Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adelaide vs Brisbane

Adelaide is well known for having a rail system decades behind other mainland state capitals, and is infamous for hourly weekend frequencies on some lines. However, Adelaide is currently undergoing a rail revolution with federal government funded electrification of major rail lines, and planned extensions to it's rail and tram network. So how does Adelaide's off-peak service frequency compare to Brisbane's?

Brisbane has 27 stations with a 4 trains per hour (tph) weekday daytime off-peak service - Central to Northgate, Darra, and Park Road, as well as Coopers Plains, Loganlea, and Beenleigh. All of these locations are serviced by two or more rail lines. Unlike all rail lines in Perth, and many rail lines in Melbourne, and Sydney, no single rail line in Brisbane has better than a 30 minute / 2tph weekday daytime off-peak service.

What about Adelaide? Well for starters, the Glenelg Tram (which has a considerable portion of running in it's own right of way) has 29 stations with a 4tph off-peak service. The 42km Gawler Line (which is a similar ballpark in length to the Ipswich, Caboolture, Cleveland, and Beenleigh Lines) runs a 2 pattern express service to speed up journey times. 7 major stations along the Gawler Line are served by both service patterns, and thus have a 4tph service. With the Gawler Line being electrified, further service improvements are planned in the next few years.

Adelaide's 30km Noarlunga Line currently runs a 2 pattern service which has extra trains before 11am and 2pm. In this period 8 stations receive a 4tph or better service. Between 11am and 2pm just 3 stations have a 4tph or better service, shared with Brighton starting/terminating services, and Tonsley Line services. The Noarlunga Line is currently being extended to Seaford (36km total length) with an opening planned for late 2013. It has been stated that a 4tph / 15 minute off-peak service will then be run on this line, serving all 17 stations between Seaford and Woodlands Park. So unlike Brisbane when huge sums of money are spent on rail infrastructure (Richlands Line and Ferny Grove Line duplication) with only a 30 minute frequency, Adelaide actually plans to considerably improve train services on it's new infrastructure. It should be noted that Brisbane's population is also nearly double that of Adelaide's.

If (as expected) no 15 minute off-peak services materialise in QR's 2012 phase 2 timetables, then within a year, Brisbane will have the worst weekday daytime off-peak train service of all mainland Australian state capitals! The Queensland Government, TransLink, and QR should be very embarrassed that Adelaide will have a 4tph / 15 minute off-peak peak service to many stations up to the 30-40km range from the CBD, whilst Brisbane can only provide a 2tph / 30 minute off-peak service at stations beyond the 16km range from the CBD (with the exception of an irregular 4tph service at Loganlea and Beenleigh).

Interestingly, Adelaide's rail system does not have guards. As with Melbourne and Perth's railway systems which both have half-decent service frequencies, the lack of guards is a much more cost efficient use of staff. Unfortunately QR's culture still appears to be clinging onto guards. SE Queensland's train system urgency needs frequency, not inefficiency!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Phase 2 Timetables - When?

So the stage 2 timetable consultation has started, without any hint of when we will actually be able to see any draft timetables, or when the timetables will be introduced into service. Thanks to the wonders of the internet archive wayback machine, lets go back to TransLink's website on November 30th 2010.
Oh look, the stage 2 timetable was planned for delivery in late 2011!
No, it wasn't a typo, here is the same claim on another TransLink webpage from the same day. BrizCommuter is also convinced of seeing a claim in stage 1 consultation material, that the stage 2 consultation was to commence in early 2011, but sadly this information appears to have been lost in cyberspace.

So what happened? Well, it makes sense that with the Ferny Grove duplication being finished "some time in 2012" that the phase 2 timetables should wait until then. It would be nice if TransLink and QR had to courtesy to tell their customers of this delay, or when Ferny Grove duplication is expected to be complete. There have also been rumblings that the timetable will wait until after an upgrade at Sandgate which would allow for a more frequent and reliable peak service to Shorncliffe. However, the date for this is unknown. So it seems that SE Queensland commuters are yet again being left in the dark as to when they will be able to view the draft timetables, and when they will be getting an "improved" new timetable. BrizCommuter is very concerned about this continuing lack of transparency and disregard for customers from both TransLink and QR.

As mentioned in the previous blog post, BrizCommuter thinks that the draft timetables will not be released until after the state election in early 2012. Draft timetables, potentially mean unhappy voters. It may also allow the addition of election campaign promises to the timetable, however BrizCommuter is not holding his breath on either party suggesting radical improvements such as 15 minute off-peak frequencies.

