Monday, July 20, 2020

Cross River Rail - The Gold Coast Line Slow Down

One of the main benefits of building Cross River Rail (CRR) is an increase in train services between the Gold Coast and Brisbane. Unfortunately, due to neglected Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line infrastructure that is "not fit for purpose", it is looking like Cross River Rail could also result in slower journey times between the Gold Coast and Brisbane. So what might slow down the journey times?

3 tracks between Dutton Park and Salisbury + 6 minutes
CRR Mk1 (in 2011) had 5 tracks (3 at surface and 2 underground) between Boggo/Park Road and Yeerongpilly, which required some property acquisitions. The Newman Government's BaT tunnel moved the tunnel portal to Dutton Park to cut costs, and the acquired land was irresponsibly sold back to developers. Unfortunately, CRR Mk2 kept the Dutton Park portal location, resulting in a restrictive and "not fit for purpose" 3 track layout between Dutton Park and Salisbury.

If all peak direction train services from Caboolture and Kippa-Ring are routed via CRR, then the single contra-peak track between Dutton Park and Clapham Yards near Marooka will need to convey a mixture of express services, and empty trains heading to Clapham Yards, which will all get stuck behind the all stations services. The likely outcome is that contra-peak express services (Brisbane to Gold Coast in the am peak, and Gold Coast to Brisbane in the pm peak) will need to be slowed down in this section by 4 to 6 minutes. This may also result in inconsistent clock face timetables between contra-peak and peak/off-peak periods. This could all be resolved with 4 tracks (and just 2 platforms at each station) on this section, but it looks like it is now too late for a sensible, if more costly, infrastructure design.

CRR Mk1's portal at Yeerongpilly was much more sensible
Due to limitations of timetabling on each side of CRR, not helped by this 3 track section, it is possible that some trains may need to be held at stations in the CRR tunnel during the off-peak period. This could cause a worse case increase of journey time of around 5 minutes. This hasn't been included in these figures, as it is likely that services will be "bunched together" on both sides of CRR.

Interchange at Salisbury + 1 minute
An additional stop may be required at Salisbury for connections between Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and the the future Salisbury-Beaudesert Line. In the interim period, inner-Beenleigh Line services may terminate at Salisbury. This extra stop will add an extra minute to journey times, unless a stop elsewhere (such as Altandi) is bypassed. If the junction at Salisbury is not grade separated, then there will be an increased chance of delays due to conflicting moves (trains crossing the path of other trains). 

Beenleigh Line curtailed to Loganlea + 3 minutes
The two track section between Beenleigh and Kuraby is a major bottleneck, preventing Gold Coast express trains overtaking Beenleigh Line all stations trains in both directions. A submission is with infrastructure Australia for upgrades between Beenleigh and Kuraby which could solve this issue (ideally with 4 tracks). However, the only project that is currently funded is a third track and platform at Loganlea. There are multiple possible rail operations using this additional infrastructure. One option allows 12tph express and 6tph all stations in the peak direction, and 4tph express and 4tph all stations in the contra-peak direction (and off-peak). However, this would involve curtailing the Beenleigh Line to Loganlea (as per the "Connecting SEQ2031" document). This would result in alternate (50%) peak period, and possibly all off-peak Gold Coast Line trains having to additionally call at Holmview, Edens Landing, and Bethania, adding an extra 3 minutes to journey times.
Curtailing the Beenleigh Line to Loganlea isn't a new idea.

3 New Gold Coast Line stations + 4 minutes
Three new Gold Coast Line stations are planned for Pimpana, Helensvale North, and Merrimac.  If Gold Coast Line trains are to additionally stop at all three stations, then this will add an estimated 4 minutes to journey times. Gold Coast Line services may be tiered, so as to not serve all Gold Coast stations, but this would reduce frequency at the skipped stations.

A worst case scenario is that the neglected and "not fit for purpose" Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line corridor could result in journey times slowed down by up to 14 minutes. No wonder the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority, Queensland Government's Department of Transport and Main Roads, and Queensland Rail appear to be hiding Cross River Rail's rail operations plan.

Unlike London, Sydney, Auckland, and Melbourne where rail operations plans for new tunnels are easily accessible to the public, Queenslander's are being kept in the dark on how SEQ's rail services will be changed when CRR opens. It is time for the aforementioned authorities to stop spending ludicrous amounts of taxpayers money on adverts full of meaningless spin, and come clean on proposed rail operations, and staging of infrastructure projects that will help improve rail operations before and after CRR's opening.  

