Thursday, May 30, 2013

Go Card - "Touch Again" trap!

The other go card reader was broken.
It seems that the reliability of station go card readers have been getting worse recently. For two consecutive days this week, BrizCommuter received one of the commonly encountered "touch again" warnings when "touching on" at the start a train journey. When this error occurs, touching a second time usually "touches on". However, on this occasion, the second touch "touched off" and cancelled the journey. This means that the first touch with a "touch again" warning actually did "touch on". This should not be occurring! Annoyingly, when BrizCommuter then tried to "touch on" again, he received an "already touched" message. Arrrgh!

BrizCommuter would not be surprised if many go card users have incurred fixed fares as a result of this issue. TransLink should automatically identify and refund affected customers. Failure to do so could be seen as de-frauding customers. This issue also opens up passengers to being fined by Transit Officers as the go card will not be on a "touched on" status during the journey. BrizCommuter is very concerned that this go card reader error is exposing passengers to both financial and legal risks. 

The go card system is so unreliable and full of pitfalls that it could be described as being barely fit for purpose! It should be noted that BrizCommuter has extensively used RFID card systems in London, Melbourne, Hong Kong, and Singapore with no serious issues. Why does Brisbane always get it so wrong?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Plan B (again)

With Cross River Rail (CRR) looking less likely to be a reality within the next decade thanks to LNP incompetence and political games, BrizCommuter takes a look at what alternatives there are to increase rail capacity through Brisbane's CBD.

Better signalling required?
Make better use of existing core track capacity

It is assumed that the current signalling can handle 20tph (a train every 3 mins) through the CBD, and there are 4 tracks (2 in each direction). Currently, only am peak services from Gold Coast/Beenleigh/Cleveland Lines are close to maximum capacity through the CBD at 19tph. Whilst am peak capacity from the Caboolture/Sunshine Coast Lines is near to maximum capacity at 18tph,  few of these trains are currently overcrowded. However, after Moreton Bay Rail Link (MBRL) is completed in 2016, it is likely that this line group will also be nearing maximum capacity. Aside from these two line groups, there is currently space for 20-33% more trains to run through the CBD in the am and pm peaks with existing signalling. Stage 2 timetables are required as soon as possible to make the best use of existing track capacity and train resources. Subsequent timetable reviews when Next Generation Rolling Stock are introduced in 2016 will be required to make more effective use of existing track capacity. 

Make best use of existing train capacity

It is preferable to avoid making passengers stand for long distances for commuters, although standing for more than 20 mins is common in cities around the world. However, on the other hand to make better use of train and track capacity, trains should be arriving in the CBD with a reasonable level of standing passengers. Thus stopping patterns may need to be carefully adjusted to avoid the former, and increase the latter. An example is Gold Coast trains which typically cross the Merivale Bridge at approx. 50% capacity - lots of standing space! A few extra stops between Yeerongpilly and Park Road would make more efficient use of Gold Coast train capacity by adding standing passengers. However, it would also slow down Gold Coast trains by approx. 5 mins, which would go down like a ton a lead bricks with politically sensitive Gold Coast Line commuters. Another example would be to make Cleveland Line expresses stop at some inner Cleveland Line stations such as between Buranda to Morningside. 

Cleveland Line duplication required?
Increase core track capacity

The ability to increase core track capacity can come via various methods:

1. ERTMS-Level 2 signalling - High capacity in-cab signalling, with Automatic Train Protection (ATP) may be able to increase reliable core system capacity from 20tph to 24tph (a train every 2mins 30secs). This is a capacity increase of 20%, and would allow an approx. 4 year delay to CRR (depending upon growth). However, capacity increases would not be sufficient to allow electric train services to Flagstone prior to CRR. A cost estimate for the re-signalling would be $150-300m. In addition, multiple infrastructure projects may be required to achieve 24tph (below).

