Saturday, May 28, 2011

Do we really still need guards on trains?

Melbourne - no guards required!
Some of BrizCommuter's readers may have noticed that Brisbane is stuck in a railway timewarp, with infrequent train services, the use of guards, and apparently no automatic train protection (ATP) - oh dear! One of the largest financial costs involved with the operation of railways is staffing, and thus it is not rocket science that having two members of staff on board a train increases the running costs per train service. If the funding spent of guards could be re-used for more drivers to be utilised on 15 minute off-peak services, and more visible security staff, then we may have an increasingly safe, frequent, and efficient train network.

Many other rail networks have already eliminated guards. In Australia, rail networks in Perth, Melbourne, and even a large country town - Adelaide, have eliminated guards. On London Underground, London Overground, and London's C2C network, guards have also been eliminated. Even in Japan, where the is no lack of staffing on the rail networks, there have been recent moves to increase the use driver only operation. CCTV cameras, displays (either on platform end displays, or in-cab), and mirrors are used to display the platform images to the driver. Before stuck in their ways Queenslanders say "we can't do that", it should be noted driver only operation is in use with curved platforms, platform/door gaps, platform view obstructions, sun, rain, snow, and hail. One thorn in the side of driver only operation, is the lack of ATP on Brisbane's suburban rail system. No ATP means that there is little to prevent a train overrunning a red signal other than driver awareness. Thus utmost concentration is required to ensure safety. Would remembering to get the ramp out at Sunshine for Mrs Bloggs to alight from the train really decrease this concentration?

Changes that would need to be made with driver only operation, would include the installation of CCTV, displays, and mirrors at the platform end. Waiting positions for those that require assistance would be moved to the end of the platforms. Ideally, raised sections of platforms to improve access would be built at the end of platforms instead of in the middle as at present. Installing automated announcements, and next station LCD displays on trains would also be useful, and reduce the number of tasks required of the driver. The drivers would have to be trained in assisting disabled passengers onto the first carriage with the use of ramps.

BrizCommuter thinks that Brisbane should start to move towards driver only operation with its obvious financial efficiencies, and ATP with its obvious safety advantages. The latter should be integrated with higher capacity signalling improvements required due to the delay of Cross River Rail. However, as with any progress on SE Queensland's rail network, BrizCommuter is pessimistic that we will see any change soon.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

If you though Brisbane level crossings were bad!

If you thought that Brisbane's level crossings were bad, this You Tube video will make you think again! The video shows a level crossing at Totsuka, near Yokohama, Japan. The boom gates stay down for 70 minutes, only raise for 6 seconds, and then stay down for another 30 minutes in the morning peak! The video is sped up at x10 speed. The 6 tracks handle services on the busy Tokaido Main Line, Yokosuka Line, and Shonan-Shinjuku Line.

How is this relevant to SE Queensland's rail system? Well, it seems that nearly everyday there is yet another level crossing incident in Brisbane's suburbs. Most QR CityTrain lines have level crossings with a high incident rate. These incidents are caused by a combination of both idiotic motorists, and dangerous road layouts around the site of the level crossing. This situation is only going to be made worse by increasing train frequencies. For example, the Caboolture Line will from June, be running 18tph in the am peak direction, which aside from a few gaps, will result in trains running every 3 minutes towards Brisbane. This means that level crossings will have the boom gates down even more frequently than at present, increasing the risk of crossing accidents, which have, and can be fatal! 

Back to Japan, since the 1960s there have been laws in place to aid the elimination of level/grade crossings that rarely open, by either building road bridges, or elevating the railway line to reduce the accident rate. This has been quite successful, with many of the worst level crossings having been eliminated, or currently being eliminated. Unfortunately, in SE Queensland, despite there being a priority list of level crossings to be eliminated (mainly on the Caboolture and Ferny Grove Lines), there is little action being taken by the cash strapped state government to actually build the required road bridges. BrizCommuter would like to see the highest priority level crossings eliminated with some urgency before a fatal commuter train vs vehicle crash occurs. These are the only road infrastructure projects which BrizCommuter sees as requiring prioritisation! In the mean time, penalties for motorists running around closed boom gates or obstructing crossings need to be increased. Instead of a $100 fine and a slap on the wrist, how about a loss of driving license, heavy fine, and recovery of resulting damages? Maybe, cameras need to be installed to catch out dangerous drivers, or highlight where poor road layouts may be increasing risks? BrizCommuter is very concerned that if the state government continues to drag their heels on level crossing upgrades, then there will be blood on their hands if a fatal train/vehicle collision occurs!

A Fair Go, or a Fine Ticket?

