Finnish state railway operator VR Group steps into an Accidenture



  • There's a major WTF here, but I don't know the technical details and I don't have an insider story. Maybe someone can write one and post it on the site?

    The Finnish state-owned rail service operator VR Group reformed its ticket pricing and its ticketing system a couple of weeks ago. The new ticketing system was delivered by Accenture and Tieto, the latter being a large Finnish IT consultant company closely associated with the Finnish state government and with a reputation not very different from that of Accidenture. They've screwed over many an administrative function of the state by this point (e.g. filing a travel expenses bill if you're a state employee is now such that you'd just rather stay in your cubicle than go anywhere).

    Before the reform and new system, VR had a relatively functional web shop where you could have your ticket delivered to your phone or print it yourself at home. The web site was no marvel of UI design, and it couldn't handle certain cases such as the booking of bicycle racks and such, but mostly it worked well enough. VR also operates ticket vending machines at stations. They were replaced about a year and a half ago and the new touch-screen model had its teething problems, but by and large, they were working quite well before the revamp of the system.

    The new system landed with a pretty heavy thud. It crashed just hours after being put into production and suffered from instability and apparent capacity problems for several days. The new pricing policy is much more complicated than the previous one and it includes discounts for inflexible early reservations similar to those in air travel. A lot of people rushed to the web site to check what the new prices for their favorite trip were. Unlike the old site, the new one does not have a separate timetable search. Instead everyone is directed to the web shop. This seemed to burden the backend service with a lot of people who were actually not buying a ticket. At the same time, all of the sales channels, the ticket sales counters at the stations, the vending machines and the web shop apparently use the same backend service to an extent that they didn't before (I'm guessing the reservations database had to be shared even before). The staff behind the ticket counters now seem to be using the same web interface as everyone else, and the new one is several degrees clunkier than the old. And yes, it seems to be tested with IE only and shows quirks when accessed with Firefox. Several bugs in the web interface have been discovered, including prices being off by a 100 % (in the wrong direction) for certain trips, utterly cryptic error messages when a user-defined confirmation code is of the wrong length, a nonexistent station (Helsinki-Vantaa airport, railway currently under construction), and as the cherry on top, in some cases charging money from your bank account without delivering a ticket at all.

    VR tried to blame the buckling of the system on the rush of interested customers to the web site, and they said that they were working hard to add capacity. This is likely bullshit, since there VR simply doesn't have enough passengers to cause a hardware capacity problem, unless the software is tremendously inefficient. VR operates something like 310 long-distance train services and 800+ Helsinki region local trains a day. Eventually VR ended up closing the vending machines alltogether, and they've now been closed for a week. To me, this seems like the vending machines were triggering bugs and performance problems in the system that the other channels weren't. VR says it normally sells about 10 % of all tickets through the vending machines.

    Meanwhile, the chaos has included long queues to the ticket counters at stations, people being told to board trains without a ticket and to buy one from the conductor, the conductors being unable to sell tickets to everyone on the train, leaving people to travel for free, the extra fee for buying from the conductor being waived for the month of September, the new ticket scanning machines of the conductors not working etc. etc.

    One detail that emerged from a CV of an Accenture employee is that components of the ticketing system were tested in India. We are told that Accenture and Tieto spent 5 months testing the new system and that the integration of it was indeed tested in Finland (not sure why, an Indian railway can't be that different, can it?).

    All of this comes at a time when VR's reputation was already at an all-time low due to massive problems in operating trains on time. The last two winters have been very cold and snowy ones, which by Finnish standards means -20 C and colder temperatures for weeks and snow covers of 1 meter and more. VR's increased service frequencies, introduced in 2005, were put to a severe weather test for the first time. At the same time, the state entity that owns and services the tracks (separate from VR) has not been spending the money that it should have spent on the maintenance of the tracks and switching infrastructure. The result was a lot of delays and cancelled trains. Things have been compounded in recent months by a shortage of train conductors, who have used up their allotted overtime hours because of all the delays and can't legally work any more hours (and probably tend to call in sick just because they don't want to swallow the crap any more). So now trains have been cancelled because of lack of conductors, too. The new ticketing system entered the stage on top of all this