ERTMS website:

2. Infrastructure - The $4-6b cost of CRR excluded infrastructure improvements outside of the core section. The actual cost would have been far more. If 24tph were to be run on all tracks through the core section, the the following infrastructure projects may still be required (in addition to those already planned) dependant upon the line allocation of the additional services - Park Road grade separation $375m, Cleveland Line partial duplication $225m , Beenleigh Line partial quadruplication and triplications $750m, Coomera to Helensvale duplication $150m, Shorncliffe duplication $75m, Corinda to Darra 4th track electrification $20m, and multiple level crossing grade separations $50-100m each. This would total around $2-2.5b. 

3. Dwell times - Track capacity or reliability can be improved slightly by decreasing station dwell times through the core section. This can be achieved by paying for additional platform dispatch staff, or increasing the numbers of doors on trains (only realistically possible in Next Generation Rolling Stock). 

Increase train capacity

Internal train layout can be adjusted to increase train capacity - i.e. more passengers per train. Realistically, the most cost effective gains for existing trains would be to increase the number of hand rails/straps for standing passengers to hold onto.  Next Generation Rolling Stock should be built with 3 or 4 sets of doors per car side, which will increase standing space due to the extra door area space. 

Will trains terminate at South Brisbane?
Reverse trains outside of the CBD

It has been suggested that some trains from the busiest line group (Gold Coast/Beenleigh/Cleveland Lines) could be reversed outside of the CBD at South Brisbane. A few extra trains per hour could be turned back at South Brisbane with minimal infrastructure changes (a few additional track crossovers) at a cost of around $20m. However, this would result in thousands of passengers being dumped short of their destination during the am peak. These passengers would then either have to attempt to board the following train service across the Merivale Bridge resulting in full trains, walk across the Victoria Bridge, or add to busway congestion across the Victoria Bridge. Due to the messy bus network, the latter would also result in playing bus CBD destination roulette. Journey times would also be significantly increased for commuters dumped at South Brisbane. As South Brisbane used to be a terminus until 1979, then reversing trains outside of the CBD would be huge step backwards. 

Discourage public transport use

This has been mentioned in the press in recent days - re: increasing peak fares further. However, as peak fares are already the world's 3rd most expensive, and already discouraging public transport use, then this a very bad idea.  Discouraging public transport use = more road congestion. Maybe, decreasing off-peak fares may be a better option?


Most peak public transport journeys are to and from Brisbane's CBD. Companies and government departments could be moved/encouraged to move to locations outside of the CBD. However, this decentralisation would require better counter-peak bus and train frequencies, and more radial bus routes.  This in turn requires more buses, trains, and in some cases such as the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor would require more track infrastructure. Most rail passengers would still have to travel via the CBD anyway, which wouldn't help reduce train overcrowding. The reality of decentralisation would be more car use, and thus more road congestion. 

...and the likely reality for the next decade

Rather than fixing the problem, we are likely to see:
  • More political ineptitude, denial, and spin.
  • More timetable inaction.
  • Increased fares.
  • Half-baked infrastructure projects.
  • Next Generation Rolling Stock with only 2 sets of doors per car.
  • No rail lines to Flagstone, Ripley, or Caloundra.
  • Increased train overcrowding.
  • Increased road congestion, pollution, and trauma - ultimately costing the Queensland economy $billions.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

LNP Public Transport Report Card (and Cross River Rail gloom)

Brisbane's Sad Future?
When you thought that Brisbane's public transport governance couldn't get much worse than under the previous ALP administration, Campbell Newman's LNP state government has increased the amount of public transport policy failure.  This has been confounded with the news that Cross River Rail (which has been identified by the current ALP federal government as Australia's most urgent infrastructure project) may be dead in the water due to Transport Minister Scott Emerson not accepting initial funding from the ALP federal government, and likely next prime minister (and Medieval throwback) Tony Abbott promising to only fund road projects instead of rail.

