Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The SillyGlider?

The pre-state and council election silly season continues with plan by the Quirky Brisbane City Council's (BCC) plan to introduce a "sport themed" maroon CityGlider running from Paddington to Stones Corner. This will travel via Suncorp Stadium, South Bank (not using busway as it's a tad full) and the Gabba. Whilst a bus linking these stadiums and eatery areas may seem like a good idea, it just adds more duplication and waste to Brisbane's increasingly inefficient bus network. Want to get to Paddington? Take the high frequency 385. Want to get to the Gabba? Take the high frequency 66 or 200 Buz (or many other routes). Want to get to Stones Corner (why would anyone want to go there)? Take the high frequency 222 (or many other routes).  There is absolutely no need for this Maroon CityGlider, which is possibly even more wasteful that the mainly air carrying route 88. It is quite disgraceful that BCC want to add this route when many existing Brisbane Transport bus routes such as the 66 regularly leave students, school children, and hospital workers behind due to full buses.

Its now been introduced - an updated scathing review of the Maroon CityGlider:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Moreton Bay Rail Link - also half-baked?

Site of Kippe-Ring station   Source: Nearmap
SE Queensland has had a recent run of half-baked rail infrastructure projects. Recent examples include:
  • (Re-) Building the Gold Coast Line with a single track (still single track between Coomera and Helensvale).
  • Duplicating Mitchelton to Keperra, but then not Keperra to Ferny Grove until 4 years later.
  • Not electrifying the 4th track between Corinda and Darra.
  • Missing out Ellen Grove station on the Springfield Line.
  • Only triplicating instead of quadruplicating Salisbury to Kuraby.
After all of these projects, BrizCommuter would hope that the Moreton Bay Rail Link would be built properly. In fact, current plans show that this is almost the case. The line will be built dual track upon QR's recommendations. Stabling will be provided at Kippa-Ring (Redcliffe) to reduce empty train running. Where the line appears to fall flat on it's face is where it plugs into the existing Caboolture Line south of Petrie station. Even with the proposed, Lawnton to Petrie triplication, there does not appear to be a grade-seperated junction in the currently published plans. Thus trains running from the City to Kippa-Ring would have to cross the path of City bound trains from Caboolture. These conflicting moves could cause timetabling constraints, as you cannot timetable the above services to both pass through this junction at the same time. Also, if one of these services is running late, that it may delay the other service as well. 

A grade-seperated junction (fly-over) would solve this problem, but of course would cost more to build and possibly require the relocation of Petrie station further south by approx. 200m. Most other suburban rail operators have avoided constructing non-grade-separated junctions for the last 100 years. When will transport planners in SE Queensland learn to do the same?

Moreton Bay Rail Link Queensland Government Presentation:
Moreton Bay Rail Link Plans - Petrie:

As well as concerns about the infrastructure, BrizCommuter also has concerns about how frequently the train service will be run. Unlike other Australian state capitals (even Adelaide) where recent rail infrastructure projects receive, or are planned to receive an off-peak train every 15-20 minutes, Brisbane keeps on running an unattractive 30 minute off-peak frequency on new infrastructure (e.g. Springfield Line, Gold Coast extensions, Ferny Grove duplication). If the MBRL receives a 30 minute off-peak service, it will not help convert people who currently drive from Redcliffe to Brisbane's CBD.

BrizCommuter also has concerns on the effect of adding an estimated 5,000 extra commuters onto the Caboolture Line corridor which is already running at an almost maximum of 18 trains per hour in the am peak. Without Cross River Rail & Shorncliffe Line duplication allowing for Caboolture Line services to skip stations Northgate to Albion, existing Caboolture Line passengers will have to expect a considerable increase in train crowding. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Brisbane Inner City Metro - what are the options?

The recent COMSEQ GHD study, and the ALP's current unfunded public transport plans both point towards an inner-city driverless metro system running from Indooroopilly/Toowong to Portside/Hamilton areas via the CBD. As has been discussed before, this is not the best solution for increasing capacity on the Ipswich/Springfield and Caboolture/Sunshine Coast/Redcliffe Lines which by the mid-2020s are likely to be very overcrowded. However, when did transport planning in Brisbane ever follow common sense? With Cross River Rail fighting for funding, and delayed until at least 2020, it is unlikely that we would see an inner city metro until at least the late 2020s.

