Monday, November 23, 2020

Cross River Rail - Anything But "Robust"

 Whilst Queensland's politicians have recently had a hard hat photo shoot in front of Cross River Rail's (CRR) Tunnel Boring Machines, CRR is headed to be yet another Queensland public transport disaster. The media releases are currently stuck on repeat saying "Queenslanders can have a high level of confidence that the project’s design and planning is robust" Unfortunately, BrizCommuter and many other rail experts are concerned that the project's current design is far from robust, and is not fit for purpose. 

Southern Constraints

CRR was primarily designed to increase capacity from the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line corridor. Currently, the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines operate 20tph (Trains Per Hour Per Direction) into Brisbane (via South Bank) in the am peak, though 24tph could be possible with European Train Control Signalling (ETCS) and associated infrastructure improvements. The original CRR designed has the tunnel surfacing at Yeerongpilly, which allowed for 4 tracks into Brisbane's CBD (plus a freight track). If this design has continued, it would have allowed for up to 48tph from the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, Cleveland, and future Salisbury-Beaudesert Lines into Brisbane, of which 36tph would have been able to operate between Salisbury and Dutton Park instead of the current 12-16tph.

CRR's Southern Constraints

Unfortunately, Cambell Newman's BaT Tunnel design curtailed the Southern Portal to Dutton Park, utilising the existing 3 track constraint between Dutton Park and Salisbury. When the BaT tunnel turned into CRR Mk2, this 3 track constraint stayed in the design. Only having 3 tracks means that express and empty services cannot overtake the all stations trains in the contra-peak direction. As the design changes at Mayne now mean that up to 24tph from Caboolture and Redcliffe will be heading South out of CRR in the am peak, then there is no capacity for via South Bank services in the contra-peak direction. Thus unless there is a peak direction "tidal flow" of services via South Bank (which would be operationally challenging and confusing to the public), the lack of 4th track limits the Salisbury to Dutton Park section to 24tph - that is 50% less capacity than the original design of CRR. This design flaw also means that only the Ferny Grove to Cleveland Line will be operating via South Bank, with a significant reduction in services along this busy section that serves businesses, apartments, hospitals, hotels, universities, and leisure destinations. It also means that contra-peak Gold Coast Line services may have to slowed down as they will be stuck behind stopping services.

Northern Constraints

Whilst Northside train services were not the primary driver behind the original CRR design, the subsequent construction of the Redcliffe Line and future proposals for serving Caloundra and Maroochydore mean that increased capacity is also required. The problem is that whilst Cross River Rail will add a 3rd track pair through Brisbane's CBD, north of Mayne (Bowen Hills) there are only 2 track pairs, plus the Ferny Grove Line. Due to recent track layout changes in CRR's design (Project Change 7), it now looks like all train services from Caboolture, Sunshine Coast, and Redcliffe will run via CRR. Combined with ETCS, this will allow an increase from 18-20tph to 24tph. CRR was not required to achieve this! This is only a 20% increase in maximum capacity, which may not even last a decade. 

CRR's Northern Constraints

The services from Doomben, Airport, and Shorncliffe Lines will be shifted to the Main Tracks (the tracks that hee Caboolture/Redcliffe to Ipswich/Springfield Lines currently run on). Whilst this track will allow for 24tph from Bowen Hills to Ipswich/Springfield with ETCS, the turnback constraints of the Doomben, Airport, and Shorncliffe Lines will not allow any more than the existing 14tph peak services on these lines. Thus the extra 10tph of Ipswich/Springfield services will start/terminate from sidings at Mayne. 

This leaves the Ferny Grove Line to be connected to the Cleveland Line. Without any level crossing replacements on both lines, and duplication of the Cleveland Line, there will be just 8tph running on the Suburban Tracks through Brisbane's CBD and South Bank. This track pair will be operated at just 33% of its maximum capacity, a massive reduction from the existing 22tph.

Cross River Rail is going to deliver zero extra train services to/from the North that couldn't be achieved by just installing ETCS. Cross River Rail should have been designed with tunnel stubs at Roma Street to allow for future extensions via a quad track line along the North West Transportation Corridor (NWTC/Trouts Road Line). This would have allowed for an additional 24tph from the Caboolture, Sunshine Coast, and Redcliffe Lines. This would have enabled Fast Regional Rail and also allowed for local services to many northern suburbs which are currently public transport black holes. So what now? "Fast Regional Rail" via the Ferny Grove Line?

It is quite obvious why Cross River Rail's Rail Operations Plan is being hidden from the public. It would expose serious shortcomings of Cross River Rail's design, which the politicians don't want you to know. Cross River Rail's design is anything but "robust"!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Cross River Rail - Score Card Q4 2020

3 Tracks = Bottleneck
This is the third of BrizCommuter's scorecards looking at the progress of Brisbane's Cross River Rail (CRR).  This score card looks at whether the proposed am peak service frequencies will be achievable when CRR opens to train services in 2025. These proposed am peak service frequencies are based on the information provided in the "Check Mate" section of CRR's website in 2019. Strangely,  everything related to proposed rail operations went missing from CRR's website in early 2020. Possible scores are No Improvement, Achievable, Concerning, and Critical.

