Tuesday, July 25, 2023

QR's 3-car-maggedon strikes again

Overcrowded 3-car train

BrizCommuter has had a long break, as there are only so many times you can keep complaining about the never ending incompetence of Brisbane and SE Queensland's public transport system. However, Queensland Rail's (QR) latest crisis has caused BrizCommuter to come out of hibernation. 

Back in 2014, BrizCommuter reported on chronic issues with 3-car peak services after the 2014 timetable changes. This took half a decade to fix, Even then, the inadequate NGR train order prevented the addition of services to the gaping holes in the 2014 timetables (such as the 15 minute gaps in the Ferny Grove and Cleveland Line's pm peak timetables). Successive failures by the Bligh and Newman governments to order enough trains, and failure of the Palaszczuk government to order trains for Cross River Rail (CRR) before its opening, means that yet again, QR does not have enough trains.

With a combination of insufficient trains, unreliable 40 year old EMU trains on life support, and the botched NGR trains having to be sent to Maryborough for modifications, QR have had to return to running a large number of train services with 3-car trains - half the usual train length. This is resulting in overcrowded and uncomfortable journeys for commuters on many lines, with the Ferny Grove "misery line" appearing to be the worst affected. Sources on Reddit claim that this issue may be due to industrial action by depot staff.

In a recent Channel 10 interview, MP Mark Bailey claimed that the 3-car services were due to "flu season". This claim is rubbish, as 3-car trains use the same train crew numbers as 6-car trains. Both Queensland Rail and the Queensland Government need to come clean on the cause of the current issues, plus:

  • When will the current 3-car train crisis will be resolved?
  • With no new trains arriving until at least late 2026 (more likely sometime in 2027) after CRR opens - will train services get worse on existing train lines (reduction in train length and frequency) when CRR opens?

It is obvious that things are only going to get worse before they get better. The current situation should be ringing alarm bells for the 2032 Olympic committee!

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Kuraby to Beenleigh Capacity Enhancement - is it worth the effort?

BrizCommuter has for many years been calling for capacity improvements to the Gold Coast / Beenleigh Line corridor. Somewhat surprisingly, some very decent plans for a quad tracking of the Kuraby to Beenleigh section have recently been announced. 

Project page - https://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/projects/logan-and-gold-coast-faster-rail

Screenshot: TMR website

This project known as the Logan and Gold Coast Faster Rail, or Gold Coast Rail Line Capacity Improvement Project involves the construction of 4 tracks between Kuraby and Beenleigh stations. This includes faster track sections, and multiple level crossing eliminations. This could allow for a doubling of Gold Coast peak direction services from the current 6 trains per hour per direction (tph) to 12tph, and doubling of contra-peak and off-peak Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line services from 2tph to 4tph each. Wonderful idea, but with one serious problem - the Cross River Rail (CRR) 3 track bottleneck between Dutton Park and Salisbury!

The original proposals for CRR originally included a tunnel portal at Yeerongpilly, resulting in 5 tracks between Park Road/Boggo Road and Yeerongpilly stations. With additional infrastructure, this could have allowed up to approximately 36tph (in both directions) along this section, allowing for huge capacity increases on the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and proposed Salisbury to Beaudesert Lines. 12tph of these services could have run via South Bank, and 24tph via CRR. The proposed Kuraby to Beenleigh quadruplication would have been essential to maximise system capacity, as the combined Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line services could have been allocated 24tph. 

Unfortunately, the iteration of Cross River Rail that is under construction, is limited to 3 surface tracks between the tunnel portal at Dutton Park and Salisbury. This means that only 24tph can be operated in this section, to be shared between the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and proposed Salisbury to Beaudesert Lines. All 24tph are expected to run via CRR. With 6tph allocated to the Salisbury to Beaudesert Line, this leaves 18tph for the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line. This peak direction service could actually be operated with the proposed (and now presumably abandoned) 3rd track and platform at Loganlea, signalling improvements, some additional stabling, and an additional turnback at a suitable location on the Gold Coast Line (Helensvale would have been the most optimal site). This would have allowed for 6tph Gold Coast express services, 6tph Gold Coast semi-express services (additionally serving Beenleigh to Loganlea), and 6tph Loganlea all stations services. 4tph Gold Coast semi-express and 4tph Loganlea all stations services could have been operated during the contra-peak and off-peak.