    Some English-language news articles from Helsingin Sanomat, the largest newspaper in the country:

    http://www.hs.fi/english/article/VR+blames+latest+problems+on+ticket+vending+machines/1135269496951

    http://www.hs.fi/english/article/Ministers+want+to+give+VR+time+to+fix+problems+plaguing+rail+transport/1135269548103

    http://www.hs.fi/english/article/GUEST+COMMENTARY+Data+technology+skills+should+not+be+outsourced/1135269579254

    VR's home page (beware that browsing the web shop may cause the thing to keel over)



  • I would like to point out that any testing done anywhere is done solly on bases of test script provided by end users.



  • @Nagesh said:

    I would like to point out that any testing done anywhere is done solly on bases of test script provided by end users.

    Yup. That seems to be about the size of it.

    (Holy crap, I'm rolling on the floor laughing here. I thought 'Nagesh' was a novelty account, but on a second look, he seems to be serious.)

     

    (PS. Nagesh, for the record, it's 'solely'.)



  • TL;DR



  • @mikko_h said:

    @Nagesh said:

    I would like to point out that any testing done anywhere is done solly on bases of test script provided by end users.

    Yup. That seems to be about the size of it.

    (Holy crap, I'm rolling on the floor laughing here. I thought 'Nagesh' was a novelty account, but on a second look, he seems to be serious.)

    (PS. Nagesh, for the record, it's 'solely'.)

    Another note: Any ticket system anywhere has a simple purpose of issue ticket and proces payment. So how are things diferent in Finland? Indian Railways is bigest employer on our planet.

    Did you know this fact? Revenue of IR is exces of 20 billion USD each year.

    In my own short carer I have experience that user not provide any test data or test plan and quick to blame programer / country / offshoring for any defect experience by him.



  • @Nagesh said:

    Another note: Any ticket system anywhere has a simple purpose of issue ticket and proces payment. So how are things diferent in Finland? Indian Railways is bigest employer on our planet.

     

    Well, the VR web shop needs to interface with Finnish banks for payment and mobile phone networks for ticket delivery, and it's a web application with a primary user interface in Finnish and Swedish, for starters. The rest of the system needs to work with pre-existing vending machines in Finnish railway stations and server systems in Tieto's colocation facilities. The list goes on.

    I'm sure that the Indian railways are wonderful. I was only trying to make a joke about testing a ticketing system halfway across the planet from where it's supposed to fit in. Of course it was tested in Finland, too, but apparently Accenture divided the job into parts and had some of them coded and tested in India. No surprise there. It's Accenture, that's what they do, and half the time the result is a total disaster (Q.E.D.).

    Your comment about testing being done "solely on the basis of test scripts provided by the end users" is funny, because the end users in this case are Finnish rail passengers, who are, indeed, being used as guinea pigs to test a half-baked system, even if it is rather against their will and very few of them are able to write scripts.

     



  • @mikko_h said:

    I'm sure that the Indian railways are wonderful. I was only trying to make a joke about testing a ticketing system halfway across the planet from where it's supposed to fit in. Of course it was tested in Finland, too, but apparently Accenture divided the job into parts and had some of them coded and tested in India. No surprise there. It's Accenture, that's what they do, and half the time the result is a total disaster (Q.E.D.).

     Captalism has no frends. Captalism is creul mistres, who follow lure of oportunity accross global boundaries.

    @mikko_h said:

    Your comment about testing being done "solely on the basis of test scripts provided by the end users" is funny, because the end users in this case are Finnish rail passengers, who are, indeed, being used as guinea pigs to test a half-baked system, even if it is rather against their will and very few of them are able to write scripts.

    Before any system release to end-users, it must be tested by testing group. in this case, you comented that testing group was in India and I comented taht the geographical location of testing group is irelevent. what is important is quality of test scripts. If there is any blame it is with Finish Railways, who order the system.



