Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Perth's Paid Car Park Fail

Perth has one of the best public transport systems in Australia, with trains every 15 minutes off-peak on all lines, reliable services, high frequency bus corridors, low fares, and common sense decisions. However, on a recent business trip to Perth, BrizCommuter came across a big fail.

Below is an photo of Cottesloe Station (on the Fremantle Line) car park in the middle of a weekday. It's a bit empty isn't it. Where are the cars you ask?

Here they are, in a grassy patch of land next to the empty station car park.


So why are commuters avoiding parking in Cottesloe Station car park? The answer is simple, TransPerth decided to charge $2 for use of station car parks on weekdays. This applies to cars, motorbikes, and motorised scooters.

The implementation of paid parking in 2014 has resulted in many commuters (in fact, all but one at Cottesloe) to avoid paying for parking, and parking anywhere else they can get away with (e.g. on grassy land, nearby residential streets). This somewhat defeats the purpose of having a station car park in the first place, and appears to be a money making cash grab by the recently ousted LNP  state government. Whilst there were claims by the previous WA government of no drops in patronage, no station by station data was released (note: not all stations in Perth have a car park). Whilst Perth's smart card (SmartRider) can be used to pay for parking, only one car number plate can be active to the card at any time, thus if you keep changing cars, you risk a $50 fine unless you jump through hoops to change the active car. Whilst the infrastructure cost of a car parking space is surprisingly high, there are also significant financial and social benefits of attracting users onto efficient public transport.

So what are the disadvantages of making commuters pay for station parking?
  • Drivers will avoid using the station car park where reasonably possible, resulting in...
  • Congestion in nearby residential streets, or any other location suitable for parking. 
  • Lots of empty car parking spaces is a waste of expensive infrastructure and land resources. 
  • It makes using public transport less attractive, and less value for money compared to driving to the destination. Potential increases in road congestion. 
  • Does not necessarily prevent non-train users using station car parks. 
  • Technicalities around payment (as per above Perth example, note: not all station car parks can have boom gates fitted). 
  • Requires extra staff to police compliance. 
So what are the advantages of making commuters pay for station parking?
  • May encourage some commuters to cycle to the station if there are free, safe, and sufficient cycle storage families (note: hot climates limit the uptake of cycling).
  • May encourage the use of feeder bus services - but only if the feeder bus exists, and is sufficiently frequent, which most aren't.
  • Provides cost recovery for expensive infrastructure and land resources. 
With Brisbane having a chronic issue with full station car parks, and thus overflow to suburban residential streets, then introducing paid train station parking would be disastrous for public transport and residents around train stations. Thankfully, there are currently no plans for implementing paid station parking in SE Queensland.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

QR's Rail Fail - Hourly Train Shame?

There are currently rumours floating about on Rail Back on Track that Queensland Rail are considering hourly train services over Easter, and hourly services on Weekends. An hourly frequency would take Brisbane back 35 years to the early 1980s, would most likely cause political annihilation for the ALP Palaszczuk government, and probably the end for QR as a public company when the LNP "Nasty party" inevitably get back into power. BrizCommuter has the following questions for QR, the Palaszczuk Government, and the Citytrain Response Unit:
  • Are there going to be any more cutbacks to the "2017 timetable" that we were told would be in place for the whole of 2017?
  • If so, when are you going to bother to tell the public about any changes? The day before, like the weekend axing of the Rosewood Line?
  • If so, how are you going to tell the public? Or are you just going to pretend it isn't happening like the original Rail Fail cutbacks?
  • Do you realise that many people (retail, entertainment, and healthcare) actually have to get to work on the Weekends and Easter?
  • Do you realise the damage this will cause to CBD businesses and events?
  • As Brisbane would have the least frequent weekend train service in Oceana, do you understand the reputational damage this will cause to Brisbane and SE Queensland?
  • Do you understand how this will affect businesses and development?
  • Do you understand this may also prevent federal funding for Cross River Rail?
  • What is the point of the Citytrain Response Unit, if it does not prevent further pain to commuters?
BrizCommuter hopes these rumours are false, but given reports that QR's acting CEO Neil Scales (who is usually D-G of stuff up merchants Department of Transport and Main Roads) barely seems to think there is a problem with #RailFail (cough, cough), then BrizCommuter fears the worst.

Citytrain Response Unit - Fixing The Trains

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Brisbane Metro - Why Bus is Best

Brisbane Metro - is it a bus or train?
BrizCommuter was delighted when Brisbane City Council (BCC) recently announced plans to replace the original (ill thought out) rubber tyred train based Brisbane Metro, with the much more sensible high frequency bi-artic buses. The only major infrastructure change is the $1b under-grounding of the congested Cultural Centre busway station - this location being the achilles heel of the busway network. Unfortunately, this bus Metro plan has been ridiculed by some uninformed politicians (council opposition) and journalists.

In this blog post, BrizCommuter explains why bus is the best option for increasing the capacity of Brisbane's busway system. But first, what is a Metro? Metro is short for Metropolitan (or Metropolitan Railway), of which the first "Metro" ran in London in 1863. Metros are defined as being train lines where trains run frequently enough for the service to be truly turn up and go (at least every 10 minutes), and are completely grade separated from other traffic (cars, pedestrians, other train lines). However, in more recent years, the Metro term has been used to describe any high frequency public transport system (train, light rail, or bus), entire low frequency public transport systems (hello Hobart Metro), and of course mid-sized urban supermarkets (hello Woolworths Metro). Thus BCC are far from the first people to be charged with abuse of the term Metro, and knocking BCC for use of the term is somewhat petty.

So what are the advantages of using bi-artic buses (three section bendy buses) instead of the originally planned rubber-tyred metro trains?

