Thursday, March 29, 2018

AHRC - NGR Trains are Illegal

An "illegal" QR NGR train
After many weeks and months of haggling between various interested parties, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has handed down the final verdict on Queensland Rail's New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains.

Exempted until Oct 2020:
  • Availability of a manual assisted boarding device (ramp) at any accessible entrance.
Not exempted:
  • Width of access path adjacent to the unisex accessible toilet module in the MB car.
  • Width of access path adjacent to an allocated space in the accessible cars.
  • Access path is only available at a single door.
  • Extent of access path from the entrance of the single assisted boarding door to all allocated spaces and priority seats in the accessible cars.
  • Extent of access path from the entrance of the single assisted boarding door to the unisex accessible toilet module.
  • Availability of unisex accessible toilet to passengers using wheelchairs and mobility aids.
  • Ability for passengers in wheelchairs or mobility aids to enter, position their aids and exit the toilet module.
  • Dimension from the centre line of the pan to the far-side wall (of toilet). 
Quite clearly, this is a major embarrassment for the Queensland Government, and timing just ahead of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (itself likely to be a transport nightmare) cannot be worse. 

Both sides of politics need to be blamed for the mess. The NGR trains were ordered under the destructive LNP Newman government, by the Department of Transport and Main Roads. They were ordered non-complaint with Disability Access legislation, as well as being designed without a guard location which had to be added at a later stage. It is rumoured that the NGR's were to be used under a stealth rail privatisation plan, which ended when the Newman government unexpectedly (to them) lost power. The ALP Palaszczuk government has had its head in the sand in respect to solving the problem, hoping that spin and bluster could somehow get them out of the hole dug by the previous government. 

There is no question that a Commission of Inquiry must be held to get to the bottom of the disaster that is the NGR project. It also needs to be questioned as to why Department of Transport and Main Roads are still running this project, and also that public transport governance in SE Queensland needs a serious overhaul. The implications of the NGR design failures may even result in Cross River Rail opening with insufficient trains

The big question is whether the ruling means that NGR trains will be withdrawn from service, possibly even before the Commonwealth Games? The AHRC cannot force the NGRs to be removed from services. However, it may be theoretically possible for someone launch a High Court injunction to stop the non-compliant trains from running. BrizCommuter thinks it would be very unlikely for this to occur, as it would further embarrass Queensland and Australia ahead of the largest sporting event in Australia for a decade. Unlikely, but still possible. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Super Saturday, Not So Super Train Service

Not so super! Source: meme centre
TransLink have announced Easter Saturday (31st March 2018) as being "Super Saturday" in Brisbane and SE Queensland. These events include:
  • Queen's Baton Relay
  • Festival 2018
  • Brisbane Roar vs Central Coast Mariners
  • Brisbane Lions vs Melbourne Demons
  • GC2018 Open Ceremony Dress Rehearsal
  • Doomben Races
With all of these events for "Super Saturday", you think that there would be a "Super" train service? Of course not. "Super Saturday" falls on the second day of the Commonwealth Games Rail Fail Timetable - well the first of three confusing timetables to be precise. This "third world" hourly timetable on all lines is thanks to Queensland Rail's (QR) "everlasting #RailFail" which has no end in sight. Whilst Brisbane is languishing with trains every 60 minutes, Perth, Sydney, and Melbourne are running trains every 15 minutes or better. Even tiny little Wellington in New Zealand is running double the frequency of train services.

As well as making it very difficult to get to these events, the hourly train services are causing woe for commuters (including healthcare staff) trying to get to work, and quite likely damaging CBD businesses that are getting less trade. It is also causing damage to Brisbane and SE Queensland's reputation on the world stage. In the mean time the Transport Minister Mark Bailey has been stated in the news as claiming that he is "confident rail won't fail during the @GC2018" It already has failed Mr Bailey! Are you on a different planet to reality? 

PS: Can QR please give the "illegal" NGRs a wash before GC2018, they look like they haven't had a wash since they left India! 

Friday, March 16, 2018

April Timetable Confusion!

Nine April timetables just for
the Ferny Grove Line!
A wave of confusion is taking over SE Queensland commuters ahead of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018). In most cities hosting sporting events, extra train services are operated on top of the existing timetable. Unfortunately in the Banana State, in the midst of #RailFail, NGR Fail, and everything else Fail, we will be seeing an overall 6% reduction in train services to handle the 6 million increase in journeys. As only the Gold Coast Line will be seeing service enhancements, many train lines will be seeing a 50% cut in train services. Just to add to the confusion, commuters will be faced with multiple different Queensland Rail (QR) timetables during April.

Here is an example of one line - the Ferny Grove Line:

  • 30th March to 2nd April - Easter timetable - "third world" hourly services. 
  • 3rd to 4th April - Rehashed Summer Holiday Interim Timetable (SHIT) with 50% services reduction during parts of the peak and off-peak periods.
  • 5th to 15th April - GC2018 Timetable with all services terminating at Roma Street, 50% service reductions during parts of the peak and off-peak periods, and abysmal hourly weekend services.
  • 16th to 20th April - Return of the SHIT - expect severe overcrowding as the school holidays and GC2018 will have ended. 
  • 21st April onwards - #RailFail Timetable - with 330(ish) axed train services, and the weekly joy of "Friday Fail Day".
It is no surprise that commuters will be very confused as to how to get to work, go out, or even get to the Games with so many timetable changes. Some of BrizCommuter's work colleagues have given up, and will just drive instead, which somewhat defeats the purpose of public transport. Others have just taken time off, fleeing the "State that political competence forgot". BrizCommuter has received reports of GC2018 spectators regretting getting tickets to events as the public transport situation is so bad, especially on weekends with hourly connecting train services on most lines. Even some GC2018 volunteers are thinking of quitting at the last minute due to the looming transport nightmare. Adding to the mess, is that the popular park and ride at Beenleigh is not bookable, and cannot guarantee spaces. The recent 8 hour suspension of the Ferny Grove Line after some light rain short circuited a cable, and doors "falling off" NGR trains is not exactly filling commuters with confidence. 

