I took a quick trip to Berchtesgaden, Germany, this afternoon. I think it might be the most beautiful place I've seen in Europe:
I didn't stay too long, but I did get in a 2½ km walk that included part of a river path:
The whole area looks like Bavarian storybook hour:
To get there, you take a train from Freilassing, a nondescript town just over the German border from Salzburg. The train meanders through Alpine meadows at a slow but steady pace, passing through this kind of scenery:
I will pass through again and make sure to stay longer.
I did have a bit of an uncomfortable moment at the border. The German police held the train from Salzburg for a few minutes before letting us off, as four armed officers walked through from end to end. It was at about that moment that I remembered I left my passport in my room safe back in Austria. Turns out, they didn't check passports (both countries are in the Schengen area), but still. I do carry my passport card with me at all times overseas, but that's only proof of citizenship at US land and sea borders—and, crucially, at US consulates and embassies. But I don't believe the Bundespolizei would recognize it as such.
Not that I needed to worry. I just have to be more careful about that. (I did bring my passport book to Bratislava, for instance.)
Wow, do I love European trains. They're fast, clean, and way less expensive than flying. Except they do fly, as my train from Vienna to Salzburg did for part of the trip:
That screen capture from my phone's GPS monitor shows us moving at 229 km/h (143 mph) roughly here.
And then I landed in Salzburg. It's cute. I might even say lovely. But it's tiny—only 150,000 people or so—so it doesn't rise to Prague-like overwheliming beauty.
But it's a lot less touristy than I thought. It turns out, Salzburg is a college town more than anything else, with apparently one of the best psychology programs in the German-speaking world, as my bartender told me last night.
Today I popped over to Berchtesgaden, Germany. That post will hit later tonight.
Thanks in part to Conservative Party mismanagement of the UK transport sector for the last 13 years, things have gotten a bit fraught in the Old Country. And now, I get to spend a bit of extra time getting from Gatwick to my hotel on Saturday:
The Gatwick Express takes about 30 minutes from the airport to London Victoria Station. There is no other train option.
Instead, it looks like I can take a cab straight to my hotel for about £90, or a bus to bloody Heathrow and the Elizabeth Line for about £25. The former will take about an hour. The latter about 2 1/2.
So, I'm on vacation. No expense account. No schedule. Should I spend the extra $55? Sigh.
I chose not to poke into Hungary, but I did pop over to Bratislava, Slovakia, and took a quick stroll around the Presidential Palace:
I'll have more photos possibly later today. Since I walked 3.5 km getting to the Vienna train station, I really could use a shower and a nap. Then I'll explore a bit more.
Between check-out and my departure for Vienna I have about 2 hours to kill. I've had my caffeine for the day already, so I'm not hanging out in Wenceslas Square occupying space at a cafe. Instead, I decamped to the park across the street from the train station:
This might actually be the best thing I've done all week. And whether because either Prague has lax leash laws or no one cares about them, several random dogs have said hi today.
I'll be back here soon.
While we in Ravenswood continue to wait for tile deliveries or whatever so Metra and the UPRR can finish replacing the platform they tore down in 2011, the a priori Peterson/Ridge station that broke ground 18 months ago is almost done:
Work on the station is slated to wrap up this fall, when the long-awaited station will open to the public, project managers said at the community meeting.
Announced in 2012, the Peterson-Ridge station has been the victim of the state’s years-long budget impasse and then permitting issues with the city.
After finally securing funding in 2019, the project’s groundbreaking was pushed back to spring 2021. The project was stalled once again when the Department of Water Management rejected Metra’s plans for environmentally friendly permeable pavers, saying such plans could jeopardize water main pipes below the site.
The groundwater plan was altered and the station project broke ground in November 2021.
So, which station will open first? Given the railroad's track record (ah, ha ha, ha), it's even odds as far as I can see.
I'm chasing down a bug that caused what we in the biz call "unexpected results" and the end-users call "wrong." I've fixed it in both our API and our UI, but in order to test it, I need the API built in our dev/test environment. That takes about 18 minutes. Plenty of time to read all of this:
Finally, the Times explains how last year's 257 traffic fatalities in New York City undermine the claims that "Vision Zero" is working. But Strong Towns already told you that.
OK, build succeeded, fix is now in Dev/Test...on with the show!
I got an update today from Metra about the Ravenswood Union Pacific North station, after sending an inquiry last week. Before I get to that, let's take a look at photographic evidence that we've had to use the "temporary" platform north of Lawrence Avenue for just under 12 years now:
That's the Google Street View from July 2011 showing that Metra has already closed the 1950s-era inbound platform (on the left) and opened the "temporary" platform (on the right).
I took these two photos a week ago, but I could have taken them last September with only one minor change (the new "temporary" fence by the entrance to the new platform):
OK, so now that we've established that (a) we haven't had even a semi-permanent inbound platform since the middle of President Obama's first term, and (b) neither Metra nor the UPRR has done any noticeable work on the new new-but-unfinished platform since I last posted news seven months ago, here is what a Metra spokesperson told me this afternoon:
Per our station project Construction Team, a late July 2023 completion is anticipated. There are a few items remaining that need to be addressed to complete the project.
- Structural tiles, which the manufacturer has delayed delivery of. Our Team has 3 other options to address this issue that they are looking into and are actively progressing a tile alternative.