Reality aside, what are the options for a Brisbane inner-city metro? Taking into account Brisbane's population, the most appropriate type of metro system would be a driverless mini-metro systems such as Copenhagen's Metro (Andsaldo-Breda). Mini-metros use short trains (and thus platforms) at approx. 30-80m in length with a small to medium profile train width of between 2 to 2.8m  (which can reduce tunnel diameter) to considerably reduce construction costs. Trains can run at very high frequency to make up for the short train length, with capacities in the approx. 10,000 to 30,000 passengers per hour range. It should be noted that manufacturers often quote theoretical maximum capacities rather than actual operating capacity, however mini-metros typically operate trains between 90 second and 3 minute headways. Driverless trains allow for lower operating costs, and higher operating flexibility. Driverless technology is now mature and has an excellent safety record.

There are many different track and propulsion technologies that can be used by mini-metro systems. BrizCommuter runs through the different technologies:

Rubber-tyre - rubber-tyred trains are commonly found on French influenced metros (Paris, Mexico City, Santiago, Montreal, Lausanne), and many Automated People Mover (APM) / Automated Guided Transit (AGT) systems, such as Siemens VAL (Lille, Turin Metros), Bombardier Innovia APM (Heathrow T5), and Mitsubishi Crystal Mover (Singapore Airport). Whilst for heavy metro systems new rubber-tyred lines are dying out, the technology is useful for mini-metro systems. The extra grip allows for steep gradients (up to 12%), and sharp corners (30-50m) which can help reduce construction costs due to more alignment possibilities. Multiple manufacturers offer rubber-tyred systems, however some APM/AGT designs can potentially lock the buyer into using a single manufacturer.

Linear Induction Motor - linear induction motors are commonly found on the many Bombardier ART systems (such as Vancouver's SkyTrain), and many Japanese Metro systems (such as Tokyo's Oedo Line) from multiple manufacturers. The linear motors allow for less space under the train floor, allowing for a smaller profile train which can decrease station and tunnel construction costs. Linear induction motors also can allow for steep gradients (up to 8%), and sharp corners (50-100m) which again can help reduce construction costs. Choosing a linear induction motor system could potentially lock the buyer into using a single manufacturer. Interestingly, Bombardier now offer a rotary motor version of their ART system where the train floor is only marginally higher than the linear motor version.

Conventional - steel wheel on steel rail, and rotary motors are the most common metro system track and propulsion technology. Virtually all manufacturers offer metro systems using this technology, which allows for simpler technology (i.e. cheaper), more competition, and less likelihood of relying on a single manufacturer for system upgrades.  The downside of that the alignments of the metro system will be restricted to shallow gradients (3-4%), and less sharp curves (100-400m) which could result in more expensive constructions costs for more demanding alignments.

One interesting thing to note for Brisbane's mythical inner-city metro system is where the depot would be located. The current route only really has space for a depot on current semi-abandoned railway land near the Hamilton Northshore development. If this land is not safeguarded from development, then the result could be having to extend the line further to access and suitable for a depot (more $$$), or build and underground depot (more $$$). Likewise other future developments along the route could make for more difficult and expensive construction. London's CrossRail Line 1 and 2 routes have been safeguarded for decades under various guises, lets hope that same happens for Brisbane's inner-city metro, otherwise we could be waiting even longer!

Copenhagen's Driverless Metro

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The pressure is off!

It has been announced in a press conference this afternoon (Sunday 22/01/2012) that the gas bus explosion at Virginia bus depot was caused by a "rogue" gas cylinder. 33 other buses with the same batch of gas tank will be taken out of service. The rest of the compressed natural gas (CNG) buses will be back in operation, but with reduced gas pressure. BrizCommuter hopes that the decision was based on sound safety advice, and not a negative publicity avoidance tactic ahead of state and council elections.

The return of CNG buses takes the pressure off Brisbane's public transport, which was originally heading for chaos if 500+ CNG buses were unavailable. Even with 33 buses still unavailable, it has been reported that Brisbane Transport bus services will be back to normal on Monday 23/01/2012 (i.e. full and overcrowded route 66 buses as per usual). At the time of writing (4:40pm) TransLink were yet to update their website, despite the press release having been a few hours ago. (Update 5:55pm - TransLink service bulletin now available).