  • Infrastructure changes. Buses can handle the steep slopes and sharp turns of the busway system. Significant and very expensive modifications (additional $2b) would have been required to allow metro trains (whether rubber-tyred, steel wheel, or light rail) to run on the existing busway corridor.  
  • Coverage. Bi-artic buses can use the whole of the existing busway (Eight Mile Plains and UQ to RBWH). The scope of the train based metro was just Wooloongabba to Herston, which would have not served RBWH, UQ, PA Hospital, or Garden City, and would have forced far more passengers to have to change between bus and metro. To extend the original train based metro plan between Eight Mile Plains and UQ to RBWH would have added significant extra cost to the project (>$1b). 
  • One seat rides from suburbs to CBD. Both existing bus services (most likely frequent BUZ, Rocket, and Maroon City Glider services) and the high-frequency Brisbane Metro services can all use the busway. This increases the number of one-seat services from the suburbs to the CBD compared to the train based metro would would have forced almost all passengers to have to change to/from the metro. 
  • Congestion. Most high frequency bus routes will either connect with the bus metro, or still use the busway infrastructure. The train based metro would have forced bus routes that only use part of the busway network (such as the 444, 390, and Maroon City Glider) onto CBD roads, increasing traffic congestion and slowing journey times. 
  • Capacity. Based on existing station lengths (notably the 45m long Mater Hill) the bus metro actually has higher theoretical capacity than a train based metro. This is due to the shorter platform re-occupation time and headways of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). If platform lengths were longer (>75m), than train based metro would have a clear advantage. 
  • Disruption. Aside from the inevitable changes at Cultural Centre, modifications to the busway to run bi-artic buses is minimal. Building a train based metro would have caused significant disruption for around 5 years, with buses being diverted onto congested roads. 
  • Depot. As buses can run on roads, the depot does not need to be immediately adjacent to the metro infrastructure. With a train based metro, the depot has to be immediately adjacent to the metro infrastructure. Unfortunately, there were no suitable depot locations along the original train based Brisbane Metro alignment. 
  • Infrastructure operating costs. Busways generally have lower ongoing operating costs for infrastructure compared to railways, where the track, power supply, and signalling needs to be frequently maintained. 
  • Fuel. Fast electric charging technology, and hybrid diesel engines have increased the attractiveness of buses in recent years as a green form of transportation. Long gone are the days of buses chugging out dirty black diesel fumes.  
Are there any reasons why train based Metro would have been better?
  • Capacity. If the entire busway system was to be converted to rail, and platforms extended to at least 75m, then train based metro would have significant capacity increases over bus metro. Medium to large sized trains are the ultimate method of moving large numbers of passengers. However, this would have realistically resulted in a cost in excess of $4b. Given the much more urgently required Cross River Rail cannot get funding, then finding such sums of money would be unrealistic. 
  • Staff operating costs. Staffing costs are typically 50% of the operating costs for public transport. Operating frequent buses has high staffing costs. Train based metro can operate with no drivers, with staffing only in maintenance, administrative, and customer service roles. However, you have to spend huge sums on upfront costs to achieve the long term operating cost savings. 
  • Reputation. There is no question that a "proper" train based metro adds to the perceived attractiveness of a city (e.g. London's Tube, NYC Subway, Paris Metro) . BRT has a somewhat "third world" reputation, and there are no world famous busway systems. However, reputation and attractiveness of a systems does not necessarily mean that it is the best system for that city. 
For many large cities rail/train based Metro is the best solution to transport issues, and this is one of the reasons why Cross River Rail (which will run metro like frequencies) is Queensland's most urgent infrastructure project. However, in the case of upgrading Brisbane's busway network, there are many compelling reasons why bus based metro (Bus Rapid Transit) is by far the best solution to serve Brisbane for the next few decades. Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, and Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner have made the sensible decision to switch from trains to buses for the Brisbane Metro.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Is Tim Nicholls Out of Touch?

Tim Nicholls MP - Out of Touch?
BrizCommuter was recently delighted to see the LNP Brisbane City Council refining the Brisbane Metro design to something more sensible - Bus Rapid Transit. It was also good news, that Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, and Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner have been quoted as finally supporting Cross River Rail, which the Brisbane Metro will connect with and complement. The LNP Federal Government have also recently stated (whilst playing tit-for-tat politics) that Cross River Rail needed to have better integration between Brisbane Metro. Well now it does, both systems are looking a bit more likely. Even car lobby group RACQ is highly supportive of Cross River Rail, stating that it is Queensland's number one infrastructure project. So what are the views of LNP Leader of the Opposition Tim Nicholls MP?

Unfortunately, it seems that Tim hasn't quite got the memo that Brisbane and SE Queensland is well and truly screwed with coping with future population growth, if it doesn't build Cross River Rail. He has recently been quoted as saying:

"the Cross River Rail project had been "hopelessly stalled" under the Palaszczuk government"

Hey Tim, didn't, the LNP Newman Government (for which you were Newman's henchman), delay Cross River Rail by years, by scrapping it for the flawed BaT Tunnel design, for which sources have since been quoted as saying "would never happen"?

"The Metro solves a current infrastructure bottleneck while the cross river rail seeks to address a bottleneck that ‘may’ occur in 2026."  

