Friday, January 20, 2017

BrizCommuter becomes AucklandCommuter

Auckland AM Class train at Britomart terminus. 
In the second part of BrizCommuter's trip to New Zealand, BrizCommuter provides a review of Auckland's public transport system. Auckland is New Zealand's principle city with 1,500,000 population, and 1/3 of New Zealand's entire population. Auckland's population is equivalent to 75% of Brisbane, and 45% of SE Queensland's population.

Services are coordinated by Auckland Transport under the AT Metro brand. Rail, bus, and ferry operations are all privatised. Auckland's train services are operated by Transdev Auckland, with the trains and stations belonging to Auckland Transport and the rail infrastructure belonging to KiwiRail.

Auckland's rail system has only recently been electrified and almost fully duplicated, with a new fleet of AM class EMUs. There are four lines, the Western Line, Eastern Line, Southern Line, and the short Onehunga Line. Weekday off-peak frequencies are every 20 minutes (30 minutes on Onehunga Line). Weekend off-peak frequencies are every 30 minutes. Peak frequencies are generally consistent at every 10 minutes, or better on the Southern Line (30 minutes on Onehunga Line). Train services end quite early at around 10:30pm, apart from on weekends. For a city of Auckland's size, the off-peak frequencies are acceptable, and peak frequencies excellent.

It was observed that trains arriving from one line, would usually become a service on a different line when departing from Auckland's Britomart terminus. Impressively fast turnarounds of just 2 to 3 minutes were observed on multiple occasions at Britomart.

Automatic gap filler
The new AM class trains are 3-car units, with most peak services consisting of 6-cars. All off-peak services were observed as running 3-cars only. As with Wellington, the platforms are relatively low. The centre carriage in each 3-car unit has a low floor section for wheelchair and pram access. The end carriages have high level seating. All doorways have an automated gap filler, which makes accessibility far better than in Brisbane. The use of gap fillers does make a noticeable increase in dwell time. Right of way permission buttons are located at each doorway, allowing guards to roam through the train.

The train network is currently limited to 20 trains per hour (tph) due to there only being 2 tracks into the 5 track Britomart terminus. There is also a flat junction outside of Britomart which can cause minor delays. The City Rail Link tunnel is currently under construction which will run under Auckland's CBD from Britomart to Mt Eden, allowing for a doubling of capacity and a more direct route for Western Line services.

No barrier pedestrian crossing
Other rail observations are that full station car parks are an issue in Auckland as well as Brisbane, and pedestrian level crossings do not have barriers (only lights and audible warning).

Auckland's bus network was also recently re-designed, allowing the city to have twice as many high frequency bus routes as Brisbane. Some train stations such as Panmure have a bus interchange for efficient bus connections, and unlike Brisbane, many high frequency bus routes by-pass the CBD or feed rail.  Auckland has a Northern Busway, which serves (unsurprisingly) the Northern Suburbs that lack a train line. There is provision for this to be converted to light rail. Thanks to some political long term thinking, Mangere Bridge has also been designed to allow an extension of the Onehunga Line to Auckland Airport.

Auckland also has an extensive ferry network, which links some Northern suburbs and many of Auckland's islands. The main ferry terminus is adjacent to Britomart station.

Auckland's smart card is the AT HOP card, which has a relatively high $10 purchase fee. Fares are reasonable, unless you have to use a more expensive paper ticket. Most train stations are unstaffed, but seem to have at least 2 ticket and top-up machines for redundancy.

Auckland's public transport has improve considerably in the last few years. Unlike in Brisbane, where bus network reform was obstructed by Brisbane City Council in 2013, Auckland has a highly efficient bus network. Unlike Brisbane, train services are reliable, with reasonable and consistent frequency. Finally, unlike Brisbane, Auckland is constructing an underground rail tunnel to increase rail capacity through the CBD. Brisbane's politicians need to take a serious look at Auckland to see how public transport can be improved.

BrizCommuter becomes WellyCommuter

Matangi trains at Wellington Station
Whilst trying to escape Brisbane's Rail Fail (#FleeQld), BrizCommuter travelled to Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand, to experience their public transport systems. The first in this two part series is BrizCommuter's insight into Wellington's public transport system.

