Wednesday, January 25, 2017

QR's Alderley Upgrade Fail

Closed platform sections at Alderley
After many years of waiting, Alderley station on the Ferny Grove Line is currently in the process of an accessibility upgrade. As part of the upgrade, sections of the platform have been closed off, to allow for re-construction. This can be seen in the uploaded photo which BrizCommuter took before being shouted at by a hi-viz worksite thug. Whilst it is good that the station has been kept open during this work, it seems that the "Queenslander" effect has crept into this project too.

A closed section of platform is not an issue for passengers boarding the train as they simply can't board the train where the platform is closed. However, it is an issue if the passenger wants to exit the train where the platform is closed. BrizCommuter received a report this week from a passenger, that they were unable to exit the train due to barricades on the platform at Alderley, and ended up at the next station, Enoggera.

BrizCommuter went for a ride (or two) to check out what was going on. During two inbound (to City) journeys, only on one of these train services did the guard put out an announcement that the doors would be locked on a specific carriage and passengers needed to move to another carriage to exit at Alderley. On two outbound (away from City) journeys, no announcement or door locking occurred at all. On the second of these two journeys, BrizCommuter observed a lady trying to exit the train, seeing the orange barricade netting on the platform, she moved to the next to doorway, same problem, she tried to move to the next carriage, only for the train to depart without her being able to exit the train. Not a happy Queensland Rail (QR) customer!

So it seems that QR have failed on multiple fronts:
  • Failure of multiple guards to lock to doors on affected carriages whilst the train is transiting through Alderley
  • Failure for multiple guards to make announcements to warn passengers to move to other carriages/doorways prior to the train arriving at Alderley.
  • Failure of QR to effectively communicate with customers (printed, online, or verbal) about the situation.
Not good enough QR!

Update 03/02/2017

Despite QR being made aware of this issue, it is still occurring. Yesterday, BrizCommuter received a report of an elderly man getting confused and distressed when the door he was trying to exit from opened into a closed and barricaded section of platform. No announcements or door locking occurred. Staff did help him off the train. What has happened to QR's Zero Harm policy?

Friday, January 20, 2017

BrizCommuter becomes AucklandCommuter

Auckland AM Class train at Britomart terminus. 
In the second part of BrizCommuter's trip to New Zealand, BrizCommuter provides a review of Auckland's public transport system. Auckland is New Zealand's principle city with 1,500,000 population, and 1/3 of New Zealand's entire population. Auckland's population is equivalent to 75% of Brisbane, and 45% of SE Queensland's population.

Services are coordinated by Auckland Transport under the AT Metro brand. Rail, bus, and ferry operations are all privatised. Auckland's train services are operated by Transdev Auckland, with the trains and stations belonging to Auckland Transport and the rail infrastructure belonging to KiwiRail.

Auckland's rail system has only recently been electrified and almost fully duplicated, with a new fleet of AM class EMUs. There are four lines, the Western Line, Eastern Line, Southern Line, and the short Onehunga Line. Weekday off-peak frequencies are every 20 minutes (30 minutes on Onehunga Line). Weekend off-peak frequencies are every 30 minutes. Peak frequencies are generally consistent at every 10 minutes, or better on the Southern Line (30 minutes on Onehunga Line). Train services end quite early at around 10:30pm, apart from on weekends. For a city of Auckland's size, the off-peak frequencies are acceptable, and peak frequencies excellent.

It was observed that trains arriving from one line, would usually become a service on a different line when departing from Auckland's Britomart terminus. Impressively fast turnarounds of just 2 to 3 minutes were observed on multiple occasions at Britomart.

Automatic gap filler
The new AM class trains are 3-car units, with most peak services consisting of 6-cars. All off-peak services were observed as running 3-cars only. As with Wellington, the platforms are relatively low. The centre carriage in each 3-car unit has a low floor section for wheelchair and pram access. The end carriages have high level seating. All doorways have an automated gap filler, which makes accessibility far better than in Brisbane. The use of gap fillers does make a noticeable increase in dwell time. Right of way permission buttons are located at each doorway, allowing guards to roam through the train.

