Monday, April 30, 2018

4 Years of Pain - QR's 3-car-maggedon Continues

No more space on this 3-car train!
Back on January 2014, BrizCommuter reported on overcrowded 3-car services that were introduced in the new (at the time) timetable. This was due to a chronic lack of trains. Commuters were promised that as soon as the NGR trains were in service (originally touted for late 2015), that the 3-car services would be replaced by 6-car services in order of priority based on overcrowding. Unfortunately, despite a handful of NGR trains now being in service, BrizCommuter is only aware of one 3-car service (7:25am from Ferny Grove) that has been replaced by a 6-car service (well, apart from on Fridays when this service has been axed). 4 years after the January 2014 timetables, there are still approximately 19 peak services formed from 3-car sardine cans - with services on the Ferny Grove, Cleveland, Sunshine Coast, and Shorncliffe Lines often being complained about.

Just to make things worse, it seems that Queensland Rail (QR) have already started to withdraw the geriatric EMU trains from service, making it harder to eliminate all of the overcrowded 3-car services. It is not clear if the withdrawn trains have reliability issues so bad that withdrawing them was the most ethical decision?

The lack of action in eliminating the 3-car services has been raised by Rail Back on Track in social media, and does not seem to have had any response from QR, the Queensland Government, or Department of Transport and Main Roads. This is yet another issue causing pain for commuters in which QR are keeping the long suffering travelling public in the dark. 4 years and counting to solve a "temporary" problem is far from acceptable.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

QR's Rail Fail - Is the RTBU shooting itself in the foot?

QR - about to be consigned to history?
Things are clearly not going well with the recovery from Queensland Rail's (QR) Rail Fail. After claims in early 2017 that the axed services would be restored (with driver overtime) by early 2019, 2020 is now looking more likely, possibly even 2021. QR, CityTrain Response Unit (CRU), and the ALP Palaszczuk government are all tight lipped on when the full October 2016 timetable will be restored, leaving long suffering commuters in the dark. It is quite clear that the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are not helping matters when it comes to service recovery by their opposition to external driver recruitment. Questions that need to be asked to QR, CRU, the Queensland Government, and the RTBU, are:

  • Why was a new EBA (which included internal recruitment) signed off by the QR Board just before the Strachan report into Rail Fail?
  • What else in the EBA will affect Rail Fail recovery? (Hint: drivers break times). 
  • Despite the Strachan inquiry recommending external recruitment, why have no drivers without previous QR experience been trained?
  • Does the RTBU and QR care about the external driver applicants stuck in job limbo? (Some are now in serious financial difficulties)
  • Does the RTBU care about long suffering commuters, and the damage to QLD economy and reputation due to Rail Fail?
  • When will there be a consistent Monday to Friday timetable?
  • When will commuters cease to be inflicted by reduced service holiday timetables, and hourly weekend train services? 
  • When will the full October 2016 timetable be restored?
  • When will urgently required services improvements (such as improved pm peak services and 15 min off-peak on sector 1 lines) occur?
There is growing public resentment towards the ALP Palaszczuk government, QR, and RTBU, due to #RailFail dragging on for years. It is increasingly likely that QR will be rapidly privatised by the LNP when they next gain power. Of course, this was the LNP's original plan, as the seeds of Rail Fail were sown by driver recruitment freezes under the Newman government. It seems that if the RTBU continue to show contempt towards the travelling public, they will be shooting themselves in the foot, as their ALP bedfellows will loose power, and QR will be consigned to history.  

