Tuesday, 30 April 2019

West Midlands Meetup: a write-up

On Easter weekend I went to the UK once again, this time for a meetup with 3 friends I met in a UK railway focused Discord server. This post will detail my journey there and what happened at the meetup itself.

Going to the UK

Going to the meetup at all was an idea that popped up a mere 2 weeks before the meetup itself. I started by looking for cheap flights from my closest airports to the UK, and found a Ryanair flight from Riga to London Stansted, leaving at 11:15 on Friday (April 19) and a return at 06:20 on Sunday (April 21). The meetup itself took place on Saturday.

I had never flown out of Riga before, nor had I flown on Ryanair since late 2016, so flying to the UK now was a new experience in and of itself. I got to Riga by a Lux Express coach, leaving Tartu at 03:45 on Friday morning and arriving at the airport at 08:00 - 3 hours before my flight. The coach was very comfortable, I was able to get plenty of sleep on my way to Riga. I will make a more detailed post on Lux Express in the near future as well, where I'll also compare this ride to the many times I've taken Lux Express inside Estonia - there are quite a few differences.
The coach - an Irizar i6 - at the airport

The coach got to the airport roughly 20 minutes ahead of schedule, with me being the only passenger - others got off at the Riga bus station in the city centre. The airport was devoid of passengers - I'm quite sure I saw more staff than passengers until about 10. There are 3 'piers' of departure gates: A, B and C, and mine departed from the C pier: the only pier which can handle flights outside of the Schengen area. I took a seat near gate C12, where my flight was initially scheduled to depart, and waited there until about 10:15.

I then decided to get up and stretch my legs for a bit, and noticed on the departure screen that the gate had changed to C20 - that explains why I saw no passengers. They were all queuing in front of the boarding gate, passengers with priority in one queue and no priority in the other. I joined the priority queue, as I had purchased a 2nd cabin bag, and about 20 minutes later I was on board flight FR2643, operated by a Boeing 737-800 EI-DHD.
Boarding at Riga
The flight went smoothly and we arrived 20 minutes early in Stansted. I then had to wait about 30 minutes at border control to get to a manned booth where my ID-card could be checked by a border officer. I recommend EU citizens to travel to the UK with their passports, as they can use the automated e-passport gates and save time. The officer seemed suspicious as to why I flew from Riga, Latvia when my ID-card was Estonian, but she seemed to be reassured when I told her it was just cheaper.  Once I was through, I headed for the Stansted Airport railway station, but not before printing out my tickets to Birmingham for tomorrow from a ticket machine.

One day in London

Having missed a train to London by 2 minutes, I got on the next one instead, leaving in 13 minutes. This was the 12:45 Stansted Express service to London Liverpool Street, which I would take to Tottenham Hale - a station in northeast London served by both mainline and underground trains. My train was quite crowded, as it was only 4 coaches instead of the planned 8. At Tottenham Hale I met Andrew, who allowed me to stay at his place for the meetup. Getting to his house was the next item on the agenda.
A Clas 707 at Vauxhall
We took the Victoria line to Vauxhall, where we changed to a South Western Railway service to Whitton, operated by a Class 707 electric multiple unit, similar to trains running on Thameslink. I unpacked some of my things, and we headed back to Central London at 15:50. Only plan I had in mind was climbing the 320-step staircase at Hampstead station, equivalent to 15 stories, others we mostly made up on the spot.

A sign for the staircase at Hampstead
Having reached Hampstead we grabbed some snacks and walked to West Hampstead Thameslink station, hoping to catch one to London Bridge to see the rebuilt station. Unfortunately there were some closures on the Thameslink line, so all trains terminated at St Pancras International instead. However, this was an opportunity to take some unique photos, as Thameslink trains rarely run to the high-level area of St Pancras. We also took some photos of Eurostar trains, and then Andrew left to go home while I took a Northern line train to London Bridge.




A Class 700 and Class 222 at St Pancras High Level. Photo by Andrew.