  • @Nagesh said:

    Indian Railways is bigest employer on our planet.

    No it isn't:
    @economist said:

    Numbers given in Millions of employees:

    1. US Dept of Defense 3.2
    2. Chinese People's Liberation Army 2.3
    3. Walmart 2.1
    4. McDonalds 1.7 (includes franchises)
    5. China National Petroleum Corporation 1.7
    6. State Grid Corporation of China 1.6
    7. National Health Service (England) 1.4
    8. Indian Railways 1.4
    9. China Post Group 0.9
    10. Hon Hai Precision Industry 0.8


  • @boomzilla said:

    @Nagesh said:
    Indian Railways is bigest employer on our planet.

    No it isn't:
    @economist said:

    Numbers given in Millions of employees:

    1. US Dept of Defense 3.2
    2. Chinese People's Liberation Army 2.3
    3. Walmart 2.1
    4. McDonalds 1.7 (includes franchises)
    5. China National Petroleum Corporation 1.7
    6. State Grid Corporation of China 1.6
    7. National Health Service (England) 1.4
    8. Indian Railways 1.4
    9. China Post Group 0.9
    10. Hon Hai Precision Industry 0.8

    I am stuned. Indian railways lying to poor peepul of India. I am going to file for PIL for false advertising claims.



  • @Nagesh said:

    I am stuned. Indian railways lying to poor peepul of India. I am going to file for PIL for false advertising claims.

    Well, they appear to be the biggest railroad employer on the planet.



  • @boomzilla said:

    @Nagesh said:
    I am stuned. Indian railways lying to poor peepul of India. I am going to file for PIL for false advertising claims.

    Well, they appear to be the biggest railroad employer on the planet.

    I'm sorry, is there some explanation as to why this conversation is relevant? Is the thesis here, "if the company has a lot of employees, it must have good software running it? The larger the company, the better the software?" Because I don't think that thesis applies at any large company I've ever worked for.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    why this conversation is relevant?
      When has relevance stopped us before?



  • @serguey123 said:

    @blakeyrat said:
    why this conversation is relevant?
    When has relevance stopped us before?

    Well, 'kay, but I think Nagesh's "they're a big employer" argument is probably hurting more than helping.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    I'm sorry, is there some explanation as to why this conversation is relevant?

    Yes.

    @blakeyrat said:

    Is the thesis here, "if the company has a lot of employees, it must have good software running it? The larger the company, the better the software?"

    No.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @serguey123 said:
    @blakeyrat said:
    why this conversation is relevant?
    When has relevance stopped us before?

    Well, 'kay, but I think Nagesh's "they're a big employer" argument is probably hurting more than helping.

    I went litle off the track. My point I am making is that testing qality depend on test cases and proces used to test. If proces is not well-defined, is there sens to blame country / offshoring / etc?



  • Does any major project like this every go smoothly? I know my local trains (QR) had problems with new ticketing systems, etc, but after some years they appear to have settled down. The readers were in stations for years before they were usable (as in, one could purchase the touch card). When I first got my card both ends of my trip didn't have compulsory touch on/off, and the ticket inspectors didn't have readers so I think lots of people travelled for free, and the inspectors just took your word for touching on. Also the "fine" for not touching off was $5 - my usual fare is currently $5.29, so it was cheaper to not touch off. (They've upped it to $10 now and inspectors have 3G readers so no more rorting)

    But not as much as a SNAFU as yours though!

    I did sign up for SMS updates on late trains, specifying the approximate times I catch the train. I get several a week, including a few times at 4am (I now put my phone on silent overnight because of this). But last week there was major delays (several overhead powerlines were down) and no notification that my train would be 30 minutes late. Their status website knew, but the automatic announcer didn't ("The train arriving on platform 2 is the Brisbane city train" ... everyone stands up ... wait 30 minutes ... train arrives)



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @boomzilla said:
    @Nagesh said:
    I am stuned. Indian railways lying to poor peepul of India. I am going to file for PIL for false advertising claims.

