Monday, December 11, 2017

QR's "Illegal" NGR Trains Enter Service


 Two years after long suffering QR passengers had been informed the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) trains would enter service, they finally entered service. BrizCommuter took a ride on part of the inaugural NGR service from Varsity Lakes to Brisbane Airport.

First impressions are that the Bombardier built NGR trains have some great features. These include destination displays on the outside of the train, half-decent handholds for standing passengers, touch responsive lights on the push buttons, high seat backs, lots of internal CCTV, external cameras for drivers only operation (sorry, Campbell) guards, and a quiet ride. In fact, the trains are generally looking good until you get the toilet.

The toilets are where the NGR's fall flat on face. The single toilet (as the moment) has been placed in the middle of the train, at the medial end of the 3rd or 4th carriage depending on the direction of the train (due to track layouts on the QR network trains can be either way around). The corridor past the toilet is too narrow for a wheelchair, mobility scooters, double prams, or even people on crutches. Thus you can only access the disabled toilet from the half of the train in which the toilet is located. Just to add to the misery for disabled passengers, there is insufficient space in between the toilet bowl and the wall, not helped by a curving door. In fact, the toilets are not legally compliant, according to the Disability Discrimination Act. To allow the trains to enter service, QR (or possibly Department of Transport and Main Roads who have badly managed the NGR project) have had to request an exemption from AHRC to enter the trains into passenger service until they sort out the mess. At this point in time, this exemption hasn't been provided (and is unlikely to be until at least February 2018), thus it is technically illegal for the NGR trains to have been entered into service, with risk of litigation.

To sort out this discrimination against the disabled, the NGR trains will be reconfigured. The result of this, is that less than half of the NGR rains will have a toilet instead of all trains as originally promised. This means that commuters on hour long suburban journeys (e.g. between Beenleigh, Cleveland, Kippa-Ring, and Caboolture to Brisbane) will have to hold their bladders for the next three decades. This is totally unacceptable, and discourages public transport use.

Why weren't the toilets located next to the drivers cabs? Well this would have been sensible from a design point of view as it would have allowed for more space. Unfortunately due to having multiple half-arsed QR station upgrades where only the centre of the platform has been raised, the wheelchair access point is still in the middle of the train, despite the guard being at the back. Ooops!

The mismatch in position between the wheelchair access in the middle of the train, and the guard at the back will also massively increase staffing costs, as all stations served by NGR trains will have to be manned throughout operating hours. There may also be extra customer assistance staff on-boarding, bringing an NGR train up to Boeing 737 staffing levels. Who knows what the extra wage bill will be when NGRs are running throughout the network?

BrizCommuter feels sorry for QR, who are having to deal with major design faults caused by poor project management by TMR (the design was signed off under the Newman government). They are in a no win situation - keep the NGR trains out of service to comply with the law, or face increased unreliability from the ageing NGR trains and lack of time to troubleshoot the NGRs in service before the Commonwealth Games. There is no question that there should be a Commission of Inquiry into the epic botch that is the NGR project.

Monday, December 4, 2017

QR's Summer of Hell (Again)

QR's Summer School Holidays Service Axe
It was pretty inevitable that more than a year into #RailFail, and with the net increase of train drivers being somewhere close to zero, that Queensland Rail (QR) were going to inflict yet more pain on commuters during the Summer School Holidays. This Summer, QR have decided to add two extra weeks of commuter hell, by axing even more train services from Monday 18th December 2017 until Sunday 21st January 2018. Changes in this years School Holiday Interim Timetable (SHIT) include:
  • Peak services cut, with 15 minute frequency running on most lines during much of the peak period (instead of every 6 to 7.5mins), and a few extra services during the busiest part of the peak period. Many express services have been axed, slowing down journey times. 
  • Off-peak 15 minute services axed, with 30 minute frequency on most lines. 
  • Hourly services on 23rd, 24th, 25th, 26th, 30th, and 31st* December 2017, and 1st January 2018. 
  • *Hourly services on New Years Eve, until 5pm when they will be every 30 minutes.
  • Further service reductions on the already infrequent Sunshine Coast, Doomben, and Rosewood Lines.
... in the mean time, every other major city in Australia is running a normal timetable, with off-peak frequencies of 10 to 15 minutes in Sydney, Melbourne, and Perth. 

