Sunday, May 8, 2011

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?

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