    Well, they appear to be the biggest railroad employer on the planet.

    I'm sorry, is there some explanation as to why this conversation is relevant? Is the thesis here, "if the company has a lot of employees, it must have good software running it? The larger the company, the better the software?" Because I don't think that thesis applies at any large company I've ever worked for.

    Nothing like that at all, as far as I can see. The original post said something like 'how different can the Finnish and Indian railway systems be?' and the answer is 'very, very different indeed'. Nagesh quoted a well-known stat about them being the world's second-largest employer (which is apparently wrong in detail, if not in general) and the relevance is that the Indian railway system employs massive numbers of people because the system is basically unchanged in the last century, and isn't computerised in any way. That said, I've heard it described as a giant computer which uses people instead of electrons. The point, though, is correct - in that a system which still uses steam power and no computers really isn't much like a modern hi-tech rail system at all.

    I think there was another, separate, point about testing.



  • @Zemm said:

    Does any major project like this every go smoothly?

    The ORCA card system in the Seattle area went pretty smooth. Of course we're talking about at least one order of magnitude smaller than the systems mentioned on this thread.

    Right now the only problems are idiot passengers that don't realize that paper transfers went away almost a year ago, and keep asking for them. Also sometimes the RFID readers aren't working, but that just means I get a free ride.



  • @MascarponeRun said:

    That said, I've heard it described as a giant computer which uses people instead of electrons. The point, though, is correct - in that a system which still uses steam power and no computers really isn't much like a modern hi-tech rail system at all. 

    Talk about having incorect information! You can meke booking on pasenger train from any where in the world.

    http://www.indianrail.gov.in/

    Do you realy think that system is not computerised?



  • @Nagesh said:

    @MascarponeRun said:

    That said, I've heard it described as a giant computer which uses people instead of electrons. The point, though, is correct - in that a system which still uses steam power and no computers really isn't much like a modern hi-tech rail system at all. 

    Talk about having incorect information! You can meke booking on pasenger train from any where in the world.

    http://www.indianrail.gov.in/

    Do you realy think that system is not computerised?

    Er, yes, but still... The Indian railway system is famous for being a massive employer, right? That perception may be slightly out of date, but it's based on the massive human-powered system which still, to the best of my knowledge, underpins the Indian railways. Online ticket sales is a bit like the wart on the elephant's back in that context.

    Please note that I say this as a massive fan - I'll be dreadfully disappointed if you tell me the stuff I've been watching and reading is out of date and it no longer works that way.



  • @Zemm said:

    touch on/off
    I'm not sure I understand what you mean, but it sounds dirty.

    @blakeyrat said:

    Also sometimes the RFID readers aren't working, but that just means I get a free ride.
    People around here seem to believe that when the RFID cards don't work, they should push and/or rub them on the RFID reader. Hard. Damaging the chip even more.



  • @Zecc said:

    People around here seem to believe that when the RFID cards don't work, they should push and/or rub them on the RFID reader. Hard. Damaging the chip even more.

    Our problem is that the ads for the system say you "tap" your card. Which of course doesn't work... tapping it keeps it in contact just long enough for the RFID reader to start reading, but not long enough for it to finish, inevitably resulting in an error. They should say "hold until it beeps" which is more accurate.

    But I haven't seen anybody dumb enough to break the RFID on purpose. Drivers here are pretty nice, you could probably bum free rides for months if you just microwaved the RFID chip on your card and pretended it didn't work and you don't know why... eventually someone would call you on it, but I doubt they'd bother to fine you.



  • The speed of RFID is highly dependent on hardware and task complexity.

    For the door read at my work, I can actually tap it quickly and it beeps instantly.

    For a certain brand of readers in the bus, the read response is not as light as that, but still nearly instant.

    Another, cheaper brand of readers requires that you hold the card perfectly still before the device for nearly a full second before it beeps.

    I don't know, I think the first brand just emits a stronger field, or has a faster CPU. I think it's the former, because it fails quite often when you keep the pass in your wallet as you check in/out.

