Friday, 13 November 2020

Fukuoka Subway

 From the archives of things I never got round to writing about - some photos of Fukuoka Subway in 2015.

Monday, 2 November 2020

Rail Replacement Berlin Style(s)

Anyone who knows me knows that my professional passion is customers in unusual, event or perturbed travel.  One of the most common of these is planned engineering works, the subsequent supply of customer information and directions, and the operation of rail replacement buses.  Taking advantage of a brief break in respective national lock downs in the UK and Germany, I was fortunate to see rail replacement in Berlin.

In Berlin (and in common with many German cites) the bus, tram and metro (U-Bahn) networks are operated by the city transport company, in this case BVG-Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe, and the heavy rail (S-Bahn) by DB Regio (part of the national rail operator, Deutsche Bahn).  The latter is a tendered service though DB Regio tend to win most contracts, not least because any new operator has to find their own trains, depots and staff (unlike the UK, where physical assets are usually transferred (being part of the DfT's registered asset base) and staff are TUPE'd).  

1) U-Bahn route U6

Two week suspension in mid-October between Naturundmuseum and Franzosische Strasse, which is the section of the U6 through the centre of Berlin,

Basic information is provided on these A-boards on the platform.  Information on replacement bus stops is usually provided in map form.

More helpful for people unfamiliar with the area is directional signage.  These footsteps on the platform are a simple way of doing this, although their provision was variable across the closure.

An alternative form of platform marking.  This one shows the end destination of the line, possibly because the closure, and subsequent replacement bus, was extended overnight. I didn't like these as people tended to suddenly stop to read them.

Exiting the station the foot steps or any kind of signage ran out.....

.....although the rapid appearance of a replacement bus quickly identified the stop.  The replacement buses were running every 2-3 minutes, which is a good frequency compared to the train arriving every 12 minutes.  Once again the bus displays the southern terminus of the U6 rather than the terminus of the replacement bus.

There was a trend of terminus stops for the rail replacement being dedicated temporary stops.  Buses did not wait for 'runners' - they went on time, but the frequency was such that it is rarely more than two minutes for the next bus....although as can be seen it was raining heavily which caused a few grumblings from intending passengers (but in this case I am minded to say it is correct to keep wheels moving, such is the intensity of service).

Overview of information provided on the stop.  The stop is a summary and map of replacement buses.
And the bottom half is a timetable.  Frequency is superb, going from 9 buses/hour in the 05:00 hour through to  dichte busfolge, literally dense bus sequence.

The at-stop signage included an English translation.  This section is showing that Franzosische station (at the southern end of the day time closure) does not have step free access, and that in some cases local buses or another nearby station should be used instead.

The buses used on this rail replacement service were all from BVG's own fleet, and therefore equipped with their standard customer information display.  As well as clear destination displays on the front, visual and audible next stop information was available inside.

This information display is at an exit from Franzosische Str station.  A small amount  of confusion in that the signage (smaller arrows) is pointing left, but the logo for the BVG improvement programme uses an arrow pointing right!  Key learning point: don't put arrows in your logo!

At Franzosische the road layout has been temporarily changed to favour replacement buses (temporary road layout changes in Germany are usually yellow tape placed over the normal road markings, as can be seen here).  In this case the through traffic lane has a stop line giving priority to replacement buses pulling out of the stop. I like this!

Another route U6 replacement bus showing the northern terminus of the U6 as it's destination (Alt-Tegel) rather than the destination of the bus (Naturkundmuseum).  As a comparison in London we always show the destination of the bus.  Both options probably cause confusion......

2) U-Bahn Route U1/U6

This is a long term closure of routes U1 and U3 (which share the same track) between Kottbusser Tor and Warschauer Strasse stations  to the south-east of the city centre.  It will continue until 'spring 2021': good to see BVG comply with Roger Ford's law on never committing to anything more than a season for delivery!

The date is October 25th 2020, and I knew there was a long term closure of the U1/U3.  Some haphazardly placed stickers on the train described a closure a few months earlier!

Two posters on the platform at Kottbusser Tor showing replacement bus information.  Unfortunately it's quite a complicated junction underneath so not the most intuitive.

Customer information at the exit I came out of: for long term closures someone needs accountability for ensuring information remains legible.  Those feet stickers would have been very useful here for funding which of the six arms of the junction the replacement bus ran from.

But I worked it out!  An entire street has had its parking suspended to provide parking for the replacement buses, although it was quite on the Sunday morning I visited. The bus in the distance is at the departure stop.  Maybe at quieter times the departure stop could be brought back closer to the station.  It would be interesting to see how this is used in the peaks.

A problem we all have is having to serve some streets that neither local residents or local authorities care about. This is the walk to the replacement bus stop at Kottbusser Tor.

Replacement bus timetable provided on the departure stop.  As with the U6, most of the time it is dense bus sequence

Again, as with the U6m the buses are all drawn from the regular city bus fleet of BVG, and are therefore provided with a good standard of customer information inside and out.

Of passing interest is the changes made on the buses as a result of the coronavirus, with a complete curtain between the driver and saloon.  Obviously front doors are not in use as a result of this (proactive fare collection is rare on any German public transport so this made no difference to revenue).  The following day I was in Hamburg where the primary municipal operator Hochbahn had made no changes whatsoever!

Exterior view of a replacement bus at Warschauer Str, showing the clear destination display in German.....

....and in English.  Onward signage from the bus stop was not great: whilst most people using this route will be local, the location of Warschauer Str station was not obvious.

3) S-Bahn S3/S5/S5/S7 closed between Alexanderplatz and Ostbahnhof

This was a one week (nine days) closure of a short stretch of the S-Bahn route through the centre of Berlin in late July/early August 2020, which I again stumbled on creating the perfect busman's holiday....

This is replacement bus information for this short closure provided.  It shows that replacement buses operate every two minutes between 04:00 and 23:56 on weekdays, with the same frequency for contracted hours on Saturday and Sunday.  This clearly shows that the closure is considered a major impediment to travel and that a very high frequency alternative should be provided, to minimise overall inconvenience.

Directions to the replacement bus stop at Alexanderplatz are provided using the feet stickers.  This was necessary as the departure stop was not immediately outside the station, rather at a temporary stop round the corner on Grunerstrasse.

Unlike the closure of BVG's own railways, DB Regio Berlin contracted operation to a variety of local independent bus operators.  These tended to provide buses in a variety of liveries, of which about two thirds were the livery of whichever municipal operator the bus was acquired from.  

So whilst every bus is a different colour, the widespread use of electronic destination displays in Germany (and basically anywhere except London) means the buses can still clearly show their route and destination.  This one is static, but some scrolled through S3/S5/S7/S9.  Unlike BVG, these buses showed the bus destination nor the ultimate destination of the rail lines (although, with four S-Bahn lines affected, that could have been quite confusing).

4) In conclusion

There are some common themes running through these examples of Berlin's track closures and alternative transport provision:
  • The track closures are all relatively short
  • Information provision in stations varies
  • Information between station and bus stop varies considerably
  • Replacement bus journey times are not much more then ten minutes end to end
  • Articulated buses are the norm, suitable for short distance/high capacity
  • Destination displays are good
  • The driver has no interaction with the passengers
  • There is no ticket checking or revenue collection
  • There are no bus service controllers
  • There are rarely any staff at bus stops
My conclusion is that sticky feet and proper bus destination displays can go a long way to keeping customers on track.  These examples were from longer term closures (a week or more) so not all may be seen or applicable to weekend only closures.  However, my impression is that longer term closures are becoming an accepted norm across Germany.

Gratuitous inclusion of S-Bahn replacement bus photographs