Here is the Campbell Newman's LNP state government public transport report card:

  • Bus network planning - MP Scott Emerson threw out TransLink's excellent (but not perfect) revolutionary changes. This was replaced by the continuation of Brisbane City Council (also LNP) inspired inefficiency and confusion - FAIL
  • Full buses - still more than 2000 full buses every month - FAIL
  • Pork-barrelling - Managed a half-baked Ferny Grove Line 15 minute off peak frequency, and extended the wasteful Maroon CityGlider into Ashgrove. Both serve Campbell Newman's Ashgrove constituency - PASS ( really a FAIL)
  • Stage 2 Rail Timetables - Still missing in action - FAIL
  • Fare improvements - Changes to 10 journeys then free cap to 9 journeys then free. But also increased fares by 7.5%, so that for most users the fares still increased. Brisbane continues to have the world's 3rd most expensive rail fares, the world's 2nd most expensive bus fares, and the world's most expensive fares without a refund policy, all for what is a pretty shoddy public transport network - FAIL
  • Cross River Rail - Scott Emerson has played stupid political games that have probably killed off the essential Cross River Rail, not helped by Tony Abbott's 1960's road mentality - FAIL
  • Patronage - Due to high fares, infrequent trains, and sacking thousands of public servants, public transport patronage has continued to decline. Road congestion (and Centrelink queues) will only get worse! - FAIL
VERDICT - EPIC FAIL (So incompetent, that BrizCommuter doubts that LNP politicians could work out how to get a shag in a brothel). 

And as for Tony Abbott - the size of his rail project funding is proportional to what's in his speedos. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Stage 2 timetables - delayed yet again?

Queensland Rail stage 2 timetable fail
It has been reported in the Rail Back on Track forum that according to informed sources, Queensland Rail's (QR) stage 2 (also known as sector 2 or phase 2) timetables may have been delayed yet again until 2014. The stage 2 timetables cover the Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Airport, Doomben, Cleveland, Gold Coast, and Beenleigh Lines.

Here is an updated history of the stage 2 timetable:
  • No revolutionary timetable changes since 1996 - that's 17 years!
  • Changes in 2008 improved the Gold Coast Line services, but stuffed up peak services for many users of the inner Ferny Grove, Cleveland, and Beenleigh Lines. For example, Enoggera and Gaythorne has 42% reductions in pm peak service!
  • At the first QR Community Reference Group (CRG) meeting, it was mentioned that new timetables would be introduced on all lines (in two stages) in 2010 - this didn't happen. 
  • During TransLink's stage 1 timetable consultation in late 2010 it was quoted on TransLink's website that the stage 2 timetables would be introduced in late 2011 - this didn't happen.
  • BrizCommuter complained to TransLink about the above delay in late 2011, and was told that stage 2 timetables would be introduced in early 2012 (for Ferny Grove duplication opening) - this didn't happen. 
  • There was even a QR CRG on the stage 2 timetables, but QR staff were reportedly unable to actually mention anything about the new timetables, including what to expect, or any timelines - how pointless!
  • 15 minute off-peak was introduced to Ferny Grove Line in Oct 2012 (6 months after the duplication opened), but was rather half-baked only being between 9am to 3pm on weekdays, with peak service frequencies often being worse! These changes also adversely affected timetables on some other parts of the network. 
  • Informed sources mentioned that stage 2 timetables would be implemented after Sandgate station upgrade in late 2013.
  • Reported by Rail Back on Track that stage 2 timetables now delayed until 2014. 
What problems are being caused by the continuing delays to stage 2 timetables?
  • Unacceptable peak direction service gaps of up to 23 minutes on the Ferny Grove, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines, up to 30 minutes on the Shorncliffe and Airport Lines, and up to 45 minutes on the Doomben Line. - evidence from QR passenger load surveys show adverse changes in the 2008 timetable have deterred the use of rail transport at some stations! 
  • Counter peak direction service gaps of 30 minutes or more on most lines.
  • Off-peak (in)frequencies of every 30 minutes - worse than Melbourne, Sydney, and Perth. 
  • Hourly frequencies late at night Mon-Thu, and on Sunday am on many lines - makes drink driving seem like an attractive option!
  • Out-of-sync connections with stage 1 timetable lines (Ipswich, Richlands, Caboolture) since June 2011. 
  • Confusing service patterns - even the 16km Ferny Grove Line has 4 different am peak service patterns. 
  • Inefficient use of core network infrastructure - aside from am peak services from Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines, there is still spare track capacity (20-33%) in the peaks. 
  • Does not take advantage of the $133m Ferny Grove Line duplication - for example some peak services still start or terminate at Mitchelton despite the bottleneck between Mitchelton and Ferny Grove being resolved more than a year ago!  
The continued delays to the stage 2 timetables, and lack of public information from the Queensland Government, TransLink, and QR is disgraceful, and displays huge contempt towards public transport users. During the period of this delay, multiple new timetables have been introduced in Melbourne. The failure of SE Queensland's public transport system continues. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I Don't "Give a Beep"

