Saturday, June 12, 2021

Brisbane 2032 Olympics - More Public Transport Required

The 2032 Olympics will be very spread out
It is looking like the 2032 Olympics is within Brisbane's reach. With Brisbane's public transport network lagging behind many other other Australian cities, BrizCommuter was rather hoping that the 2032 Olympics would finally bring a fantastic ongoing public transport legacy to SE Queensland. Sadly it is looking like the public transport legacy may be non-existent.

The current plans are here:

https://stillmed.olympics.com/media/Documents/International-Olympic-Committee/Commissions/Future-host-commission/The-Games-of-The-Olympiad/Brisbane-2032-FHC-Questionnaire-Response.pdf

What transport improvements are planned?

  • Brisbane Metro - this Bus Rapid Transit "Not a Metro" system is already under construction, with the Grey St/Melbourne St intersection grade-separation sadly dropped.
  • Cross River Rail - already under construction, with limited system-wide benefits due to poor network integration.
  • G:Link phase 3 - already under construction.
  • Eastern Transitway - read "bus lanes". 
  • Beerburrum to Nambour duplication - the only pleasant surprise here.
  • Coomera Connector - another road upgrade to make up for lacking public transport.
  • M1 upgrades - another road upgrade to make up for lacking public transport.
  • Bruce Highway upgrade - another road upgrade to make up for lacking public transport.

So despite there being "zero car access" to venues, many of the stated public transport infrastructure improvements are road upgrades that parallel inadequate public transport corridors (Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast railway lines). Based on the above information, it looks like the 2032 Olympics could suffer from:

  • Heavy reliance on buses for venue access, which was disastrous at times during the 2018 Commonwealth Games, with waits of up to 2 hours after events. 
  • A repeat (from the 2018 Commonwealth Games) of the Beenleigh Line, and additionally inner-Caboolture/Redcliffe Line services being axed to allow for fast Brisbane to Gold Coast and Brisbane to Sunshine Coast services.
  • A repeat (from the 2018 Commonwealth Games) of many suburban train lines having a reduced train service to allow for frequency increases on other parts of the network due to lack of trains and drivers.
  • Inadequate train frequencies, or even no heavy rail access to/from Olympic Zones, venues, and Olympic villages.
  • Some Olympic venues and villages are a very long distance from high frequency public transport.

So what additional public transport projects are required, that would enable an efficient and environmentally responsible Olympics, as well having a useful ongoing legacy for SE Queensland commuters?

High priority requirements:

  • Beenleigh/Gold Coast Train Line Upgrade - track amplifications to allow for a >8tph bi-directional train service between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, without having the axe the Beenleigh Line service. This would have an important ongoing legacy in connecting Brisbane to the Gold Coast.
  • North West Transportation Corridor Train Line - this would allow for a >8tph bi-directional train service between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast, without having to axe inner Caboolture/Redcliffe Line services. This would have an ongoing legacy for fast Brisbane to Sunshine Coast rail, plus adding multiple new train stations in Brisbane Northern suburbs.
  • Salisbury to Beaudesert Train Line - this already proposed line, enabled by Cross River Rail would allow for up to 6tph (limited by the Dutton Park to Salisbury 3 track section) to run to/from Beaudesert for bus connections to the Wyralong venue and Kooralbyn Olympic Village. 
  • Doomben Line Extension to Hamilton Northshore - this would allow for a train service to the Olympic Village, and on-going benefits of a 4tph service.
  • Cleveland Line Duplication - this much required duplication would allow for higher frequency train services to access events in Manly, plus bus connections to Redlands Whitewater Centre.
  • Sunshine Coast Line to Maroochydore - this much needed line would allow for a train service serving the Sunshine Coast Olympic Zone, and huge ongoing benefits of fast rail between Brisbane and the Sunshine Coast.  
  • Level Crossing Removals - a significant number of level crossing upgrades are required to support public transport frequencies required for the 2032 Olympics and ongoing public transport. 
  • More Trains and Drivers - there needs to be enough trains and drivers to operate both enhanced Olympic train services, as well as maintain the frequency of connecting train services throughout SE Queensland.

Lower priority requirements: 

  • Gold Coast Line Extension to Gold Coast Airport
  • G:Link Extension to Gold Coast Airport and Coolangatta
  • Regional Rail between Brisbane and Toowoomba

 The 2032 Olympics is a fantastic opportunity to transform SE Queensland with an improved public transport legacy. The current plans are the polar opposite. Failure to deliver, will cause transport woes and car reliance for decades to come.