    And of course there are the dumb dimwits that frantically wave their pass in front of the machine and wonder why it says ~EEEEE~ READ ERROR.

     



  • @Zemm said:

    Does any major project like this every go smoothly? I know my local trains (QR) had problems with new ticketing systems, etc, but after some years they appear to have settled down. The readers were in stations for years before they were usable (as in, one could purchase the touch card). When I first got my card both ends of my trip didn't have compulsory touch on/off, and the ticket inspectors didn't have readers so I think lots of people travelled for free, and the inspectors just took your word for touching on. Also the "fine" for not touching off was $5 - my usual fare is currently $5.29, so it was cheaper to not touch off. (They've upped it to $10 now and inspectors have 3G readers so no more rorting)

    The one here went pretty smoothly. Transperth sent an email to everyone registered on their site inviting them to take part in the 1-month pilot, with the attraction of free travel during the pilot period. As you might imagine the pilot was very popular. I got a rejection email initially but they decided to expand the pilot group and I got in. There were a couple of issues found during the pilot, though I didn't experience any myself; Transperth extended the pilot by several months until they were happy with everything (we had to pay after the first month though). Rollout went pretty smoothly, and they kept the old machines for a few months to allow people to use up the last of their existing (10 or 40 trip) cards.

    As for the compulsory touch on and off (they call it "tagging on and off" here), you can still buy cash tickets here so it's never completely physically compulsory to tag on - however at key stations they do have controlled access; there's a manual lane which usually doubles as the disabled access lane (has a reader on the side at wheelchair-appropriate height) and a guard/inspector watching to make sure people who use it have a valid ticket. The ticket inspectors have had wireless readers since (I think) the late stages of the pilot, and the fine for fare evasion was $50 for years prior (I think recently it's been increased to $100) so we didn't have quite the same issues.

    About the only gripe I have with the system is that if you don't tag off correctly it charges you (the next time you tag on) the maximum possible fare for the service you were on. Sounds reasonable in principle, but if you tag on at a train station you have a window of only 10 minutes to tag off without being penalised a 9-zone fare (because you don't need to tag on or off when switching trains and one train line goes out that far). I've been burned by that a couple of times when there have been problems with the trains and I've given up after being on the platform for 15 minutes or so. Never mind that to go to zone 9 and back I'd have needed almost an hour and a half.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    Drivers here are pretty nice, you could probably bum free rides for months if you just microwaved the RFID chip on your card and pretended it didn't work and you don't know why... eventually someone would call you on it, but I doubt they'd bother to fine you.

     

    This kind of behavor is bad for economy and busines in genral. If everybody does this, you'll end kiling the system. No more trains. Has Hapened in one city in india.

     



  • @Nagesh said:

    @blakeyrat said:
    Drivers here are pretty nice, you could probably bum free rides for months if you just microwaved the RFID chip on your card and pretended it didn't work and you don't know why... eventually someone would call you on it, but I doubt they'd bother to fine you.

    This kind of behavor is bad for economy and busines in genral. If everybody does this, you'll end kiling the system. No more trains. Has Hapened in one city in india.

    Most systems in the US probably wouldn't be too terribly affected. They're almost all subsidized by the local (and sometimes federal) government since they don't make a profit on their own.

    The DC Metro system's implementation to their "Smart Trip" cards went relatively well, although there were some WTFs. One of the benefits of the card was that they stopped accepting cash for parking. This was good, since it eliminated the parking attendants walking off with millions of dollars per year. Unfortunately, they originally allowed you to pay for parking with a negative balance, assuming you'd put more money on your card in the future. So some people ended up parking for free for a while.



  • @boomzilla said:

    Most systems in the US probably wouldn't be too terribly affected. They're almost all subsidized by the local (and sometimes federal) government since they don't make a profit on their own.

    Last time the Sounder commuter train here in the Seattle area wanted to raise rates, they released a little pamphlet to "inform consumers" about their financial state. One of the little gems? "Rider fees are 5% of operating budget." 5%!

