Study Tour to Germany

After completing a month of missions to Armenia, Azerbaijan and China I had a brief respite in the form of a week long study tour to Germany. About 60 people from the transport unit and our clients gathered in Munich for five days to learn about different facets of transport in Germany. It was a great learning experience as well as the opportunity to get to know clients and other staff members better.


Anyone visiting Munich would quickly appreciate their multi-modal transport achievements. There is an excellent combination of cycle facilities, public transport, as well as catering for cars.

We had our meetings at the German transport museum which was a very special venue. The museum had a whole range of equipment ranging from trains to cars to, my favourite of course, bicycles. One particularly interesting exhibit was the different types of ‘tyres’ that they had on bicycles. During the First and Second World Wars when rubber became scarce they made them from springs, wound steel, and even cork! I would not have wanted to try and turn a corner on some of those bicycles.

I found the presentation on how Munich helps people to use public transport fascinating. When someone moves to Munich they receive a welcome pack which includes a one week free transport ticket, as well as information on how to use the public transport system in the city. This has served to significantly increase the patronage. The place is so bicycle friendly, with separate lanes for bicycles–with their own traffic lights–that I don’t know why people would bother to drive. This was evidenced by the parking at the back of our hotel: the parking area had about two dozen bicycles, and not a car 🙂

In the evening we went to the Ratskeller restaurant. Lis and I sat with two women from Macedonia and I learned a lot about the country. Greece has taken offence to them calling themselves Macedonia and so the country is having a number of challenges to put it kindly – like joining the EU or NATO.

The next day I went for an early morning 10 km speed run. With less than 3 weeks to go until DSC00052Ironman Switzerland I’m nowhere near race ready with my fitness. I went past  the old town gate to the river and then along where Lis and I went cycling before heading back.

We left early and went to the Bayern Munich football (soccer for North Americans) stadium. No, not to watch football but to see how they handle the traffic for some 60,000+ fans. While the traffic management was interesting, the highlight for a select few was to sneak onto the football pitch and get their photo taken. Even if you are from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia or Turkey (the select few) that is a very special souvenir.  Especially as we walked past a ‘do not enter’ sign.

In the afternoon we visited Siemens which is one of the major suppliers of traffic management and control equipment. The head of their mobility division gave an overview of their offerings, followed by two of his staff. It was great to be able to have a Question & answer session to explore different elements of traffic management with a supplier. One  of the Azerbaijan client staff had a series of excellent questions, some of which were hard to answer!

While I was busy Lis had been exploring Munich. We had arranged to meet at the Haupbahnhof to catch our train to Karlsruh at 17:30. When she didn’t arrive I was a bit concerned so began exploring the station. Sure enough, she had gone to the wrong taxi stand …


In Karlsruhe we stayed at the Schlosshotel just across from the train station. This was an old hotel so there was no air conditioning. It wasn’t too bad for Lis and I since we had a room at the back of the hotel which meant we could leave our doors open, but others who were facing towards the main street got little sleep between the heat and the noise of the trams. I was interested to see in the lift that there was a menu from 1943, and in spite of being the middle of the war, they were enjoying caviar and other delicacies.

We had an early start the next morning with a special tram collecting us at 08:00. This took us to the municipal transport company where we had an excellent presentation on the  Karlsruhe public transport system.  With a tram system dating back some 100 years, they have designed the system around trams. Of particular interest was their innovation to use trams on regular train tracks. These have a different voltage, but fortunately the same gauge, so the trams required only minor modifications to their wheels to account for the different switching. By using trams, which are much lighter and able to start/stop easier than heavy trains, it was possible to increase the frequency of stops and thus attract more patrons. Tram/rail is a great way of providing improved services to communities and the huge increases in ridership shows its effectiveness. From an initial pilot study of one line they have expanded throughout the region.

For lunch they took us to a restaurant in the Black Forest which enabled us to see the tram/rail in action. It was very seamless. One minute we were in the town travelling at 50 km/h and then in the country at 100 km/h. You would never have known we had transitioned between two different systems.

Lis and I went for a walk in the zoo which was next to our hotel in the evening. I always feel sorry for animals cooped up in zoos, particularly large cats such as the Siberian Tiger that we saw. However, as Lis noted were they in the wild they would probably have been killed by now so this is hopefully better than extinction. The zoo was more of a park than a zoo, with a relatively small number of animal enclosures, many of which were under construction. We saw a small monkey with two week old babies on its back, quite neat, as well as many different types of birds. There were some very outrageous coloured parrots and flamingos. God really had fun when he coloured the birds!

