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The Netherlands – August 2011

Amsterdam

This city surprised me... I was expecting somewhat of a metropolis, Amsterdam being the capital and all. Instead it's a beautiful canal city with fantastic architecture, despite some of the houses leaning towards canals or other buildings.

Nederlandse Spoorwegen [aka 'Dutch Railways'] (Official site) is the national railway operator and provided us with all the transport requirements we needed. Multiple trips were taken out to random locations and the trains were always fast and on time.

EMU at Amsterdam Thalys at Amsterdam

Amersfoort

Just south-west of Amsterdam, Amersfoort is an interchange station for anyone wanting to head north/north-west. We used this interchange on the way through to Groningen. A modern EMU was caught from Amsterdam Centraal but then the connecting train was a Koploper to Groningen! Checking out this model of EMU was high on my priority list!

The Koploper looks very similar to the JR West Thunderbird (683 Series) and the standard 183/485 EMUs as well, but I'm not too sure who copied who. I also bought a model of this in HO by Lima; I'll post on that at a later date.

NS Koploper Koploper approaching Amersfoort Koploper approaching Amersfoort
Koploper at Amersfoort NS EMUs at Amersfoort EMU at Amersfoort
EMU approaching Amersfoort Airport train approaching Amersfoort

Groningen

My grandparents are from this area and it had to be visited... getting here by Koploper was an added bonus. Groningen is known for its high student population and universities. We had lunch in the town square and checked out the shops; there was a better selection there than the capital of Australia :)

Groningen Station Koplopers at Groningen Koplopers at Groningen
EMUs at Groningen Groningen Station

Veendam

The Museum Railway S·T·A·R runs from Staadskanaal to Veendam and this wasn't far away from Groningen. We took the DMU from Groningen to Veendam and intercepted the first run of the SL for the morning from Staadskanaal. Note that this service has only just been re-connected to Veendam. The train used to stop one station short until June this year (2011) when they re-extended the service.

Groningen DMU at Veendam Shunting at Veendam

The STAR Museum Train had to cross a canal when coming from the south (Stadskanaal); a manually-operated bridge is turned into place when required.

Canal crossing south of Veendam Star SL approaching Veendam Star SL approaching Veendam
Star SL approaching Veendam Star SL at Veendam Star SL at Veendam
Star SL T3-5933 at Veendam Star SL T3-5933 at Veendam Star SL T3-5933 at Veendam

We then took the next DMU back to Groningen and then connected to a return service to Amsterdam.

Venlo

The final day was spent taking the train from Amsterdam Centraal to Bochum, Germany. This was extremely easy and fast. There were three connections in total, all with no issues or delays. Venlo was the last stop before switching to the German railways and was a hub for freight train drivers to change shifts. There happened to be a constant procession of freighters pausing for 5 minutes in the yard, coming in from both directions.

Freight at Venlo Freight at Venlo Freight at Venlo heading West
NS at Venlo NS Loco Hauled at Venlo EMU at Venlo

You can find the whole album here.

28Sep/110

Ruby on Rails – Disturbing Errors

Excuse my efforts in going slightly off topic in an attempt to help out anyone else who may have struck this issue.
I'd been given a good challenge by a friend: mimic an install of ruby on rails on a local VM. I'd never worked with ruby before and google'd for a tutorial. Before I knew it I had Turnkey Linux's Ruby Appliance up and running on Oracle's Virtual Box on 64-Bit Windows 7.

I wont go in to deployment steps here... it's all covered on the web. The basic concepts were to point an apache virtual host at a new directory in /var/www and then browse to the application. To my delight it started, throwing an error. I hadn't even configured a thing yet, so how could I expect it to run?

After configuring the Facebook connector and the database connection the site came up and I could log in and muck around. It wasn't long until I hit the following error. It was only on a specific data class that extended the ActiveRecord interface and only when checking if the data was valid or trying to save it. I could happily create the class and change attributes...