    This is the train system that leaves their huge diesel engines running 24/7/365. So now only are they pouring fuel down the drain, but any illusion of them being "green" and reducing CO2 usage goes out the window. I talked to a conductor about this once, and he says they leave the engines running because they can be hard to start... great solution. Don't bother getting them, you know, repaired! I send a tip to two of the local papers about their fuel wastage, but neither seemed interested in running a story about it, which is a shame.

    ... I kind of lost the point there but. Yes. 5% of operating costs is probably about average.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    Don't bother getting them, you know, repaired!

    Such a common business management failure. I'm currently taking driving lessons mostly for the hell of it and as a result of frequently being bumped into pavements, understandably the car's tracking is out. As a result it kills £60 worth of tires a month due to uneven wear. How much is a tracking fix? £30. And it'll make your tires last six months instead of one. Even if they did the tracking once a month, 601 + 306 is still far far cheaper than 60*6.

    My local bus service insists on keeping 40 year old buses in service, even though they break down constantly, probably gulp down fuel far faster than a modern bus, the gearboxes are shot to hell and are probably throwing fuel economy out the window on their own.

    People wonder why the economy is going down the shitter, and that's probably because people don't invest in new technology or equipment and instead piss money down the drain maintaining their old crap.



  • @nexekho said:

    @blakeyrat said:
    Don't bother getting them, you know, repaired!

    Such a common business management failure.

    I'm no expert on locomotives, but I'm guessing if you called up GE and said, "hey our locomotives don't start, is that normal?" they'd make SOME effort to fix the things. I mean, BNSF seems to keep their locomotives turned off when not needed.

    @nexekho said:

    My local bus service insists on keeping 40 year old buses in service, even though they break down constantly, probably gulp down fuel far faster than a modern bus, the gearboxes are shot to hell and are probably throwing fuel economy out the window on their own.

    Sound Transit, the same agency that runs those Sounder trains, is actually good about this. They are constantly cycling in new buses, and the ones they bought last year are all hybrids which are great-- they're totally silent at intersections, which is almost creepy. I dunno if the rails along the top are for looks, or aerodynamics, or what...

    One of the other agencies, Community Transit, is even better. They've bought 20+ of these double-deckers, also hybrids, they seat more passengers than the articulated, are easier to drive, and take up less space on the road. After riding in those a couple times... frankly I don't get why anybody's still buying articulateds!



  • @blakeyrat said:

    I'm no expert on locomotives, but I'm guessing if you called up GE and said, "hey our locomotives don't start, is that normal?"
     

    I thought that, yes, it is normal for fat diesels to start with some difficulty.

    So, the solution is to replace this antiquated technology with something shiny and electrical.

    @blakeyrat said:

    They've bought 20+ of these double-deckers, also hybrids, they seat more passengers than the articulated, are easier to drive, and take up less space on the road. After riding in those a couple times... frankly I don't get why anybody's still buying articulateds!

    In your first picture, it seems like a double-decker doesn't fit. They'll probably not fit in a lot of places. :<br>

     



  • @dhromed said:

    I thought that, yes, it is normal for fat diesels to start with some difficulty.

    So, the solution is to replace this antiquated technology with something shiny and electrical.

    Fix 6 locomotives, or electrify 100+ miles of track? Hmm... which is more cost-effective...

    I found out from Wikipedia that they're not GE, they're made by some outfit called EMD-- Electro-Motive Diesel. So maybe that's why they're defective.

    @dhromed said:

    @blakeyrat said:

    They've bought 20+ of these double-deckers, also hybrids, they seat more passengers than the articulated, are easier to drive, and take up less space on the road. After riding in those a couple times... frankly I don't get why anybody's still buying articulateds!

    In your first picture, it seems like a double-decker doesn't fit.

    To explain that photo takes some history of the retardedness of the transit system around the Seattle area-- suffice it to say what you are seeing it a bus running in a subway tunnel. (You can see the track if you look closely.) The tunnel was built for the light rail, the light rail got delayed by a decade, SoundTransit decided to use the tunnel to run buses until the light rail was ready, now it's used for BOTH creating what, experts believe, is The Real WTF.

    That's about the only place buses go around here that won't take a double-decker. But it does explain why SoundTransit doesn't have any, and why Community Transit does. (CT doesn't use the tunnel.)



  • @blakeyrat said:

    ....blah, blah, blah...Seattle bus WTFs...blah, blah, blah...

    Could be worse.



  • @boomzilla said:

    @blakeyrat said:
    ....blah, blah, blah...Seattle bus WTFs...blah, blah, blah...

    Could be worse.

    Obvious investor scam.



  •  An update: VR's vending machines have now been back online for a few days. They ended up being down and out for about two weeks. The cause for the persisting problems was identified to be a bug in Tieto's installation of the Oracle Weblogic app server, which had been in use at Tieto for years before the ticketing system revamp. VR and Tieto say that the problem was fixed "according to instructions from Oracle". I don't know if it was a new bug that was fixed, but I suspect not. The admins for these things are very conservative (for good reasons) and they apparently don't install bugfixes unless the issue affects them, so it may well be that they didn't have the fix for a known bug installed (or a configuration change made).

    The new system is still not free of problems. There have been a few pretty unsettling stories of the system charging money from the user's account and then not delivering a ticket. This has happened even at a ticket counter at a station where the system was used by a VR employee.

    The general consensus seems to be that the UI of the new web shop is a step backwards. It can get completely confused if the user makes the mistake of using the 'back' button of the browser, among other things. Another issue is the delivery of tickets to mobile phones. Before, they could be received as a barcode-ish thingies in multimedia messages, and the conductor then scanned the code from the screen of the phone with a scanner. This worked well with even pretty primitive phones. Now what you get is a message with a web link, and you need to be able to access the web on the phone in order to see the page with the ticket. This needs to happen when the conductor wants to scan your ticket, so you either need to be able to save the web page on your phone or have internet access in a moving train. Needless to say that you need a pretty advanced phone for this. It might be posible with a Symbian S40 system (of which there are many in Finland), but I, for one, am not sure how I would do that on mine.

    VR's passenger traffic operates at a reasonable profit, which they are using to fund the purchase of new rolling stock. Tickets are quite expensive in Finland in comparison with other West European countries. A Helsinki - Oulu trip (about 600 km) is likely to cost more by train than by a discount airline. In spite of that and the reliability problems VR has been suffering from, the ridership has actually been increasing slowly over the past few years. The total number of trips last year was 68.9 million, of which over 50 million were in the local commuter traffic of the Helsinki region (the population of Finland is 5.4 million and of the urban area of Helsinki about 1.3 million). Last year VR launched a high speed (relatively speaking) service between Helsinki and St. Petersburg, Russia, and apparently it has been quite successful. VR has operated similar high-speed Pendolino trains inside Finland since 1995.

    Finland has had a minor fetish for electrification (tracks have been electrified more for political than economic reasons) and a large majority of the passenger services are operated with electric drive. VR actually owns only very few diesel multiple units at all and the diesel locomotives it uses in passenger trains are old and pretty badly suited for the purpose. The purchases of rolling stock have been planned for an electric track network for decades now.

    This is a clip of a Helsinki - St. Petersburg high-speed 'Allegro' train approaching the Lahti station in February of this year. The train is of Alstom's so-called New Pendolino type that's been fitted to run on both Finnish and Russian tracks (two electrification systems, equipment for two very different signaling systems etc.).

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7c-N0Xv2wcw



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @dhromed said:

    I thought that, yes, it is normal for fat diesels to start with some difficulty.

    So, the solution is to replace this antiquated technology with something shiny and electrical.

    Fix 6 locomotives, or electrify 100+ miles of track? Hmm... which is more cost-effective...

