Fyra: no way

In Europe, high-speed trains on high-speed tracks exist in customer service since 1981. The first one was the TGV (French: Train à Grande Vitesse, high-speed train) which is France’s high-speed rail service, operated by SNCF, the national rail operator. It was put in service in 1981 on the South-East line, from Paris to Lyon. Over the last 30 years, the system has been developed widely.

The TGV trains were developed by Alstom (previously GEC-Alsthom) and were quite reliable from the beginning. Extensive testing and good engineering were at the basis. In the mean time, several types have seen the light.  The first TGV’s have been fully renewed in the mean time, and are still operating well.

In Germany, the local operator, DB, started to develop their trains some years later and various ICE train types were delivered by Siemens since 1991. In the beginning, reliability was with some versions a critical point. Other countries, such as Italy and Spain, developed derived versions, and several high-speed tracks are in service now.

In the nineties, two further new destinations were brought in service. First the Eurostar, which started service in 1994 via the Channel tunnel. The trains are derived from the TGV type and have several similarities. In 1996, the Thalys was opened, a connection between Paris and Brussels, with direct trains to Amsterdam and Cologne. The Thalys is also quite close to the TGV models.

All this worked and works well, and the various systems continued to extend their destinations via new high-speed tracks.

In the beginning of the 21st century, both The Netherlands and Belgium wished to replace their ‘old’ connection by a new modern high-speed train. They wished also to use these new tracks for local connections.

The bright idea was born to develop/invent a new train type (V250), using the latest european technologies. After an official selection process, the decision was taken in 2004 to order these trains from an Italian company, Ansaldo Breda. For train and tram enthusiast, this was a real shock. Because everyone, and I repeat everyone, having some knowledge in the industry, knew that this company did and does not have a good track record of reliability and delivery.

Delivery of these trains, in the mean named Fyra, was foreseen for 2007, but due several delays, the first trains were only delivered in 2009. And, even after these delays, many new further issues and problems were discovered, so the new trains were not brought in service. Delays and issues already brought up the invoice by many millions of euros for both countries.

End of 2012, it was decided finally to start the official Fyra service between Amsterdam and Brussels. After a few days of service, the problems exploded. Delays, snow issues, technical problems, quality problems, etc. brought the service to a halt only several days after the start in December.

Since then, technicians from supplier and rail services, supported by technical experts have examined the Fyra. Today, NMBS, the Belgian operator informed the press that they cancel the contract with the supplier and start legal actions. The NMBS also disclosed several photos of quality issues, and experts and users do not believe their eyes.

The Dutch operator, NS, runs still the local service from Amsterdam to Breda. I do not if this works well, but I expect also the Dutch to decide to cancel the contract with Ansaldo in a few days or weeks.

Many questions will arise after this scandal, and pretty sure this will become a highly political issue. Some people will have a difficult time to answer questions, such as why this supplier, why not just order the same TGV or Thalys trains (which by the way still run on the same tracks as the Fyra). The word incompetence comes to the mind of many people, and the taxpayers in The Netherlands and Belgium will have to pay the bill.

The Fyra website is still accessible today. Only some words that the service is temporarely postponed. You can count on it that still many words will be written on the Fyra. But for me it is one of the biggest failures of the last decade. So Fyra: no way!

Back soon with a new blog. Take care.



Why I continue to program in Delphi ?

I may pass as an old guy (at least I feel like one from time to time), but I still like Delphi as my preferred development tool. I show you why today.

Delphi is a programming tool based on the programming language Pascal. In fact, Delphi was built on the Turbo Pascal language from Borland. I will spend another blog one day on this company, which brought real changes, but could not survive against big brother Microsoft.

Delphi has since day 1 (beginning of the 90’s) been focusing on Rapid Application Development. All visual elements, an open environment and an extremely fast and reliable compiler. It just worked fine. Since the 90’s many versions have passed, some good, some bad. Competition came all these years mainly from Microsoft, but also from others such as Sun with Java.

In fact, Delphi went from release 1 until release 7, a stable version release in 2002. In the years after, parts of Borland were sold and the company changed ownership several times. Some later versions were less good, but since 2009 better versions were brought on the market. I discovered today a post from 2009 (read here) from a fellow Delphi user, and his arguments are still fully the same. Personally, I like most the requested Pascal program structure, easy to build, easy to read.

Off course I tried many other software development packages. I tried in the early nineties DBase III and its much better competitor Foxpro until it was bought by Microsoft. I also used Visual Basic, and I tried C++, Java, and for the web all PHP, HTML5 and others. And the last years, I’ve tried to find a solution for multi channel (Windows, Mac, iOS, …), so I tested Eclipse and others.