Place your bets now, for when the stage 2 timetables will be introduced:

  • Late 2010, as QR CRG members were informed at the very first CRG meeting?
  • Late 2011 as TransLink informed commuters in late 2010?
  • When the Ferny Grove duplication is finished sometime in 2012?
  • When the mystical Sandgate upgrade takes place ???
  • As late as possible in the 2011/2012 financial year?
  • In the 2012/2013 financial year (despite being mentioned in TransLink's 2011/12 Network Plan)?
  • Whenever QR get more trains in 2014?
  • Whenever the state government is out of debt?
  • Never?
Your guess is as good as mine!

Update 03/12/2011

At a recent QR CRG concerned with the new timetables, QR representatives could not give a date of the draft timetable consultation, nor the dates of the introduction of the phase 2 timetables, nor could they even provide information on the track capacity through the CBD, nor provide any information on whether the Sandgate upgrade was going to occur. This is extremely concerning news, and this lack of action combined with another 15% fare increase, will heighten next years unemployment prospects of current state government MPs with electorates served by the phase 2 rail lines.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Minor Delay or just Normal?

BrizCommuter often checks the Train Status on TransLink's home page before setting off to the station in the morning just to make sure that the Ferny Grove Line is not blocked by stupid motorists at level crossings. On the morning of 18/11/2011, TransLink's website was showing a "Minor" problem on all rail lines. BrizCommuter clicked to see what the problem was. Was it a signal failure or track failure in the core part of the network? No, it was a normal service. In this shining example of reverse logic, the Train Status was showing a "Minor" problem status to tell commuters that the strike planned for that day had been cancelled, and that there was a normal service. This isn't the only inconsistency BrizCommuter has seen lately. The closure of South Brisbane station was initially shown as a "Major" problem on the relevant rail lines on the first day of closure, before being rapidly downgraded to "Minor", and then a week later randomly alternating between "Minor" and "Normal".

London Underground
BrizCommuter would like to see TransLink follow London Underground's example in more consistent use of train service status messages. On London Underground, commonly used messages are "Good Service", "Minor Delays", "Severe Delays", "Part Suspended", "Suspended", and "Planned Closure". A dynamic map also shows station closures, and stations undergoing maintenance (e.g. lifts and escalators out of service). Announcements also use similar terminology as the service status updates, which are displayed on large LCD displays at stations as well on the internet. Also making life easier for Londoners is an easily accessible webpage listing planned weekend service changes up to 6 months in advance. This can be quite useful if you are planning an event, as most Londoners rely on public transport to get around the city.

Update 20/11/2011

This thread on Rail Back on Track's forum, shows an example of QR and  TransLink failing to provide sufficient signage to notify passengers at Goodna station about a weekend line closure. No announcements, or staff assistance (from QR, TransLink, or passing replacement bus drivers) either as passengers waited on the platform for non-existent trains. Why do SE Queensland public transport users have to put up with such mediocrity?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Less Doomben Gloom, and more Busway Zoom

Less Doomben Gloom
In a huge and welcome surprise to long suffering Doomben Line commuters, an extra trial evening peak service will be added from 14/11/2011 leaving Roma Street at 07:01pm and arriving at Doomben at 07:26pm. This is more than an hour after the previous last train, and is sandwiched between two railbus services roughly 45 minutes apart. Hopefully this move bodes well for the phase 2 timetables where BrizCommuter hopes that Doomben will at least get a 30 mins peak fare period service (currently the peak service is rather erratic and infrequent). It is good to see an extra service being added to a low patronage line instead of attempts to kill it off. The extra service is not really obvious on TransLink's website, so lets hope that this extra service had been well publicised to Doomben Line users by way of posters at stations or leaflets. TransLink blurb here:

More Busway Zoom
The Northern Busway's Federation Street overpass also opened on 14/11/2011 as part of the combined Northern Busway and Airport Link construction. This bridge takes buses across Bowen Bridge Road and bypasses a set of traffic lights (BrizCommuter is not too sure where TransLink came out with the bypassing 4 sets of traffic lights claim). Early reports from commuters are that a few minutes have been shaved off inbound journey times and bus bunching along the inbound Inner Northern Busway is not quite as bad as before - less cases of no buses for ages then 3 arrive at once. Just a shame that these precious minutes shaved off the journey time pale into comparison to some commuters increased journey times as a result of Westfield Chermside's paid parking scheme. TransLink blurb here:

And finally, a Courier Mail website reader poll asking "Is Brisbane's public transport too expensive" currently has a "Yes" vote of 92.78% after more than 2,100 votes. No surprises there then! Article here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Queensland Rail - now 18% slower!

