Thursday, July 17, 2008

BPN 1161 A eulogy for a printed railway timetable

Yesterday the German newspaper Frankfurter Algemeine published a eulogy (in German; apologies; just learn German!) on the German railway timetable. Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company has announced to stop publishing the printed timetable in favour of internet and CD-ROM. It is the end of the printed era and the start of a fully digital era. But it is not just a time warp in railway communication, Germany now also looses its symbol of punctuality.

I am a fanatic railway user, always taking the train in The Netherlands for my business appointments. But that has a reason as I do not have a driving licence. But also for foreign trips I take the train, if I can. I will travel to Frankfurt by train in order to avoid the horrible airport with different security instructions than Amsterdam Schiphol Airport or any other airport. I take the Thalys to Paris as it is a fast and comfortable train and saves time.

But I must acknowledge that I did not know when the Dutch railway corporation NS terminated its printed version. But in reaction to the German announcement, the Dutch railway corporation announced its continuation of the printed railway timetable. Annually some 60.000 copies are still being sold, a spokesperson for the company said.

The NS has embraced new media in a very early stage. In my covers collection I have a copy of the CD-ROM disc of the season 90/91 (see illustration), called Travel Planner. In the nineties internet came around and was used as electronic timetable. Presently also SMS is used to search the timetable. But as the NS spokesperson said: “On internet and SMS you have to put a specific question, while in the printed version all data are available at once”.

The vanishing of the German printed timetable is also a signal that a new, digital era has started. When the French started their Minitel project in 1980, they offered an electronic directory for the whole of France; the printed editions had always been local. So access to the national directory was progress. After that the encyclopaedia went digital in 1985 with the Grolier CD-ROM version and later on internet, printed encyclopaedias have been (rightfully) reduced to wall decoration, despite the printed version of the German Wikipedia (is it a bestseller; I guess not). Now the railway timetable is up for extinction. After the Deutsche Bahn many other railway companies will follow suit.

The sector of reference works was the first area to embrace digitisation, now print reference works will start to phase out. In print you had to search yourself with the lovely facility of serendipity; in digital reference works it is hard to gain full oversight.

Blog Posting Number: 1161

Tags: reference, encyclopaedia, timetable, directory, , ,

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