Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Visions of the future

Today the Queensland Government announced the long awaited "Connecting SEQ 2031: An Integrated Regional Transport Plan". 

A high resolution version of the plan is here:
The full government statement is here:
The plans for new rail infrastructure include:
  • A 15km rail line between Alderley and Strathpine along the Trouts Rd corridor
  • Extensions to Maroochydore, Coolangatta, Moreton Bay Rail Link, Springfield, Ripley, and Flagstone.
  • Extending the Gold Coast Rapid Transit project to Coolangatta.
  • A 8km Inner City Metro from Toowong to West End to Newstead/Bowen Hills.

Provision for future rail extensions:
  • Doomben Line to Hamilton North Shore.
  • Flagstone to Beaudesert.
  • Ripley to Springfield.

New train services will include:
  • UrbanLink 15 min frequency off-peak services between 6am and 9pm to Ferny Grove, Loganlea, Strathpine, Manly, Redbank, Shorncliffe, and Springfield. 
  • ExpressLink services to Ipswich, Rosewood, Ripley, Caboolture, Kippa-Ring, Cleveland, Flagstone, and Ormeau.
  • CoastLink services with 160kph tilt trains to Nambour, Maroochydore, and Coolangatta.

These are BrizCommuter's opinions of the rail developments based upon the plans provided from todays government statement:
  • There needs to be a good timeframe for these projects. Rail capacity needs to be provided slightly ahead of demand, not after the point at which trains have become so crowded that commuters have got fed up and gone back to driving. With a recent history of half-baked rail infrastructure projects in Queensland, BrizCommuter is pessimistic about these plans being fully achieved in a decent timeframe.
  • 15 minutes off-peak services and no peak waits of more than 15 minutes are required immediately, otherwise rail patronage will continue to decline as it has in the last year.
  • Considerable infrastructure will be required to cope with these extra services. The most notable being Cross River Rail, and extra tracks on the Gold Coast/Beenleigh corridor. The current 3 tracks to Kuraby and 2 tracks beyond Kuraby can barely cope with current peak service patterns. 
  • Even with the addition of Cross River Rail, with all of these additional lines and services there may be insufficient track capacity through the CBD. Thus the Inner City Metro would be more useful as a through route for UrbanLink services rather than as a self-contained metro. 
  • Routing the Inner City Metro via UQ should be considered. 
  • Rail along the Trouts Road corridor is a very good move. This area is a public transport black-hole, and a huge catchment area exists for this new rail line. Shame that a highway will also be along the route. 
  • The diagram in the Brisbane Times shows CoastLink to Sunshine Coast, UrbanLink to Strathpine, and UrbanLink to Ferny Grove services all using the Ferny Grove Line between Bowen Hills and Alderley. If this diagram is correct, then extra tracks would be required from Bowen Hills to Alderley.  More than 2 tracks would be required along the Trouts Road LIne to allow CoastLink services to overtake UrbanLink services. BrizCommuter can also see routing issues in the Bowen Hills area, in particular getting the CoastLink services from the Cross River Rail Line onto the Ferny Grove Line, ExpressLink services from the Cross River Rail Line onto the Caboolture Line, as well  as Ferny Grove UrbanLink services from the existing suburban tracks. This bit of the plan seems rather messy!

Update - The plans is now publicly available in 2 parts (links should work again now):

Monday, August 30, 2010

Converting Busway to Light Rail - the reality

Brisbane Tram
Every so often (often around election time), light rail, tram fanatics, and politicians come up with the idea of converting the busways to light rail operation. BrizCommuter has a look at the reality of this move.

In a Courier Mail article in August 2007, it was stated that the Cultural Centre stop handled 179 inbound buses per hour (bph) in the am peak, and the busiest part of the South East Busway handled 294bph. It can only be assumed that in 2010 even more buses are being run on the SE Busway. As far as BrizCommuter is aware, no light rail system can currently handle more than around 40 trains per hour (tph).  So assuming each of these 294 buses has a capacity of 65 passengers (which is an underestimate as many buses are higher capacity bendy-buses), then a light rail system running at 40tph would need trams that could carry at least 478 passengers just to match the current capacity of the busway. This would require a tram so long, that it would be the worlds longest tram at around 71m, and would also exceed the length of some busway stations such as Mater Hill. 