London Bridge station was recently rebuilt to a new layout. Many areas of the station are walled off for ticket holders only, similar to the airside area of an airport. The station is served by mainline Southeastern services towards towns in Kent, Thameslink services to Brighton, Bedford, Peterborough and Gatwick and Luton airports, and suburban Southern services. I took some photos of Southeastern trains, and then got on one myself to Waterloo East, where I took a train and a bus back to Andrew's house, grabbing some snacks for tomorrow from a Waitrose near Twickenham station.
A Southeastern Class 375
The departure boards at London Bridge 

The Meetup

On Saturday morning we left at dawn towards Marylebone station in London to catch the 07:06 Chiltern Railways service to Birmingham Moor Street. Rather than go all the way up to Birmingham on it, we got off at Banbury to take some photos of passing trains. We then took a CrossCountry Class 220 Voyager train to Birmingham New Street, where Jack, Tom and "Shadow" joined us. Andrew bought himself and me tickets for the day: West Midlands Day Rangers, a multi-use ticket valid for one day in the West Midlands region.

A Class 68 at Banbury. All photos in this section are by Andrew
We all then got on a CrossCountry Class 170 "Turbostar" to Nuneaton, hoping to see a Class 319 being pulled by a locomotive past the station. "Shadow" stayed on the train past Nuneaton, presumably decided to head home instead. Unfortunately, it didn't run, so we just took some photos of passing and stopping passenger trains and went back to Birmingham New Street on an earlier train than planned, another CrossCountry "Turbostar". 
A Turbostar at Birmingham
Rugeley Trent Valley was our next destination, which we would reach by a Class 170 "Turbostar" operated by West Midlands Railway. On the way there we played a game of cards, which Tom won. At Rugeley we were expecting a freight train to pass, which it did. We then headed to Lichfield Trent Valley on a Class 350 train, hoping to see another such train dragged by a Class 37 locomotive, which unfortunately didn't run. Upon arrival at Lichfield, we noticed a train had been cancelled on the same line which we were due to take next. As our train seemed unaffected at the time, we weren't too concerned.
Class 66-hauled freight train passing Rugeley
Unfortunately, the 13:50 service to Longbridge which we were due to take next, got delayed due to a signalling fault and was eventually cancelled. The next train was from Lichfield City at 14:16, but we would miss a Class 156 at Longbridge that we wanted to see. So we took a cab (paid by West Midlands Railway) to Lichfield City station to catch the Class 323 train to Bromsgrove. The 156 move we were hoping to see at Longbridge got cancelled as well, so we didn't actually miss anything. However, since we had missed an earlier train, we had to wait 50 minutes at Bromsgrove to catch our next train to Droitwich Spa.
Our Class 323 approaching Lichfield City

A commemorative plaque at Bromsgrove
Tom left to head home at Birmingham New Street, leaving only 3 of us. I got about 20 minutes of sleep on the way to Bromsgrove - quite needed after waking up at 04:45. At Bromsgrove we walked to a KFC to grab some lunch, but had to take it with us back to the station, as our next train, a was due in 14 minutes. At this point we had a 2 minute connection at Droitwich Spa, assuming our train ran as timetabled. Our next train was to Stourbridge Junction, leaving on the opposite platform from Droitwich Spa. Unfortunately our train, a Class 170 "Turbostar", was delayed due to trespassers on the railway, and we saw the connecting train, a Class 172 "Turbostar" leave from the station as ours pulled in.
Bromsgrove station
By now it was 16:24, and although we had caught up to our plan since we didn't go to Longbridge as planned, missing this train ended up completely cancelling all upcoming plans, as the service was very infrequent. We were planning to go from Stourbridge Junction to Stourbridge Town on a Class 139 "Parry People Mover (PPM)" and then go near the Welsh border at Telford. As we were waiting at Droitwich Spa and Andrew was drafting up new plans, we noticed a train heading towards Stourbridge Junction due at 16:56 - this train would be our last chance to take the PPM, and we would make it back to Birmingham in time to head back to London if we skipped Telford.
A passing Turbostar at Droitwich Spa
Speakers at the station announced delays of this train due to trespassers from earlier, and the delays were well over 30 minutes. Eventually our fate was sealed and the train was cancelled. Andrew once again made a new plan, and we decided to go south to Worcester instead, by taking a Class 172 "Turbostar" to Worcester Shrub Hill. As Jack hadn't bought any food from KFC earlier, he was pleased that we would be leaving the station and going for a walk in the city, so he could grab some water. We got to Worcester Foregate Street station at around 17:30, where Andrew was hoping to go up to Stourbridge Junction still and catch the PPM. However, the next train wasn't until 17:48, and it was delayed as well due to earlier trespassers. Our train to London left Birmingham Moor Street at 19:15, and the same train Andrew was planning to take would get us there by 19:02 - there was nothing else to do at this point than head home on a Class 172 "Turbostar" - the 6th one today.
Class 165 at Shrub Hill
The train home: A Class 168