So what are the advantages of the Kuraby to Beenleigh quadruplication, compared to the considerably cheaper (Loganlea 3rd platform) option?

  • More reliability and flexibility - fewer operating constraints in this section (Loganlea turnbacks/overtaking would require close to on-time running to work).
  • Faster journey times - no need for some Gold Coast services to serve stations between Loganlea and Beenleigh, plus some track straightening.
  • Removal of level crossings - this is always a major safety advantage.

The big question is as to whether the considerably more expensive quadruplication is worth the funding compared to the cheaper option (Loganlea 3rd platform)? The most critical capacity constraint on the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line corridor will still be the 3 track section between Dutton Park and Salisbury. The failure of the CRR project to have adequate tracks on this section will an Achilles Heel for SE Queensland's rail network. Using the Tennyson Loop for some trains to bypass this section is unlikely to be able to increase capacity into Brisbane as it will add multiple conflicting train movements. Additionally, it is unknown how the slowing down of contra-peak Gold Coast Line services on this section (as they may be stuck behind all stations or empty services) will be resolved.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Brisbane 2032 Olympics - More Public Transport Required

The 2032 Olympics will be very spread out
It is looking like the 2032 Olympics is within Brisbane's reach. With Brisbane's public transport network lagging behind many other other Australian cities, BrizCommuter was rather hoping that the 2032 Olympics would finally bring a fantastic ongoing public transport legacy to SE Queensland. Sadly it is looking like the public transport legacy may be non-existent.

The current plans are here:


What transport improvements are planned?

  • Brisbane Metro - this Bus Rapid Transit "Not a Metro" system is already under construction, with the Grey St/Melbourne St intersection grade-separation sadly dropped.
  • Cross River Rail - already under construction, with limited system-wide benefits due to poor network integration.
  • G:Link phase 3 - already under construction.
  • Eastern Transitway - read "bus lanes". 
  • Beerburrum to Nambour duplication - the only pleasant surprise here.
  • Coomera Connector - another road upgrade to make up for lacking public transport.
  • M1 upgrades - another road upgrade to make up for lacking public transport.
  • Bruce Highway upgrade - another road upgrade to make up for lacking public transport.

So despite there being "zero car access" to venues, many of the stated public transport infrastructure improvements are road upgrades that parallel inadequate public transport corridors (Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast railway lines). Based on the above information, it looks like the 2032 Olympics could suffer from:

  • Heavy reliance on buses for venue access, which was disastrous at times during the 2018 Commonwealth Games, with waits of up to 2 hours after events. 
  • A repeat (from the 2018 Commonwealth Games) of the Beenleigh Line, and additionally inner-Caboolture/Redcliffe Line services being axed to allow for fast Brisbane to Gold Coast and Brisbane to Sunshine Coast services.
  • A repeat (from the 2018 Commonwealth Games) of many suburban train lines having a reduced train service to allow for frequency increases on other parts of the network due to lack of trains and drivers.
  • Inadequate train frequencies, or even no heavy rail access to/from Olympic Zones, venues, and Olympic villages.
  • Some Olympic venues and villages are a very long distance from high frequency public transport.

So what additional public transport projects are required, that would enable an efficient and environmentally responsible Olympics, as well having a useful ongoing legacy for SE Queensland commuters?

