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Old Stories

by DoDo
Sat Dec 29th, 2012 at 07:25:24 PM EST

I always took an interest in collecting the stories of my ancestors and relatives which survived in the family. This year, as Christmas present for family members on one side, I decided to condense all my hand-written records and memorised info on that side into block-diagram family trees (drawn with a spreadsheet), and do some new research in the process.

It was a lot more work than I expected, it took up most of my free time over the past three weeks. The delivered (but not final :-) ) result took the form of eight sheets, each with up to 8 contiguous generations and up to 25 siblings/cousins up to 4th grade in the same generation, altogether some five hundred separate individuals, with key personal data and (for the better-known) one-liner summaries of what they are remembered for.

Below the fold, I pick out some random stories of interest, which provide reflections of general history in family history.

Read more... (11 comments, 1878 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #19

by DoDo
Sun Dec 9th, 2012 at 11:09:26 AM EST

Today, on 9 December, European railways switched to the 2013 timetable. The changes include the start of regular service on new lines, including:
  • The 50 km Hanzelijn (Hanze Line) across Eastern Flevoland polder in The Netherlands was inaugurated on 6 December. The on-time, within-budget €1.128 billion project finished a new link that cuts 13 minutes from travel times to the north-east of the country, and is expected to be travelled by 32,000 passengers/day.
  • The Katzenbergtunnel, a 9,385 m bi-tube tunnel on a 250 km/h bypass of a curved section along the Rhine in Germany was inaugurated on 4 December. This €610 million project is part of the quadruple-tracking of the Karlsruhe–Basel line, an extremely busy transit corridor.

  • The new Vienna–St. Pölten line was inaugurated on 23 November, and went into service today along with the first two platforms of the new Vienna Main Station. Switching to the new line and with top speed raised to 230 km/h, the locomotive-pulled railjet trains cut 15 minutes from Vienna–St. Pölten travel times and shorten the entire Vienna–Salzburg trip by 23 minutes to 2h 22m. The total number of daily trains on the old and new lines rose from 325 to 450. Most of the new trains are regional passenger trains, including new limited-stop services with a top speed of 200 km/h (I described two similar services in RNB #17). Vienna's new main station now opened only for regional and commuter services (which were newly connected across the city), long-distance trains will follow only in 2015, so the second half of the tunnel at the Vienna end of the new line is now being used by freight trains only.

Below the fold, I bring further stories on delays caused by rolling stock certification difficulties, ERTMS in Norway, and a new high-speed line in Manchuria.

Read more... (30 comments, 972 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #18

by DoDo
Sun Nov 11th, 2012 at 03:21:26 AM EST

This time, I bring stories on the benefits of proper infrastructure investment in Austria, faster freight trains from China to Europe, the high-speed network in China, and before all that: the end to total unbundling in France.

Unbundling is the separation of the former state railways' management of rail infrastructure and train operations (a key element of EU rail liberalisation). Complete unbundling means that infrastructure manager and train operators are completely independent companies. In Rail policy updates, I reported on a landmark legal case which undermined the European Commission's push for complete unbundling. The consequence is not a mere maintenance of the status quo (those member states that kept infrastructure manager and train operators in a holding can continue to do so), but a push-back: some of the member states that adopted complete unbundling think about reversing reforms. The new government of France now plans to re-integrate RFF, an independent company that got a large part of the functions of an infrastructure manager, with French State Railways SNCF, in a holding structure. The transport minister explicitly mentioned greater cohesion as a benefit.

A tangentially related story concerns Veolia Transdev, one of the biggest private train operating companies in the EU. As told in The Dawn Of Open Access (2/2), one of the owners, Veolia, wanted to get rid of its shares upon signs of trouble. Now the other owner, CDC agreed to a partial purchase, shifting shares from an equal 50:50 to a 60:40 majority. CDC is a financial institution 100% owned by the French state, thus the move turns even more of the liberalised rail market into "private" in name only.

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Innovation and modal shift in Baden-Württemberg

by DoDo
Sun Oct 28th, 2012 at 03:53:28 AM EST

At the end of August, Eurailpress reported:

Stuttgart: Junge Leute besitzen immer seltener AutosStuttgart: Fewer and fewer young people own cars
In Großstädten hat das Auto als Statussymbol bei jungen Leuten stark verloren - entsprechend besitzen auch weniger junge Leute ein Auto.The car has lost much as a status symbol among young people in major cities - accordingly fewer and fewer young people own a car.
Wie das Statistische Landesamt [Baden-Württemberg] jetzt beispielhaft für Stuttgart ermittelt hat, hatten 2011 noch 4800 Menschen zwischen 18 und 25 einen Pkw - 2000 waren es noch fast 13.000 (- 64 %). Im gleichen Zeitraum ist die Zahl der Jungen Leute dieser Altersklasse um 9 % gestiegen. Sogar der Gesamtbestand an privat zugelassenen Wagen ist in Stuttgart zwischen 2000 und 2011 um 8,1 % auf 219.000 gesunken. Parallel ergab eine Bürgerumfrage 2005 und 2011, dass in dieser Altersklasse der Anteil der VVS-Nahverkehrskunden sich von 59 auf 72 % erhöht hat.Exemplary numbers compiled for Stuttgart by the State Statistical Office [of Baden-Württemberg] show that 4,800 people aged 18 to 25 still had a car - in 2000, they still numbered almost 13,000 (-64%). During the same period, the number of young people in this age group has increased by 9%. Between 2000 and 2011, even the total number of private cars registered in Stuttgart dropped by 8.1% to 219,000. A parallel opinion poll showed that between 2005 and 2011, the proportion of the customers of VVS [Stuttgart Traffic and Fare Association] in this age group rose from 59 to 72%.

That's some modal shift. And it didn't happen for social reasons only.

Stuttgart (which just elected its first Green mayor) is the capital of Baden-Württemberg (the state of Germany with the first Greens-led government). The south-western state is noteworthy for not one but several model-worthy systems and developments in the commuter rail sector, from rapid transit through tram-train to electrification. Some of these became the victims of their own success in a good sense, meaning the triggering of further investment for further enhancements.

Read more... (80 comments, 2869 words in story)

Another day of protests in Budapest

by DoDo
Wed Oct 24th, 2012 at 04:03:53 AM EST

TodayYesterday (23 October) is the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1956 Revolution in Hungary. This year, it was the occasion for political demonstrations – a déjà vu-inducing re-run of what happened on 15 March (the day of Hungary's most revered 1848 Revolution). That is: there was again a large civil sphere-organised protest and several barely-attended protests of the democratic opposition parties against the right-populist government of Viktor Orbán and his Fidesz party, there was an even more massive pro-government rally (mobilising mostly old and rural supporters to keep the faith), an event by far-right party Jobbik with racist and faux-revolutionary overtones, and a provocative counter-protest on the edge of the opposition mass rally by the right-of-Jobbik fascists.

It wasn't all déjà vu, though. The main theme of the main opposition rally (which I attended, photo above) was cooperation between opposition forces, correcting the divisions of the spring which wasn't looked at kindly by own supporters. As foreshadowed by car05, from a leftist viewpoint, this cooperation is ominous: it includes the 'NGO' (in practice: think-tank) of previous PM Gordon Bajnai, a non-partisan yuppie from the finance industry who was tasked in 2009-10 with an IMF-inspired austerity programme. The protest was the first occasion for Bajnai to hold a public speech since handing power to his successor Orbán, a speech widely seen as the start of his campaign for being a united opposition candidate in the 2014 elections. Still, at least the clearly most crowd-firing speech was held by a hard-leftist.

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Rail News Blogging #17

by DoDo
Tue Oct 16th, 2012 at 09:11:10 AM EST

With the rail policy and InnoTrans specials, it's been almost two months since my last regular rail news blogging, so this selection covers a period reaching back to August. I'll first report on the parallel development of freight locos in China and France, then continue below the fold on public transport on 'foreign' tracks in France (regional trains on TGV lines and Lyon tram-trains), high-speed competition in Italy, and high-speed lines in Sweden and China.

CNR Datong unveils 10 MW locomotive designed to cross China - Railway Gazette

Rolled out on August 27, HXD21001 has a maximum speed of 120 km/h. It is rated at 10 MW, an increase from CNR Datong's previous 6·4 MW design...

The manufacturer says the domestically produced traction and control systems represent the results of a decade of development work. Components are protected against rain, sand and dust to cope with the differing environments encountered on very long-haul routes across China, while the cabs have a newly designed ergonomic console and improved air conditioning to provide better working conditions for the crew.

Another example of parallel developments by the original manufacturer and the Chinese manufacturer which was the beneficiary of technology transfer (see earlier examples here). This new CNR type was developed from an earlier type that was part of French maker Alstom's PRIMA locomotive platform. Meanwhile, Alstom is in the process of getting approvals across Europe for the 6.4 MW, four-axle PRIMA II. As reported earlier, this type is to be the first to haul through trains across the Channel Tunnel non-stop (eliminating the need for a change of locomotives), because Alstom and customer Europorte (subsidiary of Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel) pursue approvals for all three networks traversed. The trials for the Channel Tunnel itself were held on 29-30 September.

Read more... (15 comments, 1472 words in story)

Berlin, Dresden

by DoDo
Tue Oct 9th, 2012 at 04:55:54 AM EST

During my visit of the InnoTrans 2012, I had some time for sightseeing in Berlin and (on the way home) Dresden. Here I show a selection of photos which I saw as symbolic for some current or historical developments in the politics, economy and (of course) transport policy of the areas involved.

View over Berlin's centre from the viewing platform of the radio tower inside Messe Berlin, 125 m above ground. Right to left: the Berlin Cathedral, the 368 m high TV tower on the Alexanderplatz, the Victory Column in the middle of the Tiergarten park, the Reichstag, the modern Paul-Löbe-Haus (housing the offices of members of parliament) and the Federal Chancellors' Office (with the arch).

(Warning: 24+1 images.)

Read more... (25 comments, 2235 words in story)

InnoTrans 2012

by DoDo
Mon Oct 1st, 2012 at 06:03:17 AM EST

InnoTrans, presently held every two years in Berlin, is the biggest trade fair of the rail industry. Although it focuses on the European market, manufacturers come from five continents, and show off novelties like at the aerospace industry equivalents in Paris and Farnborough. I visited this year's InnoTrans, which was held on 18 to 21 September. It was even bigger than the last time I was there (2006), but I must have walked past 95% of the stands, so my review below is only a small selection of the interesting innovations, ordered in the following eight themes:

  1. The expansion of Polish manufacturers
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Locomotives for freight transport
  4. Noise protection
  5. Freight wagon bogies
  6. Trucks-on-trains systems
  7. Very high-speed trains
  8. Crash optimization

A view over the facilities of Messe Berlin. It has 26 halls with one to three levels, this time 100% occupied by InnoTrans. The open-air exhibition is at top centre (with steam from a steam loco on the right).

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Rail policy updates

by DoDo
Mon Sep 17th, 2012 at 04:08:28 AM EST

Over the years I wrote a couple of more serious Train Blogging diaries introducing and analysing the (mostly) unfortunate choices of European policy-makers regarding railways in the past two decades. But these 'reforms' move on and there are further complications and new case studies. In this diary, I return to four subjects on the occasion of some updates:
  • the general drive to 'deregulate' and privatise the once state-monopolist railways;
  • the implications of the EU's preferred type of privatisation, open access;
  • the tussle over a key element of both open access and some other types of privatisation, the unbundling of infrastructure and train operations;
  • the upgrade old lines vs. build new lines debate.

Read more... (60 comments, 2370 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #16

by DoDo
Sun Aug 19th, 2012 at 09:37:18 AM EST

I haven't posted a news round-up for some time, but the news that gathered can be nicely grouped thematically. I'll present news on high-speed development in China, France and Germany; updates on troublesome rolling stock orders in Denmark, the Netherlands, Italy and the UK; news on super-capacitors in rail vehicles; and before all of those, the end of another public-private partnership in Britain:

London Underground pulls the plug on Powerlink PFI - Railway Gazette

UK: London Underground gave notice on August 16 that it intends to terminate the 30-year Powerlink private finance initiative contract for the operation and maintenance of its high-voltage electrical power network.

LU will end the contract in August 2013 by exercising a half-way break clause. It will be required to make termination payments estimated at about £160m to the Powerlink shareholders in order to repay private financing facilities, but expects to make an overall saving of £225m over the next 15 years.

This follows the termination of the PPP contracts for infrastructure maintenance. Unlike those, the Powerlink PFI is said to have performed well, but we again have a confirmation that financing costs are the big disadvantage of involving private capital.

Read more... (23 comments, 1687 words in story)

Enron's disciples in Germany?

by DoDo
Fri Aug 3rd, 2012 at 02:31:50 AM EST

Last winter, on two occasions, Germany's grid operators had to activate reserve capacity. On both occasions, certain circles were quick to seize upon the event as evidence that last year's nuclear shutdowns and the spread of renewables bring supply instability, also hitting neighbouring countries. However, again on both occasions, something was not quite right with the argument: during the first, a lot of peaker plants in Germany stood idle; during the second, Germany's Federal Grid Agency found evidence of mass speculative behaviour by electricity traders at a time France(!) needed massive electricity imports.

The facts known in this story aren't news, and too much is still uncertain. However, it came up in the discussion of Jerome a Paris's The Economist's sad hack job about German energy policy and I was asked for some more digging and a diary.

Read more... (39 comments, 677 words in story)

The Old Westbahn (3)

by DoDo
Sat Jul 28th, 2012 at 07:14:35 AM EST

I'm completing my documentation of Austria's old Westbahn, based on photos I took this April, the last spring when all trains (including long-distance ones) were climbing the mountains.

To recap the context: the Westbahn, running west from Vienna to Salzburg, is Austria's busiest mainline. To increase capacity and speeds, the Vienna–Linz stretch is being quadruple-tracked. The project is broken into several sections, with work on-going since the nineties. The most challenging section is right at the start: between Vienna and St. Pölten, where the old line crosses a pass of the Wienerwald mountains at the end of the Alps, the extra two tracks get a more level alignment with a 26 km base tunnel. This section enters service at the end of this year, around the 154th anniversary of the classic line.

The first two parts showed the crossing of the Wienerwald mountains, this part will cover the agriculture-dominated hilly terrain until St. Pölten.

The setting Sun shines on a Salzburg-bound two-trainset railjet (the "flagship" long-distance passenger trains of Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB) as it crosses a dam across a small side valley just before the abandoned stop of Schildberg, overlooking the valley of the Persching river.

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Rail News Blogging #15

by DoDo
Mon Jul 23rd, 2012 at 06:11:49 AM EST

After some hiatus, I'll report on Bologna's new cross-city link, examples of centralised traffic control in Bulgaria, Switzerland and Australia, the happy ending of a tussle over listed bridges in Germany, Shinkansen extensions; and before all of those: further electrification in Britain.

Electrification programme central to UK government's £9·4bn rail strategy - Railway Gazette

A rolling programme of electrification is at the centre of the High Level Output Specification which sets out the government's strategic plans for rail investment in 2014-19.

...It includes £5·2bn of schemes which are already committed, including Crossrail, Thameslink and electrification of the London - Cardiff, Manchester - Liverpool/Preston, and Manchester - York routes.

New schemes totalling £4·2bn envisage the electrification of the Midland Main Line as part of a high-capacity 'electric spine' passenger and freight route from Yorkshire and the West Midlands to Southampton.

...The government hopes this will encourage private investment in electric freight locomotives. Completion will enable further electrification in the 2019-24 Control Period 6.

The re-launch of electrification in Britain was originally a tentative plan by infrastructure manager Network Rail, which was then seized upon and pushed by Lord Adonis, transport minister of the previous, Labour government. I feared that the Tories would kill it, but fortunately they didn't, there was only a change in priority between individual projects. The HLOS now goes beyond that to a surprising extent:

  • it put the Midland Main Line (a priority in the original NR study but put on back-burner already under Adonis) back on the agenda;
  • the planned end of the overhead line into Wales was restored to Swansea (the new government first cut it back to Cardiff);
  • there are new projects in south and central England, including even a replacement of third rail electrification with overhead line.
The note about encouraging investment in electric freight locomotives in particular gives the (unexpected) appearance of an actual strategy that deserves its name (they must have looked at developments in the rest of Europe). Then again, nothing is final until financing is approved.

Read more... (15 comments, 1742 words in story)

The Old Westbahn (2)

by DoDo
Sun Jul 15th, 2012 at 07:48:35 AM EST

I'm continuing my documentation of Austria's old Westbahn, based on photos I took this April, the last spring when all trains (including long-distance ones) were climbing the mountains.

To recap the context: the Westbahn, running west from Vienna to Salzburg, is Austria's busiest mainline. To increase capacity and speeds, the Vienna–Linz stretch is being quadruple-tracked. The project is broken into several sections, with work on-going since the nineties. The most challenging section is right at the start: between Vienna and St. Pölten, where the old line crosses a pass of the Wienerwald mountains at the end of the Alps, the extra two tracks get a more level alignment with a 26 km base tunnel. This section enters service at the end of this year, around the 154th anniversary of the classic line.

In part 1, I followed the climb from the outskirts of Vienna to the summit of the Wienerwald crossing; this part will cover the descent on the western side.

A triple-voltage "Taurus" of Austrian Federal Railways ÖBB (factory type Siemens EuroSprinter ES64U4) climbs towards Vienna near Unter Oberndorf. The livery is an advertisement; there was a second loco with a nicer advertisement livery (for Austria's federal police!) doing its rounds at the time but I didn't manage a good photo. In the distance on the right: the castle of Neulengbach.

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Saarland coal exit

by DoDo
Sat Jun 30th, 2012 at 03:43:36 AM EST

Today the last coal mine closes in the German state of Saarland. This is the end of an era, because Saarland was one of the two main high-grade coal regions in post-WWII Germany, alongside the Ruhr Area.

The background of the mine closure is the phasing-out of subsidies for the mining of high-grade coal by 2018 (though the closure in Saarland was accelerated after a 4.7 earthquake in 2008). These coal subventions were fought over hard ever since the first Social Democrat (SPD)–Greens coalition governments in North Rhine-Westphalia state (NRW, 1995) and at federal level (1998). While the Greens could only get the SPD to agree to reductions, in 2007 EU pressure forced the then Grand Coalition (CDU+SPD) federal government to decide for a phaseout by 2018, and again at the behest of the EU, a 2010 revision accelerated the annual reduction of subsidies.

The end of subsidies effectively means the end of coal mining: now only four mines in NRW remain active, of which the first closes at the end of the year, another in three years, and the last two when the subsidies run out. But the defenders of the subventions proved right in one point: coal users just switched to imports (now 80%), which brings additional problems like fine dust pollution in ports. As things stand, the future of coal use depends on factors like the stringency of environmental protection demands on new plants, the international market price of coal (currently on the rise again), and the domestic market price of scheduled power (currently depressed by solar).

Read more... (16 comments, 410 words in story)

The Old Westbahn (1)

by DoDo
Wed Jun 27th, 2012 at 05:01:17 AM EST

The Westbahn, running west from Vienna to Salzburg, is Austria's busiest mainline. To increase capacity and speeds, the Vienna–Linz stretch is being quadruple-tracked. The project is broken into several sections, with work on-going since the nineties. The most challenging section is right at the start: between Vienna and St. Pölten, where the old line crosses a pass of the Wienerwald mountains at the end of the Alps, the extra two tracks get a more level alignment with a 26 km base tunnel.

When this section enters service at the end of this year, express trains and some types of freight trains will disappear from the then 154 year old classic line – so back in April, I made a photo tour to document the last spring with all the trains climbing the mountains.

A Stadler KISS double-deck electric multiple unit of open-access operator WESTbahn is caught by the first rays of the setting Sun after a storm near Dürrwien.

In this first photo diary, I'll follow the line from the junction with the new line to the summit of the Wienerwald crossing, on the northern side of the valley of the Wien (Vienna) river (which gave its name to the city).