Saturday, June 5, 2021

New Trains, but Not Enough

Transperth trains made in Maryborough until 2019

The good news - the Queensland Government will fund new trains for Queensland Rail's CityTrain network, to be build in Maryborough. The bad news - not enough trains have been ordered.

So why do we need more trains?

  • The current CityTrain timetable has relatively few spare trains, requiring 40 year old EMUs to keep running to cover NGR train modifications.
  • Unreliable and ageing ICE and SMU200 trains are likely to be retired soon.
  • Approximately 7 additional trains are required to make optimal use of the existing train network pre-CRR and ETCS. 
  • Approximately 40 additional trains were required to meet the (now impossible) service proposals in the Cross River Rail business case. 
  • Approximately 25 trains are required to meet the "best case" outcomes for Cross River Rail based on infrastructure available in 2025.

The initial order has has been placed at just 20 6-car trains. Taking into account the replacement of some ageing and unreliable trains, this may leave a net increase of just 12 new trains for Cross River Rail's opening. This adds to the evidence that Cross River Rail's rail operations are a shambles, and that there won't be "More Trains, More Often" to most SE Queensland commuters when Cross River Rail opens in 2025. Whilst there is an option for 45 additional trains, there isn't a great track record of adding to train orders in the last 2 decades, and by 2025 the IMU100 fleet will be nearing 30 years of age as well. 4 years is a very short period to design, build, test, and implement new trains before Cross River Rail opens, and it is thus likely Cross River Rail could open with no more trains than at present!

It can be pretty much guaranteed that if you are expecting any significant improvement to train services in Brisbane and SE Queensland during the next 5 years, and possibly even the next decade, then you will most likely be very disappointed.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Ferny Grove Heritage Railway


With Queensland Rail's new NGR trains seemingly banned from the Ferny Grove Line, and 40 year old EMU trains being regulars, here is a satirical brochure for the Ferny Grove Heritage Railway...

Take a nostalgic trip on one of the Southern Hemisphere's most historic, and not particularly long railway journeys, the Ferny Grove Heritage Railway. Relive your Brisbane childhood by travelling on 40 year old EMU trains*, and bashing your head on those weird handrails hanging from the ceiling. Whilst the old door handles have been replaced by push buttons, we have made sure that at least two consecutive door sets on each side of the train are broken and locked so that you miss your station when trying to alight. 

The Ferny Grove Heritage Railway journey starts at Bowen Hills, and the train quickly climbs up on one of the most impressive viaducts in Bowen Hills. From there you can see people getting eaten to death by sandflies on the bike path alongside Breakfast Creek. The train then continues to climb towards Windsor. No, not the one where the Queen lives, but there is a charming wooden footbridge, and the smallest house in Brisbane. Passing through Wilston, you can sometimes be entertained by people running for the train through the subway. The train only gets held if the are female and pretty. 

Hear the DC motor struggling as the EMU train ascends the lofty foothills of Newmarket, crossing the first of many ancient level crossings on this line, passing an old brickworks chimney, Newmarket Olympic Pool, and onto Alderley. You can change here, if for some bizarre reason you want to take a bus to Aspley Hyperdome. Next stop is Enoggera, where you can view a rarely used dystopian bus interchange. Buses are so infrequent, you may occasionally see a dinosaur being removed from a bus stop. Crossing Sandy Creek, and onto the curves of Gaythorne (previously known as Rifle Range). This station is so curvy, that the NGR trains are banished. 

Next stop is Mitchelton and Oxford Park, not much to see there since the Swiss restaurant closed down. The train then continues to climb to the highest altitude on Queensland Rail's network at Grovely. If you are expecting oxygen masks to drop from the ceiling, you might be disappointed, but you can bring your own. After passing through Keppera, quickly, the train descends in altitude, where you can watch retirees hitting balls with sticks on Keppera International Golf Links.  The train crosses not one, but two level crossings, plus a tributary of the mighty Kedron Brook on its final approach to the modern Ferny Grove station. 

At Ferny Grove, you can either walk across the platform and get the next train out (remembering to touch on and off), or eat a packet of chips from the vending machine whilst marvelling at car park utopia.

The Ferny Grove Heritage Railway is a fun ride for all the family day, and night. Queensland Rail even offer a Ghost Train tour, the 6:40am from Ferny Grove to Park Road, as this train rarely makes it to its intended destination.

* note: Heritage EMU trains may very rarely be swapped for a train at least 10 years old at short notice, but don't worry you won't end up on one of those mouldy new NGRs.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Cross River Rail - Not "More Trains, More Often"

 Cross River Rail's (CCR) advertising slogan "More Trains, More Often" was recently replaced with
"Transforming the way we travel". This is no surprise to BrizCommuter and other rail experts who have questioned CRR's ability to significantly increase trains services throughout SE Queensland in its current form, since project iterations and budget cuts removed critical infrastructure required to maximise the effectiveness of CRR. 