DSC00054 The next morning I was up early and went for a 22 km run. There was a river running through Karlsruhe so I followed it to the countryside, passing many nicely kept villages. They also have these small ‘market gardens’ where the locals plant flowers and other plants. They have small sheds which are bedecked like miniature chalets, all immaculately kept. In fact that is the lasting memory of Germany: just how neat and tidy everything was.

It was a perfect morning for a run and I didn’t DSC00055 want it to end so when I came back to the hotel I decided to extend it a bit and ran up towards the centre of Karlsruhe where there is a castle. The city was a planned city and the roads radiate outwards from the castle. In fact, Thomas Jefferson visited here and was so impressed that when he commissioned L’enfant to design Washington D.C. he instructed L’enfant to visit Karlsruhe. I got back to the hotel and was stretching when Lis came out looking for me – worried that I had got lost or been hit by a truck. No, just being self-indulgent.


The trip to Frankfurt was very quick as we travelled on one of Germany’s high speed trains. Unfortunately, they couldn’t travel at full speed due to the track not being upgraded, but it was still mighty fast. After checking in at the Intercontinental hotel we had a quick lunch before our afternoon meetings.

We had presentations on electronic tolling. One from an Austrian company, who had actually visited me in Washington to discuss possibilities, and another from a German company. The latter have the world’s only GPS/GSM based tolling system. This uses data from GPS satellites to locate the vehicle and then uses GSM to transmit the bill for distance travelled. This has advantages insofar as it eliminates the need for any roadside infrastructure for toll collection. Several of our client countries are interested in e-tolling and my manager has given me the responsibility to take the lead in this area. Great!

The Euro 2008 football competition was underway. While in Karlsruhe Germany beat Turkey to make the final. In Frankfurt Spain was playing Russia so we all stayed up and watched the game on a large screen. Since my colleague Gibet is Spanish I cheered for them, but as a Canadian it is part of my DNA to cheer against the Russians as we always played them in ice hockey. In fact this year they beat Canada to win the World Championships. Fortunately Spain won (3-0) which means that tonight I’ll be staying up with Gibet to watch the final. Everyone went out to a nightclub afterwards but I passed and went back to Lis being the good hubby I am 😉

The hotel was next to the Main river so of course I ended up running along it, although I had to wait until Sunday morning. DSC00056 This is looking west along the river from a railway bridge I crossed. Frankfurt is the financial centre of Germany and was heavily bombed in the war so there are many modern buildings, with a few gems of old architecture scattered around the city. Lis and I wandered one evening and had dinner in the town square and explored the pedestrian area.


For running the city was great. There was a path along both sides of the river which was shaded by trees. The only downside was the number of indigents who were sleeping by the side of path, under trees and benches. I would not want to be a woman out exercising on my own.

Our final day was one of railways. We had presentations from the German railways about rail logistics and issues faced. It is incredible the amount of goods moved by rail in Europe. The focus was on the limitations in south-eastern Europe where there is a great need to upgrade the infrastructure–hopefully financed by the Bank. One thing which I found amazing was that they ‘lost’ an entire train for 14 days in Turkey (our Turkish colleagues were adamant that it must have been Bulgaria or Romania). Seems like a good reason to have some form of IT locating technology.

We then drove down to Mannheim where they have the rail yards to see how they marshal the trains. It was elegant in its simplicity. When a train arrives it has cars going, say, to  Zurich,  Rome and Munich. Someone goes along the train and notes on a handheld computer where they are going, then decoupling the wagons by destination (say 3 x Zurich then 4 x Rome and 2 x Munich). The train is then pushed to the top of a small rise and gravity then accelerates the cars down the other side. The switches then send them to different parts of the marshalling yard based on destination. Once a certain number of cars are assembled they attach a locomotive and then move them along. Could not be any simpler, or more efficient.

By this time we were at the end of our trip and it was an excellent introduction to the different facets of transport in Germany. I was grateful for the work that had  gone into organizing the trip, and I know that both the Bank staff and our clients benefited from the exposure. It was also nice to have Lis along to meet my colleagues and share some of the experiences. I’m going to enjoy working in Europe and Central Asia – especially since next year they are considering Barcelona and the South of France for the study tour!


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