Wrong number of arguments (1 of 0)

What the hell... I hadn't seen ruby exceptions before, so I started to dig. The RAILS_ENV environment variable was set to 'development' and so there was a 'development.log' file sitting in the 'log' directory inside the application. This provided a stack trace and a few other bits and pieces.

After a lot of code commenting and uncommenting I narrowed it down to the 'save' method of the specific data item class. This was inherited from the ActiveRecord::base class and I had no say in what it did or how it did it. I did know that it was expecting no arguments, so that's where the '0' came from in the error, but I was also not passing it any arguments, so where the hell did the '1' come from!?!?!

I then tried the 'valid?' call as well... same result.

I chose to override the 'save' function in the model file by using a pass through... all of a sudden the code continued (after hours of exceptions) and the next related table row creation had a null foreign key for the item that should have been saved. It turns out that by creating a pass through I bypassed the entire 'save' method and therefore didn't attempt to write anything to the db. As soon as I tried to use the base 'save'I got the same error but now in the model file.

I was stuck... so I tried to bring up the debugger via the mini WEBrick server. It, unfortunately, didn't give me any more information than what the development.log file had provided.

Next I tried downgrading and upgrading ruby and rails. I was impressed with the 'gem' system... but nothing helped.

The final step was to google more and more... I had already tried gutting my model implementation (there was extra code in the for other tasks) but none of this changed the inability to call 'save'. All of a sudden one google search came across someone mentioning something about a 'reserved word'.... I google'd further.

Reserved Words

It seems that Ruby has a few words that you MUST NOT GO NEAR if you want your code to work. The main issue is that, when you do, you'll have no idea what you have done as the error message that results has NOTHING TO DO WITH the actual problem. It turns out that after browsing to a post by someone with a similar problem I saw the comment stating that they had used the word 'notify' for a column name.

... so had the original developer of the code I had worked on ...

There was no response to the post that pointed this out in the previous link, so that either means the original author was too ashamed and it was the correct fix, or they found the real fix and never got back to this.

Either way, I corrected my database by changing 'notify' to 'notify_opp' and ... fkn presto ... 10 hours of debugging resulted in a SUCCESS!

Further information on these magical reserved creatures

Ok, the fun part... in hind-sight I've done a little research and there are sites indicating what 'words' are 'reserved' for ruby. Unfortunately, not all of them say that 'notify' is!

References:

Conclusion

Be bloody careful with errors from ruby that don't make sense and don't spend too long digging in to a dead end.
Be diligent with your google searches too.

I spent a lot of time debugging this and I hope this post helps out others in the same scenario.

22Sep/110

New York – August 2011

New York is intense. The city is amazing and, as per any metropolis, perpetually under construction. I happened to be staying in 'serviced apartments' in the Financial District near Fulton St. subway station... but this turned out to be a Jewish synagogue. Pretty bad false-advertising on the website, but survivable. Either way, the place was only to be a bed... there was too much to do outside and no reason to care as long as there was a roof.

As per usual, I'd google-mapped NY prior to coming and new that there wasn't much freight action on the island. I had seen a few yards on the the east coast of Long Island near Brooklyn and had decided that would be a first stop once I had time.

Car floats and empty lots on Long Island

I thought we all called them train ferries or rail ferries, but it turns out they're known as car floats in America. The New York New Jersey Rail, LLC run one from Bay Ridge to New Jersey on-demand. Turns out that when I visited there was no demand whatsoever, to the point where I was actually sure that the whole site had been abandoned. It wasn't until I google'd today that I realised it is the end of the Bay Ridge Branch owned by the Long Island Railroad....
Actually, as I'm writing this I'm seeing conflicting information on Wikipedia as to what carfloat service is actually still in operation...

Train ferry yard near Belt Pkwy Train ferry yard near Belt Pkwy Train ferry yard near Belt Pkwy

I then walked north to the other visible yard on google maps but it turns out the photos are old and the yard no longer existed. I turned east to see the subway depot near 9th Ave Station. It was pretty cool, nice diesel maintenance equipment, but I'd failed to take any good photos.