Hey Tim, maybe patronage would have been better if under the awful LNP Newman Government, the following hadn't occurred:
  • Increase in public transport fares by 10%, and failed to review the fare structure?
  • Delayed the opening of Moreton Bay Rail Link due to the purchase of incompatible signalling?
  • Delayed and screwed up the design of Indian built New Generation Rollingstock trains?
  • Stopped QR from hiring new staff, and demoted driver trainers, resulting in Rail Fail?
  • Failed to implement bus network reform?
  • Put many public transport users out of jobs? 
So Mr Nicholls - what are your policies? 
  • How do you expect Brisbane to compete with other Oceana cities (such as Auckland, Perth, Sydney,  Melbourne, and Wellington) which have far better public transport? Build more financially disastrous road tunnels?
  • How do you expect train lines to be built to new towns such as Greater Flagstone when there isn't enough core network capacity? Force people onto already congested roads?
  • Or are you anti-Cross River Rail, because you can't admit the the BaT Tunnel was severely flawed and half-arsed?
  • Are you completely blind to the fact that Brisbane's least frequent train line (Doomben Line) runs through your Clayfield constituency, and that it could have been more usefully extended to Northshore Hamilton?
  • Do you want Brisbane to continue to be only developed city in the world that actively promotes car use as if it is still the 1960s?
Please tell us Tim? Anyone there?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Quirky Metro - Common Sense Prevails!

Artists impression
BrizCommuter and Rail Back on Track have been very vocal in being against Brisbane City Council's ludicrous Brisbane Metro Subway System proposal, which was an ill-thought out election promise. In a pleasantly surprising move, Brisbane City Council have seen the light, and dumped the disruptive idea of converting the inner busway into a rubber-tyred metro system. Yes, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk, and Deputy Mayor Adrian Schrinner have finally seem some common sense! Before we move into the replacement plan for the Brisbane Metro - what was wrong with the original plan?
  • Busway congestion could have been resolved by an almost $0 bus network reform, instead of spending $1.5b+ (more realistically $3b) on a totally unnecessary Metro system. 
  • It would have increased journey times, as passengers would have to change from bus to metro at Wooloongabba and Herston to access Brisbane's CBD.
  • It went against Graham Quirk's excuse for lack of bus network reform of providing one seat journeys. 
  • It had lower capacity than the existing busway.
  • It did not serve RBWH, PA Hospital, and UQ, three major trip generators on the busway network. In fact it annoyingly stops just one stop short of both RBWH and PA Hospitals.
  • Important parts of the design, such as the interchange design  had not been properly considered.
  • It did not provide any new journey opportunities, unlike the urgently required Cross River Rail CRR). 
  • It provided political distraction from the urgently required CRR.
  • It did not solve Brisbane's rail capacity issues, unlike CRR.
So what is in the far more sensible Brisbane Metro Mk2, which is now a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. 
  • Brisbane Metro will use bi-artic (long bendy) buses instead of rubber-tyred metro, massively reducing the cost of the changes to infrastructure (now $1b), and allowing both the "Metro" and existing high frequency bus routes to continue using the busway. 
  • Two high frequency bus routes with bi-artic buses - Eight Mile Plains to Roma Street (current route 111), and UQ to RBWH (current route 66) every 3 minutes. 
  • Serves large trip generators outside of Brisbane's CBD including RBWH, PA Hospital, Mater and Lady Cilento Children's Hospital, UQ, QUT Kelvin Grove, and Garden City Shopping Centre. 
  • Claimed capacity of 22,000 passengers per hour - higher than existing busway (note: BrizCommuter is yet to verify this claim).   
  • Fleet of 60 bi-artic buses - hybrid or battery powered electric.
  • New underground bus station at Cultural Centre to avoid congestion.  
  • Victoria Bridge will be green - buses, bikes, and pedestrians only.
  • Brisbane Metro will free up existing buses for feeder services and better coverage.
  • Integrates well with CRR, as interchange will be provided at Roma Street and Boggo Road.
  • Complements CRR, rather than being a rival project. 
  • Considerably less impact during construction. 
Bi-artic electric bus   Source: Busworld
Some of BrizCommuter's thoughts on this:
  • BrizCommuter hopes that this brings about sensible bus network reform, with mainly high frequency trunk routes serving the CBD, and "local" routes acting as a feeder to the high frequency network. 
  • Most of the exiting BUZ routes still need to serve the busway, in particular the routes to Chermside and Carindale. 
  • BrizCommuter hopes to see more high frequency bus routes, serving more of Brisbane including Northern Suburbs, Centenary Suburbs, and the Prince Charles Hospital. 
  • BrizCommuter hopes that politicians won't play silly buggers with bus reform like last time. Yes, some people will loose out, but the majority of passengers across Brisbane should be better off. 
  • As the state government owns the busway infrastructure, BrizCommuter hopes that they are fully supportive of the changes around Cultural Centre.
  • Will Brisbane City Council put some of the savings from Brisbane Metro towards Cross River Rail?
  • As these buses will have all-door boarding, how will go card touch on/off work? Onboard or on platform?
BrizCommuter is happily stunned that Brisbane politicians have finally made a sensible decision. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