From May 30th TransLink will increase the fixed fare from $5 to $10 on trains, $3 to $5 on buses and ferries, and $30 on the world's worst airport train service.
The fixed fare occurs if a user does not swipe on and off - this may be deliberate, accidental, due to common technical issues such as failed go card readers, or if the journey cancellation time has been exceeded when train services are suspended. From the latest TransLink Tracker it was obvious that there are some serious issues with go card usage. More than 3% of journeys result in a fixed fare. The number of fixed fares was approx. x100 more than the number of fixed fare refunds. This is likely to be due to a combination of fare evasion (as the fixed fare was less than the single fare to many destinations), passengers that have not known that they've incurred a fix fare, and passengers that do know they've incurred a fixed fare but have not claimed a refund for many reasons.

BrizCommuter would like a few questions answered:

  • Will TransLink automatically correct fixed fares caused by known failures or incidents? E.g if a bus go card reader fails during a journey, will all fixed fares due to passengers not being able to swipe off be automatically corrected? Otherwise, could it be argued that TransLink are defrauding passengers by not automatically refunding?
  • What happens if a fixed fare occurs during a transfer through no fault of the passenger, which puts them in negative balance and unable to start the next leg of their journey? Will TransLink leave them behind, or force them to fork out for an overpriced paper ticket?
  • Will TransLink allow people to correct fixed fares caused by genuine forgetfulness? BrizCommuter recently forgot to swipe off after having to fight his way off a dangerously overcrowded route 66 bus before the doors closed!
  • Will TransLink allow people to correct fixed fares caused by them not noticing a red light / "please swipe again" message. These seem to be increasing in frequency!
  • Will TransLink make it easier to find the webpage to claim fixed fare refunds. It recently took BrizCommuter 10 minutes to find the web page!!
  • Will TransLink increase go card use education? BrizCommuter has recently observed passengers swiping on with the same card twice for two passengers, not swiping off for a bus transfer, and trying to swipe the go card against the arrow lights at fare gates. 
  • Whilst TransLink are complaining about how much they are loosing to fare evasion, how much are TransLink making from passengers who have not reclaimed fixed fares incurred through no fault of their own?
Whilst BrizCommuter is strongly against fare evasion, BrizCommuter is not convinced that TransLink are giving law abiding commuters a fair go when it comes to reclaiming fixed fares. The pain caused by go card reader failures, coupled with resulting higher fixed fares, may deter even more passengers from using public transport. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Moreton Bay Rail Link fast tracked.

It has been reported in this Courier Mail article, that the Moreton Bay Rail Link (MBRL) from Petrie to Kippa-Ring will be fast tracked in the federal budget. No new timeframe was mentioned. $133m of funding will be brought forward, with $30m of that to be spent this financial year. BrizCommuter can only assume that the other benefactors of the project will also bring forward their funding. Whilst this is excellent news for long suffering (circa 100 years) Redcliffe commuters, BrizCommuter is concerned about the lack of rail capacity through the CBD to support this project, particularly as the MBRL will open at least 4 years before Cross River Rail. The peak MBRL train services will probably be an extension of the Petrie starting services, of which there will be from June, up to 9tph in the am peak. These will alternate with Caboolture/Nambour starting services, resulting in up to 18tph running on just two tracks between Northgate and Roma Street, through Central #5. This is pretty much the maximum capacity of the "mains" tracks. Hopefully the June 2011 timetables will reduce overcrowding enough, so that despite patronage growth before MBRL opens, there is still spare capacity for MBRL commuters to be added to the system. If any of these services are overcrowded after the June 2011 timetables, then it won't bode too well for commuters using the Kippa-Ring services!

Transferring services from the "mains" to the "suburbans" tracks south of  Northgate will not help matters, as the next "suburbans" timetable (occurring who knows when?) is likely to fill up most track slots with services from Shorncliffe, Doomben, Airport, and Ferny Grove. The opening of Cross River Rail will allow for some (suboptimal) track swapping in the vicinity of Bowen Hills, freeing up track slots through the CBD. Combined with a duplication and extra services to Shorncliffe, this will allow Caboolture/Nambour/Kippa-Ring services to skip stations between Northgate and Albion. This will free up more spare capacity on Caboolture/Nambour/Kippa-Ring services despite there being no increase in service frequency.

Cross River Rail will also provide more rail capacity for rail services to another urban sprawl central - Flagstone new town. Failure to provide decent public transport to this satellite town within a reasonable timeframe will result in yet more car dependence. There is thus little question that Cross River Rail needs to be urgently brought forward as well as the MBRL!