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Cross River Rail - The Rail Operations Secret

Cross River Rail's tag line is "More Trains, More Often". Despite this, the proposed rail operations i.e. how often the trains will run, appears to be a state secret. There has been no significant mention of proposed rail operations for Cross River Rail (CRR) in publicly available literature since 2017, and this only covered am peak services. Proposed off-peak, and pm peak services have never had a mention. This diagram from 2017 is likely to now be obsolete due to the removal of the grade-separated junction at Mayne in Project Change 4.
2017 Proposal for am peak services in 2026
Only through trawling the "Check Mate" spin section of CRR's website in 2019, was there any mention of proposed peak services, and again no mention of off-peak services. The proposed servivce frequencies appeared to have changed slightly from the above diagram, and sadly for many lines there was no proposed increase compared to the current service provision. The line pairings were also not documented:
  • Ferny Grove Line - 8tph
  • Caboolture Line - 12tph (4tph from Sunshine Coast)
  • Kippa-Ring Line - 12tph
  • Shorncliffe Line - 6tph (8tph from Northgate to CBD)
  • Airport Line- 4tph
  • Doomben Line - 2tph
  • Ipswich Line - 12tph
  • Cleveland Line - 11tph (4-5tph from Cleveland to Manly)
  • Beenleigh Line - 6tph (4tph Beenleigh to Kuraby)
  • Gold Coast Line - 12tph
  • Salisbury/Salisbury-Beaudesert Line) - 7tph
Concerningly, the above data has now been completely removed from CRR's website, ringing even more alarm bells that CRR is turning into a $5.4b white elephant. A generic statement stating "more trains, more often during peak, across the whole of South East Queensland" does not fill BrizCommuter with any confidence. Either the rail operating plan is being purposefully hidden from public view, possibly to avoid embarrassment, or the CRR project has designed the infrastructure with minimal thought to rail operations.

Given CRR's achilles heel of removing of the grade seperated junction at Mayne, and restrictive 3 track section between Dutton Park and Salisbury, BrizCommuter is currently predicting the following am peak period rail operations for when CRR opens in 2024. The frequency in trains per hour varies from best to worst case scenarios depending on associated infrastructure projects being completed:
  • Ferny Grove Line (via Suburbans through CBD) - 8-12tph
  • Cleveland Line (via Suburbans through CBD) - 8-12tph
  • Caboolture Line (via CRR through CBD) - 10-12tph (incl. 3-4tph Sunshine Coast Line)
  • Kippa-Ring Line (via CRR through CBD) - 10-12tph
  • Gold Coast Line (via CRR through CBD) - 6-12tph
  • Beenleigh Line (via CRR through CBD) - 6tph (4-6tph Beenleigh to Kuraby)
  • Salisbury-Beaudesert Line (via CRR through CBD) - 0-6tph
  • Ipswich Line (via Mains through CBD) - 10-12tph
  • Springfield Line (via Mains through CBD) - 10-12tph
  • Shorncliffe Line (via Mains through CBD) - 8tph (4-8tph Shorncliffe to Northgate)
  • Airport Line (via Mains through CBD) - 4tph 
  • Doomben Line (via Mains through CBD) - 2-4tph
This operating plan is interesting as it makes for maximum, or almost maximum use of CRR from opening. This will keep the spin doctors happy! It balances the frequency for the line pairings fairly well, minimizes conflicting train movements, and maintains sectorization. Additionally, most lines can potentially receive a frequency increasing pending associated infrastructure projects being completed. On the down side, anyone from the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines trying access South Bank and South Brisbane will have to change trains at the poorly designed Boggo Road/Park Road interchange.

Interestingly, the Suburban tracks through the CBD will only be running at 33-50% capacity (down from 92%), and services via South Bank will be less than at present. So what might this spare capacity be used for? A clue is in the statement that CRR will "support a future rail link between Alderley and Strathpine". This would be via the North West Transportation Corridor (NWTC) / Trouts Road Line. This would have the benefits of using the NWTC for a frequent (up to 12tph) suburban train service to serve many Northern Brisbane suburbs that are currently devoid of half-decent public transport including Everton Park, McDowall, Chermside West, Albany Creek, and Bridgeman Downs. However, due to the routing via the indirect inner-Ferny Grove Line instead of a more direct tunnel from Enoggera area to the CBD, it would poorly serve the NWTC's second purpose of being used for fast regional rail from the Sunshine Coast to Brisbane.