Monday, April 23, 2018

North West Transport Corridor - The Missing Link

Source: DoTMR
This isn't the first time that BrizCommuter has written about the need for the Trouts Road / North West Transport(ation) Corridor for rail, but this blog post goes into more detail. This reserved corridor stretches through Brisbane's Northern suburbs between Everton Park and Carseldine. Apart from a mention in Connecting SEQ 2031 under the state ALP Bligh government, there has been very little mention of this transport corridor in politics until recently. Recent mention has been related to the federal LPN Turnbull government's suggestion of a fast rail link between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast called "North Coast Connect". So what are the advantages of building a rail line along Trouts Road / North West Transport Corridor?
  • 100% increases in rail capacity from Caboolture and the Sunshine Coast into Brisbane (up to 24tph). This would also allow a 100% increase in rail capacity from the Redcliffe Peninsula Line and/or the Shorncliffe Line (up to 24tph). This cannot be realised by Cross Rail Rail alone due to the 4 track bottleneck on the existing North Coast Line between Albion and Northgate (which only allows for an additional 3tph to Caboolture and the Sunshine Coast). 
  • Faster journey times between Caboolture and the Sunshine Coast to Roma Street due to an approx. 5km shorter, straighter, and faster alignment.
  • High frequency public transport to many Brisbane Northern suburbs (Everton Park, Stafford Heights, McDowell, Chermside West) currently devoid of high frequency public transport. 
  • Allows for direct rail services between the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. 
  • Would improve the business cases for Sunshine Coast Line duplication and rail to Caloundra and Maroochydore (CAMCOS). 
  • All of the above would reduce pressure on roads across Brisbane's Northside and the Bruce Highway. 24tph with 50% full trains = 10,000 cars off the road = 5 car lanes/hour/direction. 
There have been some suggestions of building a freeway along this corridor. This is poor value for money concept as there would nowhere for the cars to go once they get the Samford Road or Wardell Street, over than already congested roads that would be difficult to upgrade. BrizCommuter would also debate if there is enough room for both a train line and freeway along the corridor (especially if more than 2 tracks are required) without requiring further property resumptions or building a double deck rail/road structure. There would however be space for local access roads, in particular to station car parks and drop off zones. An adjacent cycleway could also be easily provisioned. 

Suggested track map for the Trouts Rd Line
So where would the line go (heading South to North)?
  • Ideally, the line would break off from the Cross River Rail (CRR) tunnel just North of Roma Street, in the vicinity of Countess Street. It is vital that tunnel connections are created during the construction of CRR, as adding them later would force the temporary closure of CRR for months (as there are no track crossovers to allow CRR services to turnback at Roma Street). Frequency of CRR and Trouts Road services would be well matched, allowing for all or most services to through run, though this would make the rebuilt Exhibition station a bit of a white elephant. 
  • The first station heading North would be at QUT Kelvin Grove, adjacent to Kelvin Grove Road. This serves a large trip generator. 
  • The next station would be at Alderley, allowing for interchange with the Ferny Grove Line. The most ideal location would be just North north of Alderley station which would require some industrial and residential resumption. 
  • The line would then climb out of the tunnel, with a station at Stafford Rd in Everton Park. Due to the line having to cross Kedron Brook, the exact alignment here would need some detailed analysis.  
  • The line would then climb up and continue along the Trouts Road corridor, with stations at Flockton Street, Hamilton Road, Albany Creek Road, and Beams Road. The alignment is fairly hilly, so a reasonable amount of earthworks would be required. 
  • North of Beams Road, the line would need to be routed to connect with the existing North Coast (Caboolture) Line. Increasing development makes things tricky here, but an elevated route over Gympie Road would probably most cost effective. 
  • The line would connect with the existing North Coast Line to the South East of Strathpine station via a grade separated junction, allowing for via Trouts Road services to run to/from Caboolture and Sunshine Coast, and Redcliffe Peninsula Line services to run via Northgate. A 4th track would need to be added between Strathpine and Lawnton. 
  • Preferably, the Trouts Road Line would have 4 tracks between the tunnel portal at Everton Park and Beams Road, allowing for express services to overtake all stations services in both directions. Ideally, Sunshine Coast services would run express, and Caboolture services would serve all stations. Alternatively Sunshine Coast and Caboolture services could run express, and local service starting at Strathpine would service all stations. However, this latter service pattern would require additional reversing facilities at Strathpine, which are complicated by the directional uses of each track. This would also reduce the maximum frequency of services that could serve Caboolture and Sunshine Coast (to approx. 16tph). 
  • Stations would have an optimal mix of car parking, local feeder buses, kiss'n'ride drop off, and active transport access (walking/bike). With a 4 track layout, a central island platform with inner local and lateral express tracks would be most preferable at stations between Everton Park and Beams Road (see suggested track map). Stations would be designed to allow for up to 9-car trains in the future. 
  • Alternative options that would need a cost/benefit analysis are for a tunnel routing via Ashgrove and Enoggera, or for 2 stations at Felstead Street and Rode Road instead of 3 at Stafford Road, Flockton Street, and Hamilton Road. 3 tracks may slightly lower costs, but would prevent express services from overtaking all stations services in the counter-peak direction. With 3 tracks, two side platforms would be required, with a centre express track. If not connected to CRR, a dedicated underground terminus could be built at Roma Street (or elsewhere in the CBD), but this would considerably add to the cost, and cause an inefficient North/South train service imbalance compared to through routing all CRR services. Using the existing Ferny Grove Line as an alternative to tunnelling between Roma Street and Alderley would have negative implications on capacity and journey time, and is thus a poor option. 
So what is required to make this happen?
  • Political competence, forward thinking, bi-partisan thinking, and funding. These are all currently sadly lacking in Queensland. 
  • Urgently change the design of CRR to allow for a junction near Countess Street (without having to temporarily close CRR for months). 
  • Further route safeguarding, especially in the Enoggera/Alderley area, and between Beams Road and the North Coast Line. 
Construction of the North West Transport Corridor / Trouts Road Line is critical for allowing "fast trains to the Sunshine Coast", significantly increasing capacity on the Sunshine Coast, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines, and improving public transport to the Northern suburbs of Brisbane. It is also important that provision is made for this line to connect into the proposed CRR tunnels, otherwise CRR will need to be closed for months to allow for this work to occur. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