The cost of converting the busway to light rail would be considerable, and could take funds away from other public transport infrastructure projects such as fixing the under-utilised rail system. Even with the large expenditure, the busway would still be able to handle more passengers with buses than if it was converted to light rail.  This does not help the case for light rail conversion!

There have been suggestions of mixed mode operation, where buses and trams would share the same corridor. There are a few locations where this occurs, notably in Seattle. For starters the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel runs at a lower capacity than Brisbane's South East Busway. Mixed mode operation would decrease capacity at Cultural Centre, as trams being fixed to a track, cannot manoeuvre around another bus in a similar way that buses can easily manoeuvre around another bus. Anyone who has observed Cultural Centre bus station in operation can see the usefulness of the manoeuvrability of buses.  Seattle's system also has issues with bus wing mirror heights, that result in 16kph speed restrictions in the stations. Again, this would further decrease capacity.

Light rail conversion would allow for a very frequent service on the core busway route, but passengers travelling from locations away from the busway would have to change onto a feeder bus service. If this feeder service was no more frequent than the existing one seat journey into the city, then it would be considerably less attractive to passengers due to the additional change and resulting extra journey time. 

Given that the Eastern Busway will add even more buses onto the "almost congested" South East Busway, then future busway capacity is a major issue. The latest SEQIPP plan includes the "CBD Bus Infrastructure Capacity Program" between 2011 and 2020, although there seems to be little information of what this project entails. Certainly major changes at the Melbourne Street/Grey Street intersection will be required. Running more buses across the Captain Cook Bridge could be an option, maybe with bus lanes? A bridge paralleling the Victoria Bridge may well be required in the not too distant future to handle more public transport vehicles crossing the river. Whilst busway capacity enhancements are required, and light rail may help some of Brisbane's public transport problems, converting the existing busways to light rail is unlikely to be the answer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Bridge to Brisbane, to long wait...

This Sunday is the Bridge to Brisbane event, where around 55,000 people run or walk either 10km or 5km, arriving at the RNA Show Grounds. An average runner would take around 55 mins to run the 10km, which is almost as long as they could then wait to get a train home!

Plenty of extra trains are being provided to get people to the start line. But for runners wanting to get home, the news isn't so good. Considering runners will start finishing from around 6:45am, the options to get home are poor, especially if you live on the Ferny Grove Line. The Ferny Grove Line only has an hourly service (from Fortitude Valley) until 10:35am! Shorncliffe has hourly trains until 8:24am, Cleveland Line until 08:41am, Beenleigh until 7:55am, and Ipswich until 8:00am. So why do those travelling on the Ferny Grove Line, have to endure a pathetic hourly service for an extra 2 hours?

What makes this even more odd, is that trains run half-hourly inbound from Ferny Grove from 8:28am. So, empty outbound trains must be running to Ferny Grove out of service, whilst tired out runners are left behind on the platforms. Given that many passengers using public transport after the Bridge to Brisbane are not regular public transport users (this is obvious from the 30 min ticket queue at Fortitude Valley last year), this terrible train service can only further damage the image of public transport in Brisbane.

Brisbane's half-hourly off-peak train service is poor, and well behind many other cities including Perth and Melbourne. Yet in Brisbane, passengers such as shift workers, travelling late at night and Sunday mornings, have to endure hourly gaps between services. Queensland Transport, TransLink, and QR - this is not good enough!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Cross River Rail 2 vs Brisbane Inner City Metro

Prague Metro
Whilst the Cross River Rail project appears to be progressing, there is much confusion as to what is coming in the 2020s. The Inner City Rail Capacity Study - Pre Feasibility Report (2008) showed that by 2016 the first Cross River Rail tunnel was required to relieve capacity from the South (in particular the Gold Coast Line), and that by 2026 a second tunnel will be required to relieve rail capacity from the West (Ipswich and Springfield Lines). For the purposes of this article, I'll call the second tunnel Cross River Rail 2. Both tunnels would link with the existing heavy rail network, and allow for  increased rail capacity for commuters travelling from the suburbs to the inner-city, and also allow for journeys across the inner-city with a "metro like" service.