Going home

Even though our train was delayed, we had plenty of time at Moor Street to wave goodbye to Jack and take some photos of our Class 168 to London Marylebone leaving at sunset. We finally got peace as we sat down on our Chiltern Railways train - after all the cancellations, delays and fast connections, it was finally over. This was most definitely interesting for me - I had never been on a Turbostar before, and I had never taken Chiltern Railways. Marylebone was also a new station, and all the disruptions and other mishaps we experienced just added more excitement and uniqueness to the day. Andrew has thought of going to Cheshire at some point and doing something similar - I wholeheartedly support the idea. Additionally, West Midlands Railway have approved my claim for delay repay compensation because of the cancelled trains - they will be paying back the entire cost of the West Midlands Day Ranger.

We got to Marylebone a little past 9 and took a Bakerloo line train to Waterloo. We had the unique opportunity to take a train from platform 20 at Waterloo - an area formerly belonging to Eurostar. All other 4 platforms of that section were empty, and before our train arrived at the platform it was very eerie - a mainline terminus in busy London on a Saturday evening devoid of any passengers.
Empty platforms at Waterloo

At roughly 10 Andrew & I made it home, and it was time for me to pack my stuff and head to Heathrow Airport - more on that in just a moment. At 30 minutes to midnight I left the house to walk to the bus stop, and Andrew followed me there as he was walking his dog. I took Bus 490 and 285 to Heathrow Central bus station - not to catch a plane, but a coach instead. I had booked the 00:55 National Express coach from Heathrow to Stansted Airport, arriving at 2 am, nearly 4 hours before my flight. The coach was quite comfortable, there were few passengers and I arrived on time.

Stansted Airport had a large section of it sealed off for the night for security reasons, and passengers were held near the arrivals area - many were sleeping on the floor with their luggage. At about 2:30 the area was opened up, and the horde of passengers headed for their check-in desks and security. I thought of waiting it out at first, but then noticed that the queue at security isn't getting any shorter and joined in instead. At about 3:10 I got past security and went to the departure lounge, hoping to find a place to sleep - my gate wouldn't be shown until 05:40. At first I stayed on one of the large wooden bench-looking things in the main lounge, but later found a much more comfortable place in a hidden lounge on a floor below, just before the passages to the gates.

The hidden lounge in Stansted
Later I headed to my gate, got on the Ryanair plane EI-DCG and fell asleep before we even left the gate - reserving a window seat turned out to be a good idea, as noone would bother me when trying to get in or out. I woke up a few times for a few seconds during the flight, but stayed asleep until landing in Riga. I arrived early again, by about 30 minutes, and after clearing passport control at Riga I decided to go to the city centre for about 7 hours while waiting for my coach to Tartu. I walked around the railway station area, had lunch, rode trams and buses and took some photos of old Soviet trains in the train station. At 18:45 I headed for Tartu on a Lux Express coach and made it home at about 23:10.