    It's probably not so much "fix" as "completely overhaul the engine or even replace it". Those engines probably run on fuel which has a high melting point - which means that when you turn off the engines, the stuff might turn solid or become very viscous.

    As for the problems, I'm sure suomalainen sisu will pull through at the end ;)



  • @Rhywden said:

    It's probably not so much "fix" as "completely overhaul the engine or even replace it".

    Well, fine, but either way the point is the engines are, as they now stand, defective. And as a result I, the taxpayer, am paying for thousands of gallons of fuel that is burned for absolutely no reason, and the environment suffers from carbon that would not otherwise enter the atmosphere.

    @Rhywden said:

    Those engines probably run on fuel which has a high melting point - which means that when you turn off the engines, the stuff might turn solid or become very viscous.

    Are you for real? Is this epic trolling?



  • I was just giving an opinion on why the engines need to run constantly. The high melting point of their specific fuel is the reason why the Diesel engines of ships also need to run constantly - thus I had the idea that those train engines might run on the same or at least similar stuff called heavy fuel oil.

    It's also one of the reasons why the Diesel engines for cars need to have some gasoline mixed into the Diesel fuel when it's cold outside.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @Rhywden said:
    Those engines probably run on fuel which has a high melting point - which means that when you turn off the engines, the stuff might turn solid or become very viscous.

    Are you for real? Is this epic trolling?

    Cold is a real problem for diesel engines. Not really in a climate like Seattle's, but definitely in Finland.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @dhromed said:

    I thought that, yes, it is normal for fat diesels to start with some difficulty.

    So, the solution is to replace this antiquated technology with something shiny and electrical.

    Fix 6 locomotives, or electrify 100+ miles of track? Hmm... which is more cost-effective...

    It's actually a problem due to low air temperatures (which I'm assuming Seattle has from time to time). The engine's can't start below some temperature threshold (it's below freezing but I didn't work on the project so I don't know the exact threshold but IIRC it's below water's STP freezing point), so they run them 24/7 through colder months. There's some preliminary work on installing block-heaters similar to what you can get for Class 8 line-haul trucks to keep the engines warm enough on electricity when they are at the depot, but that's still in pre-commercial stages from my understanding, and I'm not sure how well it would work in the instance of commuter transport trains since all the work I've seen is related to short-line commercial goods transportation, but it could probably be used at least overnight.

    Edit: boomzilla beat me to it ....



  • @rad131304 said:

    It's actually a problem due to low air temperatures (which I'm assuming Seattle has from time to time).

    We have overnights of maybe 15 Fahrenheit, at the lowest, in the absolute dead of winter. These locomotives have been idling all summer this summer, last summer, summer before-- when I said 24/7/365 I meant it.

    @rad131304 said:

    There's some preliminary work on installing block-heaters similar to what you can get for Class 8 line-haul trucks to keep the engines warm enough on electricity when they are at the depot, but that's still in pre-commercial stages from my understanding, and I'm not sure how well it would work in the instance of commuter transport trains since all the work I've seen is related to short-line commercial goods transportation, but it could probably be used at least overnight.

    ... really? That seems like something obvious they should have had as standard equipment like 20 years ago. I guess for freights it's not really that big a deal whether the locomotives start right away, but that doesn't explain passenger locomotives.



  • @blakeyrat said:

    @rad131304 said:
    There's some preliminary work on installing block-heaters similar to what you can get for Class 8 line-haul trucks to keep the engines warm enough on electricity when they are at the depot, but that's still in pre-commercial stages from my understanding, and I'm not sure how well it would work in the instance of commuter transport trains since all the work I've seen is related to short-line commercial goods transportation, but it could probably be used at least overnight.

    ... really? That seems like something obvious they should have had as standard equipment like 20 years ago. I guess for freights it's not really that big a deal whether the locomotives start right away, but that doesn't explain passenger locomotives.

     

    Dunno how much research actually goes into the block heater design as many places either aren't cold enough to really require them, or too cold for block heaters to do a proper job (the reason all the big equipment on AK's north slope doesn't get turned off in the winter).


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