However, the Queensland Government also have another project on their website called the Brisbane Inner City Metro.
Within the CBD this line is planned to run along a similar route to Cross River Rail 2, but doesn't appear to connect to the existing rail network. A self-contained Inner City Metro would not solve Brisbane's biggest transport issue, which is to transport commuters from the suburban urban sprawl into the inner-city. Yes, it may be possible for passengers to change from the Queensland Rail network onto the Inner City Metro at locations such as Toowong, but this wouldn't help if the Ipswich/Springfield Line is full to capacity before the trains get to Toowong! There is some argument for metros allowing for closer spaced stations that heavy rail, but in reality few modern metros are built with stations spaced closer than 800-1000m anyway due to the huge cost of station construction. A heavy metro station built to 9-car trains, and with entrances at both ends could cover the area served by 2 metro stations. It would also be a huge waste of money to build both Cross River Rail 2 and Brisbane Inner City Metro along similar alignments.

BrizCommuter can see little argument for the Brisbane Inner City Metro as currently planned. Cross River Rail 2 would kill two birds with one stone  as it would cater for suburb to inner-city and inner-city to inner-city journeys. Many other major cities already run suburban heavy rail services through the inner-city in tunnels. Paris' RER system took heavy rail suburban rail lines that previously terminated at rail termini on the edge of the city, and connected them via inner city rail tunnels. Tokyo Metro offers reciprocal through services where suburban rail services can (instead of terminating) join a metro line, run through the inner-city along the metro tracks, and then in some cases continue onto another suburban rail line at the other end.  London is planning CrossRail, which will connect suburban rail lines on opposite sides of London. Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin S-Bahns also allow heavy rail suburban lines to run "metro like" services through the inner-city.

If the Trouts Road Line ever sees the light of day (it has been seen in at least one Queensland Government document), it could change the future routing of Cross River Rail 2, which could then allow for the Brisbane Inner City Metro. Other routing options for Cross River Rail 2 also need to be considered, in particular serving the University of Queensland. BrizCommuter hopes that any future decisions concerning Brisbane's rail network are based on accurate independent research.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


Alderley Station
It's pretty obvious to see that rail infrastructure in SE Queensland is severely lacking. Yet, whenever there is a major new rail infrastructure, only the bare minimum seems to get built. (Re-) Building the Gold Coast Line with a single track being a prime example of short sighted stupidity. Whilst there isn't an endless pot of money for infrastructure projects, the cost of having to restart a project to finish it properly would cost far more than getting the project completed properly in the first place. BrizCommuter had a look at some of the most recent half-baked projects:

Ferny Grove Line duplication

The Ferny Grove Line was duplicated from Mitchelton to Keperra in 2008, with a promise of an increase in peak services. In reality, as the single track section from Keperra to Ferny Grove remained, the peak service frequency on the line increased from 7tph, to the grand total of 7tph. Stations between Alderley (photographed) and Windsor have no better am peak frequency than occurred with steam trains in the 1950s (at 5tph). The post duplication pm peak timetable even reduced the service to Gaythorne and Enoggera (7tph to 4tph). The Keperra to Ferny Grove duplication will not be finished until 2012. In the mean time patronage is reported to be decreasing on the Ferny Grove Line, most likely due to a mediocre timetable, lack of new services, and large fare increases.

Salisbury to Kuraby triplication

This triplication opened in 2008, and was required to allow peak Gold Coast express services to overtake peak Beenleigh/Kuraby all stations trains. With 15 minute off-peak timetables looming (in commuters dreams), according to the Inner City Rail Capacity Study - Rail Operation Review (2008) 4 tracks are required between Banoon and Dutton Park. Otherwise off-peak and reverse-peak Gold Coast expresses will have to be slowed by 4 minutes. Of course we all know which is cheaper! The Inner City Rail Capacity Study also stated that a 4th platform is required at Kuraby to reverse peak services by 2010. It is now 2010, and neither the 4th track or 4th platform at Kuraby are mentioned in the SEQIPRAIL plan. This is not good for both Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line commuters.  

