Wednesday, May 9, 2018

QR's most unreliable service - 7:28am from Manly?

Queensland Rail (QR), currently the worst rail operator in Oceania, is copping even more flak than usual from long suffering Cleveland Line users. This is due to the 7:28am from Manly to Shorncliffe running late and/or being expressed past stations on what seems like an almost daily basis. The reliability is so bad, that commuters are suggesting that QR should just remove it from the timetable instead of advertising a train that regularly omits stopping at stations. Regular excuses from QR include the rather obscure "congestion on the network".

Unfortunately, the lack of investment in infrastructure from successive governments has left the Cleveland Line with insufficient infrastructure to reliable run a peak train service. Between Manly and Cleveland the line is single track with passing places. This allows for a service in each direction every 15 minutes, but with little operating margin for late running before a delayed service delays services in the opposite direction. To add to the problem, there are only 2 tracks at Manly, where the additional "inner all stations" services start and terminate every 15 minutes. The train blocks a track during the turn-back at Manly, with minimal operating margin to allow for late running. Thus it is very easy for the Cleveland Line service to fall to pieces during the peak period, which can cause subsequent delays on other lines. A 3rd track and platform at Manly by 2012 was recommended in the the Inner City Rail Capacity Study (2008), but was never constructed.
Inadequate Cleveland Line infrastructure. Source: QR NAG 046.

With QR being obsessed by on-time running KPIs, and to avoid the knock on effect of late running services, QR will often run services express past stations that they are scheduled to stop at, much to the annoyance of commuters. It is unknown if there is a particular issue with the provision of the empty service that forms the 7:28am from Manly. QR's ongoing lack of driver #RailFail, lack of trains, and unreliable EMU trains are also not helping matters.

With a projected 10tph am peak service on the Cleveland Line when Cross River Rail opens in the mid-2020s, work needs to start soon to duplicate the single track sections of the Cleveland Line, and provide improved intermediate turn-back facilities for services that are not running all the way to/from Cleveland. More drivers and trains will also be required. The clock is ticking!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Sunshine Coast Line Duplication - Reality Check

Limited passing places
on the Sunshine Coast Line
Another week in Queensland, and yet another week in petty politics preventing SE Queensland from moving forwards from being a urban backwater. This week, the federal Turnbull LNP government has offered to part fund ($390m) the much needed duplication of the Sunshine Coast Line from Beerburrum to Landsborough, expecting the state Palaszczuk ALP government to come to the table with more funding. At the same time, the Palaszczuk ALP government is having to 100% fund the more critical (and far more expensive) Cross River Rail (CRR) as the Turnbull LNP government is refusing to fund it. This is despite the Turnbull LNP government offering to find similar projects in other states including the barely planned Melbourne Airport Rail Link. As part of this childish funding battle, there has been debate as to whether Cross River Rail (CRR) is a prerequisite for the Sunshine Coast Line duplication. Here is a BrizCommuter's reality check on the situation.

  • The Sunshine Coast Line currently runs approx. 3tph in the am peak, with these services inclusive to the Caboolture Line's 9tph (maximum currently possible is 10tph with trains every 6 minutes). The Caboolture Line services interleave with Redcliffe Peninsula Line services between Northgate and Brisbane's CBD. 
  • Off-peak services on the Sunshine Coast Line are currently every 1.5 hours, and every 30 minutes on the Caboolture Line. Train paths are also required for freight traffic. A duplication would allow more of the Caboolture services to run to/from Landsborough or Nambour as long as there are enough drivers. 
  • With duplication, but without CRR, or ETCS L2 signalling, the Sunshine Coast Line could run more peak services that currently start/terminate at Caboolture. The maximum realistically possible would be 5tph to/from Landsborough, a train every 12 minutes. This would cause increased crowding on alternate Caboolture Line services. It would also require more trains and drivers, which are currently both in severe shortage for many years to come. 
  • With duplication and ETCS L2 signalling (across QR's network), but without CRR, the Sunshine Coast Line and Caboolture Line could both have service improvements. Up to 12tph could be operated on the Caboolture Line, of which realistically 4 to 6tph could run to/from Landsborough on the Sunshine Coast Line in the am peak. 
  • Due to capacity contraints (4 tracks) between Northgate and Brisbane's CBD, CRR would not add any capacity to the above scenario. CRR's 2026 service plan claims 27tph would be split between Caboolture/Sunshine Coast and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines, but BrizCommuter doubts that this is realistically possible (and BrizCommuter is usually right). 
  • If the Caboolture and Sunshine Coast Lines were connected to a new rail line along the Trouts Road / North West Transport Corridor towards Brisbane's CBD, then 24tph could run to Caboolture. A significant proportion of these services (such as 8tph) could run on the Sunshine Coast Line. Preferably by this time, a train line serving Caloundra and Maroochydore (CAMCOS) would have been constructed. 
So realistically, Cross River Rail is not required to increase am peak capacity from 3tph to 5 or 6tph on the post-duplicated Sunshine Coast Line. ETCS L2 signalling, more trains and more drivers would help alleviate added crowding on Caboolture Line services which can only be increased by approx. 20%. For significant (>20%) capacity increases on the Caboolture Line, and to allow high frequency (>6tph) peak services to Caloundra and Maroochydore, a new train line along the Trouts Road / North West Transport Corridor would be required. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