Base diagram designed by timh (click to enlarge)

Unlike new train tunnels in London, Auckland, Sydney, and Melbourne, where the proposed peak train services frequencies (in trains per hour per direction - tph) are publicly available, this information is unavailable for Cross River Rail. Whilst such a map was available in the Cross River Rail business case, changes to the track layouts at Mayne (near Bowen Hills) mean that the diagram is now out of date, with line pairings and expected train service frequencies no longer possible.

As the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority is keeping things hidden from the public, rail enthusiasts have had to step in to create a chart of expected line pairings are shown on the base image, helpfully created by Rail Back on Track member timh. BrizCommuter's expected line pairings, and maximum possible 2025 am peak inbound frequencies (based on currently funded or expected infrastructure) are as follows:

  • Sunshine Coast/Caboolture (12tph) & Redcliffe (12tph) to/from Gold Coast (12tph) & Beenleigh (6tph) (plus provision for future Salisbury-Beaudesert Line 6tph) via CRR.
  • Shorncliffe/Northgate (8tph) & Airport (4tph) & Doomben (2tph) to/from Ipswich/Rosewood (12tph) & Springfield (12tph) via Mains Tracks. 
  • Ferny Grove (8tph) to/from Cleveland (8tph) via Suburban Tracks - yep, that's 16tph of unused track capacity!

It is quite likely that due to insufficient trains, train crew, funding, and lack of political willpower that some of these frequencies may not be possible in 2025. 

So why isn't Cross River Rail able to offer "More Trains, More Often"?

  • No additional Northside tracks - as there are no addition tracks on Brisbane's Northside due to budget cuts, it is now a case of shifting which trains go where. There may be 20% increases to frequency on the Caboolture and Redcliffe Lines, but this due to new ETCS signalling, and not CRR. 
  • Restrictive track layouts at Mayne - changes to the track layouts at Mayne to save money, will force all Caboolture and Redcliffe services through CRR, and will leave the Suburban tracks idling with just 8tph through the city (down from 22tph). 
  • Salisbury to Dutton Park 3 track limitations - the Achilles heel of Cross River Rail, means that up to 24tph contra-peak services will have to fit on one track, this will slow down contra-peak express services, and also prevents contra-peak services to/from the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line (and eventually Salisbury-Beaudesert Line) corridor travelling via South Bank (in normal operation).
  • Capacity required for Salisbury to Beaudesert Line - this proposed line will require at least 6tph train paths in the peak. Due to the Salisbury to Dutton Park 3 track limitation, this will eat into the capacity available for the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Lines. 
  • Beenleigh Line track capacity limitations - whilst the proposed 3rd track at Loganlea may allow for a significant increase in Gold Coast Line services, it may also curtail the Beenleigh Line to Loganlea. This means that the Gold Coast Line may need 2 tiers of services - express and semi-express, and possibly additional turnback capacity. Gold Coast Line commuters need to be informed as to what will happen to their train services!
  • Cleveland Line single track - one of the benefits of CRR was that it would allow for significant increases to train services on the Cleveland Line. However, this is only possible if there is a partial or full duplication, and/or additional turnback capacity at Manly or Lota. As this is not funded, the Cleveland Line is likely to keep its infrequent and unreliable form for many years after CRR opens. 
  • Less trains via South Bank - if the Cleveland Line is not duplicated, and due to all Gold Coast/Beenleigh services running via CRR, then there is likely to be a decrease in train services running through South Bank section (Roma Street to Park Road) which serves many businesses, hotels, hospitals, and tertiary education facilities. 
  • Un-electrified 4th track between Corinda and Darra - whilst this doesn't directly affect CRR train services, service frequency increases on the Ipswich and Springfield Line have been included in the CRR business case. These service increases would be due to ETCS and not CRR. Unfortunately the lack of 4th electrified track between Corinda and Darra, and lack of 4th platform at Oxley may throw a spanner in the works of these proposed service increases. 
  • Sufficient trains and crew - to increase train services for CRR, you need more trains and more train crew. The new trains (NNGRs?) have not been ordered, and it takes many years to grow train crew staffing. BrizCommuter is very concerned!