Gold Coast Line 12tph - CRITICAL - requires either the Kuraby to Beenleigh track upgrade or 3rd platform at Loganlea. May result slowing down of some Gold Coast Line services between Loganlea and Beenleigh. Lack of 4th track between Dutton Park and Salisbury may also slow down services.

Beenleigh Line 4-6tph - NO IMPROVEMENT - unlikely to be an overall increase in services on this line, and Beenleigh Line services may get cut back to Loganlea. 

Salisbury (future Beaudesert) Line 7tph - CRITICAL - requires suitable turn back facilities and a grade-seperated junction at Salisbury that don't appear to be in the design. There may be scheduling concerns due to an out-of-sync frequency with interacting lines (6tph is more realistic). Limited possibility of service improvements after the Beaudesert Line opens as the lack of a 4th track from Dutton Park to Salisbury will limit counter-peak and off-peak services. Also, these services are now likley to be routed via CRR instead of via South Bank as previously proposed resulting in a significant decrease in train services via South Bank.

Ipswich and Springfield Lines 12tph (each) - CRITICAL - requires European Train Control Signalling (ETCS) from Darra to CBD, and ideally 4th electrified track and platform through Oxley. So not looking good. Not dependent on CRR being built.

Ferny Grove Line 8tph - NO IMPROVEMENT - no planned improvements to services, despite it looking like the Ferny Grove Line will have the suburban tracks to itself through Brisbane's CBD.

Caboolture and Redcliffe Lines 12tph (each) - CRITICAL - it now looks like all of these services will be routed via CRR, which will be highly dependent on ETCS from Northgate to CBD. Even then, there will only a maximum of 20% increase in services.

Shorncliffe Line 6-8tph - CONCERNING - 6tph requires duplication between Sandgate and Shorncliffe (or erratic and unreliable scheduling). 8tph from Northgate to CBD is no improvement. Shorncliffe Line will be the test line for ETCS in 2022. Will become critical if planning does not start soon.

Airport Line 4tph - NO IMPROVEMENT -  It is currently looking like Airport services may run to/from Ipswich or Springfield.

Doomben Line 2tph - NO IMPROVEMENT - to not extend to Northshore Hamilton is a absolute disgrace.

Cleveland Line 11tph - CRITICAL - 11tph from Manly to CBD would require a 3rd platform at Manly or Lota, and possibly a partial duplication or which no planning work appears to be underway.

15 minute off-peak services - CRITICAL - off-peak service proposals are not even published by CRR, and running 4tph throughout the suburban network would be constrained by multiple infrastructure limitations.

Sufficient Trains - CRITICAL - approximately 40 new trains are required to optimise peak services on the existing train network (e.g. pm peak frequencies to match am peak) and for additional peak services for CRR. These have still not been ordered, which means that this category has been raised to critical. 

Sufficient Train Crew - CONCERNING - sustained driver recruitment and forward planning is required.

Tunnel stubs for linking to future NWTC / Trouts Road Line - CRITICAL - not in current plans. and looking like it is too late to add them to the plans. To attach these tunnels at a later date would require a closure of CRR for many months, or an indirect routing of NWTC tunnels. NWTC is the optimal way of improving journey times and capacity from the North. 

Project Governance - CRITICAL - having a board of Queensland Government "Yes Men", and no external rail experts is not conductive to a successful project.

Project Transparency - CRITICAL - the "hiding" of the Rail Operations Plan is very concerning, as it is clear that CRR in its current design, and lack of associated infrastructure projects, will result in very limited network capacity improvements. Right To Information requests are also being denied.

To conclude, other than train lines where there will be no service improvements from Cross River Rail, most other rail lines and project performance indicators are now in the CRITICAL status:

  • Project design is flawed - essentially a tunnel between two bottlenecks, with limited capacity improvements.
  • Multiple associated track infrastructure projects have not started design or construction.
  • New ETCS signalling - testing won't occur until 2022, which is cutting it fine for CRR implementation in 2025.
  • More trains have yet to be ordered.
  • Additional train crew have yet to be employed. 
  • Project governance (Board) is not fit for purpose.
  • Rail operations plan is being hidden as it will expose the design shortcomings.
CRR's expected opening may be less than 5 years away, but the clock is ticking and none of these are quick fixes. It is now looking highly unlikely that CRR will meet the previously proposed am peak train service proposals for 2026. Poor project design and integration with the rest of the network will result in very limited capacity increases - in fact the suburban tracks through Brisbane's CBD are likely to have 66% of capacity unused. The failings highlighted by Rail Back on Track, BrizCommuter, Minerva, and the Rail Supporters Association of Queensland appear to have been ignored by the Queensland Government. Unless these issues are rectified very soon, expect a Commission of Inquiry into Cross River Rail's failings in 2026.