As predicted by BrizCommuter back in November 2016, the transport situation for GC2018 is likely to be a disaster. Only a stroke of luck will avoid total embarrassment for Queensland and Australia. It would be hoped that international embarrassment will provide a kick up the posterior to Queensland politicians to sort out SE Queenland's failing public transport system. but they are so stuck in the Land of Spin that is unfortunately unlikely. Whilst politicians will hail a "success", comments of QR and TransLink's social media will tell the real story. 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Will QR's Rail Fail impact Cross River Rail's opening?

Cross River Rail's proposed
am peak service pattern (2026)
Cross River Rail (CRR) is currently expected to open in 2024. Queensland Rail have been quoted as saying that the current #RailFail due to lack of drivers will not be resolved (i.e. restoration of the full Oct 2016 timetable) until 2020. BrizCommuter correctly predicted the Commonwealth Games Rail Fail back in November 2016. This may be a long shot, but BrizCommuter is predicting that the knock on effects of Rail Fail and New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) Fail will also affect the opening of Cross River Rail in the mid-2020s. What is BrizCommuter's reasoning behind this soothsaying?
  • The October 2016 timetable will not be restored until 2019 or even 2020. Considerably more rail services, and thus more drivers need to be added to optimise the existing (pre-CRR network) - examples being 15 minute off-peak service on Springfield, Ipswich, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Lines, and improvements to pm peak services on almost all train lines (Cleveland Line being the most critical). 
  • The proposed (2026) service pattern for Cross River Rail will require a considerable increase in peak (26 more tph in the am peak) services, as well as additonal off-peak services. This will also require a further considerable increase in train drivers. 
  • Not enough NGR trains have been ordered to optimise the train services on the existing (pre-CRR network). In fact approximately 13 additional 6-car trains are required to provide adequate extra services on the existing rail network as well as replace all EMU, ICE, and unreliable SMU200 trains. 
  • Approximately 29 additional 6-car trains (thus 42 in total) will be required to provide the extra train services proposed for CRR.
  • Given the severe issues with the design of the NGR trains, and the Palaszczuk government's "Buy Queensland" policy, an add on order for extra NGR trains is looking increasingly unlikely. Thus a whole new procurement and construction process will be required, delaying the addition of additional trains onto QR's network. This design and procurement process would realistically need to start before the end of 2019 if the additional trains are to be in service in time for CRR's opening.  
  • The risk of a future LNP government repeating destructive policies, such as driver recruitment freezes, or attempting to privatise QR by stealth before the opening of CRR. 
  • Multiple additional infrastructure projects are required to meet CRR's proposed service pattern - including additional tracks along parts of the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor, duplication of the Cleveland Line's single track sections, additional train stabling, turnback facility at Salisbury or Acacia Ridge, and optimised track layout at Kippa-Ring. None of these projects have been started or funding sourced. 
  • Poor public transport governance under Department of Transport and Main Roads. 
Without sustained driver (and train crew) recruitment throughout the next 6 to 8 years, timely orders for approximately 42 additional 6-car trains, and multiple infrastructure projects, it will be difficult to achieve to proposed service patterns for Cross River Rail when it opens in the mid-2020s. Failures in any of these areas will result in a repeat of Rail Fail where there were insufficient drivers and trains to operate the October 2016 timetable after the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line. This would result in sub-optimal train services on both the existing train network and on train lines that that will run through CRR. Given Queensland's track record of blundering transport planning, BrizCommuter is feeling rather pessimistic. You heard it here first - #CRRrailfail. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

NGR Denied!

Mothballed NGRs eating grass at Redbank
Can things get even worse for Queensland Rail's (QR) New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains? Yes. The disastrous NGR project, which was run by Department of Transport and Main Roads (and not QR) has taken another turn into the depths of disappointment. As BrizCommuter readers will be aware, the LNP Newman government ordered trains that have toilet cubicles too narrow to fit wheelchairs, and are thus in breach of the Disability Discrimination Act. After a few years of sitting on their heels, the ALP Palaszczuk government decided to modify the trains, by adding a compliant toilet in nearly half of the trains, and annoyingly remove toilets from the the remainder of the fleet. Despite being "illegal", the trains were arrogantly entered into passenger service anyway, with the requirement for 8 trains to be in service for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018). A temporary exemption by the Australian Human Rights Condition was applied for. Today, this exemption was turned down. The Queensland Government has two weeks to respond. So what will happen?
  • Will QR continue to run the trains in service until there is a legal challenge?
  • Will the NGRs have to be withdrawn from service before the Commonwealth Games - turning GC2018 Rail Fail into GC2018 Epic Rail Fail?
  • Will the NGRs have to be completely re-designed and re-built?
  • Will completely new train designs have to be ordered for Cross River Rail? (Hint, procurement will need to start soon)
  • Will more NGR's be put out to pasture at Redbank?
  • Will the geriatric and unreliable EMU trains have to keep going for years to come?
  • Will frustrated commuters ever see the end of overcrowded 3-car services due to lack of trains?
There is no question that there needs to be a Commission of Inquiry into the huge botch that is the NGR project, and those that made seriously bad design decisions need to be held accountable for their actions.