Saturday, October 6, 2012

Merivale Bridge at capacity? Myth or not?

Merivale Bridge - at capacity?
In a desperate bid to avert the blame on the Ferny Grove Line's laughable peak timetable, state Transport and Main Roads Minister Mr Emerson recently came out with the following statement:

"Ironically off-peak trains will now be better than some peak frequency on the Ferny Grove line due to poor planning by four former Labor Transport Ministers, who ignored the looming capacity crisis at the Merivale Bridge, first raised by former Premier Beattie in 2005."

BrizCommuter has taken a look to see if the Merivale Bridge really is preventing an improved peak service on the Ferny Grove Line, and the other rail lines that utilise it - Cleveland, Beenleigh, Gold Coast, Doomben, Airport, and Shorncliffe Lines.

For starters, the capacity issue is not the Merivale Bridge itself, but capacity along the core section between Park Road and Bowen Hills. Capacity issues include at grade junctions at Park Road and Roma Street, and station dwell times, notably at Bowen Hills where crew change over between shifts (more on this in a future blog post). Single track sections on the Cleveland, Gold Coast, and Shorncliffe Line, as well as a lack of overtaking opportunities on the Beenleigh/Coast Coast Line complicate scheduling further.

So how much spare track capacity is still available in the peaks? BrizCommuter is assuming that the track capacity is 20 trains per hour (tph), although some studies such as the Inner City Rail Capacity Study (2008) mention that 23-25tph may be possible. The figures quoted are the busiest hour in terms of number of tph in the peak period.

AM peak inbound from Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines
19tph scheduled.
Verdict = Near capacity. Capacity improvements urgent!

AM peak inbound from Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Airport, and Doomben Lines
15tph scheduled.
Verdict = 33% more track capacity available.

PM peak outbound to Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines
16tph scheduled.
Verdict = 25% more track capacity available.

PM peak outbound to Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Airport, and Doomben Lines
16tph scheduled
Verdict = 25% more track capacity available.

So aside from northbound services in the am peak (which is the initial need for Cross River Rail), there is at least 25% more track capacity available. Merivale Bridge capacity is thus not the limiting factor to improving the Ferny Grove Line's peak service. So at 6 months after the duplication opened, why has nothing been done? Political reasons may including funding, and election timing. Lack of trains may be a problem, and won't be solved for a few years. The stage 2 timetables may also be awaiting the Sandgate upgrade, which will allow an increase in Shorncliffe Line capacity. But why can't Brisbane follow Melbourne's example and introduce incremental timetable improvements with every infrastructure upgrade, instead of waiting for the next problem to be fixed? It is known that TransLink have (at long last) engaged QR to finally start working on the stage 2 timetables, but it is concerning there is no mention of new timetables in 2012/13 plans in QR and TransLink's recently published annual reports.

To conclude:
  1. The Merivale Bridge is currently only a limiting factor to am peak inbound trains from the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines. 
  2. Commuters expect significant service improvements at the same time that new infrastructure opens. 
  3. The Queensland Government, TransLink, and QR need to be more honest and open about when we will be seeing peak timetable improvements. Commuters are fed up with spin, lies, and secrecy!

As additional reading the post-election "independent" review of Cross River Rail and inner city rail capacity has at last been made available publicly:


  1. Very true Briz. Melbourne has multiple timetable updates with major improvements each year. To not improve the peak service when the Ferny Grove to Keperra duplication opened in April is a disgrace!

  2. I am wondering brizcommuter.

    If you had a blank slate and the current rollingstock of trains, buses and ferries, how would you allocate services differently?

  3. Garvin - that's a bit of a too large question. On topic, as far as peak trains are concerned BrizCommuters speculation for the stage 2 timetables are in these blog posts from mid-2011.

  4. Interesting reading, thanks for that.

    There are a few conclusions that I do not agree with. First of all the elimination of express services on the FG line. In my opinion there are not enough of them atm. One of the most annoying parts on the FG line, is that it takes longer to go from Alderley to City (not central)/Roma Street by train, than it does by bus. Surely that is a failure of the train service. Train should beat bus every time, but on the FG line it does not.

    So under your proposal from part 1, half of those should be express Mitchelton to Bowen Hills.

    I also do not agree with some of the conclusions regarding the Gold Coast lines. Surely some of those could be run via Tennyson/Sherwood and the Milton section, which cuts out Merivale Bridge. The four lines on the Milton section are under-utilised and I think some passenegers would appreciate having the option to get off somewhere on the Milton section.

    I certainly agree for all times of the day that there should be other options rather than just FG-Beenleigh, Caboolture-Ipswich etc. Trains should run FG-Ipswich and/or Cleveland, which an expanded timetable can manage.

    For instance, with the new 15 min off peak weekday services on the FG line, why do they terminate at Park Road? Currently trains from Richlands terminate at Bowen Hills. Surely it would be more efficient use of rolling stock to have those trains continue to FG, to become a 15 min all day everyday service FG to Richlands?

    Customers get more options, same number of crew, less trains going to Bowen Hills terminus. Seems win/win for me.

    Which is probably why QR and translink did not consider it haha :)

  5. I will endorse your 2011 comments regarding solutions for Merivale Bridge capacity. The second best answer is indeed having standing passengers on the Gold Coast trains. That is a far more reasonable proposition than the one that some are talking about, running around via Tennyson. Obviously the best answer is Cross River Rail.

  6. Garvin - do you realise that every Ferny Grove Line express service means that passengers who are not served by the express have longer gaps between trains and thus have a worse train service? It is rather selfish of Ferny Grove commuters to wish a worse train service on those who live closer to the city. Given the short 16km length of the Ferny Grove Line, there is no reason to have any express services. In the peaks the line should have a frequent "metro like" train service.

  7. Garvin, Bowen Hills-Richlands should not be extended to Ferny Grove. They should be extended to Caboolture, Petrie or Shorncliffe.

    Did you read BrizCommuter's 2011 comments about Merivale bridge track capacity? I wrote my previous comment before yours was published. Running around via Sherwood is about the worst thing they could do.

  8. I don't think Richlands trains should be extended anywhere except Petrie (and in the future Kippa-Ring) as to send them to Shorncliffe or Ferny Grove destroys the sectorisation principle.


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