... in france

Twice as fast = twice as nice

So today the dutch railways (NS) ran a one-time Amsterdam Berlin intercity service that was 27 minutes faster than the usual 6 hour 30 minutes Amsterdam Berlin intercity service. They achieved this by omitting all stops between Amsterdam and the German border (Hilversum, Amsersfoort, Apeldoorn, Deventer, Amelo and Henglo). According to the NS it should be possible to further reduce travel time to four hours by aquiring engines that are capable of running 200 km/h on the Dutch and the German railwys (right now there is a change of engine in Bad Bentheim that takes about 15 minutes) and by skipping most stops on the German side (Bad Bentheim, Rheine, Bad Oeynhausen, Minden, Wolfsburg, Stendal and Berlin Spandau). The main obstacle against this badly needed upgrade of the Amsterdam Service? According to the Volkskrant all these little places insist on having the train stop in their stations.

Still the NS seems to be fairly determined to upgrade the line and bring the travel time down to four hours1, which would make it roughly competetive with direct flights between Amsterdam and Berlin. Four hours between Amsterdam and Berlin would mean an average speed of 160 km/h which is nice compared to the current average of 98 km/h but it is a far cry from the 200 km/h reuired to qualify as a high speed rail service. By comparison i have recently had the pleasure to travel on the so called Zon Thlays (a dedicated summer weekend only service that connects Amsterdam with the south of France) which runs the 1244 km from Amsterdam to Aix en Provence in 6 hours 47 minutes (an average speed of 187 km/h including a 15 minute crew rest stop at Paris CDG Airport, required by labour regulations). This is nearly twice as fast and makes the 6 and a half our drudgery of the current Amsterdam Berlin service even more unbearable. It brings Marseille within 7 hours of Amsterdam which feels quite amazing in more than one way (both of them being old port cities on opposite sides of the continental European land mass that culturally feel much further apart that a 7 hour train ride).

Now most of the service runs on dedicated high speed lines (with the notable exception of the bit between Antwerp and Brussels which the Belginas refuse to upgrade, in their own petty version of the i-want-the-train-to-slow-down-and-call in-my-little-village described above) and it does not make any sheduled stops between Brussels and Valence, bypassing Paris to the east (see routemap below). The trip feels like a triumph of infrastructure over time and it illustrates that if we ever want to get Euroepans of their addiction to low cost flights we will need to substantially invest into better high speed rail infrastructure.

There is no good reason why people should be able to fly across the continet, destroying the climate in pursuit of the next city trip if we had infrastuctire linking major cities that would allow travelling 1200 km or so within 6 hours (think breakfast in Amsterdam, dinner in Marseille). Now such infrastructure does not come cheap2, but given the climate destroying effects of our addiction to cheap short haul air travel, there are little alternatives.

The most logical source of the required investments would be a suracharge on intra EU airline tickets. A modest €20 per ticket would bring in €12,5 billion per year (based on the 626 million passengers of national and intra EU28 passengers identified in the 2016 air transport statistics). To make the point that people should take the train insteard of the plane it this surcharge should be inreased to €100 per ticket for routes that compete with trains services that take 4 hours or less such as Amsterdam-Paris (1,26M passengers in 2017 = €101M extra ), Paris-London (1,07M passengers in 2017 = €86M extra) and many others. Over time such surcharges could result in substantial funds that can be invested into building a better high speed train infrastructure (think Japan) and in the short run they would make train operators on existing high speed connections much more competetive.

Given the political clout that the airline business has (they have succesfully resited the idea of taxing jetfuel for decades) such a measure would require a lot of political will to enact, but given the untenable trajectory that we are on when it comes to airtravel, there may be little other choices. The only other alternative would be for people to actually travel less. While undoubtably better, it is quite a hard sell on generations raised on cheap jet-fuel and the idea that multiple city trips per year are a basic human right.

Route of the direct Thalys service from Amsterdam to Aix en Provence

  1. Which is probably an unrealistic excpection. This 2018 study by engeneering firm Royal HaskoningDSV (commissioned by Natuur en Milieufederatie Noord-Holland) comes to the conclusion that without upgrading the track the measures described above would result in a retuction of travel time of 46 minutes only (page 32). This would mean five hours and 38 minutes total travel time which is not much better than the current situation. The same study calculates that upgrading the route to proper high speed infrastructue would reduce total travel time time to 3 hours and 4 minutes (page 36, note that this tiem includes transfer to and from the train station) ↩︎

  2. The above-quoted Royal Haskoning study claculates the cost of buliding a HSL network that connects Amsterdam with most mayor metropolitan centers within a radius of 750km to be €78 billion. Such a network would consist of 3310 km of new HSL infrastructure (which, of course would be only one part of a Europe-wide HSL network). ↩︎

Best library ad ever...