Giving out the wrong message!
Just when you thought that Brisbane City Council couldn't be even more out of touch with reality, the SEQ Council of Mayors have announced their "Give a Beep" campaign to promote road infrastructure projects. Yes, this is the same SEQ Council of Mayors that promoted the ridiculous "Cleveland Solution" alternative to Cross River Rail, and the same Brisbane City Council that runs an inefficient and confusing bus network.

Despite the fact that most developed countries (and many developing countries) have realised that 1960s road centric policies are a failure, it seems that politicians in SE Queensland haven't noticed. 
A environmentally and financially sustainable city requires a healthy mix of road based transport, public transport, and active transport (walking and cycling). Public transport can help reduce road congestion, reduce pollution, and has proven economic benefits. Active transport again reduces road congestion, reduces pollution, increases health (note that Australia is one of the world's fattest nations), and has proven economic benefits. Yet, the SEQ Council of Mayors want to promote road infrastructure improvements instead. This will just lead to more road congestion, more pollution, more road trauma, and poorer health to society. 

On the "Give a Beep" home page, there is even a disgraceful anti-public transport comment (in screenshot above). The SEQ Council of Mayors should be thoroughly ashamed to 50 years behind the rest of the world when it comes to transport policies.

The following Rail Back on Track press release, has a pretty good list of references that need to be read and understood by Queensland Politicians:
Give a Beep website:

PS: The "Give a Beep" website is really badly designed as well - poor navigation, and doesn't display correctly in Safari! How much ratepayers money was spent on this?

Sunday, May 5, 2013

More timetable change mediocrity from QR and TransLink

Richlands - 2 more train services
Some minor timetable changes to the Richlands, Cleveland, Ferny Grove, Airport, and Doomben Lines were announced on Friday 3rd May, for introduction on Monday 6th May. This is in keeping with TransLink's current form of giving customers as little notice as possible on timetable changes. Whilst the improvements to Ferny Grove Line reliability, and an extra two am peak services on the Richlands Line are welcome, it seems that Queensland Rail and TransLink have yet again stuffed up when it comes to informing their customers of the changes. Whilst the changes may be minor, the impact on some commuters journeys is not minor. The changes are enough for passengers from (for example) South Bank to Ferny Grove, to now have to change in the CBD and wait for the following Ferny Grove Line train. This may result in some commuters reaching their destination up to 11 minutes later than at present (at least on the occasions when the existing services are running on time). Also, passengers from the Cleveland Line, and South Bank area may miss onward connections from Roma Street to other lines and bus routes. There may be quite a big shock for a few passengers on Monday, who are likely to be blissfully unaware of the changes to to lack of information from TransLink and QR.