QR's Friday Timetable from Hell

Overcrowding on 07:17 from Ferny Grove to City
Source: Supplied
As most of the remaining rail users in Brisbane and SE Queensland will know, Friday is the "Day from Hell" when trying to get to and from work, school, university, appointments, and even getting pissed in the Valley. Due to Queensland Rail's (QR) lack of drivers, and drivers only being able to work 11 days on a row, Fridays have a further reduced timetable. This is different to the Monday to Thursday timetable. Even BrizCommuter, who is a self confessed "public transport expert", keeps getting caught out by the timetable changes on Friday. So what are the problems with QR's Friday timetable from hell?
  • Completely different service cuts on Friday compared to Monday to Thursday causes massive confusion to passengers who have to remember two different "dismembered" timetables. 
  • Totally unacceptable 60 minute gaps between trains on the Doomben Line in the am peak, early pm peak, and pm peak. 
  • The previously full to capacity 07:10am and 07:25am services from Ferny Grove to the City has been axed, resulting on severe overcrowding (as in passengers unable to board from Alderley) on the 07:17am from Ferny Grove service. 
  • Multiple 30 minute gaps between peak period train services on the Cleveland Line, with the pm peak express service being reduced by 50%, and "dangerous overcrowding" reported.
  • 30 minute late am peak gap on the Caboolture Line. 
  • Pm peak services axed during the busiest part of the peak period from Ipswich and Springfield Lines with 24 minute service gaps, and annoyingly different times to axed services on Monday to Thursday. 
  • 32 minute gap between Springfield services at school finish time.
  • Large number of axed "Inner North" services from Northgate to City (and vice versa)
  • The "Turn Up and Go" 15 minute daytime off-peak services on the Ferny Grove, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines have been butchered - more like "Turn Up and Hope"! 
  • 06:02am from Varsity Lakes to City runs all stations, slowing down the Gold Coast to Brisbane commute by 18 minutes. In fact this train gets overtaken by the following service. It would be awfully nice if QR could inform commuters of this fact!
  • 30 minute am peak gap to Brisbane Airport delaying passengers trying to catch morning flights. 
  • Considerable reduction in via South Bank services, causing disruption to hospitals, workplaces,  and education. 
  • Some axed services from Monday to Thursday run on Fridays, causing passengers to avoid services that are actually running. 
  • Increase in last minute cancelled (or "altered" as QR like to call it) services on Fridays. 
  • Plenty of other service changes that have missed off this list causing annoyance and frustration to passengers. 
  • Mistakes in the timetables and TransLink journey planner. 
Whilst the lack of driver issue is not going to be solved overnight (in fact, possibly not until 2019, due to QR still not hiring external applicants), BrizCommuter calls that the Friday services need to be same as Thursday services as soon as reasonably possible. In the mean time, there needs to be improved communications to passengers about the changes. Some passengers (who must be living under a rock) are still unaware that Friday has a different timetable, and many passengers are unaware of the changes that affect them.

Rail services on Fridays are an embarrassment for Brisbane, and resulting voter anger may well be end for the ALP Palaszczuk government, irrespective of the Newman and Emerson cause. Does any other developed city in the world run a "special cut-back" timetable Fridays? No!

Addendum 10/03/2017

The above service advisory from TransLink should read: The 4:50pm Ipswich to Kippa-Ring train is delayed 10 minutes due to inadequate train service caused by institutional incompetence. 

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cross River Rail Mk3 Analysis - Winners and Losers

In the recently announced Cross River Rail (CRR) Environmental Impact Statement Request for Project Change (2017), there is a diagram showing the expected peak service plan (rail operations). The latest $5.4b iteration of CRR (Mk3) has tunnels shortened from 10km to 5.9km, with implications on the potential for increasing train services due to track layouts at either end of the shortened tunnel. There have also been some changes to CBD stations, mainly for the better.

BrizCommuter takes an analytical look at expected service improvements on a line by line basis, to see who are the winners, and who are the losers from CRR Mk3. Note that comparisons with the current state are made against the 4th October 2016 timetable (i.e. what should be running) as opposed to the #RailFail 2017 timetable.
Expected peak services after Cross River Rail opens
Source: CRR EIS Request for Project Change

Overview 

Currently there are two track pairs in each direction running through Brisbane's CBD, and CRR will add a third. Cross River Rail Mk3 has seen the tunnel portals moved to Dutton Park (instead of Yeerongpilly) and Victoria Park (instead of Albion). This means that trains are running along existing tracks between Yeerongpilly and Dutton Park, and along the Exhibition Line between Victoria Park and Albion. So whilst Cross River Rail has resolved the Merivale Bridge bottleneck, there are now additional bottlenecks at each end of the CRR tunnel. With improved European Train Control System (ETCS) signalling, each set of tracks should be able to reliably run 24 trains per hour per direction (tph). The figures quoted for the three tracks post-CRR from the North are 12tph, 16tph, and 22tph, and from the South 20tph, 16tph, and 18tph. This is far from optimal.

Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines

The Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines are the biggest winners of CRR Mk3. Currently, the Gold Coast Line runs a 6tph am peak service with irregular frequencies (every 7.5 or 15 minutes), and the Beenleigh Line runs 4tph am peak service (every 15 minutes), with 2tph additional services from Coopers Plains or Kuraby (every 30 minutes).

Post-CRR, the Gold Coast Line will run 12tph am peak service (every 5 minutes), and the outer Beenleigh Line will run 6tph (every 10 minutes) running express from Salisbury to Boggo Road (Park Road). This is quite a significant improvement, and all of these services will run via CRR. On the down side, Gold Coast will loose it's direct connection to Brisbane Airport.

Inner Beenleigh Line am peak services will also run all stations from Salisbury to the CBD at 6tph (every 10 minutes) and run via South Bank. It is expected that these services would be extended to run from Beaudesert at some point when funding is available to build suburban rail services along the existing Salisbury to Beaudesert freight corridor. It is unknown how this 6tph service will integrate with the proposed 10tph service from Cleveland along South Bank as the service patterns would be quite different (generally service patterns should be multiples of each other).

BrizCommuter expects that for the proposed service to be achievable, that extra tracks would be required from Holmview to Kuraby, a turnback facility would be required at Salisbury, and enhanced turnback facilities may be required at Beenleigh. Track layout improvements at Varsity Lakes may also be required to turnback 12tph.  These infrastructure projects are all outside of CRR's scope and funding.

Cleveland Line 

The Cleveland Line currently runs 8tph in the am peak, with 4tph Cleveland express services (every 15 minutes), and 4tph Manly all stations services (every 15 minutes).