Slower and slower!
An interesting thread on Rail Back on Track that BrizCommuter has been keeping an eye on is a discussion about the slowing down of rail services in recent train timetables. It seems that Brisbane is heading towards the world's worst practise of Sydney's trundling rail network (but with a lower service frequency just to add to SE Queenslander's woes). Unfortunately, timetable padding is nothing new in the railway world, with some UK train services being slower with 125mph trains now that with sub 100mph steam trains in the past.

In the 1995 Ipswich Line timetable, a midday off-peak Central to Ipswich service took 49 minutes. In 2011, it takes 58 minutes! That is a whopping 18.4% increase in journey time. Even in the last few years, the Ferny Grove Line timetable had a midday off-peak journey time from Central to Ferny Grove increase from 27 minutes in 2007, to 31 minutes in 2011. That is a 14.8% increase in journey time in just 4 years.

So why are rail services getting significantly slower? Are Queensland Rail and TransLink more concerned about on-time running statistics instead of actually getting passengers from A to B in a reasonable journey time? Does the timetable have to take into account ageing EMU trains with failing motors, or "sandbagging" train drivers? Is the timetable allowing for the annoying transit officer train delaying spot checks, where there seems to be complete disregard for law-abiding commuter attempting to get to their destinations or interchange points on time?

What are the consequences of slowing down train timetables? As many commuters on the Ipswich and Sunshine Coast Line may notice, trains will have to dwell for a few minutes at multiple stations on the line so as to not run early. Unfortunately not all train crew keep to time, and early running trains are a serious issue on QRs network. For example BrizCommuter regularly sees the 07:04 from Central to Ferny Grove run 3 minutes early through Enoggera. Reports from BrizCommuter's sources show that this is not an isolated incident, with inbound Cleveland Line weekend services also having a reputation for chronic early running. It is likely that some pedestrian level crossing near misses have been due to passengers trying to make it onto an unexpectedly early running service.

It is very difficult for public transport to compete with the car in Brisbane due to the poor frequency of SE Queensland's train services. It doesn't help when two rail lines parallel to roads which are either currently receiving or about to receive upgrades (Ipswich Motorway and Samford Road) are having their timetables slowed down by more than 18% and 14% respectively. With the phase 2 draft timetables looming, lets hope that the slowing of down of train services does not get even more ridiculous.

Gold Coast gets Commonwealth Games - what about public transport?

Gold Coast Skyline
Early in the morning of Saturday 12/11/2011 it was announced that the Crime Gold Coast has won its bid to host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. Admittedly, the only competition was in tsunami hit Hambantota, a port city in recently war-torn Sri Lanka.

So where will the events be held? The athletics and opening and closing ceremonies will be held at a train-less and light rail-less 40,000 capacity Carrara stadium. Other venues will include Skilled Park next to Robina Station, Broadbeach, Southport Broadwater Parklands, Runaway Bay, Coomera, Labrador, Village Studios ( next to Movie World), and Hinze Dam. A few events will also be held at Chandler, Belmont, Cairns, and Townsville.

It's pretty obvious from this list (especially Carrara Stadium) that bus transportation will have to form the basis of most public transport for the games. BrizCommuter would hope that the extension of the Gold Coast light rail to Helensvale station will be expedited to allow for easy interchange with the Gold Coast Line. However BrizCommuter is not holding his breath for this. Going by the limited transport information in the games website, it appears that the Gold Coast line will sadly not be extended to the Gold Coast airport in time for the games as bus and taxi have been given as airport access modes. Hilariously, the same web page mentions the tacky Jupiter's Monorail as a public transportation option. The Gold Coast Rapid Transit's website mentions that bus lanes will be added to some Gold Coast roads as a side project (not as a result of the Commonwealth Games bid). The is no mention of capacity enhancements on the Gold Coast Line, which has lacking infrastructure such as the single track section between Coomera and Helensvale, and lack of overtaking opportunities for express services between Beenleigh and Brisbane's CBD. So the number of public transport improvements that can be directly attributed to the Commonwealth Games bid appear to be minimal to non-existent, and it appears that there will be a minimal public transport legacy from the Commonwealth Games.

BrizCommuter is also concerned as to where the money is going to come from for the Commonwealth Games. With a state government deeply in debt, and limited federal funding available, many urgently required public transport projects in SE Queensland have been dropped, delayed, or quietly forgotten about in recent years. Lets hope that funding for the Commonwealth Games in 2018 will not take yet more money away from SE Queensland's ailing public transport system, underfunded hospitals, police force, and education system.