Without associated infrastructure, CRR is not fit for purpose. Making optimal use of the extra capacity provided by CRR requires the following infrastructure projects to be completed:
  • ETCS - Level 2 Signalling - anywhere where trains need to spaced less than 3 mins apart.
  • Beenleigh Line upgrade (Beenleigh to Kuraby section).
  • Salisbury-Beaudesert Line.
  • Grade-seperated junction and temporary turnback facilities at Salisbury/Acacia Ridge.
  • Cleveland Line duplication/3rd platform at Lota.
  • Sandgate to Shorncliffe duplication.
  • Doomben Line duplication (with possible extension options such as Northshore Hamilton). 
  • 4th electrified track and platform at Oxley.
  • Removal of most Road/Rail Level Crossings.
  • Additional train stabling.
  • 40-45 more 6-car trains (and enough train crew).
  • NWTC - Alderley to Strathpine.
Tunnel stubs for NWTC to plug into CRR at Roma Street, and 4 tracks (instead of 3) from Dutton Park to Salisbury would allow for a more optimised rail network in SEQ, but it looks like it is now sadly too late to save these infrastructure projects.

It is time that the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority, Department of Transport and Main Roads, Queensland Government, and Queensland Rail come clean on how the train network will operate after CRR opens. The authorities also need to come clean on the timeframe and priority for each associated infrastructure project required to optimise use of CRR's extra capacity. Questions include:
  • What are the proposed am peak service patterns at CRR opening?
  • What are the proposed pm peak service patterns at CRR opening?
  • Will the 4tph daytime off-peak network be increased, and on which lines?
  • Which lines will be linked through Brisbane's CBD?
  • When will the required associated infrastructure projects take place, and how will they enhance services?
  • What are the current proposals (including route safeguarding for rail) for the NWTC?
These questions need to be answered, otherwise CRR will continue to look like it will be the next project to join the large catalogue of Queensland Rail Fails. 

Monday, July 6, 2020

Cross River Rail - Southside Bottleneck

BrizCommuter recently discussed Cross River Rail's (CRR) Northside bottleneck at Mayne junction. At this location, merging 6 tracks into 4.3 (the .3 is the Ferny Grove Line) may result on a net gain of zero train services that can be attributed to Cross River Rail. This won't be alleviated until Cross River Rail can be diverted onto the North West Transportation Corridor to connect with the North Coast Line at Strathpine, which doesn't seem to be on the radar of the Queensland Government.

Southside Bottlenecks 

Unfortunately, there are also multiple major bottlenecks on the Southside, the worst of which is the "not fit for purpose" limitation of 3 tracks between CRR's portal at Dutton Park and Salisbury. In the Bligh Government's Cross River Rail Mk1, the tunnel ran to Yeerongpilly, allowing for 4 tracks south of Park Road/Boggo Road. Unfortunately the destructive Newman Governments's BaT Tunnel shortened the tunnel to Dutton Park, with only 3 tracks south of the portal, the same as at present. Properties purchased for resumption under CRR Mk1 were sold, making it harder to re-purchase. When the Palaszczuk Government replaced the BaT with "cut price" Cross River Rail Mk2, the portal remained at Dutton Park, with the same 3 track constraint.

There are also bottlenecks along the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor due to the line having 3 tracks between Salisbury and Kuraby, and 2 tracks between Kuraby and  Beenleigh.These are visited later in this article.

The Problem with 3 Tracks
Rail Operations 

The problem with 3 tracks is that it only allows express trains to overtake all stations / stopping trains in one direction. In the opposite direction, express trains can get stuck behind slower all stations trains. Whilst the rail operations plan for CRR is a closely guarded secret, it is assumed that it will be a choice of two am peak period operating paradigms:
  1. Split - From the South approx. 12tph Gold Coast and 6tph Beenleigh peak services will run through CRR, and 6tph Salisbury/Beaudesert Line services will run via South Bank. From the North approx. 12tph from either Caboolture of Kippa-Ring will run via CRR, and 4 to 6tph will run from a Northside destination to Salisbury/Beaudesert via South Bank.
  2. All via CRR - From the South approx. 12tph Gold Coast, 6tph Beenleigh, and 6tph from Salisbury/Beaudesert will run via CRR. From the North a combined 24tph from Caboolture and Kippa-Ring will run via CRR. 
Contra-peak/off-peak services are expected to comprise of 4tph Gold Coast, 4tph Beenleigh, and 4tph Salisbury/Beaudesert services. The Gold Coast and Beenleigh services will run express from Dutton Park to Salisbury, and the Salisbury/Beaudesert services will stop at all stations taking 6 minutes longer to traverse this 3 track section.