Exploding CNG buses are not new. Explosions have also occurred in Brisbane in 2008, Seoul in 2010, and Sydney in 2011. Thankfully Brisbane is moving back to cleaner diesel powered buses, which seems to use a slightly less volatile fuel! With commuters being able to ride CNG buses again from Monday 23/01/2012, here is a video of what happens when a CNG powered bus explodes. BrizCommuter will take a train tomorrow!

Update 24/01/2012

Unfortunately more than 20 of the quarantined buses were accidentally put back into service in Monday 23/01/2012. This safety breach is very concerning. The reduction in pressure will also result in buses having to be re-filled more often, potentially decreasing fleet  efficiency and increasing the risk of re-filling accidents. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Buz Off!

After an explosion at Virginia bus depot early Saturday morning 21/01/2012, Brisbane Transport has taken all of their natural gas powered buses out of service (approx. 50% of the fleet). This has resulted in the following high frequency bus routes (most of them branded as "Buz" routes), to be running at reduced frequency.

  •     100 - Forest Lake to City
  •     111 - Eight Mile Plains to City
  •     120 - Garden City to City
  •     130 - Parkinson to City
  •     140 - Browns Plains to City
  •     150 - Browns Plains to City
  •     180 - Garden City to City
  •     196 - New Farm to Fairfield
  •     199 - New Farm to West End
  •     333 - Chermside to City
  •     345 - Aspley to City
  •     385 - The Gap to City
  •     412 - UQ to City
  •     444 - Moggill to City
  •     CityGlider - West End to Tenerife (another reason why the CityGlider wears a crash helmet?)
CityGlider wearing gas bus protective gear
As is to be expected from TransLink, there is some inconsistency on which buses are affected, with the 196 and 412 originally missing from the above list, and the 109, City Loop, and Spring Hill loop shown as having delays in the service alterations section of TransLink's website despite not running on the weekend. The above listed 15 minute frequency routes are likely to be reduced to every 30 minutes, which could at some times of day (even on a Saturday) result in full buses. However this is a better alternative than cancelling services in Brisbane's many infrequency (30 minute, hourly, or worse) bus routes. Update - unfortunately it seems that some less frequent routes have also had cancellations.

Taking the gas powered buses out of service is a sensible safety precaution, as gas explosions on a bus full of passengers could result in serious injuries, burns, and loss of life. BrizCommuter is glad to hear that no-one was injured in the explosion. Not surprisingly, many Brisbane commuters will now be wondering whether the gas powered buses will be safely entered back to service by Monday morning. With more than half of Brisbane's commuters using buses to get to work, and full buses being an issue at the best of times, travel chaos will ensue if buses are not back to normal by Monday am peak.

Update Saturday 21/01/2012 7:30pm

A normal service will be run on Sunday 22/01/2012 (probably due to a non-existent bus service on many routes on Sundays), with information about Monday's service being made available on TransLink's website at some time on Sunday. With more than 500 gas powered buses requiring checks, Monday's bus service is currently not looking good for many commuters!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

More on the GHD/COMSEQ report

Light rail every 3 minutes at Windsor?
In the previous blog post, BrizCommuter took a look at "The Cleveland Solution" a cut price, and considerably less effective alternative to Cross River Rail (CRR). The Cleveland Solution was part of a report by GHD, and commissioned by the Council of Mayors South East Queensland (COMSEQ) to look at more cost effective solutions for improving public transport in Brisbane.

The report is here:

Whilst this report, and it's timing is political playing, BrizCommuter does think that analysing the cost effectiveness of current projects is worth considering. However, this report only analysis the costs and not the benefits. BrizCommuter likes the "What does the commuter actually want?" section on page 8 of the report, which is spot on. So what are the alternative solutions to the current state governments plans?