A DR1A train in Riga

The future

I can say with utmost certainty that in my 9 years of UK rail travel, this was the most fun I've ever had. I already mentioned that Andrew is thinking of having a meetup in Cheshire, and I hope that it'll be in a time when I can join in on that. As I'll likely be in London again in October on a class trip, a half-length meetup of sorts could be held there as well. As I'm also thinking of moving to the UK in 5 years, this meetup gave me some invaluable knowledge that can only be obtained from locals, such as "Tesco is usually the cheapest store" and "Chocolate Oranges are good". I look forward to more meetups in the future and more exciting train journeys.

More photos from the meetup and other British trains can be found on the BRDiscord Gallery.









Saturday, 30 March 2019

The London Underground: what it is and how to use it?

This post is about the London Underground, also known as the Tube: a mass transit system in London, and my experiences while using it. I visited the UK between February 25th and March 1st, and thought I should write a post about it, since I've been a long time fan of the network.

A brief history

The first section of the Underground was opened in 1863, between the stations that are today called Paddington and Farringdon. It was operated by the Baker Street & Metropolitan railway, which continued to extend its network in the late 19th and early 20th century, and soon other companies began to build their own lines as well. In 1933, all the competing operators were merged under the London Transport Board, which is the predecessor to the current operator of the Underground: Transport for London.
A Piccadilly Line train at Barons Court. Source: Wikimedia Commons
The first sections of the tube were built by digging up the street above the new line, laying down all the tracks and infrastructure, then covering it back up. This method was known as the 'cut-and-cover' method, and the Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith & City and District lines were built using this method. Other lines are known as the 'deep tube' lines, which were built using tunnel boring machines. These tunnels are much smaller, and the trains are as well. The latest addition to the Tube is the Jubilee line extension from Westminster to Stratford, opened in 1999, and the newest station on the Tube is Wood Lane, opened in 2008.

The network

One of the most recognisable features of the network is the map. Unfortunately, due to copyright issues, I cannot post the famous 'Tube map' here. You can find the latest on the website of Transport for London. I will, however, describe as much as I can.

The London Underground has 11 lines, and operates in all boroughs of London, and extends outside of Greater London as well. The service is very frequent in all parts of the network, with even the outer reaches having trains every 5 minutes nearly throughout the day. The Tube shuts down for weeknights, but there's a limited Night Tube service on Friday and Saturday nights on select lines.
A Victoria Line train at Highbury & Islington

The Tube has 270 stations, and the sprawl and fame of the network has led to many enthusiasts want to visit all the stations in as little time as possible. This is known as The Tube Challenge, and requires a person to either enter or exit a station, or be on a train stopping at it, for all 270 stations of the network in as little time as possible. This is record is officially tracked by Guinness World Records, with the current record at 15 hours, 45 minutes and 38 seconds held by Steven Wilson. Can you beat his time?

Fares

The Tube operates a zone-based fare system, with the fare amount depending on how many and which zones you travel through. Single fares can be bought from ticket machines at any station from anywhere to anywhere on the network, and you can find out the cost by using TfL's Single Fare Finder.

There are many ways to pay for your journey, however I recommend visitors to use the Oyster card, which is a stored-value smart card that automatically charges you the cheapest fare for your journey by recording the stations you entered and exited from. There is also a daily fare cap, which varies depending on the zones you travel through - if you hit the cap, all other journeys on that day are free. Visitors who have contactless payment cards (NFC-capable) can also use them to pay for fares, just by tapping them on the same Oyster card readers. TfL adds up all your journeys at the end of each day, and charges for all of them at once. Both of them are also valid on buses and other trains in the London area, including Heathrow and Gatwick Express (although they charge expensive, premium fares).

On board a Norther Line train

For people who wish to not use the Oyster card, paper tickets are also available. Day travelcards from Zones 1 to 4, 6 or 9 can be bought at any ticket machine, or single tickets between two stations. Keep in mind that this is more expensive than using Oyster.

Technical details

The London Underground, being the oldest underground system in the world, has a lot of old infrastructure, but it is being heavily modernised. The sub-surface lines (Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Metropolitan) lines use new S stock trains, which have walk-through carriages and air conditioning. On the other hand; Northern, Central, Jubilee and Victoria lines have automatic train operation: all the driver does is press operate the doors, and start the automated system. This means that trains can now run faster and more frequently, and TfL runs 40 trains per hour on the Victoria Line in peak hours - a train every 90 seconds.

However, Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines use 1972 and 1973 Stock trains respectively - the oldest trains on any mass transit network in the world. TfL is in the process of acquiring new trains, but they aren't expected to enter service until 2023. These lines are also prone to more failures, as they still use old signalling systems.

My experience

I've been a fan of the London Underground since 2011, and what I really like the most about it is the high frequency - you can get from anywhere to anywhere on the network, without even having to check the schedule. Many passengers don't even know that there is one! What I also like is the Oyster card system - it's simple to use and understand, and is also integrated with other rail operators in London.

However, the Tube isn't perfect. Due to the age of the network, there can be failures, or planned engineering works, especially on weekends. Always check your travel at the TfL website. Also, while Osyter seems simple at first, the exact calculation for a fare is very complicated, and can vary depending on what route you take or which rail operator (or combination of those) you use. 

Still, I recommend all visitors of London to use the Tube, since it's much better than the alternative - driving. And the Tube is very cheap off-peak - you can travel between zones 2 and 6 for only £1.50.






Saturday, 9 March 2019

BritRail Pass: A guide and review

I went on a trip to the UK from February 25th to March 1st. This was my first solo trip to the UK, but 8th overall to the country. This post will be on how I travelled within the UK: on trains, using the BritRail Pass.

 What is a BritRail pass?

The BritRail pass is a multi-use ticket for rail travel in Great Britain for visitors to the UK. BritRail was created and is managed by Rail Delivery Group (more commonly known as National Rail) - the organisation overseeing and coordinating operations of the 23 privately run passenger rail carriers. In addition to the 17 franchised carriers, BritRail is also valid on express trains serving airports around London, but is not valid on the London Underground or any other local light rail service. The BritRail pass also has special offers for museums and other sights across the UK.
My BritRail pass
BritRail passes are available for several areas of the UK, and for different periods - either consecutive or flexible (e.g travelling on 5 days out of 15), and is available both on paper and electronically for smartphones (M-Pass). Full details can be found on the official homepage, and passes can be bought from rail travel agencies, such as ACP Rail, where I purchased mine.

How to use?

The first step to using a BritRail Pass is buying one from a travel agency, such as ACP Rail. BritRail passes are not available in the UK - you must buy one before you travel. I bought a consecutive 4-day paper pass for England only. I also added pass protection, which covers loss and theft of the pass. My total came to €119, including express delivery included with pass protection. I would personally recommend the M-Pass though, as you won't have to pay for delivery or protection, and for other reasons you'll see later.

Once you've arrived in the UK want to start travelling on trains, your paper pass must first be validated. If you have an M-Pass, you don't have to - you have to select the dates of validity during the purchase process. Paper passes must be brought to a staffed ticket office at a National Rail station, where it will be marked with the range of validity and stamped with the start date. Users on flexible passes must also write down their dates of travel in sequential order on the pass.

When your pass is validated, then the next step is to get on a train and enjoy your travels! However, as most stations have ticket barriers which can't read your pass, you must show it to a member of staff to be let through. M-Pass users again won't face this problem, as many barriers are fitted with bar code readers, which can read the pass.

On an 'HST' train towards King's Cross from York. I couldn't have gone there without BritRail.

My experience with the pass

As stated before, I used a BritRail consecutive 4-day pass for England on my travels. My first trip on a train was a Heathrow Express service to London Paddington station, starting at Heathrow. I found out there was no ticket office which could validate my pass at Heathrow, so I had to travel to Paddington first. Fortunately I was told by members of staff that it's OK to use it, as long as I fill in the dates of validity myself.
My one true enemy

Most of my travels went without a hitch. Every ticket barrier however was a minor inconvenience for me though, as I had to get my pass out of my backpack and show it to a member of staff to be let on to the platforms. Fortunately this didn't cause me to miss any trains, but I will be using an M-Pass the next time to avoid this issue.