Post-CRR, the Cleveland Line is proposed to run 10tph (every 6 minutes) in the am peak. For this to be achievable, additional or full duplications would be required between Manly and Cleveland. This infrastructure project is outside of CRR's scope and funding.

Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Inner North, Airport, and Doomben Lines

The Ferny Grove Line currently runs 8tph in the am peak (every 7.5 minutes). The Shorncliffe Line runs 4tph (every 15 minutes), with an additional 4tph "Inner North" services starting at Northgate (every 15 minutes). The Airport Line runs 4tph (every 15 minutes), and the single track Doomben Line runs 2tph (every 30 minutes). It should be noted that commuters at Nundah, Toombul, Wooloowin, and Albion recently saw a huge service cuts due to changes in stopping patterns - these commuters would be expecting improvements post-CRR.

Unfortunately, post-CRR there is expected to be zero train service improvement to these lines. This will be obviously quite disappointing to commuters along these lines, especially as significant train service improvements were touted during previous iterations of CRR. The only solution to overcrowding will be the move from 3-car to 6-car services over the next few years as NGR trains are introduced. There will probably be no solution for overcrowding on 6-car train services for decades. The opportunity for extending the Doomben Line into Northshore Hamilton has also been missed due to incompetent city planning.

Caboolture, Sunshine Coast, and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines

The Caboolture Line currently runs 9tph in the am peak (every 6 or 12 minutes), with approximately 3tph originating further North on the Sunshine Coast Line. The recently opened Redcliffe Peninsula Line also runs 9tph in the am peak (every 6 or 12 minutes).

Post-CRR, the Caboolture Line services will be increased to 14tph (train approx. every 4 minutes 15 seconds), with 4tph of these services originating further North on the Sunshine Coast Line. It is expected that all of these services will run express from Petrie to the City, and run via CRR.

Post-CRR, the Redcliffe Peninsula Line is interesting. It is planned to operate 16tph (trains approx. every 3 minutes 45 seconds), with trains running through the existing "mains" track in Brisbane. 10tph of these services will stop at all stations between Petrie and Northgate, and 6tph will run express.

BrizCommuter has great concerns about this proposed service. 28tph (trains every 2 minutes 10 seconds) will have to operate between Northgate and Albion on the same set of tracks. With a complex mixture of Caboolture and Redcliffe Peninsula Line services merging with different service patterns, and then splitting into either CRR or "mains" tracks (and vice versa in the pm peak) a delay to one service will cause an immediate knock on effect to following services. BrizCommuter doubts that this proposed service is realistically possible, at least not reliably. 24tph split equally (12tph each) between the Caboolture/Sunshine Coast Lines based on the existing service pattern would be more realistic and reliable.

The current track crossover layout at Kippa-Ring is also incapable of allowing the turnback of 16tph - in fact it cannot reliably turnback the existing 5tph pm peak service, which consistently fails to achieve a 100% peak reliability! Improvements would be outside of CRR's scope and funding.

It should be noted that Exhibition Loop services would no longer be required during the Ekka.

A long term solution to improving train services on the Caboolture, Sunshine Coast, and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines is to construct a train line along the Trouts Road (North East Transportation Corridor) between Strathpine and Roma Street (connecting with CRR). Whilst mentioned in the Bligh government's Connecting SEQ2031 document, it does not seem to be on the radar of politicians. Building a road in its place would be a travesty. At the very least, CRR needs to have tunnel stubs constructed to allow this line to be connected with no impact to CRR services. Going by the latest plans, this may be the case.

Ipswich, Rosewood, and Springfield Lines

The Ipswich Line currently runs 8tph in the am peak (trains every 6 or 12 minutes), with 2tph originating at Rosewood (approximately every 30 minutes). The Springfield Line runs 8tph in the am peak (train every 6 to 12 minutes).

Post-CRR the Ipswich Line will run 10tph in the am peak (trains every 6 minutes), with 4tph originating at Rosewood (approximately every 15 minutes). The Springfield Line will run 10tph in the am peak (trains every 6 minutes). These services improvements are simply achieved by extending the period at which the highest frequency service is operated, and would be possible without CRR being constructed. All it requires is sufficient trains, crew, and funding. As the "peak of the peak" services would remain at every 6 minutes, there will be no solution to overcrowded services for decades.  

Unknowns - counter-peak, off-peak services, and stabling

The document does not cover the frequency of counter-peak services, or off-peak services. Due to the current three track restriction between Park Rd and Kuraby, and Northgate to Lawton, it would be very difficult to improve counter-peak services which will be restricted to one track. It may also be difficult to improve off-peak frequencies on the Beenleigh and Gold Coast Line corridor without constructing extra tracks. Neither of these help with de-centralisation of offices and services away from Brisbane's CBD.

There is also mention of where extra stabling would be added for trains using CRR. In the original CRR, there was a large train depot planned for Clapham, South of Yeerongpilly. Sufficient additional new trains, and of course drivers would also be required to operate the claimed service patterns.

Conclusion

It seems that with every cost cutting iteration of Cross River Rail, that the benefits decrease. CRR will potentially allow for considerable service improvements on the Gold Coast and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines. Smaller service improvements are expected to occur on the Beenleigh, Cleveland, Caboolture, and Sunshine Coast Lines. For these improvements to occur, funding would be required for multiple infrastructure improvements that could easily add a few billion dollars to the "real"cost of CRR. The state government needs to come clean on the costs of associated infrastructure required to achieve these improvements and benefit claims, which are outside of the scope and funding of CRR.

