Monday, September 2, 2019

Cross River Rail - Architecturally Boring

There are amazing station designs around the world. New York has the amazing "Oculus", Stockholm has stations carved out of rock, London has the massive arched roof of Kings Cross and cavernous Canary Wharf, Munich has stunning symmetry, and Moscow has stations that look like palaces. Even Brussels has some attractive stations! So you think Brisbane would make an effort with Cross River Rail? Of course not. Cross River Rail (CRR) has boring looking stations that look like they were designed in the 1980s, and will date quickly (they'll already be four decades behind at opening). Yes, Albert Street is a minor improvement, but continues to put Brisbane on the "it thinks it's a world city" stage. Come on CRR, make an effort with your architecture!




Not Brisbane

Not Brisbane

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Cross River Fail - Happening but Flawed

Contracts have been signed and work is finally underway on Brisbane's Cross River Rail. There have recently been some changes to the design of CRR, mainly concerning track alignment and precise station locations. Sadly with each iteration of CRR, whilst costs generally decrease, the benefits also decrease. Whilst there is no question that CRR is required, considerable enhancements need to be made to the plans to maximise the benefits of spending more than $5m on rail tunnels and stations. There have also been some interesting articles by David Bannister, Director of Minerva Transport Planning Company which echos what BrizCommuter has been discussing for many years. BrizCommuter agrees with most of the points in these excellent articles, and also raises a few other  flaws with Cross River Rail that need rectification. These have been listed in approximate order of severity:

  • Lack of 4th track between Dutton Park (CRR portal) and Salisbury - the revised plans have added a 3rd platform for stations in this section, but to optimise track capacity in both the peak and off-peak directions (remembering that there is nowhere to turn back tracks from South to North in the tunnel), there needs to be 4 tracks to allow CRR services to not conflict with local services to/from Salisbury (and eventually Beaudesert). 
  • Lack of 4th track in the Altandi area - the current track layout only allows Gold Coast Line services to overtake Beenleigh Line services in one direction, allowing approx. 8tph on each line. In the opposite direction, trains cannot overtake. Thus it is not possible to run a 4tph (every 15 minute) off-peak or counter peak service on the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines. This lack of 4th overtaking track is the reason why Beenleigh Line services had to be axed during the 2018 Commonwealth Games. To open CRR, and still be limited to 30 minute off-peak services on the Gold Coast Line would look very bad. 
  • Northside capacity constraints - services on both the existing 'Mains' tracks and CRR will both have to share a track pair between Mayne and Northgate (4 tracks merging into 2). This is highly sub-optimal, and severely limits the capacity of CRR. Just to add to the pain, there appears to be a non-grade separated junction at Mayne which will cause major operational headaches. Grade separation would help, but ultimately there needs to be either 2 more tracks between Mayne and Northgate, and an extra track between Northgate and Petrie, or the Trouts Road Line (see below) needs to be built between Roma Street and Strathpine. BrizCommuter doubts that the proposed 28tph peak direction service is even reliably achievable. 
  • Lack of tunnel stubs to allow for Trouts Road Line/North Western Transportation Corridor - to optimise capacity to/from the North, there needs to be extra tracks between Brisbane and Petrie. The most optimal solution for this is constructing the Trouts Road Line, which would massively increase train capacity on the Caboolture, Sunshine Coast, and Redcliffe Lines, speed up journey times, and also add stations to many Northern suburbs which are severely lacking in frequency public transport.  Unfortunately, the current CRR plans are so short sighted that these tunnel stubs have been neglected. To add the tunnel stubs would require the closure of the entire CRR tunnel for months. 
  • Enhanced train turnback facilities at Salisbury, Kippa-Ring, Kuraby, and Beenleigh - in order to allow for the proposed post-CRR train services for 2026, there needs to be improved track layouts and enhanced turnback facilities (i.e. extra platforms or sidings, and track switches) at Salisbury, Kippa-Ring, Kuraby, and Beenleigh. Manly will also need to be on this list if the Cleveland Line is not fully duplicated. 
  • Duplication of Cleveland Line - to achieve the proposed 10tph post-CRR train services on the Cleveland Line, there needs to be a full duplication of the Cleveland Line, and possibly even partial triplication. 
  • Removal of busier/more dangerous Level Crossings - the proposed capacity enhancements will increase the closure time at many level crossings. Thus more effort and funding is required to replace level crossings with bridges. 
  • More trains and drivers - more than 40 new trains and sufficient train crew will be required to operate the additional train services for CRR, as well as optimising services on the existing train network. 
BrizCommuter also has concerns over the disruptive closure of Roma Street busway station whilst it is relocated underground. At least the long term gain may be worth it. On the good side, at least the most recent plans have more optimal track layouts through Mayne sidings (aside from lack of grade separation). 
Capacity constraints for CRR

The current plans for Cross River Rail severely limits the maximum track capacity through Brisbane's CBD, journey times, and operational efficiency. With 6 tracks through Brisbane, there should be 72tph per direction in the peaks. The current design of CRR allows for only 54tph to/from the South, and 50tph to/from the North. This makes for a poor business case. To rectify this situation, SE Queensland's rail network will require considerably more infrastructure and associated funding. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The End of RailFail is Nigh!

After exactly 1000 days of Rail Fail (#RailFail), Queensland Rail (QR) has finally announced that they will be restoring the axed services from 29th July (presumably 2019). According to the spin merchants at TransLink:

From Monday 29 July, Queensland Rail will introduce an extra 430 weekly train services across the South East Queensland train network.

Changes to the train network will include:

  • a consistent Monday to Friday timetable
  • 85 extra weekly peak services, in addition to the 32 weekly peak services introduced in May
  • a consistent departure times with 142 extra services each Friday
  • six-carriage upgrades to 59 three-carriage services.

Yet again, it needs to be clear that these are "restored" train services, not "extra" train services. Whilst the resolution of Rail Fail is good news, the fact that it took Queensland Rail more than 1000 days to recover from the destructiveness of the LPN Newman government is totally unacceptable. The ALP state government and Unions needs to take responsibility for the slow recovery. The lack of transparency as to when Rail Fail was to end was also unacceptable. On top of the lack of driver issue, the lack of trains issue (3-car peak services) has been a chronic issue since January 2014 timetable, over half a decade ago.

Now that the October 2016 timetable is due to be restored, there are still big questions that need to be answered:

  • Can QR's network actually reliably cope with the peak timetable running up to 22tph (on the suburban tracks) through the network core?
  • How much staff contingency is there in the short term? Are we likely to see many cancellations due to lack of train crew?
  • When are urgently required additional pm peak services going to be added (notably extension of the pm peak Cleveland Line express services, and filling in the more critical 12-15 minute pm peak gaps on many other lines)?
  • When will the 15 minute off-peak service be extended onto sector 1 lines (Caboolture/Kippa-Ring to Ipswich/Springfield)?
  • Do QR have a plan in place to have sufficient trains and drivers for the proposed Cross River Rail services in in the mid-2020s?

Monday, May 13, 2019

Extra train services = Restored train services

After 956 days of Rail Fail, Queensland Rail (QR) managed to today (Monday 13th May 2019) restore the grand total of 32 out of the 330 weekly train services that were axed due to lack of train drivers. So how did TransLink and Queensland Rail spin this news? By claiming that they were adding 32 "extra" train services. They may have fooled a few people who had forgotten about Rail Fail's axed train services, as it happened so long ago. However, the spin has not fooled BrizCommuter and many other frustrated commuters. It would be great if QR, TransLink, the Queensland Government, or even the missing in action CityTrain Response Unit (remember them) could tell commuters when the other 300+ train services will be restored, or when the abomination that is Friday Fail Day will have the same train services at Monday to Thursday. Sadly, we can only hear chirping Crickets.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Cross River Rail Fail - Another Year Closer!

Almost a year ago (March 2018), BrizCommuter wrote a blog post on the looming Cross River Rail Fail - #CRRrailfail. Unfortunately, not much has improved during the last year. Thus Cross River Rail Fail has edged another year closer to yet another public transport debarcle. So what are the problems that will impact the opening of Cross River Rail?

Cross River Rail (CRR) is currently scheduled to open in 2024, and the above service plan for Cross River Rail is proposed for 2026 (am peak). The current state of play shows that this may not be possible due to the following:
  • Rail Fail caused by lack of drivers has now been ongoing for nearly 900 days. Queensland Rail (QR), nor the overseeing Citytrain Response Unit can commit to when the October 2016 timetable will be restored. Considerably more rail services, and thus more drivers need to be added to optimise the existing (pre-CRR network) - examples being 15 minute off-peak service on Springfield, Ipswich, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Lines, and improvements to pm peak services on almost all train lines (Cleveland Line being the most critical). 
  • The proposed 2026 service pattern for Cross River Rail will require approximately 26 more train services in the am peak, as well as additional off-peak and pm peak services services. This will also require another further increase in train drivers. 
  • The NGR train rollout has been a disaster with less than 2/3rds of the fleet operating after more than 1000 days since the first train arrived in Queensland, and years worth of fleet rectifications required. 
  • Not enough NGR trains have been ordered to optimise the train services on the existing (pre-CRR network). In fact approximately 13 additional 6-car trains are required just to optimise the existing (pre-CRR) rail network, as well as replace all EMU, ICE, and unreliable SMU200 trains. 
  • Approximately 29 additional 6-car trains (thus 42 in total) will be required to provide the extra train services proposed for CRR in 2026.
  • Given the severe design issues with the NGR trains, and the Palaszczuk government's "Buy Queensland" policy, an add on order for extra NGR trains is looking increasingly unlikely. Thus a whole new procurement, design, and construction process will be required, delaying the addition of additional trains onto QR's network. This process would realistically need to start before the end of this year if the additional trains are to be in service in time for CRR's opening.  
  • Multiple additional infrastructure projects are required to meet CRR's proposed service pattern - including additional tracks along parts of the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor, duplication of the Cleveland Line's single track sections, additional train stabling, turnback facility at Salisbury or Acacia Ridge, and optimised track layout at Kippa-Ring. Limited or no progress appear to have been made on these projects, and none are funded. 
  • 28tph on one track (am peak from Caboolture/Sunshine Coast/Kippa Ring between Northgate and Mayne) will be highly unrealistic and/or highly unreliable, even with ETCS L2 signalling. 
  • The imbalance of train services from each side of CRR (18tph vs 12tph) makes for operational issues and inefficient use of trains and crew. 
  • The risk of a political interference (such as a future LNP government repeating destructive policies, such as driver recruitment freezes, or attempting to privatise QR by stealth) before the opening of CRR. 
  • Ongoing poor public transport governance under Department of Transport and Main Roads. 
Without sustained driver (and train crew) recruitment throughout the next 5 to 7 years, timely orders for approximately 42 additional 6-car trains, and multiple expensive infrastructure projects, it will be impossible to achieve to proposed service patterns for Cross River Rail when it opens in the mid-2020s. Failures in any of these areas will result in a repeat of Rail Fail where there were insufficient drivers and trains to operate the October 2016 timetable after the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line. This would result in a repeat of sub-optimal train services on both the existing train network and on train lines that that will run through CRR. Failure to meet the 2026 service pattern would also make a mockery of the business case, which is already dubious by claiming that CRR will allow for service improvements on the unconnected Ipswich and Springfield Lines. Given Queensland's track record of blundering transport planning, and minimal progress since BrizCommuter raised the issue of Cross River Rail Fail a year ago, things are not looking good. In fact, expect this blog post to be repeated verbatim next year with little progress. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Lime Scooters - Kids Toy Mayhem

Lime Scooters "parked" at South Bank
BrizCommuter usually covers more conventional methods of transport, so this subject is a bit of a change. Anyone who has recently walked through Brisbane's CBD or South Bank cannot helped have noticed (or been knocked over by) the rapid increase in Lime Scooters. These li-ion powered electric scooters can be unlocked and paid for on a time basis using a smart phone app. A trial/temporary law exemption is running in Brisbane until the end of February for electric scooters. Lime scooters are proving to be very popular (or possibly a fad), but unfortunately there are huge risks being taken by the majority of users. So what are the issues surrounding Lime Scooters in Brisbane?
  • Despite helmets being mandatory, over 85% of Lime Scooter riders observed by BrizCommuter are not wearing helmets. 
  • Despite only one person being allowed to ride on a Scooter, BrizCommuter has observed two people riding on one on around 50% of days of observations. 
  • Lack of policing of the above. If a police offer was to be stationed at the city end of the Victoria Bridge, they could make a hefty profit in fines!  
  • Scooters are being observed being driven at up to 30kph along footpaths, dangerously weaving past pedestrians. 
  • Scooters are being illegally driven on narrow streets at night. 
  • A huge increase in injuries has been recorded by Brisbane emergency departments, with associated cost to the taxpayer. Some of these injuries have been people hit by scooters (in one case in a no scooter zone), and not just the scooter riders.
  • Cases of drunk scooter riders and even Lime Scooter pub crawls. 
  • Scooters being "parked" in the way of pedestrians. 
  • Lack of decent cycleways is causing scooter riders to mix with pedestrians. 
  • Lack of protective clothing (unlike many cycle, motor scooter, and motorbike riders).
  • Litigation and accountability grey areas.
It will be interesting to see what decisions are made at the end of trial. Innovative transport options needs to be weight up against the public nuisance aspect. Decisions need to be made around issues related to speed limits on shared footpaths, use of cycleways, serious policing/crackdown of helmet wearing, clear laws of what do in case of an accident, and clear guidelines related to accountability and litigation. In the mean time, you might need eyes in the back of your head when walking the city streets so that you don't get hit by a souped up kids toy.