High priority requirements:

  • Beenleigh/Gold Coast Train Line Upgrade - track amplifications to allow for a >8tph bi-directional train service between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, without having the axe the Beenleigh Line service. This would have an important ongoing legacy in connecting Brisbane to the Gold Coast.
  • North West Transportation Corridor Train Line - this would allow for a >8tph bi-directional train service between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, without having to axe inner Caboolture/Redcliffe Line services. This would have an ongoing legacy for fast Brisbane to Sunshine Coast rail, plus adding multiple new train stations in Brisbane Northern suburbs.
  • Salisbury to Beaudesert Train Line - this already proposed line, enabled by Cross River Rail would allow for up to 6tph (limited by the Dutton Park to Salisbury 3 track section) to run to/from Beaudesert for bus connections to the Wyralong venue and Kooralbyn Olympic Village. 
  • Doomben Line Extension to Hamilton Northshore - this would allow for a train service to the Olympic Village, and on-going benefits of a 4tph service.
  • Cleveland Line Duplication - this much required duplication would allow for higher frequency train services to access events in Manly, plus bus connections to Redlands Whitewater Centre.
  • Sunshine Coast Line to Maroochydore - this much needed line would allow for a train service serving the Sunshine Coast Olympic Zone, and huge ongoing benefits of fast rail between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.  
  • Level Crossing Removals - a significant number of level crossing upgrades are required to support public transport frequencies required for the 2032 Olympics and ongoing public transport. 
  • More Trains and Drivers - there needs to be enough trains and drivers to operate both enhanced Olympic train services, as well as maintain the frequency of connecting train services throughout SE Queensland.

Lower priority requirements: 

  • Gold Coast Line Extension to Gold Coast Airport
  • G:Link Extension to Gold Coast Airport and Coolangatta
  • Regional Rail between Brisbane and Toowoomba

 The 2032 Olympics is a fantastic opportunity to transform SE Queensland with an improved public transport legacy. The current plans are the polar opposite. Failure to deliver, will cause transport woes and car reliance for decades to come.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

New Trains, but Not Enough

Transperth trains made in Maryborough until 2019

The good news - the Queensland Government will fund new trains for Queensland Rail's CityTrain network, to be build in Maryborough. The bad news - not enough trains have been ordered.

So why do we need more trains?

  • The current CityTrain timetable has relatively few spare trains, requiring 40 year old EMUs to keep running to cover NGR train modifications.
  • Unreliable and ageing ICE and SMU200 trains are likely to be retired soon.
  • Approximately 7 additional trains are required to make optimal use of the existing train network pre-CRR and ETCS. 
  • Approximately 40 additional trains were required to meet the (now impossible) service proposals in the Cross River Rail business case. 
  • Approximately 25 trains are required to meet the "best case" outcomes for Cross River Rail based on infrastructure available in 2025.

The initial order has has been placed at just 20 6-car trains. Taking into account the replacement of some ageing and unreliable trains, this may leave a net increase of just 12 new trains for Cross River Rail's opening. This adds to the evidence that Cross River Rail's rail operations are a shambles, and that there won't be "More Trains, More Often" to most SE Queensland commuters when Cross River Rail opens in 2025. Whilst there is an option for 45 additional trains, there isn't a great track record of adding to train orders in the last 2 decades, and by 2025 the IMU100 fleet will be nearing 30 years of age as well. 4 years is a very short period to design, build, test, and implement new trains before Cross River Rail opens, and it is thus likely Cross River Rail could open with no more trains than at present!

It can be pretty much guaranteed that if you are expecting any significant improvement to train services in Brisbane and SE Queensland during the next 5 years, and possibly even the next decade, then you will most likely be very disappointed.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Ferny Grove Heritage Railway

With Queensland Rail's new NGR trains seemingly banned from the Ferny Grove Line, and 40 year old EMU trains being regulars, here is a satirical brochure for the Ferny Grove Heritage Railway...

Take a nostalgic trip on one of the Southern Hemisphere's most historic, and not particularly long railway journeys, the Ferny Grove Heritage Railway. Relive your Brisbane childhood by travelling on 40 year old EMU trains*, and bashing your head on those weird handrails hanging from the ceiling. Whilst the old door handles have been replaced by push buttons, we have made sure that at least two consecutive door sets on each side of the train are broken and locked so that you miss your station when trying to alight. 

