Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

The French are normally exceptional with transportation engineering . . . .

What about 1892? Not exactly a stellar year, either.

Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
802 posts

Wow, that's incredible. No doubt a result of folks spending too much time in front of their computers and not enough time in the field. Perhaps they should all be put out in the field for some training.

Posted by Kent
Pacific Northwest
8534 posts

Reminds me of the London Tube recording, repeating hundreds of times a day, at every station: "Mmind the gap"
I suppose in some cases because the width of the Tube cars does not match the configuration of the station, or some other engineering problem?

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20532 posts

@Ed,

"The French are normally exceptional with transportation engineering"

I suppose what I was referring to was the French expertise (Alstom) in developing the TGV and now AGV trains (used by Italo). While the Japanese mag-lev trains are a bit faster, I suspect that France will be one of the first to offer passenger service on the newest generation trains that have been clocked at almost 575 kmH.

Posted by Larry
Elk Grove, CA, USA
6888 posts

Ken, great article. I saw this on the TV news. Amazing. I immediately thought of "Mind the Gap" in London but Kent got it first in his message above. I have also seen the documentary on the 575 kmH train run. I want on that train. I have been on the 425 kmH maglev train in Shanghai. It moves.

Posted by Marco
Oxford, United Kingdom
1551 posts

The horizontal gaps at some London underground stations arise through the stations being built on a curve rather than the widths of the cars. Those of any significance all are on stations built before 1914, and in central locations. They can arise from through technology limitations of the time but mainly to make them cheaper by minimise wayleaves. The largest gaps are at Bank on the Central and Piccadilly Circus on the Bakerloo.

Posted by Keith
United Kingdom
836 posts

Thanks, Ken. Stories of other people's engineering blunders always make me a bit more relaxed about all the mistakes I've made at work over the years. Being a Fench mistake, this one naturally attracted a lot of media attention and jokes on this side of the Channel (and also makes us feel better about botching APT all those years ago). It does, though seem to have been a case of idiocy/forgetfulness on the part of someone in SNCF rather than an actual engineering fault by the designer. A "good" recent example of the latter was the naval engineer in Spain who got a decimal point wrong and then built a submarine too heavy to surface (fortunately someone noticed before launching the boat).

What happened in 1892? I was thinking 1895.

And obviously it is rather different from the position in London. "Mind the gap" just means can you stretch a little bit when you get on/off - it works fine. On the other hand asking passengers to all breathe in so the train can fit into the station isn't going to be much of a solution.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
3173 posts

The French are normally exceptional with transportation engineering . . . .

I'm guessing you never owned a Peugeot :)

Posted by Tom
Lewiston, NY
10262 posts

Now at least the Belgians and Dutch don't have to feel so embarrassed about their Fyra fiasco a few years ago...

Posted by Wil
IJzendijke, The Netherlands
454 posts

Actually the trains are not so too big or wide, but companies like this are too big or complex to make a clear decision. Tracking down who is or are really responsible will be a challenge in itself, finding somebody to blame will be more easy.

Wouldn't be surprised hearing soon the next message: Well.....uhmmm....there is another problem, the tunnels are not wide enough too!!! :)

Posted by Karen
Fort Wayne, IN, USA
1694 posts

I'm reminded of the scene in "Galaxy Quest" when they launch the space ship.

Posted by Michael Schneider
New Paltz, NY
7355 posts

I blame the metric system! If they were measuring inches instead centimeters none of this would have happened.....TWSS

Posted by Roy
East Alabama
944 posts

True, planners failed to check the dimensions of every track at every station in France. They could have saved themselves the embarrassment if they had. But they would have simply buried the $75 million work in a $15 billion project and gone ahead anyway. How many airports around the world have expanded their runways over the years to accommodate bigger planes? I suspect that most of them learned about the planes first from the media rather than the manufacturers or airlines. How many travel websites have been altered without first checking with every user?

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Actually, when somebody's thinking about building a bigger flying machine, the airport has to be in on it from the preplanning stage. Gate houses have to be more widely spaced for wing tip clearance (witness the eastern addition to T2 at Roissy because of the A380). Runways have to be lengthened, or if that's a nonstarter, the engine manufacturers have to come up with new ideas. Runways have to be strengthened or more trucks added to the landing gear to spread the weight footprint. Jetways have to be modified. There's always new cargo handling equipment. Sometimes new tugs, tow bars, aux power units, back blast barricades. The list is endless.

You can't make much money building airplanes that can't leave the factory.

Posted by BG
Albany, CA, USA
1506 posts

Well the French seem to have done well with the A380. Just flew on one from SFO to CDG this past week, and it was wonderful.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20532 posts

@Laura,

"I'm guessing you never owned a Peugeot :)"

No, but I did own a Vauxhaull in the '60s. It was a piece of JUNK and I've stayed away from English cars since then. Nothing like a good ol' American-made vehicle! However, I would consider buying a Land Rover Defender but unfortunately those are not exported to North America.

The only French vehicle I can recall driving is a Renault Laguna on a trip to the U.K. a few years ago. It was a really nice vehicle and very comfortable.

Posted by Pamela
New York City, NY, USA
3949 posts

And, on the Mind the Gap front, if you are ever on the 4,5,6 line in NYC and exit at Union Square, you'll be told to mind the gap. It's the only station I've heard it in here, but I there are many station I've yet to visit. :)

Pam

Posted by Bets
Bloomington
2635 posts

My parents owned Peugeots and they were great. Remember "le car" back in the 80's?
Agree about the A380 being a wonderful plane; I've been fortunate to take it twice.

Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
802 posts

The Renault Le Car is the only automobile I can recall seeing that used only three lug nuts per wheel.

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Never had a Citroen 2cv or changed a tire one one, huh?

Posted by Dave
Ventura, CA, USA
802 posts

Unfortunately, not, although for some odd reason when I was in first grade…1965 or so..I used to ride to school with a girl in my class, whose mom drove us in a DS, I knew even then it was a special car; I'd take either in a heartbeat right now.

Posted by Wil
IJzendijke, The Netherlands
454 posts

I owned once long ago a top of the range :) Peugeot 104, besides some reliability issues it was fun and comfortable to drive. Had also three lug nuts per wheel and a stainless steel cover to keep them clean, no dirty hands in case you need to change one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peugeot_104

DS is in French short for “déesse” and means goddess, how elegant is that!

Posted by Ed
Pensacola
9110 posts

Airbus Inc is headquartered in Blagnac. Final assembly (including sticking the wings on which makes it an airplane) happens next door in Toulouse. The US claims bragging rights on all the non-Rolls engine installations.

I'm pretty sure the Tianjin plant is only involved with the A320, hopefully the Alabama plant will start stealing some of that business next year.

Posted by Roy
East Alabama
944 posts

Checking back in. Everybody makes lemons at times, but only the French would have the audacity to name a car after one.

On the topic of airports, I left myself open to Ed's correction with the words "all over the world." But I was referring to "every" airport, not just the major ones. Those, they consult with, but not smaller regional and local airports that are not destinations. For instance, about the time our local airport lengthened its runways a few years ago for turboprops, some of the companies and wealthy flyers that were their main customers upgraded to private jets and again demanded longer runways. But, the analogy doesn't fly anyway (pun intended). Flyers can simply change to a different airport, but it is hard to reroute trains around a station where the space around the tracks is too small.

Posted by Wil
IJzendijke, The Netherlands
454 posts

Well actually the Citroën family originates from The Netherlands. And indeed the great grandfather of car company founder André was a vegetable and fruit merchant, who let inscribe the family name in the registration service for the first time with the name Lemoenman (Lemon man), but changed it later in Citroen (without the diaeresis, also synonymous for lemon in Dutch). Once settled in France the name was finally changed in Citroën.

Another family name, this time from German origin that has been changed in France was Bönickhausen into...........Eiffel!

Posted by Andrea
Sacramento, CA
5585 posts

"American cars aren't popular in France, too. We used to see some Chryslers Town&Country. But for the same price, you could get Renault Espace : way more reliable than Chrysler and with a better gas mileage."

One time when I was in Paris we were walking down the street and in the distance we saw a car that I swore was a Ford Mustang. As we got closer not only was I able to confirm it was indeed a Mustang, it had California license plates on it!

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
1093 posts

Is there any way I can get academic credit for reading this thread? ; )

Is anyone old enough to remember a movie titled "La Belle Americaine." sometime in the 1950s? It was a comedy about a big American car in a French town, the stir it caused, etc. In French with English subtitles. I've been looking for it on Netflix and elsewhere with no luck.

My first car was a Chevy Vega. Enough said.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2355 posts

I won't go into much technical details, but this is yet another blunder where English language press caught up a heavily politicized (there were local elections in France recently) story of a technical issue and then brandished it as a big scandal when, in fact, the issue is more of internal bureaucracy conflicts.

I'll explain things briefly:

  • EU has directives in place for harmonization of train platform dimensions (height, horizontal clearance etc) in open systems like national rail networks
  • The unit that manages the station infrastructure in France was trying to "buy time" with some renovations beyond what had been agreed
  • The unit that operates trains just ordered trains that fit EU directives, and did so as a way to force the completion of standardization of station platform dimensions in minor French stations sooner rather than later
  • The cost (of around € 180 million) is not a 'waste' or 'money lost', just budget for projects that would have to be now and that should have been done already. So at most this forces the station infrastructure authority to reshuffle money from some flagship projects, postponing them, to complete what they are forced by law to do.

Then, a populist politician picked up the story as some sort of major engineer blunder, an Irish newspaper jumped on the story and took the bait, British press soon followed and at the time couldn't bother with much fact-check.

This reminds me of the faux "Venetian independence" online poll (like any random "give your opinion" poll you find on websites) done on a political party website that was sold to the international press as some sort of official if non-binding referendum. Pathetic.

(I'm not blaming the OP for reporting the story, just trying to clarify what actually happened).

Posted by Wil
IJzendijke, The Netherlands
454 posts

You make it much more clear Andre. First I was thinking about some miscommunication inside the organisation, as the acquisition of rolling stock and structures has to meet standard specifications, just standard procedure and for some hard to explain reason somebody has ignored that. But decision making procedures inside this kind of complex organisations are not always easy to follow by outsiders, that’s the reason why things can easily be misunderstood and the media and some politicians take disadvantage of it, always on the outlook for hot negative news.
Thanks for the excellent explanation.

Posted by Kim
Paris
800 posts

The big problem Will is exactly that this decision wasn't something to be taken within one organization.. Some nearly 20 years ago, the French separated out the entities that run the trains (the SNCF) and the rails themselves (RFF, Réseau Ferré de France). (This, supposedly at the behest of the EU). These two bureaucracies apparently have a tough time "talking" to each other.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
20532 posts

@Andre,

Thanks for the lengthy explanation. That's a good illustration of the fact that there's often much more to a story than what may first appear.

Posted by Ray
Portland, Oregon, USA
2404 posts

Major brain fart.

How much you want to bet, someone will get promoted through all of this.

happy trails.