Claimed improvements to peak services on the Ipswich, Rosewood, and Springfield Lines do not require CRR to be achieved. There will be no improvements to peak services as a result of CRR on the Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Inner North, Airport, and Doomben Lines. This is very disappointing, and supports Brisbane City Council's otherwise misguided claim that Cross River Rail does not benefit commuters living in Brisbane. Cross River Rail will improve access to Wooloongabba, the Southern end of Brisbane's CBD, RNA Showgrounds, and Herston Health Campus (RBWH).

The current tit-for-tat politics is preventing the LNP Federal Government from assisting the ALP State Government with funding. There is also the likelihood that the next Queensland government may be a coalition between the (public transport policy destructive) LNP and the "racist party" One Nation. Thus unless a shovel is in the ground before the next State election, BrizCommuter is highly concerned that CRR will be delayed even further. This would be very bad news, given that Queensland is considerably under-prepared for expected population increases during the next few decades.

Cross River Rail website:
https://www.crossriverrail.qld.gov.au
Project documentation:
http://www.statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/assessments-and-approvals/cross-river-rail-project.html

Friday, February 24, 2017

No Adele-ation for Brisbane's Public Transport

Adele - doing an impression of Brisbane commuters
So "New World City" Brisbane gets one of the world's most famous singers for two concerts on 4th and 5th of March at the Gabba. What can possibly go wrong? Quite a lot...
  • Rather than holding the concert in "wholly capable" Suncorp Stadium, the 60,000 concert has been organised at the "totally incapable" Gabba, which can barely cope with maximum 40,000 crowds for watching grass grow Cricket matches. 
  • Adjacent Wooloongabba Station on Cross River Rail could easily handle the crowds, but unfortunately successive governments have failed to build Cross River Rail. 
  • The Gabba is a long walk from any train stations. 
  • The Gabba has a confusing and poorly designed method of handling after match buses, and just to add to the mess, the nearby busway station is closed after events (much to the distress of anyone not attending the stadium trying to catch a bus, or anyone trying to use "normal" bus routes to get home).
  • Brisbane City Council are playing the political game by pretending they weren't properly involved with the planning - they were. 
  • Brisbane City Council are also playing the political game by pretending that the post-event bus services on Sunday may result in a lack of bus drivers for the Monday am peak - driver sources disagree, claiming all overtime is accounted for. 
  • Some of the event bus routes start and end at shopping centres that charge for parking.
  • Queensland Rail's weekend evening frequencies are poor at every 30 minutes, are quite often cancelled with no notice since #RailFail, and finish at around 11pm on Sunday - many concert goes may miss the last trains. 
  • The only extra train services are to Gold Coast on Saturday night and Springfield on Sunday night - what about all the other train lines? 
  • There are rarely enough Taxi drivers available on a Sunday night at the best of times.
  • UBER will make a killing out of surge pricing.  
  • There is a large parking restriction area around the Gabba during event times, so drivers may have to park a long distance away, and Mater hospital car parks may fill to capacity (which is unfortunate for hospital staff and patients).
  • The promoter has been quoted as being “flabbergasted” by the public transport concerns. 
So if you are travelling to and from Adele's warbling, you are pretty much screwed due to the last decade of political failure when it comes to public transport. Queensland's tit-for-tat politics continues to make Brisbane be the embarrassment of the developed world. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

NGR - 1 Year and Not in Service!

NGR #701 being delivered in February 2016
When commuters were inflicted with overcrowded 3-car services in the January 2014 timetable, Queensland Rail (QR) informed commuters via social media that the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) would be running by late 2015 to relieve their woes. Unfortunately the first Indian build NGR train didn't arrive in Queensland until 18th February 2016. A whole year later in February 2017, and despite 8 more NGR trains having been delivered, the NGR units have been mainly hiding in their train shed at Wulkuraka, near Ipswich. The NGR trains have still not introduced into service after 1 year of being in the Banana State, and there is still little sign of them being introduced into services. So why are the NGRs delayed? Well, the usual "Queenslander" lack of transparency makes it difficult to know the exact truth, but based on limited press information, informed sources, and potty mouth "Rail Advocate" Paul Pluta, the reasons cited are:
  • Guard accommodation and location. It is strongly rumoured that the LNP Newman government wanted to NGR to be driver only, and thus the guard accommodation was only an afterthought. Also, the guards being located at the back of the 6-car NGR trains, and disabled passengers waiting locations being in the middle of the 6-car NGR trains is slight problem, that is not going to end happily
  • Driver cab design. It is rumoured that drivers and/or unions were not properly involved by the LNP Newman government and "boy wonder" (now opposition) Transport Minister Scott Emerson. There have been issues related to sight lines, stopping locations, and ergonomics. 
  • Lack of drivers for testing. 
  • Changes to the braking system. 
  • Late arrival of the first few units. 
  • NGR project being managed by Department of Transport and Main Roads, not Queensland Rail.
  • Various other "teething issues". Not surprising given that India isn't exactly renowned for it's train manufacturing industry. 
BrizCommuter is also concerned about rumours that if there are delays to NGR's introduction, then the Queensland taxpayer will have to fork out millions of $$$ to manufacturer Bombardier due to contractual reasons.  So not only are commuters suffering from the now 18 month (and counting) delayed NGR trains, that all Queensland taxpayers may end up suffering as well. This is likely to be yet another embarrassment for the ALP Palaszczuk government after Rail Fail, despite many of seeds of disaster being (yet again) sown by the ousted LNP Newman government.

PS: Not enough NGR trains have been ordered. You might want to order a few more Ms Trad!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Has QR's Patronage Fallen Off a Cliff?

Where are the passengers QR?
With Queensland Rail's (QR) #RailFail now into its 5th month, it is no surprise that passengers are going to be giving up public transport in droves. There have been so many timetables changes, axed services, cancelled services, and of course the confusingly different Friday timetable, that fewer passengers can rely on QR getting them to and from work, school, university, and appointments on time.