Corinda to Darra quadruplication

Four tracks are being added between Corinda and Darra, from where a new spur line to Richlands (and eventually Springfield) is being constructed. This would have been a great opportunity to split the Ipswich line into express services to Ipswich on one track pair, and all stations services to Richlands on the other track pair. Unfortunately, to save a bit of money, one of the extra tracks has not been electrified, making it a freight only track. This will severely impact upon the frequency and reliability of train services that can be run to Richlands as the third track will operate in similar way to a single track section.  Why do we have an essential rail infrastructure project to Richlands with a bottleneck between Corinda and Darra? BrizCommuter is disgusted by this short sighted lack of electrification!

Whilst on the subject of rail to Springfield, it is likely that the delayed Springfield Line will be built without stations at Ellen Grove and Springfield Lakes. This is not going to help reduce car culture in suburbia, nor attract people in these areas to using the new rail line. BrizCommuter wonders if the Queensland Government is at all serious about attracting people to public transport?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Busway to RBWH - one year old

RBWH Busway Station
Happy 1st Birthday to the Inner Northern Busway to RBWH. The extension of the busway from RCH Herston to RBWH opened in August last year, and until the overcrowding issue was fixed in late February 2010, was one of TransLink's biggest stuff-ups.

Before the Inner Northern Busway opened between Roma Street and King George Square in 2008, the Inner Northern Busway service was somewhat sporadic, consisting of the 330, 333, 340, and 393. Frequency wasn't great,  with am peak outbound and pm peak inbound buses regularly filling to capacity with QUT Kelvin Grove students, leaving many students waiting on the platforms at QUT Kelvin Grove.

When the Inner Northern Busway opened to Roma Street and King George Square in 2008, the 66 bus route was created which ran from Wooloongabba to QUT Kelvin Grove. This reduced the overcrowding for QUT Kelvin Grove students. Unfortunately, the 393 bus which ran from Tenerife to Roma Street was stunted to Normanby. This reduced the bus service along the Inner Northern Busway to RCH Herston and RBWH. At RCH Herston, long waits between bus services became the norm, and overcrowding increased with many inbound pm peak buses filling to capacity at or before RCH Herston. Many hospital workers were also unable to board the outbound am peak buses to RCH Herston and RBWH because because they filled to capacity with QUT Students.

Roll on August 2009, the opening of the busway to RBWH, and the long awaited extension of the 66 to RBWH. Except the 66 wasn't extended to RBWH as expected. The increase in patronage at the newly opened RBWH busway station made the overcrowding problems even worse. Now many, if not most inbound pm peak 330, 333, and 340 buses filled to capacity at RBWH, resulting in passengers being left behind at both RBWH and RCH Herston. Average waits for an inbound pm peak service at RCH Herston was around 25 minutes, with reports of waits of more than 50 minutes! Just to add insult to injury, many empty out of service buses passed these frustrated commuters. Many users of RCH Herston stopped using public transport and went back to driving. The reputation of public transport for Herston hospital workers was severely damaged. Given that the Herston hospital campus has well known severe parking issues, this was a great opportunity to convert people to public transport wasted!

Finally, in late February 2010, TransLink eventually extended to 66 to RBWH. This almost instantly eliminated overcrowding and full buses at RBWH and RCH Herston. It also reduced the average waiting time for a bus at RBWH and RCH Herston to just a few minutes. However, the Inner Northern Busway is already close to requiring extra capacity, with the 66 often at capacity after departing QUT Kelvin Grove. In the university holidays when the 66's frequency is halved in the peaks, full buses are still regularly occurring.

BrizCommuter hopes that TransLink and Queensland Transport have learnt lessons from this stuff-up, and that in future enough services are planned and funded to use newly opened infrastructure.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Anatomy of a Go Card

X-ray of go card
Here is an exclusive x-ray image of the anatomy of a Go Card (or go card as TransLink like to typeset it).

The Go Card is a radio-frequency identification (RFID) smart card, which upon detecting a radio signal from the reader, transmits a unique identifying code back to the reader. This allows a computer to know the cards location, and either start a journey or charge the appropriate fare.  The microchip can clearly be identified. The long antenna wrapping itself just inside the edge of the card is also quite noticeable. The Go Card was originally (and ? still is) a MiFare Classic smart card made by NXP Semiconductors.

The MiFare Classic smart card has been linked to serious security flaws after having been cracked by a Dutch University in 2008. There was plenty of fuss in the press about this back in 2008, but nothing in the news since. BrizCommuter would like to know what TransLink have done about this security risk? Have newer models of smart cards such as the MiFare DESFire been introduced by TransLink? Have any extra security measures been taken by TransLink for passengers using the MiFare Classic smart cards?