28 Aug 2016 | 42 words | advertisement france libraries voyantes

My friend Melanie send me this screenshot from her Facebook feed. An advert for the Public Library system of Villeurbanne in the style of a promotion flyer for an african healer. Not surprisingly i find this utterly brilliant…

Maître bibliothécaire Magic BIB

Patrice on the Sarkozy/Schwarzenegger plan

Patrice (who refuses to have a web presence so i cannot link him) has some thoughtful comments on the recent french initiative to combat ‘casual illegal file sharing’ by having ISPs terminate internet connections of ‘persistent pirates’. Apparently ISPs have to monitor the data streams of their subscribers and report those who are engaging in file sharing to an ‘independent body’1 who can then issue warnings and after two warnings order the ISPs to terminate the internet accounts of the ‘pirates’. sounds a bit like the Californian three-strikes-and-you-are-out regulation and i guess that is why Tilman Lueder calls this the Sarkozy/Schwarzenegger plan’.

Sarkozy himself prefers to call this ‘A decisive moment for the future of a civilized internet’, something which is hard to argue with as this will most likely result in lots of dumb-ass adolescents being disconnected form the internets which in turn will result in less nonsense being posted to youtube and less time wasted on myspace and facebook, which is a good thing. plus this will give these kids plenty of time to acquire the skills they need to participate in the 21st century knowledge economy (by reading good old fashioned books and writing letters to each other). sounds like a seriously well thought out plan to me….

But before i get carried away, here is what Patrice had to say on the good old (in fact so old that the archive has not caught up yet so i cannot link) nettime mailing list. He is quoting this BBC news article before his comments so you might want to read that first:

From all the “clue-less about the Internet” politicians, the French would seem the ones who have put the most ‘less’ into the ‘clue’ (Thank you, Gunner ;-) This impression, alas, is very deceptive. They have probably thought the most of all about it, and they came to very, very wrong conclusions and decisions. This of course, with not a little help of the lobbying industry, but mainly because of their own (mis)representation of what the whole issue is about. And to understand that you have to dig deeper.

French ‘Republican’ intellectuals, from which class politicians are coming to a (wo)man, hold two beliefs that are deeply inimical to the Internet economy as we know it (for a large part): a quasi-religious faith in the ‘moral right’ of the (intellectual) author, which, suitably reformulated to the wishes of the ‘creative’ industries, gives it a much higher moral highground than in the rest of the world (piracy becomes then the real thing). And, less well known, an abhorence of ‘gratuity’ (“La gratuite, c’est le vol” – ‘gratuity = theft’ is a very commonly held opinion). Getting things for free, or to be more precise, without payment in legal currency, is considered unlawful by default, because harmful to the proper order of society. (Hence France also going after ‘LETS’ systems, for instance)

These two comvictions are then combined with yet another commonly held belief in political circles, subsumed in the funny 1970s slogan “In France we don’t have oil, but we have ideas!”. This has led to a very peculiar, that is litteral, interpretation of the “Oil of the 21st Century” concept, loudly advocated by prominent public economists like Alain Minc and Jacques Attali2. The French ‘knowledge economy’ shall be firmly copyright based – or bust. All this results in an irresistible aggregate argument to legislate for ‘robust protection of intellectual property’, against which more enlightened critics in the digital community and some intellectual circles (eg the group around the review ‘Multitudes’) are rather helpless.

And how pig-headed the French position may look like, it could well provide an attractive example for other legislations, especially the more authoritarian ones, to follow.

On a more serious note i have to agree with Patrice here. If this plan is really going through this will almost definitely make the copyright ayatollahs in other countries salivate for similar arrangements… [in fact they (a.k.a the Phonographic Inquisition) already are]

  1. Given the composition of the group that came up with this plan (the copyright/entertainment industry mafia and the ISPs/telcos) this should probably be read as ‘without any representation of consumer interests’ ↩︎

  2. [On 27/11/07 Patrice posted the following correction]: Miguel Afonso Caetano send me a rejoinder which I think I should share with the list since he didn’t post it himself. Apparently I am/was deeply wrong about Jacques Attali stand on IP, portraying him as a fundamentalist. I must confess that my pronouncement was based on a limited knowledge of his work, since I read only one book of his (forgot the title – and he wrote so many… ;-( where I got the impression that he put a lot of trust in knowledge as a marketable good (and he was refering to copyright I am sure – but then…) In any case I am glad there is a voice of reason among hi-profile, mainstream French intellectuals. ↩︎

i ❤️ kids

19 Oct 2006 | 45 words | france guns lille

Have been writing about the low average age of the visible population of Lille two days ago. here is my absolute favorite inhabitant of the fine city of Lille. young upstanding citizen of asian origin escorting his mother back home from church on sunday morning:

Lille 3000

Absolutely no idea why it is called lille 3000 and not some other arbitrary number, but apparently the local government decided that 3000 sounds mighty futuristic (and 2006 would be so last year in three months anyway) and here we go… I am also not sure if lille 3000 is the same as the ‘Bombaysers de Lille’ (the sexual pun is apparently intended) exhibition that was opened with much French pompousness this weekend. Like the city of lille the exhibition is definitely worth a visit: Ashok has a great piece (called GPS) installed on the Place du Theatre and the ‘Maximum City’ exposition (after Suketu Mehta’s must-read book with the same title) is pretty impressive (although it contains too many pictures of black and yellow taxis, but then it is about Bombay so i guess you can’t avoid them..) and there is other gems hidden across the city (try to find the tourism office, without getting misdirected by the signage).

My favorite piece is the photo series ‘Monrachs of the East End’ by Gavin Fernandez, which is part of the ‘rich mix‘ group exhibition in the Maison de Follies de Wazemmes. I want some of of those, badly!

But back to the lille 3000 business: the whole exhibition (which in a sense is the continuation of the the cultural capital activities of 2004 by other means but with the same esthetic and conceptual drive) seems to be part of an aggressive attempt to re-position Lille as a city of the future (the past can be seen in the extensive ruins of its former industrial glory around the northern suburb Tourcoing on the border with Belgium – a small scale version of Bombay’s mill lands that occupy much of central parts of the city).

Exhibitions and impressive architecture aside the fact, that lille is indeed about the future is most evident when one looks at the local population: This weekend it looked like two thirds of the people in the streets are teenagers, which makes me wonder what they do to the old people (they probably ship them to the Belgian coast, but that is something for the next post). Maybe this abundance of kids is the result of the city actively collecting kids that can be deposited at designated locations:

Even more futuristic are the public spaces (and i am not speaking of that but ugly Euralille complex, which shows once more that Mr Koollhaas should stop actually realizing buildings and continue to publish books instead) but the public parks. It is well-known that the french are nazis when it come to their parks: (‘no walking on the grass’ and closing them at 5 in the afternoon for no good reason other than to piss of park-goers) but encircling a park by 4 meter high, red, state-of-the-art prison fence (complete with diagonal supporting poles, so that the fence cant be pushed down), is quite an extreme measure, to keep the kids from lying in the grass and smoking a joint after 8 pm if you ask me (but then fences are fashionably european these days, so it might just be an esthetic statement):

Comes with built in bench! (tres chique!)

Portbou train station

22 Apr 2006 | 382 words | border railways mediterranean coast spain france

Have always been fascinated with border towns. The fact that another national economy with other taxes and other social norms is just across the border/mountain/river/fence tends to have interesting effects on these places, and especially what is for sale in the stores and on the streets. Now my most favorite border town in Europe is Portbou on the border of Spain and France:

The tiny shops in the even more tiny city center have ridiculous amounts of Pastis on sale (for the Frenchmen who live just across the mountains where the tax on booze is much higher) and Portbou is home of my favorite memorial (for Walter Benjamin, who committed suicide in this place when the Spanish did not let him into the country in 1940).

On top of this the place has an absolutely incredible location: crammed into a little bay of the Mediterranean and surrounded by the foothills of the Pyrénées, the place ca only be approaced by the spectacular coastal road that runs from Perpingnan in France south to Girona in Spain and follows the spectacular Mediterranean coast for a good 30km. Portbou is situated in the smallest of the bays along this coast just south of the actual border. Because it is so small the center has a building density that makes one feel as if one was in a much bigger city, an effect that is reinforced by the gigantic propositions of the railway station. Being a border station between Spain and France the railway station needs two sets of tracks (standard gauge for the French trains and broad gauge for the Spanish trains) plus an enormous marshaling yard. The surface of the railway station probably equals the surface of the rest of town.

I have always wanted to explore this railway station, but on my last 2 visits I never had the time. This time i spend about an hour exploring the station which for the biggest part seems to be deserted, with closed deserted waiting rooms that seem to patiently await another emigration or immigration wave. If you ever have the chance to visit Portbou, make sure that you take some time to visit the train station. In the meanwhile i have posted some pictures to my flickr account.

Portbou seen from the train station

a2+b2=c2 - The French air traffic controllers are on strike...

05 Apr 2006 | 77 words | airtravel europe france

… and thus you have to fly around french airspace when you are going from Amsterdam to Lisbon and back. Takes about an hour and twenty minutes more than the direct route, but creates a somewhat beautiful route display on the in-flight entertainment system:

flying around french airspace

Also reminds me of a picture i took like three years ago in the train station in Strasbourg. you simply gotta love the french (seriously! for lots of reasons!)

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: