Sunday, May 21, 2017

Early Running Trains - Another Easy Fix?

With all all the talk about late or cancelled trains, some readers may be surprised that Queensland Rail (QR) also have a chronic issue with early running trains. These early running trains are often observed during the off-peak, when the combination of QR's padded out timetables, train crew not paying attention to the timetable, and no digital train regulation methods, can result in trains running early. BrizCommuter quite often observes early running outbound trains on the Ferny Grove Line at weekends and late at night. As QR do not publish off-peak on-time statistics, then commuters and politicians are in the dark as to how often this occurs. QR can locate their trains by the signalling system, and thus these statistics can be obtained by QR.
3 minutes early - unacceptable QR! 
This photographed example was taken at 09:10am, at Enoggera station. The watch was synced to a time server the previous day.  The train in the photo was timetabled to depart this station at 09:13am. So the train was running 3 minutes early. In fact, the train arrived at this station 1 minute earlier than the time that it was timetabled to depart the previous station on the line - Alderley (at 09:11am)! This of course totally unacceptable, and is yet another example of QR's ongoing contempt for the travelling public.

BrizCommuter has also observed passengers jumping pedestrian level crossings to get to trains that were running early, otherwise they would have missed the train with a resulting 30+ minute wait. This isn't good in the "zero harm" department. Only last week, BrizCommuter nearly missed an early am peak train service that was running 2 minutes early (though it still ended running 2 minutes late through the CBD).

Lets hope that QR's renewed "customer focus", and new CEO Mr Nick Easy can stamp out this timetable annoyance.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

QR's Daytime Track Closures - An Easy Fix?

...except without the "Sorry" bit
There are 2 pairs of tracks (4 in total) through Brisbane's CBD. For many years, Queensland Rail (QR) have been regularly closing one of these track pairs for scheduled maintenance during the daytime off-peak period, much to the annoyance of passengers who have been delayed. Since the January 2014 timetable, when 15 minute off-peak services were added on a few lines, there have been delays due to:
  • Services that are timed to run through Brisbane's CBD at the same time on seperate tracks, will always result on in a delay to one of those services. 
  • Too many trains running through Brisbane's CBD in the daytime off-peak to reliably operate on one track pair. 
  • A late running train will delay all subsequent trains as there is limited operating margin.
  • Conflicting junction moves at Roma Street, Fortitude Valley, or Bowen Hills (e.g. Ferny Grove bound trains having to cross the path of all inbound services at Bowen Hills) causing further delays. 
  • Lazy operations - e.g. 2 minute dwell time at Central for late running services. 
The effect of this on commuters and stakeholders:
  • Typically, trains running up to 10 minutes late on all lines. 
  • In some case, trains running up to 15 minutes late, or getting delayed further in their journey as a result of the earlier delay.
  • Commuters being late for appointments, work, lectures, and meetings.
  • Commuters missing onward train and bus connections - not good when some bus routes in Brisbane can be hourly (and yes, BrizCommuter has missed an hourly bus thanks to a daytime track closure). 
  • Further evidence of QR's contempt for the travelling public. 
  • Off-peak reliability figures are not published due to poor transparency, thus stakeholders are unaware of QR's mediocre off-peak performance. 
BrizCommuter is not aware of other urban rail systems that close tracks in the middle of day, resulting in delays. So why does QR think that they can get away with it? This is yet another example of QR's lack of customer focus. Lets hope that this is an easy fix for QR's new CEO - Mr Nick Easy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Inland Rail vs Cross River Rail - The Irony

Cross River Rail - no federal funding,
no bi-partisan support
In the 2017 Federal Budget, $8.4b of additional funding was announced for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Project freight line, but no funding was made available for Brisbane's urgently required $5.4b Cross River Rail. Claims have been made that the Inland Rail corridor from Kagaru (near Beaudesert) to Toowoomba may allow for train services from Toowoomba to Brisbane in around half the time of current train services,  allowing train services to compete with cars. Train services may also be able to call at new suburban stations along the existing part of the Inland Rail corridor between Kagaru (near Beaudesert) and Salisbury, such as Flagstone (New Town), Greenbank, Browns Plains, and Acacia Ridge. Unfortunately, there is one slight problem - lack of Cross River Rail.

Based on the October 2016 Timetable, 20 trains per hour (tph) should run into Brisbane from the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines, running via South Bank. This may be pushed to 22tph in coming years after the opening of the Helensvale to Coomera duplication and eventual resolution of Rail Fail. A maximum of 24tph is possible - unreliably with current signalling, reliably with ETCS signalling. This means that there is realistically no more space for additional passenger train services coming from Toowoomba via the Inland Rail Corridor, or the existing rail corridor between Kagaru and Salisbury.

Building Cross River Rail, preferably with an extra track between Salisbury and the portal at Dutton Park, would allow for train services from Toowoomba via the Inland Rail Corridor, or the existing corridor between Kagaru/Beaudesert and Salisbury to run via South Bank into the CBD (note: standard gauge trains can only run as far as Roma Street), allowing Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines to run via Cross River Rail.

Thus to allow passenger train services to run from Toowoomba to Brisbane via the Inland Rail Corridor, or the existing corridor between Kagaru and Salisbury requires the construction of Cross River Rail. With the (allegedly incomplete) Palaszczuk Government's Cross River Rail business case not being made publicly available, is is unknown as to whether running train services from Toowoomba via the Inland Rail line has been included in the business case. The requirement of running trains from Beaudesert / Flagstone should be included, but costs would additional to the $5.4b for Cross River Rail which only covers Dutton Park to Albion section.

The Palaszczuk Government needs to both complete, and come clean on the business case for Cross River Rail, making it publicly available. As previously discussed, to take full advantage of Cross River Rail, considerably more than the quoted $5.4b will need to spent on other rail infrastructure around SE Queensland. Realistically, the cost may be around $8b. Is this extra cost a reason to not fund Cross River Rail? No.   Without Cross River Rail, Brisbane will have difficulty competing for business with other Oceana cities which are building new cross city rail tunnels, such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland. Road and rail congestion will continue to get worse, making Brisbane fall even further down the liveability rankings. A SE Queensland Olympic Bid without Cross River Rail being open would be laughable. Even if the Federal Government fails to cough up the money, the state government needs to have the balls to go it alone on funding, at least for the first few years. There also needs to be bi-partisan support, and BrizCommuter is concerned that the LNP Queensland state opposition just don't understand the benefits of Cross River Rail.

Thanks to ongoing tit-for-tat politics, and political incompetence, BrizCommuter is very concerned for the future of Cross River Rail, and Brisbane as a competitive "world city".

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Citytrain Response Unit - Ineffective Bureaucracy?

In the Strachan Inquiry (Queensland Rail train crewing practises commission of inquiry), released on 31st January 2017, there was mention of the implementation of the Rail Review Office, which is now known as the Citytrain Response Unit (CRU). The purpose of the CRU, as per the inquiry report is below:

35. Establish a Rail Review Office to monitor, independently audit and report on the implementation of Queensland Rail's response and recovery plan and the agreed recommendations of the Commission
(a) Release public progress reports each quarter, commencing with the announcement of agreed recommendations

36. Task the Rail Review Office with leading reviews of the governance, legislative framework and structure of passenger rail service delivery in Queensland. These reviews should consider the appropriate operating model and accountability for public transportation services in light of forthcoming major changes, such as the introduction of the New Generation Rollingstock, the Commonwealth Games, European Train Control System and Cross River Rail. As a starting point, the Rail Review Office should undertake four key reviews:
(a) Assess, make recommendations on and oversee the implementation of a closely integrated public transport service developed based on leading models of such integrated organisations
(b) Assess the requirement for, and composition of, a Board of Queensland Rail
(c) Define accountabilities for Queensland Rail's long-term industrial relations strategy, ensuring alignment with its long-term business strategy
(d) Undertake a whole-of-business review of Queensland Rail to identify any systemic organisational issues and develop actions to address these issues.

Unfortunately, 3 months after the Strachan Inquiry, it seems that things are getting worse for commuters, rather than better. Only one report has been released by the CRU, entitled "Fixing the Trains". BrizCommuter has the following concerns that CRU have not resolved.

  • Ongoing cancellations due to "operational issues" or "mechanical issues".
  • Concern about falling reliability of ageing EMU trains. 
  • Ongoing poor or non-existent information from Queensland Rail (QR) staff and TransLink when service alterations occur. 
  • Filthy trains. 
  • Lazy guards keeping doors locked for whole journeys, when they only need to be locked for Alderley (due to reconstruction work).
  • QR's Easter timetable having worst frequency in Oceana (Australia and New Zealand).
  • Frequent daytime CBD track closure delaying trains and causing missed connections. 
  • External applicants for driver positions still not allowed. 
  • Perceived lack of progress in driver recruitment. 
  • Laughable timeline to the resolution of Rail Fail in Fixing the Trains document (see screenshot below). 
  • Lack of transparency related to ongoing delays to New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) project - including multiple Right to Information requests being denied.
  • Stalling tactics towards disability advocates over NGR accessibility issues. 
  • Lack of transparency related to detailed passenger loading and patronage reports - in fact, the QR Passenger Load survey has been hidden for years.
  • Lack of transparency related to Moreton Bay Rail Link signalling issues.
  • No publicly available plan of train service restoration - e.g. when will Fridays have the same timetable as Mon-Thu? When will individual axed train services be restored?
  • Lack of transparency (and question avoidance) related to expected train service cuts during the Commonwealth Games. 
  • Limited changes to QR's Board, executive, and culture. 
Laughable timeline - needs to be split into
Months or Quarters, not Year! 
Whilst it is still early days for the Citytrain Response Unit, it appears that the CRU is just another layer of ineffective bureaucracy for SE Queensland and Brisbane's ailing public transport system. With the combined mediocrity of the CRU, QR, Department of Transport and Main Roads, TransLink, and Queensland Government, commuters are left with no idea as to what is going on regarding driver training, restoring cut rail services, NGR delays, improving train cleanliness, improving customer information, and Commonwealth Games train services. The public aren't stupid, and treating them as such may well decide the next election. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

QR to axe train services during Commonwealth Games

As predicted by BrizCommuter last November, it is looking like Queensland Rail's (QR) Rail Fail is going to seriously impact SE Queensland commuters during the Commonwealth Games, being held on the Gold Coast between the 4th and 15th of April 2018.

The Courier Mail recently ran an article on this subject, based on concern from Rail Back on Track, which included this quote:
" ... Asked about the risk of another rail fail debacle from extra stress on the network during the event, Commonwealth Games Minister Kate Jones yesterday said: “We are very confident that both TransLink and the Director-General of Transport and Main Roads [Neil Scales] have given their assurance that we can deliver the additional capacity.”
BrizCommuter is very concerned that Commonwealth Games Minister Kate Jones is being kept in the dark about the impending Commonwealth Games Rail Fail, just as ex-Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe was kept in the dark about Rail Fail. Kate, you might want to read the below blog post...

Not enough drivers + extra Gold Coast Line services = axed train services for other lines


It has already been stated by the Strachan Inquiry that there will be insufficient train crew to run the full "October 2016" timetable until late 2018 with overtime, and mid/late 2019 without overtime. These dates are after the Commonwealth Games. As there are plans for increasing train services on the Gold Coast Line during the Commonwealth Games to 8 train per hour (tph) (from the current 2tph off-peak), then it is pretty obvious that train services will need to be reduced on QR's other train lines due to lack of drivers. The delay to New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains will also not help the situation, though the lack of driver issue seems to be far more pressing.

Unfortunately, at this stage it is unknown how bad these service cuts are going to be. Since the start of #RailFail, QR and TransLink have provided inadequate timetables, the worst of which have been:
  • Summer School Holiday Timetable - QR axed up to 60% of peak services on some lines, and eliminated express services, despite demand only being 25% less than usual. This caused severe overcrowding on some services, and commuters angry with longer commutes.
  • Easter Timetables - QR ran hourly train services, the worst Easter period train service in Oceana (yes, even worse than Adelaide and Wellington), causing commuter backlash
  • Friday timetable - confusingly different to the Monday to Thursday timetable, QR's Friday timetable makes the rail network barely useable to many users, with hourly peak service gaps, and severely overcrowded trains. 
Based on recent experience of QR and TransLink's complete disregard for customers, the cut timetables may only be announced a few weeks before the Commonwealth Games, with many commuters being completely unaware of the changes until their usual train fails to appear. What service cuts might be expected during the Commonwealth Games?
  • Weekday peak services - the combination of driver, train, and track capacity resources is likely to result in some train lines having peak services reduced by around 50%, and some express services may be eliminated (including quite possibly on the Gold Coast Line). Despite the Commonwealth Games being held during the Easter School Holidays, this service will still be inadequate for those who need to get to work on-time. 
  • Weekday off-peak services - due to more drivers being required on the Gold Coast Line, then BrizCommuter expects that the already butchered 15 minute off-peak services will be axed, with a 30 minute off-peak service in place. This will be annoying for shift workers, and those trying to get to appointments, shopping, events, and entertainment in and around Brisbane. It will also increase journey and waiting times for passengers trying to connect to the increased Gold Coast Line services. 
  • Weekend services - depending on the driver situation, there may be no change to the usual 30 minute off-peak, though the worst case scenario is the return of the horrendous hourly train services as per the Easter 2017 timetable. This would be disastrous for passengers connecting to the increased Gold Coast Line services. It should be noted that Brisbane already has the most infrequent weekend train services in Oceana. 
Of course, this is in stark contrast to the highly successful London 2012 Olympics where train service frequency (typically 24tph), and operating hours were increased on all Tube lines during the event. 

Enhanced Gold Coast Line services 

The problem with 3 tracks
Lack of drivers and trains is not the only issue for the 2018 Commonwealth Games train services. On QR's project page for the Coomera to Helensvale duplication, it is mentioned that the Gold Coast Line will run 8tph in both directions during the Games. That is a train on average every 7.5 minutes in each direction.

To operate the above mentioned bi-directional 8tph service runs into a few issues due to lacking track infrastructure on the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor. Due to a half-baked infrastructure projects during the Beattie/Bligh era, there are only 3 tracks between Park Road and Kuraby (when there should have been 4), and only 2 tracks between Kuraby and Varsity Lakes (with a 3rd track at Bethania). This allows an 8tph service in one direction with express Gold Coast trains able to overtake slower all stations/stopping Beenleigh Line trains. But in the opposite direction, the Gold Coast trains are unable to overtake the Beenleigh Line trains as they have to share the same track.

As trains are unable to leapfrog each other, this is likely to be causing a major headache for QR's schedulers. BrizCommuter doubts that the claimed bi-directional 8tph services will be possible, without either slowing down Gold Coast train services, or severely limiting services calling at Beenleigh Line stations. Just to exacerbate the issue, the normal peak service direction will be the opposite to the Commonwealth Games peak traffic direction. Thus QR will have to choose between either slowing down regular commuters trying to get to/from work in Brisbane, or slowing down passengers trying to get to/from the Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

Unreliable EMU Trains

Due to the serious NGR project failure, it is likely that very few NGR trains will be in service by April 2018. Thus QR will still be relying on their geriatric EMU fleet of trains. There seems to be a noticeable decrease in EMU reliability recently. A broken down EMU train blocking the path of trains trying to get to/from the Gold Coast could be disastrous during the Commonwealth Games. Also, a broken down train on other lines will make the reduced train service frequency even worse.

Conclusion

It looks like the policy failures of three successive Queensland state governments, combined with institutional incompetence in QR, is going to make SE Queensland look even more backwards on the world stage (well, ex-British Empire stage) during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. This impending issue is already starting to attract the international press. Rail Fail may make getting stuck in traffic on the M1 the more attractive option for getting around SE Queensland during the Games.

Addendum 23/04/17 

The Courier Mail have reported that Commonwealth Games chiefs in London had written to the "Palaszczuk Government warning the event was at “significant risk” due to the magnitude of transport planning problems faced". This of course, no surprise to many BrizCommuter readers who can quite clearly see that decades of continuing 1960s road-centric transport policy in SE Queensland has placed the urban conurbation into a transport nightmare. This is confounded when you have to efficiently move hundreds of thousands of event goers. Will this be a wake up call that Brisbane is far behind other Oceana cities when it comes to public transport? Or will SE Queensland's politicians just continue with their spin and denial?

Sunday, April 9, 2017

QR's Easter Rail Fail - The Backlash Begins

Queensland Rail - Not many trains this Easter
BrizCommuter has reported on Queensland Rail's (QR) Easter Rail Fail with unacceptable hourly train services over two weekends, in a few recent blog posts - here, here, and here.

QR and TransLink's contempt for the travelling public has been displayed in responses to complaints about the timetable, such  as this example:

"These changes have been put in place to ensure reliable services and to give certainty to commuters, while helping to manage our resources.  We know that 68 percent fewer people travel by rail over the Easter long weekend. With that in mind, hourly services on most lines will ensure reliability and certainty, while still delivering an adequate frequency for the decreased demand"

Hourly services are not adequate in the slightest, irrespective of demand - people still have to get to/from work, university, shopping, family, events, and entertainment. That is why every other urban rail system in Oceana is running trains between every 10 to 30 minutes. Even Adelaide and Wellington have more frequent train services than Brisbane! To then classify the service changes as "minor" is quite insulting to the travelling public. Are QR and TransLink living a parallel universe of delusion and spin?

Not surprisingly, there has already been a lot of backlash on QR and TransLink's social media (Facebook and Twitter) - not helped by multiple late running trains on Saturday 8th April (none of which were reported on-line by TransLink). As QR conveniently keep deleting their Facebook posts and thus negative comments, BrizCommuter has kindly archived some of them below:

"It's taken me 3 hours to get from Bethania to Nundah due time timetable changes.
I've just lost a $100 job now as I have missed my appointment. I only allowed 1.5 hours to travel this short distance.
I feel like moving away to a real city with modern services.
Brisbane is a second rate city with third rate transportation.
The slowest, over priced trains I have seen anywhere.
What a rip off!"