GC2018 - Review and to the Future

Shuttle buses - not a success
GC2018 Transport Review

Now that the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) has ended, how did the transport plan fare?
  • Light Rail / G:link - with all but 1 tram in service, the up to 6 minute frequency was successful at transport large amounts of passengers with few delays or excessive queues. 
  • Shuttle Bus services - these were more embarrassing than the amateurish closing ceremony. Whilst things did improve during the games, loading (and at times unloading) procedures were poorly organised and implemented. The special shuttle buses for people with disabilities were also reported as having serious operational issues. 
  • High frequency scheduled bus services - these were generally popular and successful, though multiple successive full buses occurred before/after some events. Light and heavy rail is much better at moving large numbers of people efficiently.
  • QR's Gold Coast Line service - the 6 to 8tph train service was successful at moving large numbers of passengers with few reports of overcrowding (probably helped by low capacity shuttle buses feeding it), and no serious delays. 
  • Rest of QR's CityTrain network - due to lack of train drivers #RailFail, reduced services on all other train lines resulted in Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast having an an even more infrequent and dysfunctional public transport system than usual. This will continue for another week. 
  • M1 - this was often busy but still moving. Much of this was due to drivers avoiding the M1 like the plague. 
Whilst many elements of the transport plan were successful, the entire GC2018 transport plan cannot be considered a success due to the rest of SE Queensland having significantly reduced train services, and the epic shuttle bus failures.