4 Years of Pain - QR's 3-car-maggedon Continues

No more space on this 3-car train!
Back on January 2014, BrizCommuter reported on overcrowded 3-car services that were introduced in the new (at the time) timetable. This was due to a chronic lack of trains. Commuters were promised that as soon as the NGR trains were in service (originally touted for late 2015), that the 3-car services would be replaced by 6-car services in order of priority based on overcrowding. Unfortunately, despite a handful of NGR trains now being in service, BrizCommuter is only aware of one 3-car service (7:25am from Ferny Grove) that has been replaced by a 6-car service (well, apart from on Fridays when this service has been axed). 4 years after the January 2014 timetables, there are still approximately 19 peak services formed from 3-car sardine cans - with services on the Ferny Grove, Cleveland, Sunshine Coast, and Shorncliffe Lines often being complained about.

Just to make things worse, it seems that Queensland Rail (QR) have already started to withdraw the geriatric EMU trains from service, making it harder to eliminate all of the overcrowded 3-car services. It is not clear if the withdrawn trains have reliability issues so bad that withdrawing them was the most ethical decision?

The lack of action in eliminating the 3-car services has been raised by Rail Back on Track in social media, and does not seem to have had any response from QR, the Queensland Government, or Department of Transport and Main Roads. This is yet another issue causing pain for commuters in which QR are keeping the long suffering travelling public in the dark. 4 years and counting to solve a "temporary" problem is far from acceptable.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

QR's Rail Fail - Is the RTBU shooting itself in the foot?

QR - about to be consigned to history?
Things are clearly not going well with the recovery from Queensland Rail's (QR) Rail Fail. After claims in early 2017 that the axed services would be restored (with driver overtime) by early 2019, 2020 is now looking more likely, possibly even 2021. QR, CityTrain Response Unit (CRU), and the ALP Palaszczuk government are all tight lipped on when the full October 2016 timetable will be restored, leaving long suffering commuters in the dark. It is quite clear that the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are not helping matters when it comes to service recovery by their opposition to external driver recruitment. Questions that need to be asked to QR, CRU, the Queensland Government, and the RTBU, are:

  • Why was a new EBA (which included internal recruitment) signed off by the QR Board just before the Strachan report into Rail Fail?
  • What else in the EBA will affect Rail Fail recovery? (Hint: drivers break times). 
  • Despite the Strachan inquiry recommending external recruitment, why have no drivers without previous QR experience been trained?
  • Does the RTBU and QR care about the external driver applicants stuck in job limbo? (Some are now in serious financial difficulties)
  • Does the RTBU care about long suffering commuters, and the damage to QLD economy and reputation due to Rail Fail?
  • When will there be a consistent Monday to Friday timetable?
  • When will commuters cease to be inflicted by reduced service holiday timetables, and hourly weekend train services? 
  • When will the full October 2016 timetable be restored?
  • When will urgently required services improvements (such as improved pm peak services and 15 min off-peak on sector 1 lines) occur?
There is growing public resentment towards the ALP Palaszczuk government, QR, and RTBU, due to #RailFail dragging on for years. It is increasingly likely that QR will be rapidly privatised by the LNP when they next gain power. Of course, this was the LNP's original plan, as the seeds of Rail Fail were sown by driver recruitment freezes under the Newman government. It seems that if the RTBU continue to show contempt towards the travelling public, they will be shooting themselves in the foot, as their ALP bedfellows will loose power, and QR will be consigned to history.  