Wellington is the administrative capital of New Zealand, located at the Southern end of New Zealand's North Island. It has a population of around 200,000 (just 10% of Brisbane's population) and a population of 400,000 in its surrounding urban area. It is thus quite a small city to have a half-decent commuter rail system, as well as a bus and trolleybus network. Wellington is like a mini-Hong Kong, with a bowl shaped inner-city with (shorter) high rises next to a harbour, and a cable car climbing the mountain.

All public transport operators are privatised, with train services run by Transdev Wellington, and use run by multiple companies including GO Wellington. They are all branded as Metlink. The Greater Wellington Regional Council is responsible for planning and subsidising public transport.

Matangi Train at Redwood Station
Wellington has a relatively new fleet of 75x2-car EMU trains (Matangi/FP Class) that run on its 1,500V DC overhead electrified network. There are 4 urban lines, the Johnsonville Line, Kapiti Line, Melling Branch, and Hutt Valley Line. There is a 4 track core section, with all of these lines terminating at Wellington Station, which has There are also some diesel hauled services to/from Masterton (Wairarapa Connection) , Palmerston North, and Auckland. On the 4 electrified urban lines, the off-peak base service is an all stations train running every 30 minutes (hourly on Melling Branch), which is reasonable enough for such a small urban area. The peak services are approximately every 15 to 20 minutes for most stations, with a mix of express and non-express services patterns, though frequencies are not consistent (other than every 15 minutes on the Johnsonville Line). Counter-peak frequencies are in some cases worse than every 30 minutes, with added expresses between Wellington and the turn-back location in the am peak (or vice versa in the pm peak). Trains can be be formed of 2, 4, or 6-car consists, with most peak services observed as being 4 or 6-cars. All trains observed in the peak had spare seats available, though this was a relatively quiet time of the year.

The platforms are relatively low. For each 2-train train, one carriage has low/platform level floor and doors for wheelchair and pram access. This makes for much better accessibility than in Brisbane. There are manually operated fold out ramps if required. The ends of this carriage, and 100% of the second carriage has 100% high level seating.

All lines are worth travelling on for interested visitors. In particular the Johnsonville Line has many sharp curves and tunnels as it climbs the hillside. The Kapiti Line has many coastal sections, and a very long tunnel between Wellington and Takapu Road stations. Another point of interest is Redwood Station which has offset side platforms either side of a level crossing to reduce level crossing closure time. Pedestrian crossings only have lights and no barriers.

Whilst the Snapper smart card is available for buses, taxis, and some shops, trains still rely on paper tickets. Most stations do not have a ticket office or ticket machine, and are bought on board from the guard. In fact some 4 and 6-car trains have more than one guard for this reason. This is rather quaint, if somewhat inefficient. However, with roaming staff on every train, it may deter fare evaders. Fares are also relatively high, in line with New Zealand's high cost of living. Child discounts are unacceptably small at 20%.

Wellington Cablecar
Wellington also has a decent bus and trolleybus network, which a reasonable number of high frequency routes (every 10 to 20 min) for a city of its size. As the city's hilly topography makes it relatively linear in nature, it is easier for the city to have an efficient bus network. As Wellington Station is not particularly central, a large number of commuters use the buses and trolleybuses to get from Wellington Station to other parts of the CBD. With a good interchange at Wellington Station, and many buses travelling along the same routes through the CBD, then the service through the CBD is operated at very high frequency. There has been some lobbying towards running tram trains from the existing train lines through to the CBD, but BrizCommuter doesn't know if there will be any progress in the land of reality.

Wellington also has a 5 station mountain-side cable car (funicular) which is mainly used by tourists. However locals can still use it with the smart card. Get there early to avoid queues, especially if a cruise ship is in town. There are also a couple of harbour ferries.

BrizCommuter found Wellington's public transport system a joy to use. The only delays were experienced just after "strong" or "severe" earthquakes! The smart card needs to be rolled out system wide with a more integrated fare structure. Train frequencies could be better, and peak frequencies more consistent. However, frequencies are still still very good for a city of Wellington's population.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

QR's Rail Fail to continue for at least a year!