Guards on the trains seemed to be OK with my pass as well, even though they probably only see them once every few months at best. One guard on a train from York to King's Cross didn't like that I had the dates of validity filled in myself, even though they were written again twice by staff at Paddington in marker. He let me go that time, but warned me that he'd charge for tickets next time. This was fortunately the only encounter like this.

I recommend BritRail for anybody visiting the UK outside of London and thinking of taking the trains. Within London it is mostly not valid, and visitors would get a better value of using the Oyster card, on which there will be a post on in the future. BritRail passes provide a great value for anyone taking long distance trains, as tickets can get rather expensive. For shorter journeys however, it might be best to buy regular tickets from ticket machines. It all depends on your individual travel plans and budget.


Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Tallink's Tallinn-Stockholm ferries: A review

This post is all about the Tallinn-Stockholm ferry service operated by Tallink. I went on a cruise on this route on December 26-28, and this is a post about my experiences on that ferry, and also a general guide to the service, as I've been on these ferries several times over 12 years.

History of the service

Regular ferry service between Tallinn and Stockholm began on June 16th 1990, when MS Nord Estonia departed Stockholm for Tallinn, operated by EstLine - a joint venture between Estonian and Swedish shipping companies. In 1993, MS Estonia took over the route from Nord Estonia, however her time was cut short by a tragic sinking on September 29th 1994. EstLine continued to operate the route until 2001, when the route was transferred to Tallink - an Estonian ferry company which had previously operated only on the Tallinn-Helsinki route.

MS Victoria I docked in Värtahammen, Stockholm

In 2004, Tallink received MS Victoria I - a brand new ship designed for running between Tallinn and Stockholm. She entered service on March 21st 2004, and remains on the route today. On May 1st 2004, following Estonia's accession to the European Union, a stop was added in Mariehamn, Åland, to allow duty-free sales onboard to continue. MS Victoria I was accompanied on the route by MS Regina Baltica until 2006, when she was replaced by Victoria's sister ship, Romantika, which had previously operated between Tallinn and Helsinki. She was transferred to the Riga-Stockholm route in 2009, when MS Baltic Queen, Tallink's newest cruiseferry, entered service between Tallinn and Stockholm.
Baltic Queen in Tallinn. Source: Wikimedia Commons

About the service

Tallink operates a daily service between Tallinn and Stockholm. Passengers can book a cruise - departing and arriving at the same city, with approximately 7 hours at their destination, or a single or return trip between the two cities. Passengers have a choice between 6 classes of cabins (8 on the Baltic Queen.) On a single/return trip, passengers may also bring a car, for an additional fee. They may also book a place in a shared cabin for a lower cost, while cruise passengers must book an entire cabin.
E-class cabin on board Victoria

A ferry departs Tallinn every day at 18:00 and arrives in Stockholm at 10:15. The departures alternate between the two ships, i.e when Baltic Queen departs Tallinn, Victoria leaves Stockholm. The departure from Stockholm is at 17:30, arriving in Tallinn at 10:45. The ships stop at Mariehamn on the way for 10 minutes, arriving at 04:50 when heading for Stockholm, at 00:50 when headed for Tallinn. For latest, up to date schedules and more traffic information including disruptions, check Tallink's web page on the service.
A display at Terminal D in Tallinn, informing passengers of the ship's departure time.

On-board facilities

As the ships are designed for a leisure service, they have plenty of restaurants, shops, and entertainment on board. 2 decks of both ships are dedicated to public spaces. Deck 6 is where the shops are located. Passengers can buy sweets, alcoholic beverages, souvenirs, electronics, apparel and beauty products free of tax. Deck 7 is mostly for restaurants and bars - both ships have Grande Buffet, Grill House and Gourmet restaurants and the Sea Pub and Piano Bar. Baltic Queen also has a Russian a la Carte restaurant and a Cigar Club for smokers.


There is a show bar, spanning the stern of the ships on decks 6 and 7, where most on-board entertainment activities take place. Inside is also a PAF Casino and arcade games. There is also a disco, childrens' play room, conference centre, spa with saunas and an information desk.