The Future

There is no question that the improved service frequencies on the Gold Coast Light Rail (G:link) and QR's Gold Coast Line provided to be very popular with the travelling public. In fact, many Gold Coasters will be disappointed with the return to normality. SE Queensland urgently needs to move towards having a train network with a high frequency 7-days a week off-peak service throughout most of the network (just like in Sydney, Perth, and Melbourne). What is required for this to happen?
  • More drivers - it is unlikely that #RailFail will be resolved until the next decade, and it will taken further years of sustained driver recruitment until 15 minute off-peak services can rolled out network wide. This needs to be high priority. 
  • More trains - whilst providing off-peak services is less of an issue than peak services, the current NGR order is insufficient to even maximise use of the existing train network prior to Cross River Rail. 
  • Improved infrastructure - extra tracks on part of the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor and Sunshine Coast Line would be a minimum requirement for network wide 15 minute off-peak service. Cross River Rail, Trouts Rd/NE Transportation Corridor Line, Cleveland Line duplication, Salisbury to Beaudesert Line, extension to Ripley, a new train line to Caloundra and Maroochydore, and extensions to the Gold Coast Light Rail are also required to cope with the growing population of SE Queensland. 
  • Improved bus connectivity - move to bus feeder networks. This won't work until the train frequency is half-decent. 
  • Improved political competence, co-operation, and governance - none of the above will happen without the end to pathetic tit-for-tat politics and co-operation between various levels of government. Public transport governance needs a serious change for SE Queensland if any progress is to be made. 
Some other lessons that need to be learnt for future sporting events in Queensland, Australia, and the rest of the world (please read Birmingham, as your stadium for the 2022 Commonwealth Games is also in a mediocre location):
  • Ideally venues should be constructed within easy walking distance of high capacity and high frequency public transport - most preferably heavy rail. The London Olympic Park got it right being served by over 100tph! Shuttle bus services and associated Park'n'Rides should be avoided as being the primary method of transport to a venue.
  • If shuttle buses are required, then dedicated infrastructure needs to be provided to allow this to efficient - allowing for grade separated flows of buses and pedestrians, and sufficient nearby places for buses to queue. Look at Brisbane's Suncorp Stadium as a good example. 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

A "SHIT" week due for Brisbane commuters

With the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) drawing to a close, Brisbane commuters are still in for yet another week of commuting misery. Due to Queensland Rail's (QR) ongoing lack of driver induced #RailFail, QR will be running a School Holiday Interim Timetable (SHIT) during the working week after GC2018 has finished. Previous iterations of the SHIT have not gone down well with commuters, with lengthened commutes and overcrowding on some services. This time from Tuesday 17th April (inclusive) to Friday 20th April, it is not the school holidays anymore. Thus a full compliment of commuters will be using QR's CityTrain network, whilst the reduced service SHIT is in operation. So what are the issues with QR's SHIT?
  • Peak services reduced by up to 60% - this will result in overcrowding and possibly full trains on most train lines. 
  • Peak express services eliminated - reduced am peak, and no pm peak express services on the Ipswich and Cleveland Lines will significantly lengthen commutes, already affected by reduced frequency. 
  • Off-peak service reduced by up to 50% - off-peak trains every 30 minutes - worse than all other cities in Oceania. 
  • Broken bus connections - due to services reductions, and different clock face times, bus connections will be broken. 
  • Commuters still being charged peak fares for a heavily reduced peak train service. Can commuters launch a class action against TransLink?
Unfortunately, QR's #RailFail is still causing severe pain for Brisbane and SE Queensland commuters. Given that both QR and the next to useless CityTrain Response Unit refuse to mention when it will be resolved (originally stated at early 2019), expect years of pain to continue. The ongoing mess can be blamed on QR and Department of Transport and Main Roads for lack of competent forward planning, as well as political and union interference. At a time when GC2018 has shown that high frequency public transport on the Gold Coast can be successful, QR's inability to offer this to commuters for years to come makes its future look very bleak. 

Monday, April 9, 2018

GC2018 - Disgrace Shuttle Continues

Only 300m to go!
 With the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) now into its 5th day of competition, BrizCommuter takes a look to see how transport is coping.

Due to the scare campaign ahead of the games, the M1 has surprisingly managed quite well. It has been busy at times, but traffic still moving at between 90-100kph. Maybe that second M1 isn't so urgent after all?

Queensland Rail's Gold Coast Line service has been quite successful, with the 8tph service managing the crowds well. Reliability has been reasonably good, with only a few delays circa 15 minutes. However, it does seem that TransLink are not reporting all of the known Gold Coast Line delays, and have been caught out changing the wording to not mention the Gold Coast Line (e.g. a delay on a "Domestic Airport to Varsity Lakes" service was shown as a delay on a "Domestic Airport to Roma Street" service).

