Sunday, October 30, 2016

QR's Cancellation Catastrophe - Analysis

As BrizCommuter's readers (and anyone not living under a rock for the last few weeks) will be aware, both Queensland Rail (QR) and the commuters who use QR's train services are having a rather hard time of late. This is primarily due to lack of trained drivers since the Redcliffe Peninsula Line opened in early October 2016, but also due to an ongoing lack of trains which has been an issue since January 2014. This has in the last few days, caused heads to roll including the CEO and Board Chair of QR. It has also caused massive political damage to the otherwise "ticking along" Palaszczuk ALP government, as well as a huge loss of commuter confidence in QR.
Axed train services
So what are commuters unhappy about?
  • For three weeks post-Redcliffe Peninsula opening, there we up to 100 cancellations per day, often at short notice causing angst to commuters who could no longer rely on trains turning up. Many commuters were unhappy about cancelled or overcrowded trains, resulting in commuters being late to work, education, appointments, or picking up children from daycare. 
  • An interim timetable was introduced last Tuesday, with between 30 to 50 trains axed per weekday. Poor communication of changes, confusion with different timetables for Mon-Thu and Friday, and overcrowded services either side of cancelled trains (sometimes 3-car unit trains). 
  • Despite the interim timetable, further cancellations have occurred, including a considerable number of cancellations on Sunday 30th October. 
  • Poor reliability of outbound Redcliffe Peninsula Line services due to signalling, driver training, timetable, and poor track layout at Kippa-Ring. 
  • Minor late running of many lines through the CBD, due to additional "Inner North" services from Northgate to CBD pushing the limits of signalling and track capacity.
  • Political fallout from the reduction in frequency at Nundah, Toombul, Wooloowin, and Albion due to Caboolture and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines running express through these stations. These services are still missing off the Shorncliffe Line timetable. 
  • Ongoing overcrowding on Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, and Cleveland Lines due to running of 3-car units in the peak period due to lack of trains. 
  • Ongoing sub-optimal timetables on many lines (e.g. early finish of evening express services on Cleveland Line) due to lack of trains and drivers.
  • Infrequent (30 minute gap) counter-peak and off-peak services on the Ipswich, Springfield, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines.   
So what are the issues behind the "perfect storm" for QR?
  • Bligh ALP government failed to order additional SMU 260 series trains (which ceased production in 2011), against QR's advice.
  • Newman LNP government delayed order of New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains, reduced order from 100 to 75 trains, and made design decisions that have delayed the introduction of the NGR trains into service. 
  • Under the Newman LNP government, around 50% of driver trainers were allegedly made redundant or demoted. There was also a recruitment freeze, despite requirement for more staff to run planned improved trains services. 
  • Whilst under the Palaszczuk ALP government, driver recruitment re-started, the lack of driver trainers, and more than 12 months required to train drivers was an achilles heel in training enough drivers.   
  • Drivers unable to be properly trained on the Redcliffe Peninsula Line until only a week before opening. 
  • Change to rosters to allow a 20 minute break every 2.5 hours, and limits of 12 straight days working in a row reduced staff availability. 
  • QR had an unrealistic/incorrect estimation of staffing requirements. 
  • QR forged ahead with a full timetable (extending Petrie services to Kippa-Ring/Redcliffe) when realistically a shuttle service may have been more appropriate for the first few months. However, the latter would have caused political embarrassment due to poor services. A no win situation! 
  • Inexperienced QR Board. Maybe QR need BrizCommuter (or at least a knowledgeable commuter/public transport advocate) on the Board?
  • A Transport Minister either not on top of his portfolio, or being kept in the dark by QR. The average Rail Back on Track forum member knew more about what was going on that the Transport Minister! 
  • Legacy continuation of having two train crew (unlike Melbourne and Perth), and internal recruitment process from guards to drivers. 
Overcrowding on the Ferny Grove Line
What is the future looking like?
  • Unknown timeframe for when the axed services on the interim timetables will be returned.
  • Unknown timeframe for when there will be enough NGR trains to extend overcrowded 3-car services to 6-cars.
  • Unknown timeframe for when there will be enough NGR trains and drivers to improve peak services (e.g extend pm peak Cleveland Line expresses, additional "peak of the peak" services on many lines, etc).  
  • Unknown timeframe for when there will be enough drivers to improve off-peak services on Ipswich, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines.  
  • No decision on the horizon for ordering more NGR trains - BrizCommuter estimates that 7 to 13 more NGR trains need to be ordered now!

Failures due to successive incompetent governments, from both sides of politics, as well as poor decision making by QR has created the catastrophe for train commuters in Brisbane and SE Queensland. Commuters are in the dark as to when things will improve, something which both QR and the state government need to reverse. Financial compensation for commuters also needs to be seriously considered due to lack of adequate service delivery. 

Political failure, thought-bubble ideas, and tit-for-tat games has also resulted in delays to Cross River Rail, failure of Brisbane's Bus Network reform in 2013, and ill thought out proposals such as the Brisbane Metro. Unless Brisbane's politicians have a serious kick up the posterior, then Brisbane's  public transport system will continue to be an embarrassment for SE Queensland residents and businesses.  


  1. I feel you are being too negative.

    According to the minister, Stirling Hinchliffe, was very clear that the New/Next Generation Rolling stock will be running next year, and "that's always been the expectation" (ABC 612 Radio - mornings with Steve Auston 31/10/2016). He also said, "The interim timetable has been working quite successfully." This directly contradicts your article (and the experience of commuters).

    Also, you are overlooking the fact that trains have been running 98-99% on time. Yes, they have been running far fewer services, and changing to express very frequently, but as you know that does not impact KPIs, so that's fine.

    To be fare and balanced you have to stop looking at facts, historic statements, and commuter's experience of service. You need to start looking at the VERY positive KPIs and statements from the Honourable Minister.

  2. There has been an apparent lack of driver training, a lack of external recruitment, and under-ordering of new rollingstock.

    So what was the point of going to 15 minute offpeak services then? Add in the new Springfield and Kippa Ring lines, not enough six car sets, and its created this crisis point in service delivery.

    Got a chuckle from the Minister rejecting claims he'd been told about the problems by an email in March. Based on the printed response, that missive was written off as just another disaffected crank (despite being fairly accurate, as it turns out).

    You might also recall that the last couple of external driver recruitment programs were for part time staff (29, and 22 hours per week) with the potential to work more hours. This was done as part of QRs commitment to diversifying its workforce, encouraging women and ethnic minority groups to apply.

    When your train doesn't turn up due to service cancellations, you don't particularly care who's driving the damn thing.

  3. It would be funny if it wasn't true. I feel like THEY are the ones trying to goat us with sarcasm when the Premier is crowing about "on-time" percentages, and the Minister is saying how well the interim timetable is running. It's like being given rotting fish and turning it into top shelf Thai fish sauce (yes, Thai fish sauce is made from fermented fish and I still love it). BrizCommuter - I wish the Minister and/or his staff would read your blog. You have been like the Greek Casandra: seeing the future and telling everyone about it but the people who should listen don't believe you.

  4. One final comment I will add to this thread: positive feedback. The impact on the Gold Coast/Airportline has been minimal. Thank you.

    I think we should all give thanks to the QR Rail staff who not only warned about this situation well in advance, but are now putting in massive overtime and taking flack from some commuters. So for any QR Rail and/or Translink staff, thank you for going above and beyond.

  5. (The whole network gradually recedes to the frequency of Sunshine Coast trains)


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