QR - World's worst train operator?
Since the Redcliffe Peninsula Line opened in early October, SE Queensland commuters have been suffering badly from abysmal train service provision caused by lack of drivers and trains, due to the decision making failures of three successive (ALP and LNP) Queensland Governments, and of course Queensland Rail's (QR) incompetence.

For the last few weeks, the School Holiday Interim Timetable (SHIT) has been in operation, with peak and daytime off-peak service cuts of 50-60% despite reduced patronage of only 25%. These cuts, combined with express services being eliminated has caused even more Brisbane commuters to give up on using public transport.

New timetables were expected from the 23rd January 2016. Long suffering commuters were hoping for the return of the half-decent, but still sub-optimal "normal" timetables. However, as nothing was announced until Tuesday 17th January, it was pretty obvious that the new timetables were only going to be bad news. In fact, the news was far worse than expected. Not only has the diabolical Interim Timetable Mk2 been revived, it has been stated by the CEO of Queensland Rail that this timetable will remain in place for the whole of 2017! This is absolutely disgraceful. So what are the issues with the Interim Timetable Mk2?
  • Nearly 400 train services cut from the timetable per week. 
  • Different timetables for Mon-Thu and Friday which will continue to cause mass confusion and annoyance. 
  • Friday's Ferny Grove Line am peak service has been savaged, with two usually full 3-car services completely removed, potentially resulting in overcrowding on preceding and following services. 
  • The early finishing PM peak Cleveland Line express service now finishes even earlier. 
  • Excessive gaps between peak services - 22 minute am peak service gap on inner Beenleigh Line, 30 minute am peak service gap on the outer Cleveland Line Monday to Friday, 30 minute pm peak service gap on the inner Cleveland Line on Fridays, 24 minute pm peak service gap on the Ipswich Line (at different times of course on Fridays), 60 minute am peak service gap on the Doomben Line on Fridays. 
  • Seemingly random service gaps in early morning, daytime, and evening off-peak services making the system unusable for shift workers, and leaving school kids stranded on platforms. 
  • 77% service cuts (compared to pre-October 2016 timetable) to the "Inner North" services, providing ongoing misery for Nundah, Toombul, Wooloowin, and Albion commuters which have had peak service frequency reduced from every 3 minutes to 15 minutes at times, and the added "fun" of overcrowded 3-car trains.  
  • Expectations of ongoing cancellations and delays due to "operational issues", with delayed or non-existent customer information.
  • TransLink are still expecting passengers to pay expensive fares for poor service. 
  • No .pdf timetables available on TransLink's website, despite this timetable being used before! 
The failure to implement the "normal" timetables in time for the busiest time of the year for passenger loads (after school and universities start) will result in severe overcrowding on some services, commuter frustration, and political suicide for the ALP Queensland Government. The only thing that may reduce overcrowding is that so many commuters have given up on using trains (including more than 50% of BrizCommuter's work colleagues). Patronage could easily drop to figures similar to the start of the previous decade. However this rail patronage drop will just make road congestion worse, something that RACQ have already voiced concerns about. 

Brisbanites are unable to rely on QR getting them to work, school, university, the airport, or appointments on time. Commuters who were hoping for urgently required service improvements such as additional pm peak services on the Ferny Grove Line, and extension of the pm peak express service on the Cleveland Line will be bitterly disappointed. With, the 2018 Commonwealth Games likely to result in short term improvements only on the Gold Coast Line, commuters expecting to see any improvements will be waiting a long time. In fact, BrizCommuter has little confidence in train services in SE Queensland for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Maybe the games should have been handed to a rival third world country instead?

QR are also acting delusional, buy reportedly asking their community reference group members to re-write QR's customer charter. Given QR's ongoing contempt for the travelling public, this exercise amounts to putting lipstick on a pig. It would be far more constructive for QR to truthfully inform commuters of when this #RailFail is going to end! Is the ongoing #RailFail still due to lack of drivers, or is it just a budget equalisation measure? Please tell the truth QR?

