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.

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