The train network is currently limited to 20 trains per hour (tph) due to there only being 2 tracks into the 5 track Britomart terminus. There is also a flat junction outside of Britomart which can cause minor delays. The City Rail Link tunnel is currently under construction which will run under Auckland's CBD from Britomart to Mt Eden, allowing for a doubling of capacity and a more direct route for Western Line services.

No barrier pedestrian crossing
Other rail observations are that full station car parks are an issue in Auckland as well as Brisbane, and pedestrian level crossings do not have barriers (only lights and audible warning).

Auckland's bus network was also recently re-designed, allowing the city to have twice as many high frequency bus routes as Brisbane. Some train stations such as Panmure have a bus interchange for efficient bus connections, and unlike Brisbane, many high frequency bus routes by-pass the CBD or feed rail.  Auckland has a Northern Busway, which serves (unsurprisingly) the Northern Suburbs that lack a train line. There is provision for this to be converted to light rail. Thanks to some political long term thinking, Mangere Bridge has also been designed to allow an extension of the Onehunga Line to Auckland Airport.

Auckland also has an extensive ferry network, which links some Northern suburbs and many of Auckland's islands. The main ferry terminus is adjacent to Britomart station.

Auckland's smart card is the AT HOP card, which has a relatively high $10 purchase fee. Fares are reasonable, unless you have to use a more expensive paper ticket. Most train stations are unstaffed, but seem to have at least 2 ticket and top-up machines for redundancy.

Auckland's public transport has improve considerably in the last few years. Unlike in Brisbane, where bus network reform was obstructed by Brisbane City Council in 2013, Auckland has a highly efficient bus network. Unlike Brisbane, train services are reliable, with reasonable and consistent frequency. Finally, unlike Brisbane, Auckland is constructing an underground rail tunnel to increase rail capacity through the CBD. Brisbane's politicians need to take a serious look at Auckland to see how public transport can be improved.

BrizCommuter becomes WellyCommuter

Matangi trains at Wellington Station
Whilst trying to escape Brisbane's Rail Fail (#FleeQld), BrizCommuter travelled to Wellington and Auckland in New Zealand, to experience their public transport systems. The first in this two part series is BrizCommuter's insight into Wellington's public transport system.

Wellington is the administrative capital of New Zealand, located at the Southern end of New Zealand's North Island. It has a population of around 200,000 (just 10% of Brisbane's population) and a population of 400,000 in its surrounding urban area. It is thus quite a small city to have a half-decent commuter rail system, as well as a bus and trolleybus network. Wellington is like a mini-Hong Kong, with a bowl shaped inner-city with (shorter) high rises next to a harbour, and a cable car climbing the mountain.

All public transport operators are privatised, with train services run by Transdev Wellington, and use run by multiple companies including GO Wellington. They are all branded as Metlink. The Greater Wellington Regional Council is responsible for planning and subsidising public transport.

Matangi Train at Redwood Station
Wellington has a relatively new fleet of 75x2-car EMU trains (Matangi/FP Class) that run on its 1,500V DC overhead electrified network. There are 4 urban lines, the Johnsonville Line, Kapiti Line, Melling Branch, and Hutt Valley Line. There is a 4 track core section, with all of these lines terminating at Wellington Station, which has There are also some diesel hauled services to/from Masterton (Wairarapa Connection) , Palmerston North, and Auckland. On the 4 electrified urban lines, the off-peak base service is an all stations train running every 30 minutes (hourly on Melling Branch), which is reasonable enough for such a small urban area. The peak services are approximately every 15 to 20 minutes for most stations, with a mix of express and non-express services patterns, though frequencies are not consistent (other than every 15 minutes on the Johnsonville Line). Counter-peak frequencies are in some cases worse than every 30 minutes, with added expresses between Wellington and the turn-back location in the am peak (or vice versa in the pm peak). Trains can be be formed of 2, 4, or 6-car consists, with most peak services observed as being 4 or 6-cars. All trains observed in the peak had spare seats available, though this was a relatively quiet time of the year.