QR's Rail Fail is likely to result in privatisation when the LNP are inevitably re-elected, something they were secretly trying to achieve by causing the lack of driver issue in the first place. After a 150 year history, the nail is in the coffin for QR as an organisation. 

With QR's Rail Fail now guaranteed to last at least another year, Brisbane will also to continue to slide down the rankings in regards of liveability. This is bad for existing businesses, and bad for Brisbane trying to attract new businesses, especially when rival Oceana cities such as Auckland and Perth have considerably better public transport. Brisbane really is proving itself to be a backwards pissant town!

TransLinks website for 23rd January 2017 train timetable:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Advertising Wraps Rapped

Can't see through the window?
Queensland Rail (QR) and Brisbane Transport seem to think it is acceptable to prevent passengers from seeing out of windows, due to covering their trains and buses with advertising wraps. This is annoying a lot commuters who would actually like to see where that are going. The visibility is worse at night and during/after rain when it is almost impossible for commuters with 20/20 vision to see through the windows. Passengers with poor eye-sight have even worse problems seeing through the wraps to the outside world. There have even been multiple reports of passengers missing their stops, as they didn't know where they were. QR train and CityGlider bus passengers are the most upset about their limited visibility.

BrizCommuter calls on SE Queensland's public transport operators to stop covering windows with advertising wraps, and give passengers the basic travelling requirement of being able to see out of the window!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Queensland Fail Forces Facebook to Consider 0 Star Ratings

QR - not rated highly!
Facebook has a 5 star rating system, which goes from 1 to 5 stars. Queensland Rail's (QR) rating on its Facebook page is currently in terminal freefall due to:

  • Unreliable train service post opening of Redcliffe Peninsula Line due to lack of drivers and trains.
  • 100+ axed services in Interim Timetable Mk1.
  • 400+ axed services, and Friday confusion-fest in Interim Timetable Mk2.
  • Completely axing the Rosewood Line at weekends. 
  • The 8th December system meltdown.
  • The complete stuff up that was the Xmas Day timetable, with 235 cancellations. 
  • Reducing peak and daytime off-peak services by around 50% in the Summer School Holiday Timetable.
  • Charging peak fares for off-peak level of service in above mentioned timetable.
  • Cancelled trains due to "operational issues" left, right, and centre.   
  • Abysmal customer information during all of the above. 
BrizCommuter has heard from uninformed sources, that Facebook's rating system is unable to handle a rating of 1.0 star, which is where QR is rapidly heading. A rating of 1.0 could cause mass server failures, and thus prevent users from around the world know that their friends and family have changed their status for the 20th time that day. Only QR staff logging on, and giving themselves a 5 star rating is currently preventing this major world catastrophe. 

Thus, due to QR's massive un-popularity, it is rumoured that the social network will implement a 0 star rating, just for QR. Software engineers are already concerned that even a 0 star rating may not be enough to handle ratings for "the developed world's worst train operator", and that Facebook may have to implement a negative rating system if full services are not restored by 23rd January 2017.  

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

QR's Rail Fail - More Pain to Come?

QR's service - going down the drain!
BrizCommuter is happy to be escaping Brisbane during most of January, to avoid the mediocrity that is Queensland Rail's (QR) School Holiday Interim Timetable, that's "SHIT" for short. Incidentally, BrizCommuter will be in Wellington, NZ - a city with 10% of the population of Brisbane, yet running a more frequent train timetable in January! So what is in store for commuters in January 2017?

New Year's Eve/Day

With extra trains services being scheduled, rail pundits are concerned that New Year's Eve services will be a mess, possibly on the scale of QR's Christmas Day failure. With infrequent overnight services, a cancelled train will result in quite a few pissed, and pissed off commuters. As New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, a day when QR traditionally run out of drivers, BrizCommuter is expecting News Year's Day to be worse affected than New Year's Eve. BrizCommuter's advice for New Year's Day travel - drive instead if you can. 