My experience

Baltic Queen and Victoria cruiseferries provide a great experience for people looking for a holiday at sea and for people using it as transportation. While slower than flying, the price includes a night's stay in a comfortable cabin, saving a hotel bill. The best option for travellers on a budget is a shared place in a B class cabin, with a price of around 40-50€ for a one way trip. As passengers on a cruise must book an entire cabin, they are usually entitled to cheaper rates than passengers booking single or return trips. For example, I booked an E-class cabin for 70€ on my cruise, while a return trip on the same dates would've cost over 170€.

The ship is best for group travellers, as the on-board activities are mostly planned as such. Additionally, it is cheaper, as a group of up to 4 people only need one cabin. However, groups should take dining costs into account as well. A dinner in the Grande Buffet costs 31€ when booked in advance, per person, and breakfast is 11€. I recommend passengers to bring food from home if possible, and have breakfast on land outside the ship.

Overall, while I do recommend Tallink's ferry service for transportation and for group holidays, care should be taken when planning it, since expenses on board can go out of control. I would also use caution when booking E-class cabins. The stern thrusters cause vibrations while turning, and this can lead to an unexpected wake-up call as the ship arrives in Mariehamn at night.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

The Stockholm Metro: A Guide/Review

Hello, all readers. This is my first post on my new blog. I will be posting here write-ups of my travels, reviews of transportation systems, and also some tech related stuff. I am writing this on board a ferry coming back from my visit to Stockholm, and this post will be a guide and review of the public metro system in Stockholm.

History


Construction of a section of the metro just north of T-centralen in 1957
The first line of the Stockholm Metro opened in 1950. Prior to that, several tram lines were built to metro standards, to later form part of the metro system - these were called "pre-metro." By 1957, the former short sections of metro lines were connected at T-Central station, forming the Green Line. Later, the Red Line was opened in 1964, running from T-Central to Fruängen and Örsberg, and was extended to Mörby Centrum in 1978. By that time, the Blue Line had been running for 3 years, with 2 lines heading northwest of the city centre. The newest station, Skarpnäck, was opened in 1994, and is the 100th station on the network.

The Network

The Stockholm Metro consists of 3 colour-coded routes - the former Green, Red, and Blue Lines. These are sometimes referred to as Subway Systems 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Routes are served by trains on different services, each with their own number. These run along the same route for the most part, but have different termini.
The Stockholm Metro network diagram. Source: MTR
There are a total of 7 different services.
  • 10  Kungsträdgården – Hjulsta
  • 11  Kungsträdgården – Akalla
  • 13 Norsborg - Ropsten
  • 14 Fruängen - Mörby centrum
  • 17 Åkeshov – Skarpnäck
  • 18 Alvik - Farsta strand
  • 19 Hässelby strand - Hagsätra
The Red and Green routes share tracks between T-Centralen and Slussen, and cross-platform interchanges are available. In addition to T-Central, there is only 1 other interchange station between routes on the network: Fridhemsplan.

Fares

The Stockholm Metro forms part of SL's urban transit network within Stockholm, and accepts SL Access smart cards for ticketing. These cost 20 SEK, and are available from metro stations and Pressbyrån kiosks. These can be topped up with credit for single journeys, or time limited travelcards (e.g 24 hours, 72 hours, etc) for unlimited rides within a set time. There are discounts available for young people (under 20 years old), seniors and students in Sweden. A 24 hour travelcard for adults costs 125 SEK, 72 hours is 250 SEK, and 7 days is 325 SEK. For people entitled to discounts, they cost 85, 165 and 220 SEK respectively.

For visitors who only make 1-2 journeys, paper tickets are still available from ticket machines and from the SL mobile app. A single ride ticket for adults costs 44 SEK, 30 for people entitled to discounts.

Technical Details

The 3 systems of the Stockholm Metro operate on different signalling systems as well. On the Red and Blue lines (Systems 2 and 3) the old system is in use, manufactured by Union Switch & Signal, and on System 1 a newer system enabling Automatic Train Operation (ATO) made by Siemens. All systems use a 3rd rail power supply, with a nominal voltage of 650V on Systems 1 and 2, and 750V on System 3.