Monday, April 23, 2018

North West Transport Corridor - The Missing Link

Source: DoTMR
This isn't the first time that BrizCommuter has written about the need for the Trouts Road / North West Transport(ation) Corridor for rail, but this blog post goes into more detail. This reserved corridor stretches through Brisbane's Northern suburbs between Everton Park and Carseldine. Apart from a mention in Connecting SEQ 2031 under the state ALP Bligh government, there has been very little mention of this transport corridor in politics until recently. Recent mention has been related to the federal LPN Turnbull government's suggestion of a fast rail link between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast called "North Coast Connect". So what are the advantages of building a rail line along Trouts Road / North West Transport Corridor?
  • 100% increases in rail capacity from Caboolture and the Sunshine Coast into Brisbane (up to 24tph). This would also allow a 100% increase in rail capacity from the Redcliffe Peninsula Line and/or the Shorncliffe Line (up to 24tph). This cannot be realised by Cross Rail Rail alone due to the 4 track bottleneck on the existing North Coast Line between Albion and Northgate (which only allows for an additional 3tph to Caboolture and the Sunshine Coast). 
  • Faster journey times between Caboolture and the Sunshine Coast to Roma Street due to an approx. 5km shorter, straighter, and faster alignment.
  • High frequency public transport to many Brisbane Northern suburbs (Everton Park, Stafford Heights, McDowell, Chermside West) currently devoid of high frequency public transport. 
  • Allows for direct rail services between the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. 
  • Would improve the business cases for Sunshine Coast Line duplication and rail to Caloundra and Maroochydore (CAMCOS). 
  • All of the above would reduce pressure on roads across Brisbane's Northside and the Bruce Highway. 24tph with 50% full trains = 10,000 cars off the road = 5 car lanes/hour/direction. 
There have been some suggestions of building a freeway along this corridor. This is poor value for money concept as there would nowhere for the cars to go once they get the Samford Road or Wardell Street, over than already congested roads that would be difficult to upgrade. BrizCommuter would also debate if there is enough room for both a train line and freeway along the corridor (especially if more than 2 tracks are required) without requiring further property resumptions or building a double deck rail/road structure. There would however be space for local access roads, in particular to station car parks and drop off zones. An adjacent cycleway could also be easily provisioned. 

Suggested track map for the Trouts Rd Line
So where would the line go (heading South to North)?
  • Ideally, the line would break off from the Cross River Rail (CRR) tunnel just North of Roma Street, in the vicinity of Countess Street. It is vital that tunnel connections are created during the construction of CRR, as adding them later would force the temporary closure of CRR for months (as there are no track crossovers to allow CRR services to turnback at Roma Street). Frequency of CRR and Trouts Road services would be well matched, allowing for all or most services to through run, though this would make the rebuilt Exhibition station a bit of a white elephant. 
  • The first station heading North would be at QUT Kelvin Grove, adjacent to Kelvin Grove Road. This serves a large trip generator. 
  • The next station would be at Alderley, allowing for interchange with the Ferny Grove Line. The most ideal location would be just North north of Alderley station which would require some industrial and residential resumption. 
  • The line would then climb out of the tunnel, with a station at Stafford Rd in Everton Park. Due to the line having to cross Kedron Brook, the exact alignment here would need some detailed analysis.  
  • The line would then climb up and continue along the Trouts Road corridor, with stations at Flockton Street, Hamilton Road, Albany Creek Road, and Beams Road. The alignment is fairly hilly, so a reasonable amount of earthworks would be required. 
  • North of Beams Road, the line would need to be routed to connect with the existing North Coast (Caboolture) Line. Increasing development makes things tricky here, but an elevated route over Gympie Road would probably most cost effective. 
  • The line would connect with the existing North Coast Line to the South East of Strathpine station via a grade separated junction, allowing for via Trouts Road services to run to/from Caboolture and Sunshine Coast, and Redcliffe Peninsula Line services to run via Northgate. A 4th track would need to be added between Strathpine and Lawnton. 
  • Preferably, the Trouts Road Line would have 4 tracks between the tunnel portal at Everton Park and Beams Road, allowing for express services to overtake all stations services in both directions. Ideally, Sunshine Coast services would run express, and Caboolture services would serve all stations. Alternatively Sunshine Coast and Caboolture services could run express, and local service starting at Strathpine would service all stations. However, this latter service pattern would require additional reversing facilities at Strathpine, which are complicated by the directional uses of each track. This would also reduce the maximum frequency of services that could serve Caboolture and Sunshine Coast (to approx. 16tph). 
  • Stations would have an optimal mix of car parking, local feeder buses, kiss'n'ride drop off, and active transport access (walking/bike). With a 4 track layout, a central island platform with inner local and lateral express tracks would be most preferable at stations between Everton Park and Beams Road (see suggested track map). Stations would be designed to allow for up to 9-car trains in the future. 
  • Alternative options that would need a cost/benefit analysis are for a tunnel routing via Ashgrove and Enoggera, or for 2 stations at Felstead Street and Rode Road instead of 3 at Stafford Road, Flockton Street, and Hamilton Road. 3 tracks may slightly lower costs, but would prevent express services from overtaking all stations services in the counter-peak direction. With 3 tracks, two side platforms would be required, with a centre express track. If not connected to CRR, a dedicated underground terminus could be built at Roma Street (or elsewhere in the CBD), but this would considerably add to the cost, and cause an inefficient North/South train service imbalance compared to through routing all CRR services. Using the existing Ferny Grove Line as an alternative to tunnelling between Roma Street and Alderley would have negative implications on capacity and journey time, and is thus a poor option. 
So what is required to make this happen?
  • Political competence, forward thinking, bi-partisan thinking, and funding. These are all currently sadly lacking in Queensland. 
  • Urgently change the design of CRR to allow for a junction near Countess Street (without having to temporarily close CRR for months). 
  • Further route safeguarding, especially in the Enoggera/Alderley area, and between Beams Road and the North Coast Line. 
Construction of the North West Transport Corridor / Trouts Road Line is critical for allowing "fast trains to the Sunshine Coast", significantly increasing capacity on the Sunshine Coast, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines, and improving public transport to the Northern suburbs of Brisbane. It is also important that provision is made for this line to connect into the proposed CRR tunnels, otherwise CRR will need to be closed for months to allow for this work to occur. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