School Holiday Period

QR's SHIT timetable will reduce peak services by up to 50 to 60% on some train lines. With only a 22% reduction is travellers during this period, it doesn't take even prep class school kid to work out that this is likely to result in overcrowding on some trains services. Sadly, Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe probably believes in QR's laughable spin of only 11% service reduction. Passengers may be unable to board some train services. Even on the least affected train services, passengers expecting a seat during a supposedly "quiet" period may have to stand for some distance. It seems that QR do not recognised that the majority of commuters actually still need to get work in January, and have massively under-estimated the required service delivery!

TransLink seem to be persisting on charging a peak fare for the equivalent of an off-peak service during the SHIT timetable. This fraudulent lack of respect towards the travelling public will put quite a few commuter's noses out of joint. 

Inner suburban off-peak services have also been cut back from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes (a 50% cut-back) in QR's SHIT timetable. This will be a big pain for shift workers. It will also be an annoyance for families on leisure travel doing the school holidays e.g. families going to and from South Bank, shopping in the CBD, or the Brisbane's various museums. Aside from the car parking operators, the SHIT timetable may loose some trade for CBD businesses. Time to get some shares in UBER! 

After the School Holiday Period

Due to terrible transparency from both the Palaszczuk government, and QR, it is still unknown what will happen after the School Holiday Period, from 23rd January. Commuters are expecting that the "normal" 4th October 2016 timetables would be fully restored. In fact, many commuters have expectations of improvements to the 4th October 2016 timetables, such as extending Cleveland pm peak expresses. Given the ongoing delays to the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains entering passengers service, and the number of trained drivers not increasing significantly until late 2017, these expected improvements are sadly unlikely. 

BrizCommuter is very concerned that commuters will still be faced with a cut back Interim Timetable (or unreliable "full service") after the school holiday period. If this is the case, expect severe overcrowding and full trains on some services (notably Shorncliffe/Inner Northern Line, Ferny Grove, and Cleveland Line) when the schools are back, with the situation getting even worse when the universities re-start in late February/early-March - the busiest time of the year for public transport. If QR's service cuts persist, also expect increased road congestion due to commuters continuing to avoid public transport. Whilst the background of this disaster was caused by the LNP Newman government, if services are not fully restored by late-January, then the ALP Palaszczuk government can be expected to pay the price at the voting booth. This is of course rather unfortunate, as the LNP opposition seem to have zero public transport policies. Which ever way, SE Queensland commuters will continue to be screwed for years to come due to successive incompetent governments. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Stop Press: QR is the Christmas Grinch

QR is The Grinch!
SE Queensland commuters have already had enough due to the 400+ axed services in the Interim Timetable Mk2, the forthcoming SHIT timetable, as well as last minute cancellations due to "operational reasons" lack of drivers, late trains, and abysmal customer service. On Christmas Eve, Brisbane's lacklustre rail operator Queensland Rail (QR) cancelled the entire Doomben Line service. For Christmas Day, QR really will be "The Grinch That Stole Christmas", as it has cancelled more than 150 train services - that's nearly 1/5 of all train services!

This announcement, was only made late on Christmas Eve, and thus most potential passengers will be completely unaware of the changes until they turn up for a non-existent train service. The changes will also be not be made to the TransLink journey planner. Whilst few people use public transport on Christmas Day, those who do rely on it to get to work or family gatherings, tend to have no other transport option. Some of the resulting gaps between train services will be up to 120 minutes (2 hours). There are even gaps of up to 90 minutes on the Airport Line that will quite likely result in passengers missing their flights. 

Whilst a last minute decision has been made to allow free travel on QR services on Christmas Day, this does not make up the massive disruption to travel for affected passengers. There has been mention of QR organising taxis for affected passengers, but this isn't much help when most stations will be un-staffed, and thus no staff to organise and pay for the taxi. 

Words can't describe how bad the public transport situation is in Brisbane at the moment! Just within a few hours of the announcement, there has been a huge backlash on QR's social media. How on earth blundering Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe is remaining in his job is a mystery to most commuters? 