Read more... (9 comments, 1324 words in story)

Euro 2012 knockout stage predictions

by DoDo
Tue Jun 19th, 2012 at 05:09:46 PM EST

So the group stage is over, on Thursday the quarterfinals begin. Place your bets again on how the tournament will progress! For reference, the quarterfinals pairings:

  • Q1: Czech Republic – Portugal
  • Q2: Germany – Greece
  • Q3: Spain – France
  • Q4: England – Italy

Semifinals pairings:
  • Q1 - Q3
  • Q2 - Q4

Below the fold, an evaluation of the group stage predictions.

Read more... (132 comments, 236 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #14

by DoDo
Sat Jun 16th, 2012 at 07:19:59 AM EST

This week I have a bunch of news related to rail privatisation, one related to the BRT mirage, one on electrification in Denmark, and one on a new line in the Netherlands. I'll start with a story from Berlin.

In the drive to turn former state monopolist German Railways (DB) into a listed company, from the nineties, the separate suburban rapid transit (S-Bahn) network of Berlin got its own management, which achieved high operating margins by saving on ordered vehicles and on essential maintenance. Predictably, this resulted in accidents and in 2009 hundreds of vehicles were pulled from service for maintenance. This in turn resulted in a chaos in services with effects lasting to this day.

Berlin politicians were naturally fed up with DB. But the solution that was brought into play was to void the exclusive agreement with DB and tender the operation of at least some Berlin S-Bahn services (that is, the application of the privatisation model preferred for subsidized local rail across Europe, franchising). How this solves the basic problem of the profit focus and technology-ignorance of managers, I don't know. At any rate, the Grand Coalition (SPD + CDU) city government that emerged from the Berlin elections last September seemed favourable to the idea.

However, a change in the Berlin SPD now makes re-tendering less likely. This week the party booted the minister responsible for transport from the party chairman position, electing Jan Stöß from the left wing of the party instead. Stöß said that he wants to prevent the privatisation of the S-Bahn and wants to keep it in public responsibility.

Read more... (36 comments, 1435 words in story)

Euro 2012 predictions thread

by DoDo
Thu Jun 7th, 2012 at 05:08:45 AM EST

Upon popular request, here is a predictions thread for the 2012 UEFA European Football Championship in Poland and the Ukraine.

Make your bets on who advances from the groups, you can also bet on the knockout stage. For reference, the groups and the knockout round order of pairing is below the fold.

Read more... (81 comments, 189 words in story)

Rail News Blogging #13

by DoDo
Sun Jun 3rd, 2012 at 07:51:39 AM EST

Continuing after one and half months, this time I'll do a rail news blogging with paraphrases only. The six themes I selected could all run under the title "not according to plans": Dutch & German regulators vs. interoperability, Czech open access and international trains, no fare increases in India, South Korea's new test train, SNCF orders more TGVs, and Austria's long-delayed tunnel project starts. Some connected news are added. Let's start with regulators vs. interoperability:

The recent rise in international railfreight transport was in large part from traffic to and from marine ports, and one key factor in this growth was the use of multi-system electric locomotives that can pass system changes at borders. However, uncoordinated actions by national regulators can still stop them in their tracks. Regular readers will know about the troubled history of ETCS, the train protection system which the EU would like to see replacing national systems, for increased interoperability. One of the problems was the on-going development of its standards, forcing expensive upgrades of existing equipment. This hit again now.

Dutch regulator ILT long complained that the software of one loco type (TRAXX, made by Bombardier) was not compliant with the latest version of the ETCS standard, and set 31 March as the final deadline for a switch to the updated software. However, Germany's regulator EBA saw deficiencies in the new version, delaying approval until 9 May. Thus, for the 38 days in-between, no software was approved in both countries, and the TRAXX locos for port traffic could only run on either side of the border.

This is only a particularly grotesque example of authorisation problems. I often bemoan EU rail liberalisation policy, but it is no factor here. What could be done? Some train operators are lobbying for the idea to have the European Rail Agency (currently the manager of interoperability rules) supersede national regulators as a single European approval authority, but IMHO that's a dangerous idea: as long as local specialities in infrastructure and traffic rules persist, ERA could overlook local problems, some of which could impact safety. I think it would be enough to make ERA into an arbiter with teeth that can intervene in specific cases to coordinate national regulators and to overrule them if they fail to cooperate.

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