Posts Tagged With: NS

Of course there’s a book for that (Or: The first corona novel is spotted)

Here in the Netherlands we already have at least one corona related novel, a novel that I spotted earlier this month at the library. The theme is about two strangers, both writers, who meet each other at a vacation park and start to fall in love amidst the chaos of corona, social distancing, quarantine and hoarding. But I decided not to check it out, thinking that anything written that fast can’t be good. And I’m not a big fan of romance novels anyway, even if it’s only a side theme.

And you know what the crazy thing is? When I was looking up a review of Quarantaine I found one dated 15 May 2020 from Het Parool. 15 May! That’s just over two months, three at the very most, from idea to publication – that’s insane. The reviews over at bol.com (like Dutch Amazon) are a bit better, at least. It gets four stars over there. But still. Romance? No thanks.

If you read Dutch, I’ll recommend instead Het Station by Joris van Casteren. Joris spends some months at Amsterdam Centraal back in 2014 or so, gathering stories of conductors, security guards, passengers, cleaners, the homeless and more. It was quite interesting but that’s probably because I’m a fan of trains and trams and metros and… you get the idea.

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Coronavirus measures at The Hague Centraal (Or: Wait here, please)

The national train service NS has added additional measures by train stations in anticipation of the schedule returning to normal on 2 June. The delay of one day is because Monday, 1 June is a holiday here in The Netherlands.

Note: the schedule is returning to normal due to the expected increase of travelers, however the government still requests that people avoid public transportation when possible and instead take the car, bike or walk to their destination.

The latest measure related to the coronavirus situation is the use of one-way entrances and exits. As you can see in the photo above, you can only use every other door, depending on what side you’re on. There’s a lot of doors at the Centraal station, about 10 on each side. At least most of them are working these days… In the beginning at least half were defective. I wish I was joking!

Another common complaint after the station was remodeled was that it was really hard to see what was a door and what was a glass wall. I think most people are used to it these days although it still requires you to pay attention a little bit.

There’s also notes spray painted in the ground inside, although that’s been around since the beginning of the crisis, in some form or another. From the upper left it says ‘vermijd drukte’ (avoid busy areas, the rule that recently replaced the stay home as much as possible rule, ‘houd afstand’ (keep your distance), ‘was vaker je handen’ (wash your hands more often). In the middle is the main measure about keeping 1.5 meters distance from others, and at the bottom ‘voorkom €400 boete’ (avoid a €400 fine).

The NS train company have also recently added a ban of taking your bike with you in the train unless you have a special bike for medical purposes. They also temporarily removed the ‘Samenreiskorting’, a 40% discount when you travel with the train outside of peak hours with another person; this person must have either a season pass or a student product for you to qualify for the discount. Here is more information in English.

From 1 June you are required to wear a face mask in all public transportation. I’ve also seen information that only seats by the train window will be available for use, although this page (in Dutch) doesn’t say that directly. It does mention that you should only sit where green stickers are placed, however.

HTM, The Hague’s bus and tram service, is also working on new measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

This is also by The Hague Centraal station. As you can see, when you leave the tram you are required to exit to the right and walk along the path noted with arrows. Travellers who are waiting for the tram need to wait in the spots marked with blue or red stickers behind the line. The blue stickers show two feet and the red stickers have a QR code. Once everyone has exited the tram they will be allowed to move forward and enter the tram themselves. As The Hague Centraal is a rather busy area, there are workers present if you have questions (you can just see a man standing there in the upper left of the photo).

Back in mid-March HTM implemented a measure asking that travelers not use the button to open or close tram doors or to use the stop button to signal to the driver that they want to get off at the next stop. For the foreseeable future buses and trams will be stopping at every stop and opening every door so that travellers do not have to touch anything extra during the journey. As you can see above, there’s a sign on the tram door requesting that you do not press any buttons as it is no longer required.

It will definitely be interesting to see what the first week of June is like. At the same time that public transportation will be back to a normal schedule, restaurants will be re-opening with limited capacity as well.

Categories: The Hague, Transportation | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Metro newspaper (Or: Another victim of these crazy times)

Metro is a free daily paper that is primarily distributed at train stations to commuters. It was started in 1999. As you might expect, all of their income comes from advertisements.

I was just thinking about them last week – I took a responsible social distancing walk to The Hague Centraal train station and spotted an empty Metro container. I remember thinking to myself that it made sense that there were no newspapers inside – there weren’t any commuters to be seen! The Netherlands has seen a roughly 85% drop in public transportation use since mid-March.

Because of this, the newspaper announced on March 19 (link in Dutch) that they would temporarily be stopping with the print edition of Metro. Yesterday they announced that they would be moving forward as a purely digital newspaper (link in Dutch).

It’s actually hard to imagine that the print version is gone. The best part about the paper was that it was free – because that meant people would leave it behind in the train when they were done reading it. That way the next bored person could have something to read as well!

Empty boxes at Gouda train station, normally filled with newspapers

The (cropped) image above was taken by Wikimedia Commons user Donald_Trung and can be viewed and downloaded at this Wikimedia Commons link.

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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.

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.

Continue reading

Categories: Amsterdam, Transportation | Tags: | 2 Comments

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