TransLink's list of affected services:

Update 25/12/16 5pm

The 150 cancelled services turned into 235 cancelled services, nearly 1/3 of all scheduled trains. The Shorncliffe Line service was completely axed from 1pm, which amusingly serves the electorate (Sandgate) of a certain Mr Hinchliffe. Going by social media commentary, QR's Xmas cancellations have ruined Christmas for many families, as well as locals and tourists trying to get to and from Brisbane Airport.

It is thought that this failure was due to a mixture of an over-ambitious Xmas Day timetable (half-hourly instead of the usual hourly), and lack of drivers able to work the Sunday shift (due to driver reaching max number of days working in a row, or QR relating on drivers having to volunteer to work some Xmas day shifts). Yet again, piss poor forward planning.

Just to rub it in, Sydney and Melbourne successfully ran trains to a high frequency Sunday timetable today with services generally every 10 to 30 minutes, compared to between 60 minutes to none at all in backwards Brisbane. 

Thursday, December 15, 2016

QR's Unhappy New Year Timetable

QR axe even more train services!
Last Updated 28/12/2016

It has just been announced (on Thursday 15th December 2016) by the Palaszczuk government that SE Queensland's new fare structure will be introduced earlier than expected on Monday 19th December. Uh, oh, that means something else must be getting worse...

Due to Queensland Rail's (QR) ongoing lack of driver and train issues, SE Queensland and Brisbane commuters have been suffering from timetable cuts in the Interim timetable Mk1 and Mk2, frequent last minute cancellations, appalling customer information, and overcrowded train services. Many commuters have given up, and gone back to driving (including BrizCommuter on weekends). Now even more misery will be inflicted over the school summer holidays, with even more train service cuts. So what is the deal with QR's School Summer Holiday timetables?
  • QR's School Summer Holiday timetable will be introduced on Wed 28th December, and will run until Sunday 22nd January.
  • The government spin is that 11% of services will be reduced axed, as patronage is typically 22% less during this period.
  • The new timetable was only available on the journey planner from Wednesday 21st December, providing only one week notice to commuters to re-plan their journey. .pdf timetables are delayed further. 
  • The journey planner timetable is riddled with mistakes - unless the Caboolture Line really does have a 60 minute am peak gap! 
  • Peak will operate every 15 minutes during peak times on the Caboolture, Shorncliffe, Ferny Grove, Redcliffe Peninsula, Beenleigh, Gold Coast, Cleveland, Ipswich and Springfield lines - this is a disgraceful 50 to 60% cut in peak services on most train lines! 
  • Many peak period express services have been axed, resulting in slower journeys. 
  • Sunshine Coast, Rosewood and Doomben trains claimed to operate every 30 minutes during peak times - however there is a 60 minute early am peak gap on the Sunshine Coast Line. 
  • No changes to Airtrain services during this period.
  • Daytime 15 minute off-peak services have been cut back to every 30 minutes on the Ferny Grove, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines - 50% cut in daytime off-peak services. This is unacceptable due to the relative popularity off-peak travel in the holiday period. 
  • Given the current high frequency of last minute cancellations due to "operational issues", cuts to both peak and off-peak services is very concerning. If cancellations occur on top of a reduced frequency, passengers could be waiting on platforms for a very long time! 
BrizCommuter thinks that it is unacceptable to cut peak services by up to 60%, and off-peak services by up to 50%, when the expected patronage decrease is only 22%. Irrespective of the early introduction of the new fare structure, it is also unacceptable for TransLink to charge peak period fares for this infrequent peak service - it is almost verging on fraudulent!

Commuters have also still not been informed of when all services on the October timetable will be fully re-instated, or when improvements to the currently sub-optimal peak services will be improved by additional train crew and the belated introduction of the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains. Brisbane commuters have a good reason to have a very Unhappy New Year!

By the way, the acronym for School Holiday Interim Timetable is of course "SHIT"!