  • The Cleveland Solution - discussed in the previous blog post. The Ferny Grove and Cleveland Lines would be linked and taken over by light rail. This should significantly improve both peak and off-peak frequencies on these lines, but is much less effective than CRR at increasing overall rail capacity through the CBD. Whilst significantly cheaper than CRR, the price tag of $2.5b seems rather optimistic, and the required (and expensive) grade-seperation of many level crossings doesn't appear to have been considered. This solution would only free up approx. 8tph across the Merivale Bridge, meaning that yet another solution will be required in the future when patronage from the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Flagstone lines eat up these track slots. 
  • Cheaper Eastern and Northern Busway - only in SE Queensland can busway construction almost cost the same as heavy rail construction. It has been proposed to limit expensive grade separated tunnelling, and concentrate more on cheaper bus lanes with traffic light priority. This should be given serious consideration. 
  • CBD Bus Infrastructure Capacity Program - there is little question that Cultural Centre Bus Station is approaching capacity. Multiple staged solutions have been suggested in this report, which include various alterations around Cultural Centre for $25m, to a new Adelaide Street Bridge $500m, and eventually a $2b+ CBD Bus Tunnel. The CBD bus tunnel is not planned until after 2017 which means that it is not being proposed as a Cross River Rail alternative as touted a few months ago.
  • Clapham Stabling - as per the CRR plans, extra train stabling will be required a Clapham Yards. 
  • Extra track Yeerongpilly to Park Road - instead of the CRR tunnel, a 4th track would be provided between Park Road and Yeerongpilly to separate freight traffic from peak direction Gold Coast trains. A required grade-seperated junction would also be built at Yeerongpilly for freight trains to access the Tennyson Line. This proposal could however eat up a few properties in Fairfield. 
  • Flagstone Line - diesel powered trains (DMUs) shuttling between Flagstone and Salisbury (where passengers would connect with Beenleigh Line services) has been suggested. Including stations with extra tracks at Flagstone, Boronia Heights, and Parkinson, this would allow for 15 minute services at an initial cost of $300. This is a cheaper, but less effective option than running direct services to the CBD on dual gauge track. 
  • Brisbane Cross City Metro - Portside to Indooropilly. This medium term (i.e. pie in the sky) project serves Indooroopilly, UQ, West End, CBD, James Street, Tenerife, Bulimba, and Portside. This alignment is better than previous suggested metro routes, but will not solve limited track capacity on the Ipswich/Caboolture train corridor. Suggested future extensions to Kenmore and Mount Ommaney could help improve public transport to Western Suburbs.
  • Moreton Bay Rail Link - this report mentions that frequencies will not be high enough, and busway or light rail would have been cheaper. BrizCommuter thinks that Redcliffe commuters would much prefer a direct heavy rail link, and that if all Petrie peak services are extended to Kippa-Ring, then the line should be able to operate am peak services every 6-12 minutes. 
  • Other projects - within the 2012-2017 timeframe, many rail level crossing grade-seperation projects are planned (locations unspecified), as well as Coomera to Helensvale duplication, and Kuraby to Kingston/Loganlea triplications to increase Gold Coast peak frequency. Beerburrum to Landsborough duplication, and Lawnton to Petrie triplication are also featured. Within 2018-2022 timeframe include Gold Coast Line, and Gold Coast Rapid Transport extensions, Redbank to Ripley rail (new alignment?) and scoping for Sunshine Coast Light Rail. 
  • Missing in action - no mention of Alderley to Strathpine/NorthWest Corridor/Trouts Road Line, which is very disappointing as it would serve a large swathe of Brisbane's Northern Suburbs which are currently a public transport black-hole. Extension of Doomben Line to Hamilton Northshore is also missing - this could be cheaper than a hugely expensive Kingsford Smith Drive upgrade touted by Brisbane City Council. Thankfully no suggestions included of converting the SE Busway to Light or Heavy Rail. 
Whilst a lot of these projects are considered as being short sighted and money saving, it also has to be considered that if projects are too expensive (especially with the reality of a broke state government) that they may not happen. Which is better - no project, an affordable half-baked project, or a future proof project which takes funds from other critical projects?

It will also be interesting too see how much this document will be aligned with LNP policy. More is likely to be known within the next few weeks. A promise of frequent light rail services along the Ferny Grove Line instead of the existing infrequent heavy rail service could give Campbell Newman a few more crucial votes in the battlefield constituency of Ashgrove. The next few weeks may be very interesting!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Another half-baked Cross River Rail alternative?

