Monday, February 6, 2017

QR's Rail Fail to continue until 2019!

The Redcliffe Peninsula Line opened on 04/10/2016, with resulting rail chaos in subsequent days, including up to 167 services cancelled on 21/10/2016 due to lack of train crew (and to a lesser extent, lack of trains). This was followed by axed services in the Interim Timetables, even more axed services in the Interim Timetables Mk2, the Christmas Day cancellation-fest, up to 60% of peak services cut in the Summer School Holiday Timetables, and return of the Interim Timetables Mk2 for the whole of 2017. Commuters have been badly hit by these service cuts resulting in extended waits for trains, overcrowded trains, poor system reliability, and abysmal customer information. 
A Commission of Inquiry was established by the ALP Palaszczuk government to investigate the circumstances leading up to and associated with the disruptions to the Citytrain timetable, and to assess and report on Queensland Rail’s (QR) recovery plan. The inquiry is titled "An Inquiry into Queensland Rail’s train crewing practices". Mr Phillip Strachan was appointed as Commissioner and provided a report, which has just been released. The report and government's response is accessible from the below website, and is worth reading in full (possibly before reading the rest of this blog post).

The release of the report finally caused embattled ALP transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe to fall on his sword. However, BrizCommuter would like to see LNP opposition transport minister Scott Emerson (who was also behind the bus reform failure) to also fall on his sword (preferably one that has just been sharpened). 

The report is not written as to blame particular government's, however the causes of Rail Fail are outlined below:
  • Despite a forecasts deficit in drivers and guards, and plans for improved services in 2014 timetables, under the LNP Newman Government there was a one year pause on new driver training schools. Due to drivers retiring, there was also loss of drivers and driver trainers. 
  • Under the ALP Palaszczuk Government, driver training recommenced. However concerns by both Indec and GIRO as to sufficient train crew availability for the Redcliffe Peninsula Line were not properly acted upon by QR, nor adequately communicated to QR's board or the Government.
  • Internal communication, governance, and cultural failures within QR. 
  • Restrictive crewing rules due to Union pressure.
  • QR traditionally running understaffed, with considerable overtime for drivers being the norm. 
  • Internal recruitment, and relatively slow driver training programs. 

The report's 36 recommendations are outlined in brief below, with commentary in italics:
  • Establish a Citytrain Response Unit tasked with independently monitoring, auditing and reporting on the implementation of the recommendations of the Commission and QR’s response and recovery plan. This is essential, however it may not go far enough. Public transport needs to be divorced from road-centric Department of Transport and Main Roads, and have it's own overseeing authority, as in Perth and Auckland. Also, the Citytrain Response Unit needs to be staffed by people who will ask the right questions. A public transport advocate or two, should be included. 
  • Implement regular reporting on train crew demand, supply and shortfalls initiatives to QR’s Executive Leadership Team and the responsible Ministers. This is also a good move, and hopefully will take into account eventual improvements once rail fail is eventually resolved.
  • Implement transparent and timely reporting to TransLink and the public regarding operational issues that are affecting, or may affect, service delivery, to enable customers to plan alternative travel arrangements. This information is to be available in real time at stations, online and through call centres. This is urgently required. Customer information and transparency has been appalling during #RailFail and this needs to be improved significantly. 
  • Ensure that negotiations with train crew unions focus on best practice crewing arrangements to alleviate overtime pressure on train crews. Whilst most train crew like the extra money from overtime, the high rate of overtime has resulted in unreliable train services. QR should serve commuters, not the wallets of its staff. 
  • Work with the train crew unions regarding introducing modern competency‐based training arrangements in line with Australian and global best practices. The new training regime will shorten the average training time for new recruits without compromising safety. This is also essential, as whilst train crew need to be trained adequately and safely, it can be done considerably faster than at present. 
  • Leaner management structure at QR. Having the right people and culture, is also just as important to reducing the layers of bureaucracy. 

So what does the future hold for long suffering SE Queensland and Brisbane commuters?
  • Interim Timetables set to continue until at least late-2018, and possibly even mid/late-2019.
  • Unknown timeframes as to when specific axed services will be resumed. 
  • Unknown dates as to when Fridays will have the same timetables as Monday to Friday.
  • High likelihood of impact to Commonwealth Games 2018 train services - BrizCommuter predicted this in November last year. 
  • High likelihood of the return of diabolical School Holiday Timetables with service cuts of up to 60%. 
  • Urgently required peak improvements, such as extending Cleveland Line pm peak services, and resolving pm peak overcrowding on lines such as Ferny Grove may not occur until at least 2019. 
  • Improvements to off-peak services on Redcliffe, Caboolture, Springfield, Ipswich, and Gold Coast Lines may not occur until at least 2020. 
  • Ongoing repetitional damage to Brisbane and SE Queensland resulting in lower liveability, and making Brisbane less attractive to business. 
  • Angry commuters will vent their frustration at the ballot box. 

And finally:
  • Whilst the recommendations are generally good, there is no plan for an (above mentioned) public transport authority to hold both QR, and SE Queensland's bus operators (including "troublesome" Brisbane City Council owned Brisbane Transport) to task. 
  • The report does not consider the fact that insufficient New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains have been ordered to allow for more optimal peak services at the end of this decade, nor has the report investigated the serious delays to the NGR roll-out. 
  • The report does not look at what service improvements are required beyond restoration of the full (4th October 2016) timetable.  
  • The report did not look at the impact to commuters from the Interim Timetables (in particular the Friday changes, and the excessively cut Summer School Holiday Timetables), and knock on effects to road congestion, businesses, and liveability.  
Sadly, it now looks like public transport in Brisbane will continue to be embarrassingly poor until at least the next decade. 


  1. I still want KPIs and refunds reviewed. QR don't report on delays for the majority of delays. It may well be they can't be held responsible for the constant police incidents and cars hitting crossings, but they impact on time running and should be made public.

    My greatest frustration is that these nonreportable events seem to also equate to low or no response (busses). Why would they respond when there is no incentive?

    Finally refunds are never possible if you start a journey no matter anything. I.e. the train breaks down leaving you stranded and overheating for hours and you must find your own alternatives to complete your journey.

  2. Interesting to note that that ABC Radio Brisbane had a range of callers who reported applying for train driving positions with no response what-so-ever. Some of these people had decades of experience, including freight trains in Queensland. Dozens of callers had their details taken to be handed on to QR for their response. The indication was given that this restriction was due to union agreements, where a ticket sales person has more chance of driving a QR cityrail train than a fully trained and qualified city train driver from another state. I don't know this to be a fact, but clearly something is broken in their HR system.

    Also, Mr Phillip Strachan noted that the opening of the new line wasn't the only issue, but it coincided with a timetable change to increased number of services across the network (about 9%). This, in combination with the new line, was too much and the network was a #RailFail.

    I'm not sure which lines had increases in services, but I didn't recall any new services my line. Whatever the case, the courier mail had a good piece on the number of services over time for various lines, most of which have moved little since 2010, some of which decreased. What makes things worse is that these are the same trains as 2010, just 7 year's older,

    We are traveling in very old trains, being driven by drivers who are overworked, meeting a timetable that is not consistent throughout the week, a timetable that doesn't meet up with other public transport, fearing for our safety given no rules/safety are enforced even on trains with security guards, we are traveling on trains that have no requirement to get you where you are going (i.e. no refund if they can't provide the service you paid for), and all the time while we are paying some of the most expensive fares in the world.

  3. I don't understand why it takes 12 months to train new drivers. You can go out and become a commercial pilot in less time than that.


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