TransLink webpage:

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Yet Another QR Meltdown

Queensland Rail's (QR) reputation went from bad to worse on Thursday 8th December 2016. A broken down ageing EMU train at Trinder Park, a maintenance "accident" at Yeerongpilly, and a power failure near South Bank caused chaos for the morning peak, with delays and cancellations on most train lines. The delays continued well into the afternoon, as QR's operations took hours to recover from delays. Delays to hospital clinics are surgery were reported due to so many staff being late to work. Whilst all rail networks have bad days, the following can be learnt from this meltdown:

  • QR's lack of drivers reduced system resilience and the ability to recover from delays.
  • QR's lack of trains reduced system resilience and the ability to recover from delays. 
  • The lack of Cross River Rail (which was originally intended to open in 2016) reduces system resilience - Cross River Rail would add 50% more tracks through the CBD. 
  • QR and TransLink's information provided to customers during delays continues to be appalling. 
  • The delay in New Generation Rollingstock means the geriatric EMU trains are remaining in service. 
The policy failure of successive state and federal governments from both sides of politics has resulted in Brisbane having a train network that can meltdown to chaos far too easily. You can tell when the current state government is in political trouble, as a rare (for Brisbane) refund for morning train commuters was announced in during the afternoon.

Monday, December 5, 2016

QR's Next Big Fail - NGR Guard Position

QR's NGR train - where's the guard?
Since electric trains have been running in Brisbane (in 1979, exactly 100 years after the Germans had electric trains), the guard's location has been placed in the middle of a 6-car train (usually the front cab of the 4th car), or the back of a 3-car train. This means that the guard is always positioned where disabled passengers, or those seeking assistance with boarding/alighting wait for assistance. Some platforms have also been raised in the middle, so as to assist with wheelchairs and prams getting on and off the train.

Queensland Rail's (QR) New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains will all be 6-cars long. It is rumoured that the LNP Newman government made no provision for guards on the NGR trains, despite eliminating guards within such a short time frame being completely unrealistic. QR have since scrambled to modify the trains design to allow for guards, however this will result in the guard being located at the back of the 6-car train, not the middle.

Disabled waiting location - 70m from guard location!
This obviously poses a serious issue. The guard will be at the back of the train, and the passengers needing assistance will be in the middle of train, more than 70m away. Now this is one of those issues you would have thought would be have been sorted by now. However due to usual lack of transparency, commuters (as well as taxpayers and voters) are completely unaware of the solution, if there is one. Brisbane's useless media have also failed to pick up on this looming crisis. What could be options be:
  • Guards able to operate the doors from any location on the train (as on some UK trains) - but does the train have technical provision for this? 
  • Station staff to assist disabled passengers - but staffing is inconsistent between stations, or will extra station staff be required at extra cost?
  • Additional customer service staff in the middle of NGR trains - also with extra staffing costs?  
At a time when many rail operators are eliminating guards to improve efficiency, it seems that QR may have to increase the number of guards or customer service staff to fix this design issue. Has anyone informed our "head in sand" Transport Minister Mr Hinchliffe yet?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