In other news, this Courier Mail story mentions that the car obsessed and public transport phobic Brisbane City Council, has passed new planning guidelines to increase the number of car parking spaces in new commercial and residential developments. Whilst planned increases in population density are welcomed by BrizCommuter (urban sprawl is not the solution!), the expectation that cars will be primary mode of transport for high density dwellers is yet another step towards Brisbane having an unsustainable transport future!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Long Distance Commuting - Part 2

Tokaido Main Line  CC: Chabata_K
In Part 1 of Long Distance Commuting, it was shown that Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast commuters travelling into Brisbane, are paying considerably less than commuters travelling similar distances into London and Tokyo. Given this recent blog post showing that inner-city Brisbane commuters are paying far more than most of their international counterparts, BrizCommuter decided to investigate whether longer distance commuters are being heavily subsidised by shorter distance commuters and the Queensland taxpayer.

All fares are for the cheapest available turn up and go single fares for peak journeys. London prices are using National Rail fares for 45km and 90km journeys and London Overground Watford Line OysterCard fares for journeys of 5km and 10km unless mentioned otherwise. Tokyo is using Japan Rail (JR) base fares (local and rapid services) unless mentioned otherwise. Fares shown are in Australian Dollars, with exchange rates as of 08/05/2011. Percentage variance to Brisbane fares are shown.

5km peak journey to:
Brisbane - $3.11
London - $3.06   -1.6%
Tokyo - $1.74   -44%

10km peak journey to:
Brisbane - $3.68
London - $4.13   +12%
Tokyo - $2.20   -40%

45km peak journey to:
Brisbane - $6.21
London -  $12.90   +108%
Tokyo - $9.00   +44%
Tokyo (Limited Express) - $23.42   +277%

90km peak journey to:
Brisbane - $10.35
London - $38.86   +275%
London (High Speed 1) - $46.51   +349%
Tokyo - $18.78   +81%
Tokyo (Limited Express) - $35.35   +242%
Tokyo (Shinkansen) - $41.00   +296%

It should be noted that unlike in SE Queensland, season tickets are also available for commutes into London and Tokyo. London's have large potential savings, whilst Tokyo's savings are minimal. On the flip side, daily car park prices at UK train stations also often cost far more than a 90km SE Queensland commute!

It is pretty obvious from these results that Brisbane inner-city commuters are hard done by at the fare box compared to their London and Tokyo counterparts. This situation is made worse by the pretty abysmal rail frequencies to many inner-city destinations. On the other hand, long distance SE Queensland commuters have relatively cheap fares compared to their international counterparts, although their train service isn't particularly great either. So are taxpayers, and those with the common sense to live near to where they work, heavily subsidising those who wish to live the coast lifestyle and commute long distances? Well it certainly seems to be the case. Why should inner-city dwellers be financially punished for those who take advantage of SE Queensland's unsustainable urban sprawl? Certainly questions need to be asked of both TransLink's fare structure, and SE Queensland's urban planning.

This comparison also shows that if Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast commuters wish to have rail infrastructure projects that will result in faster, more frequent, and in the case of the Sunshine Coast more direct services, then maybe the fare structure needs to be re-skewed so that long distance commuters pay more of their share of the fare box?

Long Distance Commuting - Part 1

Shinkansen in Tokyo
A recent article in the mX newspaper mentioned a Sunshine Coast commuter who is considering moving closer to Brisbane due to the high fares and long journey times between the Sunshine Coast and Brisbane. BrizCommuter is delighted to see some common sense in SE Queensland's urban sprawl. It is much more time efficient, and probably cost efficient to live closer to your place of work. It is also more environmentally sustainable to commute shorter distances. With Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast commuters often complaining about their train services, BrizCommuter decided to take a look at how their journeys compare to similar distance journeys in the UK and Japan in terms of journey time, frequency, and cost (cheapest turn up and go single fare). The am peak journey times and frequencies are for terminus arrivals between 07:45am and 08:45am), and the quoted price is for the cheapest available turn up and go single ticket for that particular service. Prices are in Australian Dollars, using exchange rates at 08/05/2011.

Lets first look at SE Queensland:
Nambour to Brisbane Central, 105km = 1hr 47mins to 1hr 54mins at 3tph $12.19
Varsity Lakes to Brisbane Central, 89km = 1hr 20mins at 4tph $11.16

Here are a few in the UK:
Charing to various London Termini, 85km = 1hr 29mins to 1hr 40mins at 4tph $33.97
A small village near Ashford (see below) on the Maidstone East Line.
Brighton to various London Termini, 82km = 1hr 5mins to 1hr 10mins at 7tph $32.59
Brighton is a 250,000 population coastal town, at the end of the busy Brighton main line.
Milton Keynes to London Euston, 78km =  36mins to 1hr 03mins at 5tph $26.77
Milton Keynes is a 240,000 population new town, on the West Coast Main Line served by intercity and outer suburban expresses.
Ashford International to various London Termini, 90km = 35mins to 36mins at 2tph $46.51, 1hr 17mins to 1hr 48mins at 7tph $38.86
Ashford is a town of approx. 60,000 population, served by multiple outer suburban rail lines, and the High Speed 1 rail line.