The platforms are relatively low. For each 2-train train, one carriage has low/platform level floor and doors for wheelchair and pram access. This makes for much better accessibility than in Brisbane. There are manually operated fold out ramps if required. The ends of this carriage, and 100% of the second carriage has 100% high level seating.

All lines are worth travelling on for interested visitors. In particular the Johnsonville Line has many sharp curves and tunnels as it climbs the hillside. The Kapiti Line has many coastal sections, and a very long tunnel between Wellington and Takapu Road stations. Another point of interest is Redwood Station which has offset side platforms either side of a level crossing to reduce level crossing closure time. Pedestrian crossings only have lights and no barriers.

Whilst the Snapper smart card is available for buses, taxis, and some shops, trains still rely on paper tickets. Most stations do not have a ticket office or ticket machine, and are bought on board from the guard. In fact some 4 and 6-car trains have more than one guard for this reason. This is rather quaint, if somewhat inefficient. However, with roaming staff on every train, it may deter fare evaders. Fares are also relatively high, in line with New Zealand's high cost of living. Child discounts are unacceptably small at 20%.

Wellington Cablecar
Wellington also has a decent bus and trolleybus network, which a reasonable number of high frequency routes (every 10 to 20 min) for a city of its size. As the city's hilly topography makes it relatively linear in nature, it is easier for the city to have an efficient bus network. As Wellington Station is not particularly central, a large number of commuters use the buses and trolleybuses to get from Wellington Station to other parts of the CBD. With a good interchange at Wellington Station, and many buses travelling along the same routes through the CBD, then the service through the CBD is operated at very high frequency. There has been some lobbying towards running tram trains from the existing train lines through to the CBD, but BrizCommuter doesn't know if there will be any progress in the land of reality.

Wellington also has a 5 station mountain-side cable car (funicular) which is mainly used by tourists. However locals can still use it with the smart card. Get there early to avoid queues, especially if a cruise ship is in town. There are also a couple of harbour ferries.

BrizCommuter found Wellington's public transport system a joy to use. The only delays were experienced just after "strong" or "severe" earthquakes! The smart card needs to be rolled out system wide with a more integrated fare structure. Train frequencies could be better, and peak frequencies more consistent. However, frequencies are still still very good for a city of Wellington's population.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

QR's Rail Fail to continue for at least a year!

QR - World's worst train operator?
Last updated 24/01/2017

Since the Redcliffe Peninsula Line opened in early October, SE Queensland commuters have been suffering badly from abysmal train service provision caused by lack of drivers and trains, due to the decision making failures of three successive (ALP and LNP) Queensland Governments, and of course Queensland Rail's (QR) incompetence.

For the last few weeks, the School Holiday Interim Timetable (SHIT) has been in operation, with peak and daytime off-peak service cuts of 50-60% despite reduced patronage of only 25%. These cuts, combined with express services being eliminated has caused even more Brisbane commuters to give up on using public transport.