Whilst on the subject of the Go Card, BrizCommuter is happy to see that TransLink have recently solved two issues with the Go Card. The first being the long awaited introduction of online applications to get refunds, and the second being the bright orange wrap to make Go Card readers more noticeable. Both of these should have been in place since the introduction of the Go Card.

Now TransLink seriously need to fix the rip-off fare structure which penalises those who use public transport regularly. The current fare structure with it's lack of daily and periodic capping does not encourage the frequent use of public transport. Surely this is the opposite of TransLink's purpose? 

Thursday, August 5, 2010


It's Ekka time, the time of year when people who are too lazy to walk 5 minutes from Bowen Hills or Fortitude Valley stations, pay extra to take a train around the Exhibition Loop to Exhibition Station. It's also the time of year that train fanatics ask themselves why the Exhibition Loop and Exhibition Station cannot be used by passenger trains year round. 

There is good reason why running year round train services around the Ekka Loop does not make sense. Without making conflicting moves (i.e. trains crossing the paths of other train services) trains can only run in an anti-clockwise direction around the loop, as per the special Ekka train service. Running services from Ipswich or Caboolture to Brisbane and reversing via the loop (e.g. Ipswich to Ipswich via Ekka Loop) is technically possible, but would add conflicting moves where trains enter and exit the loop. These conflicting moves would reduce network reliability and capacity compared to the current service patterns. Running services from other lines via the loop would add even more conflicting moves to the system as they have to cross the Ipswich/Caboolture Line. 

What about services that currently start or terminate at Roma Street and run via the loop to/from Mayne yards? Could these stop at Exhibition? There would be reasonably frequent services to Exhibition during parts of the peak periods, but at other times services would be somewhat sporadic unless changes are made to the line pairings or service patterns. There would also be considerable costs to rebuild Exhibition station to allow sufficient access to Bowen Bridge Rd. Given that the nearby RBWH and RCH are now served by the Inner Northern Busway, would this really be cost effective?

However, it's not all bad. The much needed Cross River Rail is currently expected to surface near Victoria Park, and run along the Exhibition Line alignment to join the existing rail lines north of Bowen Hills. Extra tracks, and a grade-separated junction around Mayne would be required to allow for sufficient track capacity. A rebuilt Exhibition station would then almost definitely become a year round station, serving the redeveloped RNA showgrounds. It may also allow for the elimination of the special Exhibition Loop services, allowing for more capacity on the main tracks (currently used by Ipswich/Caboolture Line) through the CBD, and extra capacity on the Exhibition Line for freight services bypassing the CBD. Surely a win-win situation!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Mind the gap

Mind The Gap
In London, the often heard "mind the gap" announcement refers to the gap between the tube trains and the platforms. In Brisbane it has a whole different meaning…

TransLink's 2006/2007 network plan states that the peak service provision guideline for outer-suburban rail stations is a train every 20 minutes. TransLink's definition of outer-suburban is rather odd. It means that Buranda, Dutton Park, and Windsor are classed as outer-suburban stations, despite only being a few km from the CBD. 

20 minutes peak frequency is very poor compared to many other cities with suburban rail systems. These large service gaps and irregular frequencies in the peak periods are a major deterrent to people using rail, and also a deterrent to using public transport if there is no frequent bus alternative. Just to add insult to injury, QR have managed to timetable peak gaps in excess of TransLink's 20 minute peak service guideline at many stations within a 15km of the CBD on the Ferny Grove, Cleveland, Caboolture, Shorncliffe, and Beenleigh Lines. Even on parts of the network classified by Translink as inner-suburban (Park Rd & Corinda to Northgate), with a 10 minute peak service guideline, there are peak service gaps of up to 19 minutes. It's just not good enough! 

BrizCommuter would like to see all train stations (Doomben Line and Tennyson excluded) within at least a 15km radius of Central have a peak frequency of at least every 15 minutes, with an aim towards eventually achieving a "turn up and go" 10 minute peak frequency. Lets hope that TransLink's 2010 network plan, and QR's eagerly awaited 2011 timetables result in considerably improved peak services than at present.