CSX: The Bronx

This was a fun trip... on my last day in NY I decided to venture north to see a yard just across Harlem River. At the time of research I'd neglected to check suburb names and so just went for it, on foot. I found the CSX depot with quite a lot of rolling stock, random Amtrak services shooting through and a track gang working.

CSX Yard - The Bronx CSX #1304 CSX Yard - The Bronx
CSX #2804 CSX #8842 Caboose!
More box cars Heavy duty hi-rail Old wooden sleepers
More box cars Power gantry

I walked the length of the yard south after coming from the intersection at Baretto Street. In the distance there were two CSX locomotives doing some minor shunting. Fortunately I waited around long enough for an Amtrak service to bolt through.

CSX shunting the port CSX #1305 Amtrak heading north
Amtrak #2026 in the lead Amtrak heading north Amtrak #2026

The next part was meant to be a leisurely stroll across to the large junction of the Metro North and Amtrak railway near 149th Street 'Grand Concourse'. As I crossed the streets I started feeling slightly conscious... it wasn't until I saw a portable police turret keeping an eye out on an intersection that I realised a tourist should probably not be walking through the district with a large camera hanging around their neck.

Metro North and Amtrak near 149th Street

This area provided a nice amount of action. Around 1 train every 5-10 minutes in both directions and from both Metro North and Amtrak. Although the sun wasn't in the best position, and there were a lot of fences preventing clear shots, it was a good location to just relax in the high 20-degree temperatures + humidity.

Ex CPR stock NY MTA Northbound MTA

Harlem River

I then walked south and crossed Harlem River. There seems to be a lot of freight infrastructure on the northern side, including a low-lying viaduct allowing the trains to traverse the border of the northern shore. The main Metro North rail bridge is also a great backdrop.

Freight rail viaduct near the Bronx Rail bridge near E135th St

Harlem-125th Street Station

This is one of the first stations on the south-side of the line on the bridge shown previously. Therefore it carried the expresses and locals stopping at this station. Fortunately the sun was in the right position for anything heading south. It was a pretty busy location and the foyer of the building was amazing.

Harlem-125th St Station Harlem Station NY Harlem Station
Metro-North at Harlem Metro-North departing Harlem Loco hauled Metro-North at Harlem
MTA at Harlem Metro-North heading North Metro-North Commuter Railroad

And that was it for New York... the next day was Amsterdam...

19Sep/110

California – August 2011

Right, here we go... I've been back in Australia for over a week and am only just getting on top of the stack of photos taken from my most recent holiday. This was the not-Japan trip and it began in the USA.

California

The goal was simple... fly the red-eye A380 from Melbourne to LAX, jump in a hire-car and make it to San Francisco the 'scenic way'. A few days would then be spent in San Francisco before returning to LA via the inland route. This would include Yosemite and a few of the larger railroad junctions as seen from Google Maps.

San Luis Obispo

The Pacific Surfliner (I think?) happened to arrive just as we did. There were a few UP Locos stored as well... maybe for banking? The town was great, unfortunately we didn't check out the coffee; there were quite a few lively places around the station to do so though.

Amtrak and UP at San Luis Obispo Amtrak 90208 at San Luis Obispo UP at San Luis Obispo

The pedestrian bridge at San Luis Obispo was well designed. It provided a great view of the station and yard too.

San Luis Obispo Pedestrian Bridge at San Luis Obispo Pedestrian Bridge at San Luis Obispo

I had always thought that the Bachmann models of the Amtrak cars were just cheap and didn't include side-frames on the bogies... turns out they're actually like this in reality... not the prettiest view.

Frameless bogie San Luis Obispo Station Amtrak at San Luis Obispo

Paso Robles

The next stop via Highway 101 was Paso Robles. Not much happening here at all... I nearly expected to see the same Amtrak train coming through, but it seems that we beat it way too easily. The station has a Sushi shop built in, but the prices weren't what we were willing to dish out despite paying the US$.