New timetables were expected from the 23rd January 2016. Long suffering commuters were hoping for the return of the half-decent, but still sub-optimal "normal" timetables. However, as nothing was announced until Tuesday 17th January, it was pretty obvious that the new timetables were only going to be bad news. In fact, the news was far worse than expected. Not only has the diabolical Interim Timetable Mk2 been revived, it has been stated by the CEO of Queensland Rail that this timetable will remain in place for the whole of 2017! This is absolutely disgraceful. So what are the issues with the Interim Timetable Mk2?
  • Over 330 train services cut from the timetable per week. 
  • Different timetables for Mon-Thu and Friday which will continue to cause mass confusion and annoyance. 
  • Friday's Ferny Grove Line am peak service has been savaged, with two usually full 3-car services completely removed, potentially resulting in overcrowding on preceding and following services. 
  • The early finishing pm peak Cleveland Line express service now finishes even earlier. 
  • Excessive gaps between peak services - 22 minute am peak service gap on inner Beenleigh Line, 30 minute am peak service gap on the outer Cleveland Line Monday to Friday, 30 minute pm peak service gap on the inner Cleveland Line on Fridays, 24 minute pm peak service gap on the Ipswich Line (at different times of course on Fridays), 60 minute am peak service gap on the Doomben Line on Fridays, and more. 
  • Seemingly random service gaps in early morning, daytime, and evening off-peak services making the system unusable for shift workers, and leaving school kids stranded on platforms. 
  • 77% service cuts (compared to pre-October 2016 timetable) to the "Inner North" services, providing ongoing misery for Nundah, Toombul, Wooloowin, and Albion commuters which have had peak service frequency reduced from every 3 minutes to 15 minutes at times, and the added "fun" of overcrowded 3-car trains.  
  • Expectations of ongoing cancellations and delays due to "operational issues", with delayed or non-existent customer information. Rumours that Fridays may continue to be a cancellation-fest! 
  • Ongoing poor communication from QR about service changes.
  • Politicians obsessed by on-time running statistics over QR actually providing an adequate train service to meet demand. 
  • TransLink are still expecting passengers to pay expensive fares for poor service, with no financial compensation for delays. 
  • No .pdf timetables available on TransLink's website at the time of writing, despite this timetable being re-cycled! 
The failure to implement the "normal" timetables in time for the busiest time of the year for passenger loads (after school and universities start) will result in severe overcrowding on some services, commuter frustration, and political suicide for the ALP Queensland Government. The only thing that may reduce overcrowding is that so many commuters have given up on using trains (including more than 50% of BrizCommuter's work colleagues). Patronage could easily drop to figures similar to the start of the previous decade. However this rail patronage drop will just make road congestion worse, something that RACQ have already voiced concerns about. 

Brisbanites are unable to rely on QR getting them to work, school, university, the airport, or appointments on time. Commuters who were hoping for urgently required service improvements such as additional pm peak services on the Ferny Grove Line, and extension of the pm peak express service on the Cleveland Line will be bitterly disappointed. With, the 2018 Commonwealth Games likely to result in short term improvements only on the Gold Coast Line, commuters expecting to see any improvements will be waiting a long time. In fact, BrizCommuter has little confidence in train services in SE Queensland for the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Maybe the games should have been handed to a rival third world country instead?

QR are also acting delusional, by reportedly asking their community reference group members to re-write QR's customer charter. Given QR's ongoing contempt for the travelling public, this exercise amounts to putting lipstick on a pig. It would be far more constructive for QR to truthfully inform commuters of when this #RailFail is going to end! Is the ongoing #RailFail still due to lack of drivers, or is it just a budget equalisation measure? Please tell the truth QR?

QR's Rail Fail is likely to result in privatisation when the LNP are inevitably re-elected, something they were secretly trying to achieve by causing the lack of driver issue in the first place. After a 150 year history, the nail is in the coffin for QR as an organisation. 

With QR's Rail Fail now guaranteed to last at least another year, Brisbane will also to continue to slide down the rankings in regards of liveability. This is bad for existing businesses, and bad for Brisbane trying to attract new businesses, especially when rival Oceana cities such as Auckland and Perth have considerably better public transport. Brisbane really is proving itself to be a backwards pissant town!

TransLinks website for 23rd January 2017 train timetable:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Advertising Wraps Rapped

Can't see through the window?
Queensland Rail (QR) and Brisbane Transport seem to think it is acceptable to prevent passengers from seeing out of windows, due to covering their trains and buses with advertising wraps. This is annoying a lot commuters who would actually like to see where that are going. The visibility is worse at night and during/after rain when it is almost impossible for commuters with 20/20 vision to see through the windows. Passengers with poor eye-sight have even worse problems seeing through the wraps to the outside world. There have even been multiple reports of passengers missing their stops, as they didn't know where they were. QR train and CityGlider bus passengers are the most upset about their limited visibility.

BrizCommuter calls on SE Queensland's public transport operators to stop covering windows with advertising wraps, and give passengers the basic travelling requirement of being able to see out of the window!