But, every time I come back to the Delphi language. Today, Delphi is marketed as a part of ‘RAD Studio’ by the company called Embarcadero, and still fully alive and kicking. The latest version is version XE4, released a few days ago. It now has full code alignment between Windows, Mac and iOS, all in lightning fast and straightforward language. Borland has also always delivered a good Database, called Interbase, which can compete with the well-known large database software providers. Interbase exists today in version XE3, is a very powerful database, and now also available in embedded and mobile versions.

Delphi has a development part for pure Windows (VCL), and many third-party add-ins and tools are available. Next to VCL, a new module was implemented 2 years ago called FireMonkey. This is a new development usable on all kind of environments and 100% flexible. Also for FireMonkey, more and more third-party tools are coming on the market.

My preferred third-party supplier for both VCL and FireMonkey is tmssoftware.com because they deliver well-working and quality software for a reasonable price. Especially their new cloud offerings are really worth a look. The well-known Octyx program (see here) is also fully developed in Delphi and uses several add-ons, including an embedded database.

Today, with Delphi you can develop for almost all environments (only Android has still to come) in a very simple and structured way. Web development can also be done and many components are available to make life easy. Every time I start programming a new project, it feels like finding back an old friend. And that’s why I continue to program in Delphi.

Back soon with a new blog. Take care.


Shopping future

Today I focus on shopping centers (or shopping malls as they ar called in the USA) and their future. The first ones already were invented 2000 years ago in Rome. The medina in the Asiatic world is an example of an early shopping center, while the arcades in Paris or other cities can also be classified as early examples of shopping centers.

The actual shopping center concept was re-invented about 100 years ago in the United States, especially created when the first cars were launched, with a further boost after the second world war. Easy access to shopping from the suburbs was the main driver.

Shopping malls and centers exist in every country. The biggest between them have more than 1000 shops: impossible to shop this on one day. So some of them have built-in hotels, entertainment parks, and off-course always a bunch of restaurants. You find much more information on the concepts, history and examples of shopping malls in the world here.

It is easy to spend money in shopping malls. You walk, you have a look, and you buy. No problems with the weather, as most malls do have a roof these days :-). You can also visit cinema’s, and you can watch people (very interesting hobby). In fact one could live there forever.

Sometimes I do like to go there. Not always to shop, but just to see what’s new. You can touch stuff, and you can negotiate sometimes. In general, however, personally I like to visit the old little shops in the city centers, especially here in Belgium. Because they are often not part of the large chains, and they offer personalized service.

As an example for Brussels, where I live, several discussions on new shopping malls are currently taking place. This is in itself not surprising, because the Brussels Region does not have many shopping malls. In fact I know only 2 (1 east, 1 west). A very large new center is planned in the north near Vilvoorde (UPlace), ana again easy accessible by car and maybe by public transport. Also in Paris, with already a huge offer on shops, a new shopping experience called ‘So Ouest‘ (So West) was opened last year in a suburb.

But, when thinking about these discussions, I had the following thoughts. Since several years now, the internet is becoming big business. Almost everyone has already bought books, discs, televisions,  or something else on the Internet. Sometimes at the famous well-known sites, such as Amazon.com (global player) or bol.com (dutch player), but also at an increasing number of second-hand offerings web sites.

So why would one still wish to buy something in a shopping mall? Verifying prices can be done easily on the internet, and quality is checked in the mall. But buying is more and more on the internet. Because the prices are often lower than in the malls. And you have fewer people in front of you at the cashier. So much easier.

A detailed analysis was done on this phenomenon by The Economist (read here). Their conclusions are that internet and shopping malls can compete with the internet, especially through the ‘hands-on’ experience. Although, they are not sure if this will last forever.

Personally, for me it is an easy choice: shopping for day-to-day, or serving special needs, I will continue to do in the local shops near my house. Checking and touching goods I can do in the malls, but buying I will do on the internet. That’s the shopping future for me.

But off-course, with the bad weather we have had the last months here in Belgium, walking, shopping and eating in a shopping mall is probably more fun than surfing the web at home. Up to you to make your own choice.

Another blog tomorrow. Take care.


Last saturday we brought a visit to Lille in France.

Lille is a large city in the north of France. It is the principal city of the Lille Métropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in France after those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Lille is a modern city with a very interesting historic centre, the so-called ‘vieux Lille’ (old Lille).

Coming to Lille by car and train is easy. Eurostar, TGV and local trains have stops in either the modern Lille-Europe train station, or the Lille Flandres train station. The new train station was built with the TGV and Eurostar in the nineties, and is located a few hundred meters next to the Lille-Flandres train station.

Public transport in Lille is three folded: the metro (the Val), buses, and the interurban tramway to Roubaix and Tourcoing, the Mongy. The Lille Metro is a VAL system (véhicule automatique léger = light automated vehicle) opened in May 1983, becoming the first automatic metro line in the world. The metro system has two lines, with a total length of 45 km and 60 stations. Interesting rides, because you can sit in the front and look at the tracks.

