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. 

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Queensland Rail - The End is Nigh!

It has recently been announced that at the last minute,  $3.6m worth of bonuses was stopped from being paid to senior Queensland Rail (QR) managers by the Queensland Government. How on earth QR's Board (update: some of whom have now resigned) could think that bonuses were appropriate is beyond anyone who actually has to suffer from using QR's mediocre rail service. It is also concerning that this wasn't picked up early by Transport Minister Mark Bailey - maybe he wasn't checking the right emails? So why shouldn't QR's managers get bonuses?
  • 2 years after the start of Rail Fail (#RailFail), QR's CityTrain network is still running on interim reduced timetables, with further service reductions on Fridays, and no end in sight. 
  • QR's recruitment and training process for new drivers is agonisingly slow.
  • QR have failed to control the RTBU, who appear to be running the show. The RTBU's opposition towards external driver recruitment and a closed shop mentality has hit Rail Fail recovery hard. 
  • There is allegedly poor moral amongst train crew, in particular due to ongoing overtime requirements. 
  • On-time running stats are misleading, as they don't show unscheduled expressed services, off-peak services, or services removed due to Rail Fail. 
  • Communication from staff at times of delays is still poor to mediocre. 
Other things wrong with SE Queensland's rail network, that also have successive state governments, and the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) to blame are:
  • The disastrous New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) project - "illegal" trains that don't meet disability accessibility requirements, door problems, and a "who knows when" fix for these issues. 
  • Due to the NGR project delays, the geriatric EMU trains are failing regularly, causing delays and rollingstock availability problems, including chronic overcrowded 3-car trains. 
  • Inadequate base timetables - even the never delivered October 2016 timetables are inadequate compared to Perth, Sydney, and Melbourne - with 15 minute peak gaps on many lines, limited 15 minute off-peak coverage, and abysmal Cleveland Line pm peak service. 
  • Inadequate rail feeder bus network and park and rides. 
  • The looming Cross River Rail Fail - unless 40+ more trains are purchased soon, driver recruitment is ramped up, and multiple "bottleneck" infrastructure projects are completed. 
  • Farcical situation caused by the guard being at the back of NGR trains, disability access being in the middle of the train, and half-arsed platform raising being in the middle of the train. 
  • Lack of Automatic Train Protection across most  of QR's CityTrain network - this means that getting rid of guards for more efficiency is a big problem. 
  • Inland QR long distance services are extremely poor value for money for the taxpayer.  
  • Lack of periodical (e.g. weekly) capping options on the go-card is a deterrent to weekend public transport use. 
Until Brisbane and SE Queensland has a train service as frequent and reliable as other major Australian capital cities, there is no way that anyone in QR or TMR should be paid a bonus. With QR's failures and poor efficiency, it should even be questioned as to why QR should not be privatised.  BrizCommuter will not be surprised if this happens within minutes of the LNP next gaining power in Queensland. 