"Rosewood train 15 minutes late?! You have less services and you still can't run on time. Great, thanks. Incompetence."

"Wow! Trains running hourly on the ipswich line for the next two weekends hey? Thanks for the signs and announcements, not! Not like I'm trying to get to work. Which I'm now going to be late for because u didn't bother to let anyone know about this. Typical bloody Translink and QR. I will be writing a formal complaint about this. Not impressed!"

"How do you guys manage to have hourly trains STILL run late.
Also why have less trains (on school holidays) when there's more people? 
Someone needs to be bloody sacked."

Or maybe pay me back the hours pay I lost (essentially a $30 ticket) to get to my destination in the first place."

"Joke Translink. What other cities change trains to run hourly. No wonder we get called the nanny state. Not enough drivers and saving $'s more like it."

"It's got nothing to do with reduced patronage. That is a complete distraction. It's got everything to do with poor planning over years which has resulted in a shortfall in drivers. Disgusting."

"If you're going to change the trains to hourly without warning could you at least make sure the train comes on time and not have an announcement that the the train is 10 minutes late as it arrives. It was kind of evident that the train was 10 minutes late when it arrived 10 minutes late."

"Many people took the 4.46 train from Central Station to Redcliffe Peninsula and got off the train at Bowen Hills because of the speaker saying that it was express from Bowen Hills to Northgate stopping only at Eagle Junction and it wasn't true!! Stopped all stations!!!!"

"Not happy QR last time I had to worry about ever missing a train and having to wait an hour would have been the 1990's! Those used to a 15 minute service are now 30mins! I heard this happens again Easter weekend too. Lord help those on the Sunshine Coast line, I believe it is two hours between services. Sharpen up QR!"

"Shout out to all those uni students which have mid semester exams on saturdays - they still need to get in and out of uni and running trains hourly is a huge inconvenience. Imagine if an hourly train gets cancelled - they will have to wait two hours to get to uni and will likely miss their exam. I understand reduced services for holidays, but it doesn't make sense when it is only school holidays and not public holidays? Uni students and workers still need to get in and out of the city....not happy at all "

"Why are pax told to detrain at Yeerongpilly on Corinda via Yeerongpilly services?"

"QR, the only place you pay full price for the privelidge of inconvenience."

"Yay to my 4 hour trip tomorrow! With my 57 min wait. thanks translink."

"Over priced, unreliable & no concept of customer service... 
Yep, that's Queensland Rail!"

"Fantastic work Translink, 58minute wait at the station for my train to the Gold Coast, the schedule isn't just hourly it isn't even the same normal times, great work! You're in Public Transport, you don't see Airlines creating a special Easter Schedule, they hire appropriate numbers of staff to handle it!"

"I'm disgusted. Don't have occasion to use the trains much but trying to get to Southbank and back was just awful. You can do better than this. Brisbane deserves better."

"It's great when Brisbane hosts a world class event like the Davis Cup, encourages visitors to use the train network to get to the venue, then cancels half the trains so we can sit at Park Road for 50 minutes. Hourly trains are not good enough, and you wonder why patronage is down??"

"Left work early so I could get home at a reasonable time and actually see my kids, knowing that if I didn't, I'd be waiting over 50 minutes for my train. Train turns up late anyway. Can't wait till next weekend when I get to deal with this nonsense all over again."

"I was shocked when I found this out today. The funny thing is the 500 bus leave 4 mins before the train is due so you have to wait another hour for a bus home. If the trains changes should the buses not change to meet the trains. Why does this not happen."

"Yeah pity about the extra hour it'll take me to get home though because of the infrequency of services."

"Normal high fares and service levels below the already subpar levels!"

"I see Coles are advertising on TV Every Checkout Open this Weekend from 10am to 6pm 8th & 9th April 2017. Where was Queensland Rail's TV advertising telling us that you have reduced services for this very same weekend and passengers may also miss train and bus connections due to the changed passenger train tables. Queensland Rail > " We aim to be Australia's best performing railway delivering safe, on time, customer-focused and efficient rail services." Can you please let us know when you plan on delivering on this statement."

"Thank you Translink, I'm late for work again"

Bit of a disaster isn't is QR and TransLink? And it's not even the Easter weekend yet!