The Ferny Grove Heritage Railway journey starts at Bowen Hills, and the train quickly climbs up on one of the most impressive viaducts in Bowen Hills. From there you can see people getting eaten to death by sandflies on the bike path alongside Breakfast Creek. The train then continues to climb towards Windsor. No, not the one where the Queen lives, but there is a charming wooden footbridge, and the smallest house in Brisbane. Passing through Wilston, you can sometimes be entertained by people running for the train through the subway. The train only gets held if the are female and pretty. 

Hear the DC motor struggling as the EMU train ascends the lofty foothills of Newmarket, crossing the first of many ancient level crossings on this line, passing an old brickworks chimney, Newmarket Olympic Pool, and onto Alderley. You can change here, if for some bizarre reason you want to take a bus to Aspley Hyperdome. Next stop is Enoggera, where you can view a rarely used dystopian bus interchange. Buses are so infrequent, you may occasionally see a dinosaur being removed from a bus stop. Crossing Sandy Creek, and onto the curves of Gaythorne (previously known as Rifle Range). This station is so curvy, that the NGR trains are banished. 

Next stop is Mitchelton and Oxford Park, not much to see there since the Swiss restaurant closed down. The train then continues to climb to the highest altitude on Queensland Rail's network at Grovely. If you are expecting oxygen masks to drop from the ceiling, you might be disappointed, but you can bring your own. After passing through Keppera, quickly, the train descends in altitude, where you can watch retirees hitting balls with sticks on Keppera International Golf Links.  The train crosses not one, but two level crossings, plus a tributary of the mighty Kedron Brook on its final approach to the modern Ferny Grove station. 

At Ferny Grove, you can either walk across the platform and get the next train out (remembering to touch on and off), or eat a packet of chips from the vending machine whilst marvelling at car park utopia.

The Ferny Grove Heritage Railway is a fun ride for all the family day, and night. Queensland Rail even offer a Ghost Train tour, the 6:40am from Ferny Grove to Park Road, as this train rarely makes it to its intended destination.

* note: Heritage EMU trains may very rarely be swapped for a train at least 10 years old at short notice, but don't worry you won't end up on one of those mouldy new NGRs.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Cross River Rail - Not "More Trains, More Often"

 Cross River Rail's (CCR) advertising slogan "More Trains, More Often" was recently replaced with
"Transforming the way we travel". This is no surprise to BrizCommuter and other rail experts who have questioned CRR's ability to significantly increase trains services throughout SE Queensland in its current form, since project iterations and budget cuts removed critical infrastructure required to maximise the effectiveness of CRR. 

Base diagram designed by timh (click to enlarge)

Unlike new train tunnels in London, Auckland, Sydney, and Melbourne, where the proposed peak train services frequencies (in trains per hour per direction - tph) are publicly available, this information is unavailable for Cross River Rail. Whilst such a map was available in the Cross River Rail business case, changes to the track layouts at Mayne (near Bowen Hills) mean that the diagram is now out of date, with line pairings and expected train service frequencies no longer possible.

As the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority is keeping things hidden from the public, rail enthusiasts have had to step in to create a chart of expected line pairings are shown on the base image, helpfully created by Rail Back on Track member timh. BrizCommuter's expected line pairings, and maximum possible 2025 am peak inbound frequencies (based on currently funded or expected infrastructure) are as follows:

  • Sunshine Coast/Caboolture (12tph) & Redcliffe (12tph) to/from Gold Coast (12tph) & Beenleigh (6tph) (plus provision for future Salisbury-Beaudesert Line 6tph) via CRR.
  • Shorncliffe/Northgate (8tph) & Airport (4tph) & Doomben (2tph) to/from Ipswich/Rosewood (12tph) & Springfield (12tph) via Mains Tracks. 
  • Ferny Grove (8tph) to/from Cleveland (8tph) via Suburban Tracks - yep, that's 16tph of unused track capacity!