The inner-Beenleigh Line Problem
The 3 tracks between Dutton Park and Salisbury will not cause a problem in the peak direction and off-peak in the near future. However, in the contra-peak direction, it is a major problem. All trains travelling South from CRR in the am peak have to run as far as Clapham Yard, just south of Yeerongpilly. Thus with the "Split Paradigm", this single contra-peak track will need to handle 16-18tph. With the "All via CRR Paradigm" the single contra-peak track will need to handle up to 24tph, the maximum capacity of this track! Unfortunately, a single express service eats up 3 of these track slots. The result of this is as follows:
  • Up to 16tph - trains will need to have extended dwell times at Boggo/Park Road for correct sequencing and/or reduction in express running.
  • 17-20tph - trains will need to have extended dwell times at Boggo/Park Road for correct sequencing and/or reduction in express running. A 4th platform at Salisbury is required. 
  • 21-24tph - a 4th track is required between Dutton Park and Salisbury, otherwise express running will not be possible. 
Unfortunately work has already started on this section, and urgent project changes will be required to add the 4th track to the design and build (note: 4 tracks, but only 2 platforms are required at most of these stations). The failure to build 4 tracks will result in contra-peak train services being slowed down by up to 6 minutes. It would mean that there would not be consistent clockface timetables between contra-peak and off-peak services. There may also be long term peak period capacity constraints when the demand on this rail corridor exceeds 24tph.

Poor project management and cost cutting has resulted in a 3 track layout between Dutton Park and Salisbury, that will slow down train services from Day 1 of Cross River Rail. 

The 3 track sections needs an urgent redesign
The Outer Beenleigh Line Problem
There are currently 3 tracks between Salisbury and Kuraby which allows peak direction overtaking, but only 2 tracks between Kuraby and Beenleigh (expect for Bethania inbound). It is expected to that in the am peak CRR will handle 12tph from Gold Coast, and 6tph from Beenleigh. For any peak increase over 8tph Gold Coast and 4tph Beenleigh services, there needs to be infrastructure improvements.

In the contra-peak and off-peak, then assuming 4tph Gold Coast and 4tph Beenleigh Line services, the trains will need to overtake on this section. This is most likely to occur at Loganlea, though the exact location depends on the sequencing of Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line services on the Dutton Park to Salisbury section (note: based on the existing timetable they would overtake at Altandi). Thus there are two upgrade options:
  • Triplication from Holmview to Kuraby, 4 tracks/platforms at Loganlea, and improved turnback/stabling facilities at Beenleigh. This would be more expensive, but not slow down Gold Coast express services,and would be more reliable.
  • Curtail the Beenleigh Line to turnback facilities at Loganlea (3rd track and platform for turnbacks, plus a siding to buffer 4tph counter-peak vs 6tph peak direction frequencies). All off-peak, and 50% peak Gold Coast Line services would stop at all stations between Beenleigh and Loganlea. This would be cheaper, but would slow down some Gold Coast express services, and will be less reliable than the previous option.
Beenleigh may need a redesign

Salisbury to Beaudesert Line
The Salisbury to Beaudesert Line (also known as the Flagstone Line) is a beneficiary of extra track capacity due to CRR. This will run along the interstate train line corridor at join the Beenleigh Line near Acacia Ridge, south of Salisbury station. A grade seperated junction would eliminate any conflicting train movements. As this line may not be open at CRR's inception, then turnback facilities will need to be provided at, or south of Salisbury station, and with a design to avoid conflicting train movements. Unfortunately CRR's plans stop at Salisbury, and it is unknown how this junction and turnback facility will be designed. 

Other alternatives
Fast regional rail would allow for faster train services between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, possibly by building an elevated train line along the M1 corridor, and plugging into the Gold Coast Line around Yatala where an interchange with the (extended by one stop) Beenleigh Line could be constructed. Unfortunately CRR has not been designed with any tunnel stubs to allow this to be connected, so it would be easier to plug this line into the via South Bank Line at Park Road. There is no funding for this plan, but if it was somehow expedited, it would reduce the requirement and cost of adding extra tracks on the Beenleigh Line. However, given that this is probably decades away, then it should not prevent the required capacity enhancements mentioned in this article.

There is also the possibility of extending the CRR tunnel to Yeerongpilly or Moorooka in the future to bypass most of the restrictive inner-City section, however this would be expensive and result in the closure of CRR for at least 6 months to allow for the extended tunnels to be plugged in.

So what is required?
Cross River Rail is currently a $5.4b tunnel being build between two bottlenecks. To avoid long term capacity issues that will be difficult/expensive to rectify, the following design changes are urgently required:
  • Provision for a 4th track between Dutton Park and Salisbury.
  • Tunnel stubs for North West Transportation Corridor (Trouts Road Line) at Roma Street. 
To maximise track capacity on the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Salisbury/Beaudesert Lines, so as to maximise use of CRR, the following is also required:
  • Grade seperated junction at Salisbury, with turnback facility at Acacia Ridge. 
  • Beenleigh Line upgrades between Beenleigh and Kuraby.