Friday, April 12, 2013

News Limited finally realise Queensland Rail is inefficient!

QR - Inefficient
The Courier Mail have released this story, about a "secret" 2009 report showing that Queensland Rail (QR) is the most inefficient passenger train operator in Australia, and a whopping $24/km more expensive to run than Sydney's inefficient CityRail. Well done News Corp for writing a story based on 4 year old information! The fact that QR is a hugely inefficient organisation is already well known to anyone who reads this blog or Rail Back on Track.

However, the timing of this story 4 years after the report was made seems a tad suspicious. Is this just another News Limited pro-Newman government privatisation story? BrizCommuter noted that comments (which would have been mostly negative) on the deplorable Queensland Health privatisation plans were never published on Courier Mail's website! The Courier Mail have also failed in investigative journalism to highlight some of the biggest stuff ups in Queensland Rail and TransLink's recent history such as chronic Inner Northern Busway overcrowding, and the 2 year disappearance of the stage 2 train timetables.

Anyway, back to QR. What can be done to improve efficiency aside from the almost inevitable privatisation?

  • One person operation - Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, London Underground, and many other rail operators from around the world have all successfully eliminated guards. Guards can be redeployed and trained as drivers to allow for off-peak frequency improvements without increasing staff. Automatic Train Protection and other infrastructure such as platform mirrors and CCTV would need to be installed, but these would pay themselves off within a few years. 
  • Better use of existing infrastructure - The trains exist, the track exists, the stations exist, but the trains are only every 30 minutes. There is a lot of expensive infrastructure doing nothing - just see Mayne depot at midday!
  • Next generation rolling stock - Newer "off-the-shelf" trains tend to have much lower maintenance costs, unlike the old EMU trains which need some spare parts specially made.  
  • Cut some inland regional train services - BrizCommuter may be controversial here with rail fans, but why run 2 trains a week to an outback town when you could run 2 coaches a day at a lower cost? Many developing countries have excellent coach networks with competing companies, frequent services, comfortable reclining seats, facilities, and air condition. 
  • Make better use of Tilt Train services - BrizCommuter often observes the 5pm Bundaberg Tilt Train with less than 50% seat loading. In the UK, it would be rare to see any "inter-city" services with spare seats. BrizCommuter believes that unsold seats should be reallocated to go-card users travelling to Tilt Train stops on the suburban network - Landsborough, Nambour, and Gympie (maybe with a slight fare premium, as occurs with Japan's limited expresses). 
  • Internal efficiencies - the management and operation of more efficient rail operators (which doesn't exactly narrow down the list) needs to be investigated and followed to reduce internal efficiencies. This would happen anyway if QR is privatised. If QR could save 10% of it's current operating budget, the funds could be reused to fund 15 minute off-peak services to most of the inner-suburban rail network (and that figure is still with guards!). 
  • Property market - Make use of land above railways and stations. Hong Kong MTR Corporation makes far more revenue from property than from fares. Just make sure that there is room for rail  expansion underneath the new structures! 
  • Advertising and sponsorship - QR are getting better with advertising (e.g. wrapped trains), but are a long way behind many other urban rail operators. 
  • Attitude - just stop the "we can't run trains every 15 minutes because of [enter poor excuse here] attitude" QR! 
Outside of QR's control, increased efficiencies include more attractive fares to stop the negative cycle of patronage stunting and increasing subsidy. Buses feeding trains services would make for a more efficient public transport network. Unfortunately, the latter is unlikely if Brisbane City Council continue to review their own bus network with complete disregard to the bigger picture.

Update 16/04/2013

It has been reported that Queensland Rail will move from being a government owned corporation to being a "more passenger focussed" government statutory authority. A "governmentisation" rather than "privatisation". Well QR, can you start off with introducing the belated stage 2 train timetables?


  1. Where's that like button (for non Google+ users)

  2. QR had recently started a trial allowing Cooroy and Gympie North users to board the Bundaberg tilt service for the fare of a TransLink paper ticket (Go Cards not accepted).

    Bookings can be taken, but are not necessary as you can buy a paper ticket on the day.

  3. Excellent practical advise - whey are they going to make you the public transport tsar?

  4. Bzc, privatisation works best when there is a competitive market environment. How do you ensure market forces exist for public transport?

    I am trying to work out how privatisation would produce better results for passengers?


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