Monday, September 24, 2018

2 Years of Rail Fail - No End in Sight!

QR's Rail Fail - Unhappy 2nd Birthday
Queensland Rail's (QR) Rail Fail (#RailFail) started on the 30th September 2016, just before the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line. Rail Fail was a result of insufficient train drivers to operate the October 2016 timetable. The cause and ongoing delays in the resolution of Rail Fail have been caused by a combination of:
  • Driver recruitment being stopped, and driver trainers being reduced under the destructive LPN Newman government (who were allegedly planning to privatise NGR operated train services).
  • Organisation incompetence within QR, including ignoring external advice that the October 2016 timetables were not feasible. 
  • The Palaszczuk ALP government bumbling along with fixing the problem.
  • QR's board for signing off an EBU (with changes to drivers meal breaks) just before the Strachan inquiry into Rail Fail was handed down. 
  • The Rail Tram and Bus Union for trying to prevent external driver recruitment. 
  • Poor relationship between Department of Transport and Main Roads (TransLink) and QR.
  • The Citytrain Reponse Unit for doing, erm, not much. 
After 2 years of Rail Fail, the net gain in driver sits at little more than 40 drivers. The result of this highly unimpressive gain in drivers has resulted in:
  • The continuation of over 330 train services each week being cancelled.
  • Friday "Fail Day" with different timetables to Monday to Thursday, and more cancellations. 
  • Peak service gaps of up to 30 minutes (or 60 mins for the Doomben Line).
  • "Breaking" of the 15 minute daytime off-peak services (which was limited enough in the first place". 
  • Up to 60 minute off-peak service gaps.
  • The totally inadequate School Holiday Timetables with up to 60% of peak services being cancelled, up to 50% of off-peak services being cancelled, and "third world" hourly weekend services. This particular impact may now be resolved. 
  • The embarrassing Commonwealth Games timetables that resulted in abysmal train service for anyone that didn't use the Gold Coast Line. 
  • An increase in trains being expressed past stations to meet QR's KPIs. 
  • A decline in rail patronage from many stations, even more so when taking into account population growth. 
  • A decline in Brisbane's liveability ranking. 
  • Misleading excuses for delays and lack of transparency further decreasing QR's credibility.
  • Rail Fail may also be a contributory factor towards the slow rollout of NGR trains.  
Unfortunately, the Queensland Government, QR, and the Citytrain Response Unit are all refusing to let commuters known when Rail Fail will be fixed. This was originally touted by Citytrain Response Unit as being in late 2019, before this estimate went missing in action in subsequent publications. BrizCommuter is estimating full recovery of the October 2016 timetable sometime in 2020 - 4 years late. Even the mythical 2016 timetable is far behind the high frequency service frequencies that commuters in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney have enjoyed for many years. Thus Brisbane and SE Queensland will continue to have a substandard train service that is damaging Brisbane's reputation  and liveability well into the next decade. If further driver recruitment is not sustained, and further trains are not ordered soon, then the opening of Cross River Rail will be the next major failure on the horizon, as the proposed service provision will not be possible. And lets not get started on NGR Fail!  

Monday, August 6, 2018

Cleveland Line - Brisbane's Misery Line

Cleveland Line - Off The Rails! 
Whilst Brisbane's public transport system continues into a death spiral, there is one Queensland Rail (QR) train line BrizCommuter hears more complaints about that any other - the Cleveland Line. What are the issues with the Cleveland Line?
  • Lacking infrastructure - single track sections between Manly and Cleveland, and lack of 3rd platform at Manly causes havoc with on-time running and track capacity. 
  • Train services are often "expressed" past stations, with excuses from QR designed to obfuscate, including "Congestion on the network" and "Heavy passenger loading" (in other words, we are bypassing stations so that the train can get to the terminus on-time and meet our KPIs). 
  • Overcrowded 3-car trains on some services, due to the ongoing NGR train delays and old EMU trains being beyond end of service life. 
  • Woeful 30 minute am peak gap between the 6:24am and 6:54am from Cleveland (Mon-Fri) due to the ongoing #RailFail. 
  • "Random" 30 minute gaps during the 15 minute daytime off-peak period, notably on Fridays. 
  • Daytime 15 minute off-peak period only goes as far as Cannon Hill.
  • Peak services are no better than every 15 minutes / 4tph (and in many cases far worse) for most stations. 
  • Notoriously early finish of the pm peak express service at 4:54pm from Central, before most people have left work!
  • 23 minute pm peak gap for passengers heading to stations between Manly and Cleveland in the pm peak (Mon-Thu).
  • Multiple 30 minute gaps between trains in the pm peak on Fridays. 
The Cleveland Line is so bad, that commuters has dubbed it Brisbane's "Misery Line". The train service is so infrequent and unreliable, that many of BrizCommuter's work colleagues who use the line have taken to using buses, or even driving instead. Some are even looking at leaving their jobs in Brisbane's CBD as they can't handle the terrible commute. It would be great if QR or politicians could tell commuters when the Cleveland Line's woes will be over, but don't count on it. The pain will continue for many years to come.