QR's Summer of Misery Continues

"Brisbane Commuter" by Edvard Munch
If you had read some press articles recently, a non-rail commuter could think that Queensland Rail's (QR) recent catastrophe is in the past tense. Sadly, it is far from over. Whilst the press have been more quiet about it, this is the ongoing situation:
  • Not enough drivers to run the October 2016 Timetables, after the Redcliffe Peninsula Line opened. 
  • Not enough trains since January 2014 resulting in overcrowded 3-car services, and sub-optimal peak services. 
  • One and a half year (and counting) delays to QR's New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains entering service.
  • Serious operation issues looming with NGR trains due to guard being located at the back of the 6-car train, 3-cars away from the disabled access location. 
  • Interim Timetable Mk2 is in action until "the New Year" with nearly 400 train services now cut. 
  • Peak and off-peak service gaps of up to 30 to 60 minutes between trains, causing considerably lengthened commutes and passenger frustration. 
  • Different timetables on Fridays, causing mass confusion.
  • Inconsistent service frequencies throughout the day causing further confusion, especially to shift workers. 
  • Multiple mistakes in the timetables and TransLink's journey planner. 
  • Poor track layout at Kippa-Ring delaying arriving trains. 
  • Rosewood Line "secretly" axed on weekends. 
  • 77% service reduction for Nundah and Toombul in the am peak. 
  • Reports of overcrowded services on most lines. 
  • Despite promises from Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe that there would be no more cancellations due to lack of drivers, we have multiple daily cancellations due to "operational reasons".
  • Despite promises from the aforementioned Transport Minister that reliability would improve, network reliability appears to be getting worse (in fact 80% of BrizCommuter's pm peak commuters were delayed last week, the figure is usually 0%). 
  • Reports (including from RACQ) that many rail commuters have "given up", and have gone back to driving, resulting in an increase in road congestion. 
  • News that QR have been hiding documents, QR senior managers have received quite substantial bonuses during the crisis, and QR allegedly spending more tax payers money on spin doctors. 
  • No financial compensation provided for affected commuters (unlike in the UK).
So how is the future looking?
  • No information provided to commuters when the October 2016 timetable will be re-instated in it's entirety. 
  • No information provided to commuters when additional drivers and NGR trains will allow for improved peak services (such as the urgently required later running of Cleveland Line pm peak expresses).
  • Grave concerns that lack of trains, drivers, and tracks/infrastructure, may result in sub-optimal and unreliable Commonwealth Games train services. 
  • No information on how QR will manage the NGR guard location issue.
  • No information on how QR will get trains to arrive at Kippa-Ring on time.
  • High likelihood of further service cuts on working days around Xmas and New Year. 
With just 10 weeks until the busiest part of the year for rail patronage (and thus potential overcrowding), the lack of information and transparency about when the situation will improve is disturbing. Policy failure of successive state and federal governments, as well as Brisbane City Council has resulted in Brisbane's public transport system continuing to be a shambles. Can anyone hear commuters scream?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Queens Wharf Bus Changes - Opportunity Lost

Due to the closure of William Street for the construction of Brisbane's new Queens Wharf Casino  complex, there have been many changes to Brisbane's bus routes through the CBD. These are listed on TransLink's website here. Some buses have also been re-timed to take into account changing road conditions (i.e. different journey times). The latter is not much of a surprise as some timings were almost impossible even if driving a Ferrari through red lights (Brookside to Enoggera in 4 minutes anyone?)

Unfortunately, the changes do not go far enough. So what is wrong with the changes, or lack of them?
  • More bus congestion through Cultural Centre and Victoria Bridge - Brisbane's infamous bus jam will only get longer as yet more hourly bus services that should go nowhere near the CBD have been re-routed through the Inner SE Busway. 
  • Multiple routes along the same corridors - these still exist with up to 8 different bus routes (instead of 1 or 2 at the most), with minor route and stopping variations all travelling along the same transport corridors. This causes inefficiency, confusion, and longer effective waits for buses. 
  • Multiple CBD bus stops - despite changes to CBD bus stops, there is still the bizarre mix of different routes to the same destination, departing from different locations in the CBD. Again, this causes confusion, inefficiency, and decreases effective service frequencies.
Bus flavoured Jam
What should have been done is a large scale re-design of Brisbane's bus network, as follows:
  • Turn the Victoria Bridge into a Green Bridge (bus, cycle, and pedestrian only) to decrease bus congestion. 
  • Consolidate bus routes along the same transport corridor to a maximum of just 2 routes (all stops and express). 
  • Infrequent "welfare" bus services to terminate outside of the CBD and connect with high frequency bus services or train services. 
  • Consolidate CBD stop locations so that all bus services along a particular transport corridor depart from the same stops. 
  • Re-use resources to add high frequency bus routes to public transport black holes such as Centenary Suburbs and Old Northern Road corridor. 
The changes that have been made by Brisbane City Council and their bus subsidiary Brisbane Transport are (as we have come to expect) half-arsed, resulting in Brisbane continuing to have Australia's most inefficient and confusing bus network. 

BrizCommuter is also concerned that re-timed bus routes will result in more buses running early during the off-peak, passing through bus stops before the passengers have arrived at the bus stop. This is already a chronic issue on the inbound Northern Busway.