Paso Robles Station Paso Robles Station Sushi at Paso Robles Station

Quarry Lake (east of Watsonville)

An accidental detour saw us visit a quarry near Quarry Lake. The initial plan was to divert from 101 to check out the seemingly large junction at Watsonville, but the weather and time wasn't on our side.

Quarry Lake Rake at Quarry Lake Facilities at Quarry Lake

Caltrain Station, San Francisco

Caltrain is a loco-hauled/control-cab operating passenger service from San Francisco (right next to the baseball stadium) down to San Jose. Turns out there's a few great restaurants next to the station in San Fran and whilst waiting for dinner I had a few minutes with a friends camera to check out the yard. Fortunately the sun was also in my favour.

San Francisco Caltrain Station Line-up at Caltrain Station 9xx Locomotives at Caltrain Station
Passenger cars at Caltrain Station

As you can see, it's a terminus; they'll end up in the water unless the dig or build over to Oakland. Unfortunately I didn't get to see any of the trains in action, nor ride one, but it's something I'll go back again for.

Trams/Trolley buses in San Fran

I was quite impressed to see the trolley bus routes in San Francisco. I had never actually seen any running and the biggest shock was the lack of noise. I'm used to diesel buses here in Australia and the electric versions are bloody quiet. I imagine it could even be a safety issue if no one can hear them coming?
Another impressive feature was that the trams used one of the trolley bus wires where they shared paths. Of course, the bus would not pick up the other polarity from the ground, so they needed two wires in the air. Trams, on the other hand, only used one and so you'd see, at intersections, trolley buses and trams banked up behind each other.

Trolley Bus Tram #1893 PCC Trolley #1051

San Francisco Cable Car Museum

This is a must-see for any rail enthusiast. Sure, the they're not exactly 'trams', but the techonology behind the system is awesome. This Museum actually still acts as the motive power source for the cars. The cables are turned here to pull the cars up the gradients. The cars are controlled by levers where the driver can choose to detach from the cable and apply brakes... i.e. allowing them to stop at 'stops'. Hence the cables are perpetually spinning, or during hours of operation anyway.

Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum
Cable Car Museum Cable Car Museum

And then... the Cable Cars...

The world-famous cars that run on the cables are a tourist trap. The ticket price is 4x a standard fare and the queues to ride them are usually large. The cars to move quickly, but I imagine there's a limit to the amount of cars on the cable at once as you'll often see the drivers at the end stops waiting for the other cars to climb the hill. Pretty frustrating as someone in the line waiting.

As for the ride, the gradients are awesome and the passing is pretty dangerous... hang of the side if you dare, but keep your head in!

San Francisco Cable Cars Cable Car Turntable Cable Car Turntable
Powell and Hyde (or Mason) Heading into the city Close passing
Close passing Another pass

Oakdale

A random stop through Oakdale on the way to the Yosemite National Park found a random caboose and the Sierra Railroad's Dinner Train. Not much was happening around the yards, so I didn't hang around long.

Caboose in Oakdale Mendocino Railway at Oakdale Mendocino Railway at Oakdale

Fresno

The initial perception of Fresno indicated little railway infrastructure and life... fortunately I was wrong. After a little false navigation following disused lines I came across 'South Railroad Avenue' which followed the main line. It turns out that there's a junction and then the BNSF depot. Finally some real american horsepower. Santa Fe had always been my favourite railroad (first model train, etc...) and it was nice to see them, although in the amalgamated BNSF livery.

BNSF Locomotive at Fresno BNSF Locomotive at Fresno Stored freight cars at Fresno
BNSF Locomotive at Fresno BNSF Locomotive at Fresno

The last miles on Interstate 5

After Fresno the countdown was on to get back to LA before midnight. The plane to NY was leaving early the next morning and we needed some time to check out Hollywood. Along the way back there were a few freighters hanging around loading sites, one was from Golden State Feed and Grain and another from Rail America.

Golden State Feed and Grain Unused signals Grain silos
Rail America Rail America

And that was it... New York was next.