Finally, some journeys in Japan:
Odawara to Tokyo, 84km = 36 mins at 5tph $36.29, 1hr 14mins at 4tph $27.82, 1hr 37mins at 7tph $16.81
Odawara is a City of approx. 200,000 population connected to Tokyo via JR rapid and local trains, JR Shinkansen, and a private railway line (not included in stats).
Otsuki to Tokyo, 88km = 1hr 42mins to 1hr 55mins at 4tph (3tph require change) $16.81
Otsuki is a town of approx. 30,000 population on the Chuo Main Line served by rapid and local trains, and is the terminus of a private rail line to Fuji 5 Lakes tourist area.

It is difficult to make a completely fair comparison, due to different geographical locations, population distributions, economic factors, and fare structures. When researching this article, it was immediately obvious that the Sunshine Coast Line bypassing the major population centres (Caloundra and Maroochydore) is a huge concern. For a major population centre in the UK and Japan to be bypassed by rail is a rarity. There is little question that the rail line to these population centres (CAMCOS) is urgently required!

Journey times and frequencies are generally worse, but not always, in SE Queensland compared to the UK. This may be due to to many UK main lines having 4 tracks allowing for inter-city and outer suburban express trains to overtake all stations inner-suburban services. The UK suffers from little of the  1 or 3 track sillyness that is common in SE Queensland. Fares used in this comparison are approximately 200% higher in the UK compared to SE Queensland! There is also an additional $11 surcharge for passengers using the 225kph High Speed 1 rail line from Ashford International.

Journey times in Japan using local and rapid services are fairly similar to, or even slower than in SE Queensland, with fares being approx. 50% higher in Japan. Major stations in Japan are also served by faster limited express, and ultra-fast Shinkansen services, which allow for much faster journey times than in SE Queensland, but at fares more than 200% higher. As expected, service frequencies are much better in Japan than in SE Queensland, even when in the middle of nowhere! It should be noted that the majority of high frequency commuter services in Japan terminate at similar distances from Tokyo, as Caboolture and Ipswich are from Brisbane.

So to conclude, long distance commuting (Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast to Brisbane) is considerably cheaper in SE Queensland, than for those commuting into London and Tokyo. Journey times and frequencies are generally better, but not always, for long distance commuters into London. Journey times are no better for longer distance commuters into Tokyo using local and rapid services, although frequencies are usually higher into Tokyo. Some London and Tokyo commuters have very fast service options, but these come at even higher fares. So it seems that if Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast commuters want a faster, more frequent, and more direct train service, they may have to pay higher fares for the privilege!

Part 2 of Long Distance Commuting will look at fare comparisons over different distances. Are Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast commuters getting a cheap ride compared to inner-city Brisbane commuters?

Monday, May 2, 2011

On the buses (if you can find one)

Recently BrizCommuter tried to catch the 390 bus from the CBD back to Chez BrizCommuter. The problem is,  BrizCommuter didn't know from which CBD stop(s) the bus originated. After a long walk along Adelaide Street, looking at dozens of bus stops, BrizCommuter was still none the wiser. It seems that there are no information boards to tell passengers from where in the CBD they need to go to catch a particular bus (or if there is, they are very well hidden). This must be very confusing to many public transport users, in particular tourists and infrequent users. This situation also does not help passengers who have to endure different bus routes heading to the same destination that leave from different CBD stops.

Japanese Community Bus
In London, a city with an excellent public transport system, finding the correct bus stop is very easy. At all bus stops located around major transit locations and interchanges, there is a spider map. These spider maps show the bus routes, and from which bus stop in that area that bus travels from. Simple, and easy to use. A few examples on Transport for London's website are linked to below:
Camden Spider Map
Kennington Oval Spider Map
Chelsea & Westminster Hospital Spider Map

London Midi Bus  CC: Kmb gu657
If the patronage of a London bus route cannot justify frequent services using full size buses, then smaller and more energy efficient midi buses (lower photo) are used instead. There is huge potential for midi buses, or even cute Japanese style disability accessible community buses (upper photo) in SE Queensland, especially in place of the much disliked FlexiLink services and on other low patronage routes. Some previously midi bus routes in London such as the C2 and C3 have increased their patronage so much that they now require double decker buses!