So what have TransLink and QR failed to do for this timetable change?
  • Only announced changes on TransLink's website 1 working day ahead of change.
  • One of these webpages contains at least 1 mistake!
  • No .pdf timetables available on TransLink's website ahead of change.
  • TransLink journey planner not updated with changes.  
  • No new paper timetables available ahead of change. 
  • Changes only announced to train crew 1 working day ahead of change. 
  • No posters at train stations ahead of change.
  • No updated timetable boards at stations. 
BrizCommuter can only assume that if QR are making minor adjustments to existing timetables (in many cases still based on the badly designed and implemented 2008 timetable), that the stage 2 timetables (now 2 years late and counting) are still not on the horizon - this is very disappointing!

SE Queensland public transport - the mediocrity continues.

Changes here:

Update - Friday 10th May

The TransLink journey planner has finally been updated (4 days after changes). New paper and .pdf timetables are still missing in action.

Update - Sunday 19th May

Still no new paper or .pdf timetables. Fail, fail, fail! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Public vs Privatisation

Metro Trains Melbourne - trains every 10 minutes!
An article in today's Courier Mail website and mX newspaper has included negative comments from Melbourne's Public Transport Users Association about Melbourne's privatised rail network, and a warning about Brisbane going down the same path. Here is an extract from this Courier Mail article:

Melbourne's Public Transport Users Association president Tony Morton said privatising rail hadn't been cheaper or more innovative, with fares rising twice as fast as inflation since 1999.

Morton said the "privatisation experiment" in Melbourne caused fares to skyrocket above the CPI, with prices rising 20 per cent in two years.

He said Brisbane commuters "ain't seen nothing yet" when it came to fares.

"We have fundamental problems with the standard of maintenance and reliability on the system, which is giving us almost daily grief," he said.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union's David Matters said Brisbane shouldn't follow Melbourne's lead, warning private operators would "come in and loot the place".

A 2007 report on the first eight years of Melbourne's privatisation found over-crowding issues after a rise in patronage. But it also found there were no substantial savings.

BrizCommuter finds the last comment interesting. Overcrowding caused by a rise in patronage. Well, if patronage has risen, that using public transport must be considerably more attractive than in Brisbane where commuters are abandoning the infrequent and expensive train network!

In response to misleading panic about privatising rail services, here is a comparison between public Queensland Rail (QR) in Brisbane, and the privatised Metro Trains in Melbourne:

Single 5km peak adult train fare
Public/Brisbane $3.85
Private/Melbourne $3.50
The "sky rocking" prices of Melbourne's privatised train network are still cheaper than Brisbane's public train network.

Single 5km off-peak train fare
Public/Brisbane $3.08
Private/Melbourne $3.50
Off-peak, Brisbane's public train service is cheaper, unless of course you make more than 2 journeys (see below).

Maximum daily 5km train fare
Public/Brisbane $30+
Private/Melbourne $7 ($3.50 on weekend)
For frequent daily users such as tourists the privatised train service in Melbourne is miles cheaper, even more so on weekends.

Weekday midday off-peak train frequency
Public/Brisbane 15-60mins (typically 30mins)
Private/Melbourne 10-20mins
Melbourne's private train operator has a far more frequent off-peak train service than Brisbane's public operator which mainly has abysmal 30 mins off-peak services.

Reliability Target 
Public/Brisbane 94.93% (within 4 mins inner-suburban, 6 mins outer-suburban)
Private/Melbourne 88% (within 5 mins)
Brisbane has higher reliability, but it's pretty easy to be reliable when your trains are so infrequent!
Melbourne's rail network is generally run much closer to maximum capacity, thus resulting in less achievable reliability.

New Timetables
Public/Brisbane  - no significant changes to 7 lines since 2008
Private/Melbourne - multiple major timetable improvements every year

Cost per km data could not be obtained, however previous reports have shown QR to have the highest cost per km in Australia. So as we can see, using a private rail operator in Melbourne has resulted in generally cheaper fares, and more frequent train services in Brisbane's publicly owned rail operator QR. Is the potential privatisation of QR really that bad?