To conclude: 

  • Expected train service frequency increases on the Gold Coast, Caboolture, Redcliffe, Ipswich, and Springfield Lines could have been possible from ETCS (plus additional turnback capacity), and didn't require CRR. 
  • Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line services may have significant stopping pattern and terminus changes, with frequency and journey time improvements not universal. 
  • CRR does allow for the future addition of the Salisbury to Beaudesert Line, but with only 6tph due to the 3 track restriction between Dutton Park and Salisbury.
  • CRR does allow for the future addition of the North West Transportation Corridor, but via the painfully slow inner-Ferny Grove Line. The NWTC is however still "pie in the sky".
  • Train services via South Bank could decrease until the Cleveland Line is eventually duplicated. 
  • Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Airport, Doomben, and Cleveland Lines are unlikely to see any service improvements without further infrastructure projects. 
  • Due to lack of trains, we are unlikely to see significant train service improvements before CRR. 

"More Trains, More Often" - you can see why the slogan was dropped!

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Cross River Rail - The Dutton Park Mystery

Brisbane's Cross River Rail (CRR) project has suffered from lack of transparency, notably the lack of rail operations plan since various project changes, made the original rail operation plan impossible. Project Change 11 has just been announced (more on that later), but Project Change 10 is missing in action. Most station plans related to Dutton Park have also gone missing in action.

Can the Cross River Rail Delivery Authority (CRRDA) and Queensland Government please come clean on what is happening with Dutton Park station? Is it going to be moved to the South, onto a straight section of track? Will there be property resumptions? Or will Dutton Park station be removed completely, noting the improved access from Boggo Road/Park Road station to Princess Alexandra Hospital? Keeping the public quiet isn't the best solution.

Project Change 11 has some improvements over the layout of Moorooka Station and adjacent Clapham Stabling Yards. The additional 3rd platform at Moorooka Station is now located next to the existing platforms, and this has been enabled by a raised grade-separated track allowing trains to access Clapham Yards without conflicting movements. 

Unfortunately, it is mentioned in Project Change 11 that up to 24tph is to be operated in both directions. This pretty much confirms the failure of CRR in adding significant capacity to SE Queensland's Rail Network. Currently, the tracks through South Bank can handle 24tph, with 20tph operated due to multiple network constraints (notably turnback constraints on the Cleveland and Beenleigh Lines). Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines will be diverted via CRR, providing up to 24tph between Yeerongpilly and Dutton Park, 12tph more than currently. However, this also needs to be shared with the future Salisbury - Beaudesert Line which is likely to require 6-8tph in the am peak. This leaves just 4-6tph additional train paths for Gold Coast and Beenleigh Line services, and only if improved infrastructure is constructed (such as additional turnback capacity). 

CRR does allow for Cleveland Line services to be enhanced, as this line will now have free rein of the tracks through South Bank. However, Cleveland Line services cannot be increased unless there is at least a partial duplication and additional turnback capacity at Manly or Lota. There is no sign of this happening any time soon. Thus at opening, Cross River Rail may only add a handful of train services from the South into Brisbane - hence the dropping of the "More Trains, More Often" slogan. Not really worth the $5.4b cost! Had the Dutton Park to Salisbury section been constructed with 4 tracks (as per the original plans for CRR) allowing for both via CRR and via South Bank services, then another dozen train services could have been added.

Monday, April 12, 2021

QR's 3-Car COVID Disgrace

Oh no!
Queensland Rail (QR) have been running 6-car peak services for a couple of years now. As Queensland is currently under COVID-19 restrictions after 2 clusters, you would expect that QR would make an effort to operate 6-car services as usual to allow for as much social distancing as possible? Unfortunately, this isn't the case. Today (Monday 12th April 2021) there have been multiple reports of overcrowded 3-car trains running during the peak period on the Ferny Grove and Shorncliffe Lines. BrizCommuter was unfortunate enough to be on the 4:26pm from Central to Ferny Grove, and counted at least 40 standing passengers in the first carriage. The rear carriage would probably be more crowded. This works out at approximately 2 passengers per square meter, totally unacceptable during a period of COVID-19 restrictions, and when there are still less passengers than usual using public transport. 

Just to make things worse, this 3-car train wasn't assigned to a "short" Roma Street to Ferny Grove service which are less busy as they run 7.5 minutes behind the preceding service. It was assigned to a busy Beenleigh to Ferny Grove service, 15 minutes behind the preceding service thanks to the Ferny Grove Lines irregular pm peak timetable. Questions need to be asked as to why Queensland Rail appear to have a shortage of trains yet again? Was it due to trains being stranded by weekend engineering works and not being able to be serviced? Or is there a more chronic issue? Why was a 3-car train assigned to a busier service? Whilst extremely unlikely, would commuters have grounds for legal action against QR if they caught COVID-19 due to QR's lack of rolling stock provision? 