Unfortunately, due to the enhanced Gold Coast Line services, the rest of QR's network is suffering. Overcrowding has been reported on multiple lines due to the reduced peak services. Hourly weekend services have been a great annoyance to Brisbane workers, and also those who want to connect to Gold Coast Line services to get to GC2018 on weekends. In fact despite the disastrous shuttle bus services (later in this blog post), the "drive/park'n'ride/horrific queue" option was still faster than getting the train if you had to connect to/from another train line in Brisbane. A mini-meltdown late on Sunday evening further exacerbated the pain of hourly train services.

The Sunshine Coast Line has also been affected by unreliable ICE trains. Sunshine Coast Line passengers are also not happy with toilet free EMU trains on the long distance services (as the toilet equipped trains have been sent to the Gold Coast Line).

Light Rail (Trams) 
The Gold Coast Light Rail (G: Link) has been dealing with very heavy loading, and suffering from overcrowding, and service bunching as a result. However, BrizCommuter is not aware of any delays of more than 15 minutes (including queuing or extended waits due to full trams). Whilst an increase in frequency from every 6 to 4 minutes would have eliminated these issues, it is doubtful that purchasing more trams would have been a good use of money in the long term.

Shuttle Buses
Only 100m to go!
Unfortunately, the shuttle buses have been where the GC2018 transport plan has fallen on its face. Things haven't improved much since the 2 hour shuttle bus queues at the Opening Ceremony. On Sunday night at Carrara stadium there were social media reports of up to 90 minute waits for Broadbeach and Yatala Park'n'Ride buses. This is despite the stadium emptying gradually over the last hour or so of the Athletics session. There has even been a report of a bus driver going the wrong way and having to be directed to Yatala by passengers. Reports of 60 minute waits at Coomera Sports Centre after the Gymnastics have also been seen on social media.

The unloading and loading procedures were observed to be highly inefficient. Given that Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane manages buses with minimal queues every week, this is very disappointing. Even rollercoaster operators from Movie World could show the shuttle bus staff a thing or two in efficiency! Just in case any GC2018 transport organisers are reading, this is how you operate buses efficiently:
  • Multiple queueing bays/pens for each bus route, each adjacent to a bus parking bay
  • Keep each queueing bay/pen full of at least enough people to fill the next bus 
  • Load buses from each bay simultaneously
  • If buses have two sets of doors, load via both sets of doors. 
  • Have buses in constant supply, so that each parking bay is filled quickly by the next bus (short headway)
  • Buses moving in convoy can often help with the above (i.e. if you have 3 bays, the 3 buses arrive and depart in convoy). 
  • Have staff who understand efficient operations. 
With 7 days to go of GC2018, there needs to be an urgent review of shuttle bus operations. Shuttle bus delays have ruined an otherwise good day for many visitors and staff. Some visitors are avoiding buying tickets to more events as they just can't deal with the shuttle bus queues! 

A Few Other Thoughts
  • Many businesses on the Gold Coast are complaining about lack of patronage. Unfortunately the reliance of Park'n'Ride/shuttle bus topology, and the Gold Coast Line as a backbone, means that passengers bypass almost all businesses.  
  • The shuttle bus chaos shows that having a stadium beyond easy walking distance of high capacity public transport (i.e. heavy rail) is not a good idea. The 2.3km walk between Carrara Stadium and Nerang Station may be fine for fit young and middle aged people, but for families, the elderly, and staff/volunteers that have just finished a 10 hour shift, it is too much.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

GC2018 - Disgrace Shuttle

GC2018 Opening Ceremony - Transport Nightmare
Once again, QLD authorities have proven that they couldn't organise a kids birthday, after a major transport meltdown at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018) Opening Ceremony. More on that later. As of the evening of first of day of events, how is the GC2018 Transport Plan going?