As we can read on Wikipedia (link), the Lille tramway in France is named after Alfred Mongy, the engineer who created the interurban lines back in 1874, that make up the current system. The current interurban lines were finalized in 1909. While most urban lines in Lille were abandoned after 1950, the Mongy remained in service as the backbone of the public transport network. Part of the tramway lines run in parallel with the metro.


The system consists of two interurban lines, connecting central Lille to the nearby communities of Roubaix and Tourcoing, and has 45 stops. The lines were built at the same time as the boulevards linking Lille to its two neighbours, and the lines run on reserved track within the boulevards for most of their length. The lines originally terminated in the street outside the Opéra de Lille, but were diverted into a tunnel and underground terminus at the Gare de Lille Flandres since 1983.

The actual trams, metre gauge, were delivered in 1994 by Breda Constructions from Italy, and were of the 70% low-floor type. This model has not been delivered to other cities, and are therefore unique. Only drawback: no views to the front due to the construction model. They replaced very old tramways, second-hand, from Germany. The change was combined with a full renovation of the network. Currently, the tramways are renovated again for another 15 years of service.

Both tramway routes are a pleasure to discover, because they combine city views with residential views. The photo was taken at the point were both lines split.

We can duly say that Mr. Mongy had a vision, and for me the Mongy tram is really worth a visit for both tourist and tramway enthusiastic.

Back tomorrow with a new blog. Take care.

Ludlum – Het Janus complot

As many of you probbaly did also, I read almost all of the original Ludlum series. It started in the 70’s with great books such as The Osterman weekend (“Het Osterman weekend”) or The chancellors manuscript (“Het Hoover archief”). Great books. All.

Today I share my thoughts on one of the latest out of the series: The Janus Reprisal (“Het Janus complot”), I read this week.

As you may know, Robert Ludlum wrote many books (check for wikipedia here):

* The books credited to him and written fully by himself using different characters. 19 books always in his famous fast style. You liked them, or not. No gray zones. There were also 5 further books published in which Ludlum’s personal influence was visible, but they were finished and published after his death.

* The 3 books he wrote on Jason Bourne by himself, followed by 7 further books written by Eric Lustbader after Ludlum’s death in 2001. Personally, I am not a big fan of the Jason Bourne character, as part of the books always describe a mysterious organization (‘Treadstone’), and, as I see it, never being really explained.

* A third series based on the character Jon Smith of Covert One, written largely after his death, and always written in combination with different writers , such as Gayle Lynds, Patrick Larkin, or the one I discuss today with Jamie Freveletti.

Overall, until end 2012, around 45 books, with further 2 more coming in 2013.

So, ‘Het Janus complot’, written in 2012 by Jamie Freveletti is also based on the Covert One Series, with Jon Smith described as a combination of a scientist with a strong military background. As indicated by the wikipedia page, the books feature a team of political and technical experts, belonging to a top-secret U.S. agency called Covert-One, who fight corruption,conspiracy and bioweaponary at the highest and most dangerous levels of society.

It starts with a terrorists attack on a conference hotel in The Hague, The Netherland. Jon Smith is caught in the crossfire and barely escapes… but not before discovering a picture of himself and two other targets in the pocket of one of the terrorists. Simultaneously, the whole city is under attack: bombs are going off at the train station, the airport, and the International Criminal Court, where Pakistani war criminal Oman Dattar manages to escape.

Dattar was under trial for crimes against humanity and does not really like the United States and its allies. He controls a mysterious new weapon and is ready to unleash it against the West. Unless Covert-One can stop him. Dattar is also angry at a women who took his money and starts getting after her. But she’s strong, and difficult to get.

As usual for this series, the setting is in various countries, but this time mainly focused on the US. The book is really describing action, and you get value for money. There is less focus on the plot, while several items can be thought up upfront by the reader. The book reads well for a sunday afternoon, and you may well like it.

The end is quite straightforward as for this Jon Smith series: end good, all good. Overall: a nice book to read, but for a thriller I was not impressed.

My rating (for thrillers) : 6/10.

One day off tomorrow, so back on Monday with a new blog. Take care.



A short information today on a concept sports car by Renault.

Today in the specialized European press the information on the new Twin’Run concept sports car was unveiled. It looks like this:

TwinRun : click to see more photos

Why is this worth a blog ?

Because this is not just an innocent concept car. It is the combination of the looks of the new 2014 Twingo with the heart of the 80’s Renault 5 Turbo. It has the engine of a Nissan 350Z, so you may say, it has some power :-).

Why is this then so important? As you may new, I still like the ‘old’ 1992 Twingo. The second release was too normal, so not interesting. But this new one looks really good. Some rumours are floating around on a 4-door version, an electric version (already seen as the Twin’z concept), and also that the engine may be in the back, and not anymore in the front. The engine change comes, according to the rumours, from the fact that the new Twingo is produced together with a Mercedes car, the ‘new’ Smart ForFour. We’ll see more next year.