No social distancing!

Thanks to the anonymous Instagrammer who sent BrizCommuter this photo of the overcrowded train!  This photo was taken after some passengers had alighted at Windsor and Wilston.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Cross River Rail - The Incompetence Gets Worse

The offending track layout

Are there any words in the English language for "worse than incompetent"? Because if there is, it would describe Brisbane's Cross River Rail (CRR) project. BrizCommuter has previously discussed how the 3 tracks between Dutton Park and Salisbury, and track layouts at Mayne will result in Cross River Rail only adding a handful of additional train services to SE Queensland's train network. Just when you thought things can't get any worse - they have!

A third platform face is being added at stations between Dutton Park and Moorooka (inclusive) for operational flexibility, allowing express services to overtake all stations in the peak direction (but not the contra-peak direction due to lack of 4th track). The track layout at Dutton Park previously allowed for this flexibility. Unfortunately in Project Change 9, to allow the shallower gradients into the tunnel's Southern Portal, this junction has been simplified. Now, via CRR trains can only run along the Up and Down Suburban tracks between Dutton Park and Yeerongpilly, with no access to the 3rd Dual Gauge track and new platforms.  

This issue could be partially resolved with some additional track switches to the South of Dutton Park, but these are not shown on project drawings. 

The negative impacts of Project Change 9 are that:

1) Gold Coast express services will get stuck behind the inner-Beenleigh Line all stations services between Yeerongpilly and Dutton Park in both directions. This will SLOW DOWN Gold Coast services - not a good outcome for Cross River Rail. 

2) Unless there is a bizarre peak direction only via South Bank service using the Dual Gauge Track, the brand new platforms at Dutton Park, Fairfield, and Yeeronga on the Dual Gauge track will NOT BE USED.

3) Providing 2 platforms, and 4 tracks instead of the under-construction, and now possibly pointless 3 platforms and 3 tracks between Salisbury and Dutton Park would have solved Cross River Rail's south side capacity constraints. 

The Cross River Rail project is plumbing new depths of incompetence. The project needs to be stopped now before any more incorrectly designed infrastructure is built, and reviewed by independent rail experts who can advise on the most optimal track layouts to increase train services through SE Queensland. The inquiry into Cross River Rail needs to start now, not after the impending disaster that will be the opening in 2025.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Ferny Grove Line - the consequences of irregular timetables


Whilst Queensland Rail's (QR) 2014 train timetable changes were generally an improvement, the timetables introduced uneven or irregular timetable scheduling to some lines, notably the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Ferny Grove Lines. The irregular (approx. 7.5mins, 7.5mins, then 15mins) service on the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines is presumably due to train turnbacks at Kuraby blocking the track, and probably won't be resolved until a 3rd track and platform is built at Loganlea. However, the Ferny Grove Line is a different story. The am peak has a decent and regular 8tph service approximately every 7.5mins (7/8 mins on the published timetable) resulting in fairly even loadings apart from "peak of the peak" services. Unfortunately, the pm peak has a 6tph irregular (approx. 7.5mins, 7.5mins, then 15mins) service throughout most of the pm peak period.

Irregular services = irregular loading

As you can see on TransLink's capacity planner, this irregular timetable results in huge variations between loading on different services. Pre-COVID the situation was worse, with the services after the 15 minute gaps often being overcrowded, especially the "Sardine Can" 5:26pm from Central to Ferny Grove. With passengers currently being more sensitive to overcrowded train services, and 15 minute peak gaps in services being unacceptable anyway, the Ferny Grove Line's pm peak service is a deterrent to using public transport. It is no surprise that Samford Road, which parallels the Ferny Grove Line is heavily congested in the pm peak when the train service is not frequent enough. Just one half full train can remove 15 minutes worth of traffic from a road lane!

Samford Road pm peak congestion
 

Additionally only 2/3 of the Ferny Grove Line's pm peak services are scheduled to run through South Bank, causing contra-peak services gaps of up to 13 minutes through Park Road, South Bank, and South Brisbane stations to Roma Street. Yet again, this is a deterrent to using public transport.

After the 2014 timetable changes, commuters were told that some of these gaps would be filled in. Yet, 7 years later, there have been zero additional pm peak services on the Ferny Grove Line, despite the 5:26pm service being one of the most overcrowded train services on the QR CityTrain network. BrizCommuter calls on QR and TransLink to fill in the 15 minute gaps on the Ferny Grove Line's pm peak timetable, so that it has an even 8tph service that matches the am peak.