There are 4 models of rolling stock in operation: the modern C20 trains, and the older Cx trains: C6, C14 and C15. C6 trains run on System 2, C14 and C15 run on System 3. C20 trains make up the majority of the fleet, and run on all lines. System 1 is the sole domain of the C20, due to the new signalling system. C6 units were built in 1970-1974, while the C14 and C15 were built from 1985-1989, both by ASEA. The C20 trains were built by Bombardier in Kalmar Verkstadt from 1997 to 2004. 

C6 train 2664 at T-Central, running on service 14

C20 train. Source: Jognes, Wikimedia Commons


My impression

The metro in Stockholm was the first metro I ever took, and it is very well operated. The stations are clean, accessible, and the signage is clear - even for someone who speaks no Swedish. The C20 trains are modern, clean and comfortable, however drivers tend to handle the train a bit aggressively outside the Green Line, so make sure to hold the handrail when standing. The fares are reasonable, considering the purchasing power of the SEK. The Stockholm Metro is a good way to get around the city - for both locals and visitors.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Telia (formerly Elion) TV on a 3rd party router: Part 1

The largest internet service provider in Estonia is Telia Eesti, formerly operating as Elion. Along with broadband internet, they provide a TV service, using IPTV technology. Since this is a rather new technology, it has yet to be standardised, and every ISP operates it with their own parameters. As a result of that, customers are often required to use a router provided by the ISP, in this case Telia, to gain access to IPTV services, since they are distributed via the same broadband connection. However, with a bit of work, one can use IPTV with a router obtained through another party on Telia.

A bit of background


IPTV, or Internet Protocol television, is a term describing the delivery of television content via the Internet Protocol. This is different from internet television, which is the delivery of content over the Internet. Even Telia offers such a service - minuTV. IPTV differs from that since it is only distributed over a restricted network (Telia's IPTV network), and requires a special device to view (a set-top box from Telia, such as an Arris VIP5305.) Telia's closed IPTV network is accessible to everyone who has this service activated under VLAN ID 4. The Inteno DG200A, DG301 and DG400P routers offered by Telia are pre-configured to connect to that VLAN, and the STBs on the local home network get their content by proxy from the router.

Live TV channels are distributed as multicast groups, each with their own IP address, such as 239.3.1.1. To join one of these groups, an STB sends a request via the IGMP (Internet Group Management Protocol) to the entire network. The router receives the response, and forwards the request to the IPTV network, where the channel becomes available to the router. A live video stream will then be continuously sent to the whole local network, and it's up to switches on the network to filter out the stream (IGMP snooping). Telia's routers do this automatically, but if the STB is behind another switch, it might not do that. The stream will get to the STB, which will decrypt, decode the stream and play it on a connected screen. Recorded programmes, rental movies, and other non-live content is available by a standard video stream from the IPTV network. For this, the STB simply requests content directly from the server, and the router is set up to forward that request to the IPTV network, rather than the Internet.

Prerequisites


To use Telia TV with a 3rd party one router, one must first have the Telia TV service activated on their home broadband connection. This is tutorial only applicable to DSL or Fibre connections, it is not required nor possible on F4G. One must also have a 3rd party router, however special requirements need to be considered when buying one. It must support custom firmware, or be configurable to connect to VLAN 4 on the WAN side, in addition to the untagged internet VLAN. I personally used OpenWRT, however people have had success with earlier versions of DD-WRT as well. Information on hardware compatibility and flashing instructions can be found on their respective websites.

Sandy Bridge, nor the author of this blog is not responsible for any damages caused by modifying critical system components of any router, gateway, CPE, or any other piece of network equipment. Flash firmware at your own risk!

This is the end of part one. Part two will be on 2 ways to set up IPTV, with detailed instructions for both, on OpenWRT.


Monday, 14 November 2016

Rebuilding ISO links

If you need any Microsoft software from MSDN uploaded or mirrored, let me know.