It is quite likely that due to insufficient trains, train crew, funding, and lack of political willpower that some of these frequencies may not be possible in 2025. 

So why isn't Cross River Rail able to offer "More Trains, More Often"?

  • No additional Northside tracks - as there are no addition tracks on Brisbane's Northside due to budget cuts, it is now a case of shifting which trains go where. There may be 20% increases to frequency on the Caboolture and Redcliffe Lines, but this due to new ETCS signalling, and not CRR. 
  • Restrictive track layouts at Mayne - changes to the track layouts at Mayne to save money, will force all Caboolture and Redcliffe services through CRR, and will leave the Suburban tracks idling with just 8tph through the city (down from 22tph). 
  • Salisbury to Dutton Park 3 track limitations - the Achilles heel of Cross River Rail, means that up to 24tph contra-peak services will have to fit on one track, this will slow down contra-peak express services, and also prevents contra-peak services to/from the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line (and eventually Salisbury-Beaudesert Line) corridor travelling via South Bank (in normal operation).
  • Capacity required for Salisbury to Beaudesert Line - this proposed line will require at least 6tph train paths in the peak. Due to the Salisbury to Dutton Park 3 track limitation, this will eat into the capacity available for the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Lines. 
  • Beenleigh Line track capacity limitations - whilst the proposed 3rd track at Loganlea may allow for a significant increase in Gold Coast Line services, it may also curtail the Beenleigh Line to Loganlea. This means that the Gold Coast Line may need 2 tiers of services - express and semi-express, and possibly additional turnback capacity. Gold Coast Line commuters need to be informed as to what will happen to their train services!
  • Cleveland Line single track - one of the benefits of CRR was that it would allow for significant increases to train services on the Cleveland Line. However, this is only possible if there is a partial or full duplication, and/or additional turnback capacity at Manly or Lota. As this is not funded, the Cleveland Line is likely to keep its infrequent and unreliable form for many years after CRR opens. 
  • Less trains via South Bank - if the Cleveland Line is not duplicated, and due to all Gold Coast/Beenleigh services running via CRR, then there is likely to be a decrease in train services running through South Bank section (Roma Street to Park Road) which serves many businesses, hotels, hospitals, and tertiary education facilities. 
  • Un-electrified 4th track between Corinda and Darra - whilst this doesn't directly affect CRR train services, service frequency increases on the Ipswich and Springfield Line have been included in the CRR business case. These service increases would be due to ETCS and not CRR. Unfortunately the lack of 4th electrified track between Corinda and Darra, and lack of 4th platform at Oxley may throw a spanner in the works of these proposed service increases. 
  • Sufficient trains and crew - to increase train services for CRR, you need more trains and more train crew. The new trains (NNGRs?) have not been ordered, and it takes many years to grow train crew staffing. BrizCommuter is very concerned!

To conclude: 

  • Expected train service frequency increases on the Gold Coast, Caboolture, Redcliffe, Ipswich, and Springfield Lines could have been possible from ETCS (plus additional turnback capacity), and didn't require CRR. 
  • Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line services may have significant stopping pattern and terminus changes, with frequency and journey time improvements not universal. 
  • CRR does allow for the future addition of the Salisbury to Beaudesert Line, but with only 6tph due to the 3 track restriction between Dutton Park and Salisbury.
  • CRR does allow for the future addition of the North West Transportation Corridor, but via the painfully slow inner-Ferny Grove Line. The NWTC is however still "pie in the sky".
  • Train services via South Bank could decrease until the Cleveland Line is eventually duplicated. 
  • Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Airport, Doomben, and Cleveland Lines are unlikely to see any service improvements without further infrastructure projects. 
  • Due to lack of trains, we are unlikely to see significant train service improvements before CRR. 

"More Trains, More Often" - you can see why the slogan was dropped!