But do not underestimate the ‘5’ sticker on the doors. The Renault 5 was a small car in the 80’s and a huge success due to its simple design and usefulness. Very little cars after that have reached the same levels. Because of the success, the crisis and the good memories, Renault proposed to combine these thoughts with the making of the new Twingo.

On the Dutch Autoweek site, you can also a video of the car (only the beginning is in Dutch, but the rest of the video is in english language). Have a look at this link (just note that it starts with a small advertisement). I am pretty sure, you’ll like the looks and the sound.

So combining such new Twingo with the Renault 5 memories is clearly a (T)win-win for me.

Back tomorrow with a new blog. Take care.


My starting point on today’s blog is that Information Technology (IT) development has become very complicated the last years. It needs to simplify. I focus on this aspect with a specific view on platforms.

In the not so far away past, IT was for most of us a huge mainframe somewhere hidden in a data center, and users just used dumb terminals (the famous green screens). Several organizations still use this as this creates simplicity, but above all these mainframes have often a very large capacity. Development was clear and straightforward.

Since the late 70’s, the introduction of a more ‘personal’ IT started. On one side with mini-systems (smaller or larger servers with their own OS), but also by the introduction of the various personal computers, such as the IBM PC. The big advantage of these solutions was that more flexibility was introduced, and more specific programs could be written by more people. Security was still under control (the famous Norton utilities started then). Development was quite basic still, although many good personal and business applications were written.

At that time also, for businesses, the first big ERP systems started. SAP R/2 took off as mainframe app, and was translated into R/3 for smaller systems and servers. The actual version, still distributed as R/3 (marketing only, in real life it has really changed under the hood) is the big reference in many companies. And the big competitors are known also, such as the Oracle suites. Development was out, configuration was the new buzzword.

From the 90’s, the internet took off. Another need was introduced: develop your own site. First with static data, although very fast we went to dynamic data sites. Security problems really started to take off and became big business (and money :-)) for several clever developers. And everyone wanted to distinguish himself by offering more and flexible solutions to an increasing number of IT users. New developments (HTML), followed by many new languages and options.

Mid 90’s, mobile data started to become more important (the palm pilot for example), with the famous highlight of the iPhone in 2007, followed by Android and others several months later. Mobile is now the big buzzword for everyone. Tablets and phones are everywhere. First with own languages; these days we see more and more common languages (such as Delphi from Embarcadero).

Operating Systems have changed over the years and have become enormously complicated, because of the fact that these OS’s have to speak to all the above, and to understand USB keys, printers, cameras, loudspeakers, cloud solutions, etc …). Windows, Linux, Android, iOS/MacOs are the most important ones.

So now in 2013, we have many applications, many kind of Operating Systems, many computer languages (C++, Delphi, Java, PHP, HTML5, ….), many channels (mobile, tablets, fixed PC’s, television, glasses, watches, you name it), many security issues, and everyone wants to have this kind of choices without hassle. And if possible for free (see my previous blogs). For companies, this becomes very difficult to manage. Because every OS and every channel cost money. On top, keeping the security correct is costing companies more and more. And programming becomes a pain in the ‘…’.

Simplifying is the answer. So why we don’t look to other businesses, such as car manufacturers? Car manufacturers, such as Volkswagen, built the last years its new MBQ platform. This platform is the company’s strategy for shared modular construction for a large part of its automobiles. It is not so much a platforms per se, but rather a system for introducing rationality across disparate platforms that share engine orientation. New cars, such as the VW Golf, or some Seat or Skoda models, use this platform. The inside is the same, the outside is different.

How to translate this to IT? As OS’s are often bound to specific chips, it would be very difficult to define one OS overall. This would also economically very difficult to sell. So a suggestion could be to build on the existing main OS’s a standard layer or platform in which the various services are defined in a similar way. Such as banks did for payment systems with Swift in the 70’s. This, for example, could reduce driver issues and helpdesk calls, which save money to all of us.

So even if you would work on a Mac OS, or Windows OS, you could define the same services everywhere. Lower cost, better price for the customer. Then you could also define a common way to install such services on the various channels, and define a common security layer. We could imagine building on a SOAP kind of solution, but in a much simpler way.

I am on purpose simplifying a lot, because this is not a technical research document. But I am strong believer that the IT world can not go on as we did until know. Also with cars, the number of manufacturers reduced a lot in the second half of the 20th century to make the big players produce cars at a reasonable price. Today, IT development has become really expensive, and this is more and more difficult to sell to end-users (personal and business). We have to go to less IT solutions, and more towards a limited number of standards.

So I think the IT world has to simplify and standardize. Just let’s start thinking about it, and go for it.

Back tomorrow with a new blog. Take care.