Elevated light rail?
You can tell a state election is looming, when it is silly season for Cross River Rail (CRR) alternatives. Last month we had Campbell Newman's ill thought out solution of adding a few extra platforms at South Bank and South Brisbane with improved signalling. Due to other infrastructure constraints and bottlenecks (Bowen Hills, Park Road Junction, etc), BrizCommuter doubts that more than 4 trains per hour (tph) could be added via this method.

The latest solution mentioned in this Courier Mail article (with map), has been formulated by the Council of Mayors (Southeast Queensland) and GHD consultants. Entitled "The Cleveland Solution" this $2.5b cut-price CRR alternative links the Ferny Grove and Cleveland Lines, removing 7-9tph from the existing tracks across the Merivale Bridge in the am peak. This is approx. 40% of the Merivale Bridge's current am peak capacity. There are stations at Bowen Hills West, Exhibition, Roma Street, Queen Street, Gardens Point (last two elevated!), a bridged river crossing (next to Captain Cook Bridge), Woolloongabba, and then Park Road. There is mention in the article that this solution will use light rail, which can encompass many variations in vehicle type. Use of light rail should at least improve upon the currently poor off-peak frequencies on the Ferny Grove and Cleveland Lines. Whilst on face value it doesn't seen like a bad idea, BrizCommuter has some very big reservations about these plans, and seriously questions the price. These issues are below:

  • This solution only creates 7-9tph extra train paths compared to the more expensive CRRs 20tph. Thus there is limited space for Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line patronage growth as well as additional rail services to Flagstone's urban sprawl. 
  • Does this plan factor in extra tracks along the already congested at times Exhibition Line?
  • Does this plan factor in duplication of the Cleveland Line? Cost $360m to $720m according to Inner City Rail Capacity Study.
  • This plan would not include the costs of still having to upgrade the rest of SE Queensland's rail network.
  • Light rail = shorter trains = more services have to run on existing lines to carry the same number of passengers - e.g in the am peak the Ferny Grove Line may require approx. 14-20tph using light rail vehicles instead of 7-8tph using 6-car QR trains. 
  • Level crossings on Ferny Grove and Cleveland Lines may have to be replaced by bridges to cope with the above mentioned higher frequency service - up to $100m per level crossing! Otherwise level crossings could be closed to traffic for approx. 50% of the morning peak period, resulting in traffic chaos!
  • Does the cost include modern automated signalling with automatic train protection (ATO/ATP)?
  • This could remove one of QR Mayne depot's 3 access points which uses the Ferny Grove Line tracks. 
  • Elevated rail lines through Brisbane's CBD may be unsightly, and cause a bit if mess where tracks go from elevated to being underground.
  • Where will the depot for the light rail vehicles be placed?
  • Are there any cape gauge light rail vehicles already developed?
  • Whilst this plan would free up a stated 25 trains from QR's passenger network, does the price include the cost of possibly around 50+ new light rail vehicles required?
  • This project may have negative implications for the Alderley to Strathpine (NorthWest Transport Corridor/Trouts Road) Line which could utilise parts of the Ferny Grove Line. 
  • CRR is already planned and almost ready to start construction when funded, this idea isn't.

Update 14/01/2012 17:52

The proposal (which answers some of the above questions) is here.
It appears that the price does include Cleveland Line duplication, and up to 20tph service is planned. It isn't clear from an initial skim read as to whether all level crossings on the Cleveland and Ferny Grove Lines would be eliminated, which of course they probably would have to be when there is a train in each direction every 3 minutes! The route through the CBD appears to be along North Quay, next to the Riverside Expressway. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Don't run for the train!

Mind the gap/step/long wait
This article from the Courier Mail's website a few days ago is titled "Queensland Rail campaign to cut down on injuries to commuters rushing".  416 slips, falls, and trips were recorded on Queensland Rail's passenger network last year. Instead of a poster campaign, how about solving these 2 big contributors to the problem:

  • Frequency - with off-peak trains in Brisbane generally running a laughable 30 minutes apart, it is a no brainer that people are going to rush for a train. No one likes a 29 minute wait (or worse) for the next train. Brisbane urgently needs 15 minute off-peak train frequencies!
  • Gap between train and platform - as BrizCommuter has recently found out trying to get BabyCommuter on and off trains in a pram, the step/gap between the train and platform around Queensland Rail's network is really quite dangerous. Whilst some CBD refurbished stations have seen some improvement, many suburban refurbished stations have had no improvement to the step/gap of doom. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Can I have a refund please?