If transparency was good enough in Queensland, then we would have known the effect of QR's Rail Fail on rail patronage by now. Unfortunately, the rail patronage figures covering the period from October to present (or even part of it) haven't been released. If fact, transparency us so bad that QR's passenger load survey hasn't been released for years.

Due to lack of official figures, BrizCommuter has had to make his own estimates of patronage fall. This particular observation was based on patronage observed this week (early Feb '17), compared to patronage observed at the same time of year (early Feb '14 to '16) since the January 2014 timetable was introduced, on the 07:10am from Ferny Grove. This is an infamous "sardine can" 3-car unit service. Whilst loading was highly variable, it usually varied between "crowded" to "completely full and leaving passengers behind". BrizCommuter has estimated the typical loading as previously being between 350 and 450 passengers, with a mean figure of just over 400 passengers. On some days, as the train was full, the services could have attracted in excess of 450 passengers.

When observed twice this week (week beginning 4th Feb '17), the difference in patronage was shocking. Plenty of empty seats were available, with an estimated loading of just 180 passengers on both days. This is a patronage reduction of  49% to 60% of passengers! Now, this service may not be typical. This service was quite often cancelled due to "operational reasons" late last year, was axed in the Summer School Holiday Timetables, and is also axed on Fridays. Thus many commuters may have given up and this service, as it is "safer" to go for the services either side. Other train services have been observed with at an estimated patronage drop of at least 25% or more.

A quick survey of BrizCommuter's work colleagues, showed an exactly 50% drop in train users, with most going back to using cars. However, most of these colleagues are shift workers, who have been badly affected by the Interim Timetables, and this may be an atypical figure compared to 9 to 5 workers. There have also been many reports of worsening traffic congestion around Brisbane over the last few weeks, with multiple days where every major arterial road has been congested. This also backs up BrizCommuter's observations of significant crash in patronage.

Whilst we may be waiting while for the awful truth, BrizCommuter predicts that QR's Rail Fail may have set back rail patronage by more than a decade. BrizCommuter is also concerned that the drop in patronage will:
  • Limit the effectiveness of the recent TransLink fare changes, as there will be less fare box revenue.
  • Provide authorities with less incentive for urgently required improvements to train services (e.g. extending Cleveland Line pm peak expresses, and adding a service in the 15 minute gap before the (previously) overcrowded 5:26 from Central to Ferny Grove) once there are sufficient trains and drivers nearer to the end of this decade. 
  • Provide authorities with less incentive for long term improvements to train services (e.g. 15 minute off-peak services on Sector 1 lines, and "as required" improvements to peak services on all lines.). 
  • Provide authorities with less incentive to order additional NGR trains for long term service improvements. 
  • Provide authorities with less incentive to build Cross River Rail. 
  • Provide more incentive for road construction due to increased road congestion. 
Lets hope that Department of Transport and Main Road, TransLink, and Queensland Rail do not keep sitting on the patronage figures, and let commuters know the awful truth. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

QR's Rail Fail to continue until 2019!

The Redcliffe Peninsula Line opened on 04/10/2016, with resulting rail chaos in subsequent days, including up to 167 services cancelled on 21/10/2016 due to lack of train crew (and to a lesser extent, lack of trains). This was followed by axed services in the Interim Timetables, even more axed services in the Interim Timetables Mk2, the Christmas Day cancellation-fest, up to 60% of peak services cut in the Summer School Holiday Timetables, and return of the Interim Timetables Mk2 for the whole of 2017. Commuters have been badly hit by these service cuts resulting in extended waits for trains, overcrowded trains, poor system reliability, and abysmal customer information. 
A Commission of Inquiry was established by the ALP Palaszczuk government to investigate the circumstances leading up to and associated with the disruptions to the Citytrain timetable, and to assess and report on Queensland Rail’s (QR) recovery plan. The inquiry is titled "An Inquiry into Queensland Rail’s train crewing practices". Mr Phillip Strachan was appointed as Commissioner and provided a report, which has just been released. The report and government's response is accessible from the below website, and is worth reading in full (possibly before reading the rest of this blog post).

The release of the report finally caused embattled ALP transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe to fall on his sword. However, BrizCommuter would like to see LNP opposition transport minister Scott Emerson (who was also behind the bus reform failure) to also fall on his sword (preferably one that has just been sharpened). 

The report is not written as to blame particular government's, however the causes of Rail Fail are outlined below:
  • Despite a forecasts deficit in drivers and guards, and plans for improved services in 2014 timetables, under the LNP Newman Government there was a one year pause on new driver training schools. Due to drivers retiring, there was also loss of drivers and driver trainers. 
  • Under the ALP Palaszczuk Government, driver training recommenced. However concerns by both Indec and GIRO as to sufficient train crew availability for the Redcliffe Peninsula Line were not properly acted upon by QR, nor adequately communicated to QR's board or the Government.
  • Internal communication, governance, and cultural failures within QR. 
  • Restrictive crewing rules due to Union pressure.
  • QR traditionally running understaffed, with considerable overtime for drivers being the norm. 
  • Internal recruitment, and relatively slow driver training programs. 


