Posts Tagged With: NS

Cause and effect (Or: Train chaos by NS)

On Tuesday the train system here in the Netherlands, run by a company called Nederlandse Spoorwegen or more commonly NS for short, went to hell. Well, maybe not literally, but I am sure a lot passengers thought it was!

The craziness actually started around 17:45, when a 21-year-old shoplifter stole something from Albert Heijn at Schiphol airport and fled down the escalators to the train platform. As he noticed he was being chased – by the military police, due to shoplifting at a national airport! – he decided to jump into one of the train tunnels to get away. He was found and arrested anyway.

Amsterdam Centraal - stock photo from NS

Amsterdam Centraal – stock photo

But think about it – what happens when someone runs onto the tracks? The trains are immediately stopped, of course. Anything in the general vicinity. That was the begin of the chaos – Schiphol is an important hub for both travelers entering and leaving the country. But no, it gets even worse.

About an hour later, NS tweets there is a major issue with the railroad switches (which determine what direction a train should go in, this platform or that platform; this direction or that direction) in and around Amsterdam. Because of this, no trains can enter or leave the city. Amsterdam isn’t that far from Schiphol airport – about 15 minutes by train, give or take. Coincidence? Hmmm.

Around 20:00, NS reports that the situation has been fixed and they are bringing the system back online. Around 20:30, this proves not to be the case, with the train system around Amsterdam still down. By 22:00, NS has about 70,000 stranded passengers on its hands and is forced to shut down a train station at Amsterdam-zuid (Amsterdam south) because of overcrowding on the platform.

Passengers begin referencing a seldom used hashtag, #treinpoolen (car pools for train passengers) to try and get car pools organized for people to get in and out of the city. NS even references it in a tweet. It’s too complicated to bring in buses to get people home, since it is too overcrowded and most of the buses are in use elsewhere in the country for other ongoing construction projects. The NS does however promise to get the remaining passengers home that night, with roughly one train running every hour (manually) in each of the directions from Amsterdam. Around about 03:30 that night, the system is fully cleaned and restarted. The only hinderance left is that some trains might be shorter than normal Wednesday morning, since they aren’t in the right starting place anymore. The NS promises to look into the situation.

Later on Wednesday the report is released with the cause of the railway chaos (article in Dutch). It turns out that the thief running into the train tunnels and the major issue with railroad switches around Amsterdam are connected. Cause and effect. When the trains around Schiphol were forced to stop and remain in their current position, one of the trains found itself in a very unlucky place. It was sitting right above the area where the software determines whether a train goes this way or that way. The software thought that a train was repeatedly arriving, and so it repeatedly passed information about which platform to go to. Just over 32,000 times, or 32,768 in exact terms. With 16-bit software, this causes an integer overflow. At the same time, a worker tried to add a platform number by hand for this train. The two events together caused a minor meltdown. Here’s the official article about the cause (still in Dutch).

The crash caused some corruption in the data. Around 20:00, the corrupt data seemed to be removed, but when the system was re-started this was not the case. By 03:30 that night, the system had been fully cleaned and brought back online, just in time for the morning rush hour.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Daily Dutch living, Transportation | Tags: | 4 Comments

Buying an OV-chipkaart (Or: Your ticket to freedom)

The OV-chipkaart (OV=openbaar vervoer=public transportation, chipkaart=chip card) is used throughout the Netherlands as a means for paying for a public transportation journey, be it train, tram, bus…

The card is used to check in and check out by holding the card against a reader as the traveler enters and exits the vehicle. Useful, but it can cause delays at some of the more crowded stops. When I travelled to Dublin I was intrigued by having the check-in and check-out machines at each of the stops rather than inside of the vehicle – it saves some boarding time that way, although the costs are higher for having machines at every stop.

The OV-chipkaarts expire after 5 years. Ironically, all of this household’s OV chipkaarts (5 in total) expired within a few months of each other. But this gave me the opportunity to visit the HTM-service desk at The Hague Centraal, which I hadn’t yet had an excuse to do.  And of course I dragged Marco along to experience the fun.

HTM brochure for traveling with an OV chipkaart

Information booklet for traveling with an OV-chipkaart, with information in Dutch, English and German. Handy for the tourists!

It was around 16:30 on a workday, and already fairly busy inside the service area. The area is serviced both by HTM as well as by NS, the national train company. We didn’t have to wait too long to get helped. Each card costs €7.50, before adding any funds on it. Luckily the HTM worker mentioned that the option to use the card to travel by train (NS) needed to be added manually, otherwise we would have been in for a surprise!

In this case we asked for anonymous cards (the blue variety) which can be used by anyone. There’s a few minor differences between those and personalized cards (yellow variety) – the main difference being that personalized cards can be automatically re-filled when they hit a minimum amount, for instance. But generally anonymous cards work fine.

Marco and I also both got information booklets on traveling with an OV-chipkaart, as you can see above. Not strictly required, but always fun to read (for me!).

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Different directions (Or: Splitting trains

A few weeks ago Marco and I went to Amesfoort for a birthday party for Marco’s uncle. On the way back we were waiting at the Amesfoort train station. We were greeted by this sign, which amused me:

train sign in the Netherlands

Depending on what your destination was (The Hague or Rotterdam) you had to get into the train at a different point. The train splits at Gouda station. And of course they say a-zijde and b-zijde (a and b side) rather than rather than simply specifying whether you needed to get in the train at the back or the front. Though standing in the center of the platform solved the problem nicely!

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Trains (Or: Riding the rails)

Today’s first two pictures come from Roger, Amsterdam’s #1 train commuter! It’s a long commute too: first biking to the Hague bike station, dropping off his bike, getting on the train, praying it’s not 15 minutes late again, and then sprinting from Amsterdam Centraal Station to catch is ferry to get across the river IJs. Crazy times.

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Categories: Amsterdam, Transportation | Tags: | 2 Comments

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