Oh Lord, won’t ya buy me a cobra tram?

Finally a new music video. Just before heading out to dinner with friends in Zurich I heard Janis Joplin’s Mercedes Benz song. All I can say is that it was inspiring … and I am not the only one, there’s lots of versions on YouTube.

We went to dinner at a great little neighborhood restaurant with big windows on one of Zurich’s public transport priority streets. All night long trams passed by until finally it clicked …

Cobra trams are Zurich’s new low floor streetcar. They were a bit undependable when they first arrived although seem to be doing well now. They are quite elegant: big windows, lots of room around the doors to move in and out, nice seats, clean lines and quiet. Their wheels are independent (in other words there is not a common axle between wheels on either side of the streetcar) which make them very quiet.

Unfortunately as the public transport vehicle manufacturing industry has consolidated over the last few years the major manufacturers have discontinued the “cobra” design, so Zurich’s are unique. Here’s a press release by the manufacturer Bombardier describing the cobra trams (PDF).

Rainy Saturday on the Glattalbahn, Zurich

On our recent trip to Zürich we rode the Glattalbahn (German) from Zurich Airport into the center of Zürich. The Glattalbahn is a new rail line that combines aspects of a tram (streetcar, light rail transit) line with regional rail. It operates on the city streets in Zürich and then on its own right of way outside the city.

The Glattalbahn was very carefully planned and has lots of interesting features that you can see in this film including very well designed stations, sensitivity to the environment (tracks laid on grass, lines of trees), including the whole street in the improvement project and connectivity to other public transport. I hope the film does justice to some of these, sorry about the rain!

Zurich: Restaurant Karl

Zurich: Restaurant Karl

On our last trip to Zürich I had a great lunch at Restaurant Karl in the Zentrum Karl der Grosse, which is right next to the Grosse Munster.

The Zentrum Karl der Grosse is operated by the city of Zürich and offers a large variety of social and cultural programs. For example they have integration classes for immigrants, art programs and sometimes concerts. The restaurant offers training to disadvantaged persons and eating there helps support the programs.

We ate there several times when we lived in Zürich and the food was always very good. It’s fairly simple: pastas, rosti and grilled meats. They offer a nice selection of wines by the glass, most from nearby (especially good are those from the Kloster Ittingen, which also brews a great Klosterbrau beer). An added bonus: it’s smoke free … still a rarity (unfortunately) in Zürich.

On this visit I was drawn in by the promise of Barlauch. Barlauch is something I never had in the USA, it’s a spring herb that you make pesto out of, it’s a natural garlic. I can’t get enough of it (in fact we made five bottles of pesto last week). Anyway, I had it on top of the Zürich standby Rosti (home fried potatoes). It was fantastic, check out the photo. Although they did look at me a bit oddly when I asked for extra Barlauch, they brought me a nice little pitcher full. Lunch with water and coffee cost about 35 Swiss Francs.

Spotted by Locals

Spotted by Locals

I just found out about a great website/blog called Spotted by Locals it consists of postings by people living in different cities. It’s similar to some of the postings I have made for restaurants and things to do in different cities (i.e. my San Francisco pages and Zurich pages), but better organized! I checked a couple of cities I am familiar with and they had some good tips.

Incredible Railway Information Technology Story

Incredible Railway Information Technology Story

In an article entitled How RailCorp’s derailing commuter ‘apps’ the Sydney Morning Herald reports that RailCorp, the railway operator there, has sued independent developers of applications that enable real time schedule data to be read from mobile telephones. RailCorp says that the schedules are out of date and might confuse passengers.

Hmm … maybe RailCorp should provide up to date schedules?

This is a good example of the types of social and institutional problems preventing railways (and public transport in general) from being as successful as they could be. As ETH Zürich Professor Ulrich Weidmann said in the 2008 IT08.rail conference, railway customers expect a very high level of information since that is what they have in their cars with GIS etc. Just today, the NY Times in Have Smartphone, Can Travel about the latest applications for drivers. If railways don’t provide quality information using new technology, they will lose customers.

Fighting new technology and the social systems that grow up around these new technologies (e.g. open source, Web2.0) doesn’t work. Just look at how successful record companies have been fighting music downloads. Only iTunes has worked because it makes it easy for users and is based on new technology.

Companies, especially railways, need to embrace new technology and support developers of applications that make their systems better and more attractive to customers. More about information technology in the railway industry in our papers: Can Information Technology Help Rail Play a Greater Role in Preventing Climate Change? and From Engineers to Entrepreneurs: The need for social innovation in high speed rail systems.

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