- The waterproofing along the edge of the platform and the bridge abutment (Lawrence & Leland) that requires the removal of track and ballast by Union Pacific Railroad will be scheduled by UP forces. Ballast work could not be performed during winter months when ground is frozen.
- Guardrail fencing change work at Leland Bridge is proceeding through redesign to accommodate a conduit system. Contractor estimates work end of May/early June.
- A solution to the hairline cracks in the platform surface has been determined. A coating to address this issue cannot be applied until weather conditions permit.
- Additional CDOT crossing work required along with the asphalt overlay patching in the street cannot occur until the asphalt plants reopen next month.
With a project of this magnitude that entailed the replacement of 22 bridges on the UPN Line, as well as a complete station project, its impact on the community was/is unavoidable and cannot be understated. Metra is making every attempt possible to improve the dates on the remaining items and complete the work, as soon as possible.
I knew about #3, and previously reported about #1. The rest just frustrates me to no end.
The UPRR and Metra should have completed this project in 2018. I will remind everyone that four years of the delay happened because former Illinois governor Bruce Rauner (R) cut funding to everything based solely on his extreme anti-government ideology. (Makes you wonder why he wanted to govern, right?) And once again, I will remind everyone that if I had the power, I would sentence the former governor to stand on the platform for two hours a day, every day, for a duration equal to the entire delay to the project that he caused. Even that sentence seems lenient.
I hope that my contact at Metra has accurate information, because I'm really tired of standing in the rain just 20 meters from what appears to be a perfectly serviceable but inaccessible shelter.
Freelance writer John Carpenter (a "husky man of 60, with the approximate flexibility of a rusty old tractor") explores some of the abandoned railroads that now have bike paths on them in the Chicago area:
Chicago is teeming with them — rail trails, I mean. Once extolled by the poet Carl Sandburg as the “player with railroads and the nation’s freight handler,” it remains a national railroad hub. That means there are bike paths along existing lines, like the Green Bay Trail beside Metra’s North Line, and trails along the roadbed of long-abandoned lines, like the west suburban Illinois Prairie Path and the city’s Bloomingdale Trail, also known as The 606.
Chicago is also home to a stretch of the Great American Rail Trail, a 6,000-km bike path from coast to coast that passes through northwest Indiana and the south suburbs. Though supported by the national Rails to Trails Conservancy, it is really a network of more than 125 locally backed trails that is still filling out some gaps in the run from Washington, D.C., to the Pacific Ocean west of Seattle. I did a relatively short stretch in Indiana, and it left me wanting to ride more.
The magic of rail trails is rooted in the laws of physics. Massively heavy freight and passenger trains simply cannot handle steep grades up and down. That’s why tracks are built up on bridges and artificial berms in some places, and carved into the land in others, leveling out elevation changes to allow trains to move up and down at a gentle rate.
The result is that riders can easily get into a comfortable cruise. One can maintain a pleasant speed with a steady churn in the higher gears, pushing hard enough to get the heart beating, without the extreme strains of steep uphill slogs. There is also the satisfaction of feeling the miles click away.
He identifies the North Shore trail as "along" a right-of-way, but in fact it covers the old North Shore Line, abandoned in 1964. I used to ride that trail a lot when I was a kid. These days, I sometimes walk a long stretch of it.
WBEZ reporter Michael Gerstein went out to the IKEA in Schaumburg, Ill., to test our transit system and its navigation apps. It went fine, but Gerstein had an unusual experience:
Major construction projects have snarled the Kennedy Expressway and the Blue Line’s weekend service, so my editor sent me on a 29-mile odyssey to Schaumburg. The idea was to test how Chicago’s regional transit agencies (CTA, PACE, Metra) work with each other and how many apps, trackers and planning devices I’d need to use to get there.
We were trying to see firsthand how accurate the region’s tracking technology is and why apps often promise buses and trains that don’t show up when they’re supposed to. All this comes at a time when public officials are encouraging more drivers to take public transit to and from downtown.
My two-hour sojourn to IKEA was unremarkable and pretty much on time (barring some initial inaccurate estimates from every app I tried except the city’s Ventra app). Still, other riders have experienced inaccuracies with trackers, and it’s hard to get to the bottom of why. In a recent WBEZ survey of nearly 2,000 CTA riders, about 9 in 10 survey takers said they’d experienced a delay taking a bus or train in the past 30 days.
Chicago, which used to be a leader in transit technology, now has some catching up to do with the broader tech world. “Our train and bus tracker were among the first tools of its time among any U.S. transit agency,” Brian Steele, CTA’s chief spokesman, said in an interview. But predictive algorithms have evolved, Steele acknowledged, and Chicago needs an upgrade that would give it the ability to automatically update the position of a bus that goes off a route or a train that falls behind.
Real-time information is only available after a train or bus leaves the terminal – and only if that bus or train is on its scheduled route, Steele said.
I also learned that I really don’t like being in IKEA. Some people prefer navigating a maze-like furniture store where you can’t find anything, that’s about 5 degrees too warm, and where every aisle and bathroom stall is packed.
I do like living 400 meters from the Metra station that takes me to downtown Chicago in 14 minutes, though. From dropping Cassie at doggy day care to sitting at my desk, my commute usually takes about 30-35 minutes. I would not take any job that had me drive out to the suburbs again, unless they paid me for travel time.