The report's 36 recommendations are outlined in brief below, with commentary in italics:
  • Establish a Citytrain Response Unit tasked with independently monitoring, auditing and reporting on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission and QR’s response and recovery plan. This is essential, however it may not go far enough. Public transport needs to be divorced from road-centric Department of Transport and Main Roads, and have it's own overseeing authority, as in Perth and Auckland. Also, the Citytrain Response Unit needs to be staffed by people who will ask the right questions. A public transport advocate or two, should be included. 
  • Implement regular reporting on train crew demand, supply and shortfalls initiatives to QR’s Executive Leadership Team and the responsible Ministers. This is also a good move, and hopefully will take into account eventual improvements once rail fail is eventually resolved.
  • Implement transparent and timely reporting to TransLink and the public regarding operational issues that are affecting, or may affect, service delivery, to enable customers to plan alternative travel arrangements. This information is to be available in real time at stations, online and through call centres. This is urgently required. Customer information and transparency has been appalling during #RailFail and this needs to be improved significantly. 
  • Ensure that negotiations with train crew unions focus on best practice crewing arrangements to alleviate overtime pressure on train crews. Whilst most train crew like the extra money from overtime, the high rate of overtime has resulted in unreliable train services. QR should serve commuters, not the wallets of its staff. 
  • Work with the train crew unions regarding introducing modern competency‐based training arrangements in line with Australian and global best practices. The new training regime will shorten the average training time for new recruits without compromising safety. This is also essential, as whilst train crew need to be trained adequately and safely, it can be done considerably faster than at present. 
  • Leaner management structure at QR. Having the right people and culture, is also just as important to reducing the layers of bureaucracy. 

So what does the future hold for long suffering SE Queensland and Brisbane commuters?
  • Interim Timetables set to continue until at least late-2018, and possibly even mid/late-2019.
  • Unknown timeframes as to when specific axed services will be resumed. 
  • Unknown dates as to when Fridays will have the same timetables as Monday to Friday.
  • High likelihood of impact to Commonwealth Games 2018 train services - BrizCommuter predicted this in November last year. 
  • High likelihood of the return of diabolical School Holiday Timetables with service cuts of up to 60%. 
  • Urgently required peak improvements, such as extending Cleveland Line pm peak services, and resolving pm peak overcrowding on lines such as Ferny Grove may not occur until at least 2019. 
  • Improvements to off-peak services on Redcliffe, Caboolture, Springfield, Ipswich, and Gold Coast Lines may not occur until at least 2020. 
  • Ongoing repetitional damage to Brisbane and SE Queensland resulting in lower liveability, and making Brisbane less attractive to business. 
  • Angry commuters will vent their frustration at the ballot box. 

And finally:
  • Whilst the recommendations are generally good, there is no plan for an (above mentioned) public transport authority to hold both QR, and SE Queensland's bus operators (including "troublesome" Brisbane City Council owned Brisbane Transport) to task. 
  • The report does not consider the fact that insufficient New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains have been ordered to allow for more optimal peak services at the end of this decade, nor has the report investigated the serious delays to the NGR roll-out. 
  • The report does not look at what service improvements are required beyond restoration of the full (4th October 2016) timetable.  
  • The report did not look at the impact to commuters from the Interim Timetables (in particular the Friday changes, and the excessively cut Summer School Holiday Timetables), and knock on effects to road congestion, businesses, and liveability.  
Sadly, it now looks like public transport in Brisbane will continue to be embarrassingly poor until at least the next decade. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

QLD - The State of Fail

Further bad news for SE Queensland and Brisbane commuters today. It has been reported in the Courier Mail that:

 "The Federal Government has warned that Cross River Rail does not properly integrate with the rest of Brisbane’s transport network, in a blow to the Palaszczuk State Government’s top-priority project. Urban Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher has insisted that “more work” is required on plans for the $5.5 billion inner-Brisbane rail link to ­ensure a better long-term solution for commuters."

Unfortunately, this just stinks of ongoing tit-for-tat politics that is making Brisbane look even more backwards compared to other developed cities. Cross River Rail Mk3 (CRR), has interchanges at Roma Street, Park Rd/Boggo Rd, and Wooloongabba for connections with busways and bus services. It connects with other train lines at Park Rd, and Roma Street. Track interfaces at each end, could however be better, but this doesn't seem to be the reason for this decision. BrizCommuter is somewhat confused as to how the Federal Government could come to this conclusion about integration, unless the LNP Federal Government are purposefully trying to stall CRR yet again?

It should be remembered that the LNP Newman State Government's flawed BaT tunnel plan missed out the crucial interchange at Park Rd/Boggo Rd. Would the LNP Federal Government have accepted that? Also, the ludicrous Brisbane Metro, a thought bubble of the LNP Brisbane City Council, is simply a case of turning part of the busway into a low capacity metro, forcing tens of thousands of passengers to have to change to travel into the CBD. Is that integrated enough for the LNP Federal Government? So what is the LNP Federal Government's agenda? It certainly isn't trying to improve travel for Brisbane commuters, not is it trying to make Brisbane a more attractive place for business to move to, or expand. Brisbane is only set to fall further down the list of "most liveable city" rankings.

Embarrassingly for Brisbane and SE Queensland, is that rival cities - Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland all have new rail tunnels under construction. Auckland is recently managed bus network reform with minimal fuss.

Other recent failures related to Brisbane's public transport, as a result of political stupidity from both sides of politics are - with responsible political party denoted:
  • Insufficient previous generation trains for Queensland Rail - ALP
  • Insufficient drivers for Queensland Rail causing "Rail Fail" - LNP and ALP (LNP mainly)
  • Massive delays to the New Generation Rollingstock program - LNP and ALP 
  • Not enough New Generation Rollingstock ordered - LNP and ALP
  • Delays to Redcliffe Peninsula Line due to signalling "issues" - LNP
  • Ludicrous Brisbane Metro plan - LNP
  • Failure of bus network reform - LNP
  • Ongoing delays to Cross River Rail - LNP and ALP
  • "Last minute" extension of Gold Coast Light Rail - LNP
With no competent politicians on the horizon, it seems that Brisbane is well and truly screwed when it comes to face the transport challenges of the 21st century.