In the last week, BrizCommuter has ascertained that Brisbane probably has the 3rd most expensive train system in the world. If your train journey is delayed or cancelled in Brisbane, there is no refund policy. It is possible to cancel your journey within 20 minutes, but that doesn't help getting to your destination, and you still have to pay to use alternative transport options. Thats right, we pay through our teeth to travel around SE Queensland, but if your train is delayed, neither QR or TransLink officially offer a refund. How do more expensive London Underground/Overground and Oslo compare?

London Underground - If you are delayed more than 15 minutes on London Underground (including the DLR), or more than 30 minutes on London Overground, you get a full fare refund for that journey. Delays outside of London Underground/Overground's control (such as bad weather and rioting poms) are not covered. In fact all UK train services offer a refund policy. Refund forms (online or by post) must be completed within 14 days, and refunds take up to 21 days.

Oslo - If the delay is more than 20 minutes, you can take a taxi instead, and get a refund on the taxi fare. Delays outside of Ruter's control (such as stray polar bears) cannot be refunded.  The refund form has to be completed after the taxi ride.

To conclude, Brisbane is likely to have the world's most expensive train system without a delay refund policy. Yet another reason why Brisbane does not have a "world class" public transport system!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Why does the CityGlider wear a crash helmet?

2nd most expensive buses in world!
Why does the CityGlider wear a crash helmet? Because it is banging it's head against a brick wall over the Queensland Government and TransLink's fare policies.

BrizCommuter has recently received a few emails asking about bus fare comparisons. As the 2012 World Fare Comparison showed that only Oslo and London are more expensive for a 5km train service, BrizCommuter decided to only compare Brisbane with bus fares in these two cities. In most cities bus fares are either the same as train fares or less. There are a few examples where buses are more expensive than trains, such as Los Angeles and NYC express buses, but these generally serve outer-suburban areas and are thus still generally cheaper than Brisbane's zonal fares.

Fares in this comparison are for 2km, 5km and 10km journeys using the cheapest available peak single fare. Again, multi-trip tickets are counted, but weekly or season tickets are not. Fares and exchange rates are as of 2nd January 2012.

2km - $3.05
5km - $3.58
10km - $4.24

2km - $2.05
5km - $2.05
10km - $2.05

2km - $4.42
5km - $4.42
10km - $4.42 (just within next zone border where price doubles!)

London has considerably cheaper bus fares than Brisbane. In fact a 10km journey is more than double the price in Brisbane than in London! If you only use buses in London you cannot spend more than $6.37 in one day as the fares are capped. This is cheaper than a 2 zone return journey in Brisbane - ouch! (BrizCommuter apologises for excessive exclamation mark use). Despite the relatively low cost of travel, London has an excellent high frequency bus network, with most bus routes served at least every 15 mins (and in some cases every 2 minutes). Journey times however aren't great due to London's notoriously slow traffic.

Oslo has the same fare structure for buses as for trains. Thus it is still more expensive than Brisbane, although Oslo has cheaper season ticket options that are unavailable in Brisbane. In fact, taking ten journeys with a 7-day ticket in Oslo results in a fare per journey of $3.59, only 1c higher than a 2 zone single peak journey in Brisbane. A quick look on Oslo's real time bus information system shows that buses appear to be very frequent even in suburban housing estates approximately 10km from the CBD. Similar suburban locations in Brisbane away from arterial roads may not even get an hourly daytime bus. However, if you live near a busway or major arterial road served by multiple or high frequency bus routes, then the bus service in Brisbane can sometimes be very good. Brisbane's poor urban planning does not help with the provision of efficient bus routes in suburbia.

It can be concluded that Brisbane is likely to have the world's second most expensive bus system to use after Oslo. For 9-5 workers travelling in three zone (e.g CBD to Chermside or Griffith University) Brisbane may even have the world's most expensive bus system. Can you now understand why the CityGlider is wearing crash helmet?