  • Enhanced Gold Coast Line services have been running well, with only minor service delays, and minimal reported crowding. 
  • Shuttle bus "meltdown" at the Opening Ceremony - not enough buses, poorly organised sequential boarding, poorly organised queues, and late start of buses before the event despite punters being told to get there early. 2 hour queues were reported after the opening Ceremony, resulting in upset kids, elderly people collapsing, and many missing last connections back in Brisbane. What a disaster!
  • Confusing and sold out Park 'n' Rides - some of the Park 'n' Rides have sold out long before events, providing visitors with limited and inconvenient options to get to some events. Coomera Sports Centre is only serviced by one Park 'n' Ride in Helensvale (already sold out for some events), forcing all other visitors to have to use the train and then a bus to get to the venue. Additionally, that Park 'n' Ride is on the opposite side of Coomera to Brisbane. Go figure?
  • Confusion over late night services in Brisbane - conflicting information from Queensland Rail, TransLink, and Get Set For The Games on the existence of late night buses, in particular services paralleling train lines (after the last train). Still a mystery if they actually exist or not! 
  • Reports of overcrowded trains on the Ipswich and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines - due to QR's (lack of train driver) #RailFail induced service reductions before, during, and after GC2018. Things will only get worse as workers come back from the Easter break. 
So, as predicted by BrizCommuter in late 2016, things are not going too well. To add insult to injury Commonwealth Games boss Mark Peters was stated as saying that "anyone expecting perfect public transport during the event is ‘a lunatic’". Visitors are not expecting perfection, but there is no question that a relatively small stadium (Carrara, 35,000 capacity) should be able to handle crowds which larger football stadiums around the world (including Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane) handle with minimal queues, week in, and week out. After 6 years of preparation, the Opening Ceremony transport situation was an international embarrassment to Australia and Queensland. At least Transport Minister Mark Bailey apologised for the issue. Lets hope that things improve pronto!

Sunday, April 1, 2018

GC2018 - QR to Add New Sporting Events!

GC2018 Medals
Due to Queensland Rail's (QR) #RailFail, NGR Fail, and pretty much everything else fail, here are a list of additional competitive sporting events for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games (GC2018):

  • Waiting for Train Endurance Marathon - in this event, competitors see how long they can wait for a QR train to turn up. Sunshine Coast Line commuters are hotly tipped to be Gold Medal winners, with gaps between trains averaging 2 hours. Though after Saturday's cancellation of an hourly service, Redcliffe Line passengers may be rank outsiders. Disqualification occurs if the competitor gives up and drives to their destination instead. 
  • Waiting for Connecting Bus Endurance Marathon - another event that only involves burning energy through boredom. The likely Gold Medal winners are those who have to wait 100 minutes for a broken rail to bus connection at Landsborough. Disqualification occurs if the competitor ends up covered in cobwebs. 
  • Stationary Queueing (AKA 0m Sprint) - Due to the 35,000 capacity Carrara stadium emptying out onto a train line with a capacity of less than 7,000 passengers per hour, there may be a lot of people taking part in this event at the same time. Disqualification occurs if the competitor moves an inch. 
  • Long Distance Bladder Holding - With the combination of unaccessible NGR train toilets, broken train toilets, trains without toilets, hourly trains, and locked station toilets, there may be many in the running for this pelvic floor muscle quenching event. Disqualification occurs if the competitor has a sneaky pee behind the station bike storage bins, uses a nappy, or wets themselves.
  • Station to Work 400m Sprint - this may be jointly won by thousands of Brisbane commuters who are still unaware that their peak train services have been reduced by 50% for nearly three weeks. Disqualification occurs if the competitor actually understands all 4 different timetables for rail commuters in April. There are likely to be very few disqualifications. 
  • Spin and Delusion Ball - this will go to the first politician or authority to declare the GC2018 Transport Plan a "success", and could be won by the Department of Transport and Main Roads / TransLink, Peter Beattie, Kate Jones MP, Queensland Rail, Transport Minister Mark Bailey MP, or Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk MP. Disqualification occurs if the competitor truthfully admits that SE Queensland public transport is a complete basket case.