GC2018 - Review and to the Future

Shuttle buses - not a success
GC2018 Transport Review

Now that the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) has ended, how did the transport plan fare?
  • Light Rail / G:link - with all but 1 tram in service, the up to 6 minute frequency was successful at transport large amounts of passengers with few delays or excessive queues. 
  • Shuttle Bus services - these were more embarrassing than the amateurish closing ceremony. Whilst things did improve during the games, loading (and at times unloading) procedures were poorly organised and implemented. The special shuttle buses for people with disabilities were also reported as having serious operational issues. 
  • High frequency scheduled bus services - these were generally popular and successful, though multiple successive full buses occurred before/after some events. Light and heavy rail is much better at moving large numbers of people efficiently.
  • QR's Gold Coast Line service - the 6 to 8tph train service was successful at moving large numbers of passengers with few reports of overcrowding (probably helped by low capacity shuttle buses feeding it), and no serious delays. 
  • Rest of QR's CityTrain network - due to lack of train drivers #RailFail, reduced services on all other train lines resulted in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast having an an even more infrequent and dysfunctional public transport system than usual. This will continue for another week. 
  • M1 - this was often busy but still moving. Much of this was due to drivers avoiding the M1 like the plague. 
Whilst many elements of the transport plan were successful, the entire GC2018 transport plan cannot be considered a success due to the rest of SE Queensland having significantly reduced train services, and the epic shuttle bus failures.

The Future

There is no question that the improved service frequencies on the Gold Coast Light Rail (G:link) and QR's Gold Coast Line provided to be very popular with the travelling public. In fact, many Gold Coasters will be disappointed with the return to normality. SE Queensland urgently needs to move towards having a train network with a high frequency 7-days a week off-peak service throughout most of the network (just like in Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne). What is required for this to happen?
  • More drivers - it is unlikely that #RailFail will be resolved until the next decade, and it will taken further years of sustained driver recruitment until 15 minute off-peak services can rolled out network wide. This needs to be high priority. 
  • More trains - whilst providing off-peak services is less of an issue than peak services, the current NGR order is insufficient to even maximise use of the existing train network prior to Cross River Rail. 
  • Improved infrastructure - extra tracks on part of the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor and Sunshine Coast Line would be a minimum requirement for network wide 15 minute off-peak service. Cross River Rail, Trouts Rd/NE Transportation Corridor Line, Cleveland Line duplication, Salisbury to Beaudesert Line, extension to Ripley, a new train line to Caloundra and Maroochydore, and extensions to the Gold Coast Light Rail are also required to cope with the growing population of SE Queensland. 
  • Improved bus connectivity - move to bus feeder networks. This won't work until the train frequency is half-decent. 
  • Improved political competence, co-operation, and governance - none of the above will happen without the end to pathetic tit-for-tat politics and co-operation between various levels of government. Public transport governance needs a serious change for SE Queensland if any progress is to be made. 
Some other lessons that need to be learnt for future sporting events in Queensland, Australia, and the rest of the world (please read Birmingham, as your stadium for the 2022 Commonwealth Games is also in a mediocre location):
  • Ideally venues should be constructed within easy walking distance of high capacity and high frequency public transport - most preferably heavy rail. The London Olympic Park got it right being served by over 100tph! Shuttle bus services and associated Park'n'Rides should be avoided as being the primary method of transport to a venue.
  • If shuttle buses are required, then dedicated infrastructure needs to be provided to allow this to efficient - allowing for grade separated flows of buses and pedestrians, and sufficient nearby places for buses to queue. Look at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium as a good example.