one would be able to get on. Why Shinkansen passengers are less likely to notice the large drop at the edge of the platform than other train users I have no idea. Mind you, apparently for some people even that’s not enough: at one end of the ‘normal’ station there is a small platform separated from the rest by a sea of track, with a much higher barrier all around it and automatic gates which open when the train comes in. Why this one platform? Is it for some even more dangerous commuters?

Board train. On the back of the seat in front of me a small notice says ‘please do not run for your train’ which seems a little redundant as I’m already on it and being whisked efficiently towards Tokyo.

Travel on a Shinkansen is like being on an plane without wings, engine noise, ‘entertainment’ or intrusive security controls beforehand, but with legroom and decent sized toilets (Ceramic, not plastic, and spotless: are you listening Deutsche Bahn?) and a view if you’re next to the window, although as Nagoya to Tokyo is almost one unbroken sprawl, it’s not always worth it.

Arrive in Tokyo station, also designed by plumbers. We’ve been invited to lunch with an aunt and uncle of Beautiful Wife and we decide this would be easier if we leave on case in a locker. So off we go down escalators, up stairs through tunnels and what I’m pretty sure was a service corridor. No signs so we stop to ask directions. The lockers are down that ramp there. Off we go down that ramp there, take two more turns and just as we’ve travelled far enough to be on the outskirts of Seoul, we reach the coin lockers which are decorated with huge pictures of mount Fuji. Unfortunately they are also all full.

Back through the tunnels, up the ramp, up and down some more escalators, past the platform we just came from and twenty metres further to a local train platform. Get on train. Three minutes later, we get off the train into another underground station, which looks suspiciously like the place where the coin lockers were. Cross road, into a lift and up into a restaurant.

Lunch over, back onto local train, to the main station and on to another Shinkansen heading for Nagano. We get off at in the middle of nowhere. It is supposed to be a ‘resort city’ for wealthy commuters to live the suburban dream and race into Tokyo every morning, except that it isn’t working very well and not many of the plots seem to have been sold. We get the solitary taxi on a vast and empty forecourt and head into the hills where Beautiful wife’s Grandma, (AKA Great-grandma-San) awaits.

Evening. We’re in a traditional Tatami room in the mountains, the night sky is unsullied by light pollution, and for the first time since we came to Japan there’s no traffic noise. The mountain air is cool and fresh after the city and there’s not a neon light in view. Underneath our window is a small pond with koi, at one end of which is a small waterfall.

Drift off to sleep trying not to need the loo.

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The plan was that this week I’d go and take lots of pictures of the ‘other railway’, the Kintetsu company which run an interurban-styled operation where we’re staying. But this plan relied on my having access to a bicycle, and enough discipline to go out when there was light for taking pictures which unfortunately coincides with the point in the day when we are all trying not to melt into the floor.

So instead here’s a niche audience blog: someone, somewhere must be trying to model Japanese Railways and is googling my title phrase right now. This level crossing is at the other end of the Ise city (Japan Railways) station. The line runs through the jumbled up housing of Eastern Ise here, before continuing along the coast to terminate in Toba.

By this time the Kintetsu has left the JR line, and turned south on a sharp curve and steep ramp to cross over it just to the east of this location. I will bore you with that one later.

Anyway, the crossing. This is a pretty typical example, the crossing booms are plastic, although they could be bamboo, and red flashing lights are shoehorned into place to be visible around buildings, utility poles, pipes and other miscellaneous items that infest Japanese streets.

One nice feature for people taking pictures, and for that matter for frustrated motorists, is the arrow showing which way the train is coming. There’s also a display on this crossing to show how many trains will approach from each direction. I don’t know what circumstances could lead to multiple trains running over this single line, so I suspect it’s an example of one standard design being cheaper for a large company.

There are sensors in little grey boxes like Star Wars lasers as pointing over the track as well, you can see one below the centre coupling of the train as it approaches the crossing. I’m still figuring out what they do.

We’re off visiting relatives this weekend and we’re travelling mostly by rail so hopefully I’ll have material for an entry next week. Pictures may be difficult as the big camera is a tad unwieldy when dealing with three small boys and luggage, but I’ll do my best…

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Cross Crossing

The plan was that by yesterday morning I’d have shaken off the jet-lag and thus I could get up reasonably early before the heat began to slow-bake every living thing, and go for a walk before returning to practice bad Japanese on my extended family. Of course it didn’t work out like that because my metabolism still thinks it’s in Europe and every cloud passing overhead dumped its water on us and then moved out of the way so the next one could join in, but about mid-morning I got bored of waiting so I went out anyway.

One of my favourite linesiding places in Japan is here, a level crossing exceptionally well placed across the station throat of Ise city (Japan Railways). I’m not sure if drivers in the city share my enthusiasm for this for reasons that will become obvious.

Railcar approaching from the depot. To the right is the loop going into Ise City (JR) station while that long grey bridge in the background is a footbridge linking the JR station with the ‘other’ Ise City sation run which is served by the standard gauge kintetsu railway. I’ll ramble about that another time.

From he same place looking the other way, the railcar has stopped on the headshunt for the depot, in fact its sitting on the crossover which is the connection between the depot and the main line. You can see the problem of course: half the shunting moves in the depot itself require movements over this crossing, and in an effort to keep the road open the barriers go back up almost as soon as the train is over the crossing. This is of limited use of course because the train reverses a minute or two later so down go the barriers again. By the way, the white rings on the barrier are polystyrene I suspect because so many drivers try and beat the barrier they put those on so the cars aren’t damaged.

And back we go over the crossing. Sorry about the blurry bit on the back of the train: I got caught by a rain shower. My wife tells me that the writing on the road can be roughly translated as “For pity’s sake, keep moving”: apparently people were stopping in the middle to let the trains go past.

On top of this shunting there’s a regular passenger service on the man line in the foreground, and Ise is a passing point, so when one train comes another will be along pretty soon. There is also a branch line service starting here which connects with the main line service, and the railcars have to be brought out of the depot and over the crossing to reach the bay, and then again to go to the branch line. Hopefully when the sick camera is sorted out, I’ll make a video of this operation.

Of course the crossing is also shared with the Kintetsu railway. Whereas the JR Line runs like an english branch line (Literally, down to signal design and station architecture) The double track Kintetsu line operates rather like the old interurban lines in the US, and also has North American style signalling. And a service which runs every five minutes, apparently all day.

Which means that in the morning and evening peak the crossing spends almost as much time closed as open. Which is great for photography but not so good for traffic flow or road rage.

In other news, the suitcase finally arrived, broken beyond repair and missing a strap that was holding it together but at least containing a change of clothes.

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As we’re now packing for Japan I’ve just checked the weather there and I’m wishing I hadn’t. It’s showing 35 degrees ‘cool’ and somewhere in the ouch range when it’s hot, and a bit hotter in towns (we’re in a town) and 100% humidity. It sounds like we’ll be swimming to cross the living room.
So I’m thinking positive and concentrating on the good things:

The food, most of it anyway, and when I get something that looks and tastes… interesting I can always blog about it, so I win both ways.
Linesiding in our local town: there’s two railw<ay companies, two track gauges (3’6″ and standard gauge) and three stations. And the narrow gauge line has a maintenance depot which you can see from the road. And they do a fair bit of shunting.
Finding more places to catch DD51’s.
Cicadas. The things start making a noise at about four in the morning and keep going all day like students on a drinking binge, but I still like them. Of course I don’t have to put up with them all year.
Washing machines that are finished in 20 minutes. Why can’t we have those in Europe?
Being able to line-dry clothes in an hour
My Japanese family, especially my parents-in-law, my two lovely nieces, and brand new two-week-old nephew.
Bright green and yellow geckos
Trains which are always clean and never delayed. Ever.
Swimming in the Pacific ocean. It’s warm. And the beach is volcanic ash.
In Japan I’m ´’average’ clothes size. It makes shopping fun less boring than in Germany. Come to think of it, not always being the shortest person in the room will be nice too.
Sunsets which turn every surface reddish-gold.
Sleeping in tatami rooms.
Exploring tiny back roads on a bike.
Eating at cafés which look grubby enough to have a side helping of salmonella. but you get to watch them making your meal (And it always tastes fantastic. And you don’t get food poisoning)
Tokyo: because when you’ve been there, everywhere else looks better by comparison.
Warm nights. I still can’t get over this concept.
Colossal thunder storms.
Flat roads to cycle along.
Time to read books. Hopefully. Perhaps.
Coming home to a cool, dry Autumn.

Come to think of it, most of those are free. Except the eating bit. And the shopping, although with my boredom threshold that’s pretty cheap anyway. Hopefully I’ll be able to get online within a few days of arriving. I’m sure the journey alone will be worth a couple of entries.

Before you start assuming we’ve got a five week holiday, I am going to be working as well…

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