It appears that yet again, QR have contempt for the travelling public, not realising that passengers still need to get to work, travel for leisure during the school holidays and Xmas/New Year period, attend Boxing Day sales, and attend New Year functions. Despite a 25% reduction in patronage at this time of the year, services frequencies are being cut by up to 75%. The ongoing #RailFail service reductions which are likely to last at least another year, are a major embarrassment to Brisbane and SE Queensland. 

BrizCommuter has already been contacted by concerned Nurses and hospital admin staff working at the Princess Alexandra Hospital, Lady Cilento Children's Hospital, and Mater Hospital. The early am peak service reductions (people trying to get to work for 7am to 8am starts) through South Bank are horrific, with up to 75% reduction is services from Roma Street to South Bank and Park Road in the early am peak. With only 10 hours between shifts, nursing staff are concerned that the increased journey times will increase on the job fatigue, with risk to patient care. 

Surely with a peak service that resembles an off-peak service, and an off-peak service that is wholly inadequate for a "New World City", that TransLink should only be charging off-peak fares throughout the Summer School Holiday Timetable?

Sunday, November 26, 2017

CRR is Go, Emerson is Gone

Cross River Rail is Go
Whilst the final results are still being counted in the 2017 Queensland Election, it looks highly likely that ALP leader Annastacia Palaszczuk will form a majority or minority government. This is excellent news for Cross River Rail (CRR), as the out of touch LNP and PHON wanted to axe it. In fact, the LNP has had quite a significant swing against it in SE Queensland. It is quite likely that their bizarre dislike of CRR played a part in that swing. Why would small and big business owners support an LNP policy that would harm Brisbane's economy and quality of living, and increase congestion?

Scott Emerson is Gone
As part of that swing against the LNP, former Transport Minister under the Newman Government - Scott Emerson has lost his seat. Whilst being interviewed on TV, he seemed to blame the loss on everything but himself and LNP policies. Scott Emerson oversaw the driver freeze at Queensland Rail which resulted in #RailFail, the purchase of the disastrous NGR train project, and didn't have enough balls for drive bus network reform past Brisbane Council Council. Scott Emerson was thus quite possibly the worst Transport Minister in Queensland ever (note: that removal of trams in the 1960s was a Brisbane City Council decision). BrizCommuter says good riddance. Maybe cleaning tables at Taco Bell would be a better career prospect, though Mr Emerson would probably just blame the messy tables on the ALP?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

LNP & PHON - The Consequences of Bad Decisions


Tim Nicholls - Out of Touch
As the 2017 Queensland Election campaign rolls along, it is becoming more apparent that the Tim Nicholls led LNP will axe Cross River Rail if they win the election. This is despite the Newman LNP government supporting the BaT tunnel on the same route just 3 years earlier. Instead the LNP are promising a study (yes, just a study) into vapourware (i.e. non-existent) fast transport options such as Hyperloop. The LNP will almost definitely have to partner with Pauline Hanson's One Nation (PHON) to form a government, and PHON have already made it clear that they have no interest in CRR. If the LNP and PHON get there way, these will be consequences of their bad decisions:

  • No 50% increase in rail capacity through Brisbane's CBD.
  • No 50% increase in Gold Coast Line services.
  • No 25% increase in Cleveland Line services.
  • No 50% increase in outer Beenleigh Line services.
  • No capacity for Salisbury to Beaudesert Line services.
  • No 100% increase, and express services on the Redcliffe Peninsula Line.
  • No improvements in journey times from the Gold Coast to Brisbane's CBD.
  • No station as part of Roma Street redevelopments (Entertainment Centre).
  • No capability for building the Trouts Road Line to massively increase services on the Sunshine Coast Line and serve North West Brisbane suburbs for the first time by rail.
  • No improvements in train network resilience and reliability across QR's train network.
  • No train service to the Southern end of Brisbane's CBD and Wooloongabba.
  • Will limit off-peak frequency across QR's train network.
  • Will increase road congestion.
  • Will result in Brisbane loosing out on business to more progressive cities which are building rail tunnels such as Auckland, Sydney, and Melbourne.
  • Will severely damage Brisbane's reputation as a "New World City".
Business groups and even the RACQ are fully supportive of Cross River Rail. For Tim Nicholls and the LNP to continue being anti-CRR, shows how out of touch he is with 21st century transport policy. Axing CRR would prevent improvements to public transport from suburbs that are in LNP electorates - go figure! A vote against CRR, will cause transport meltdown in SE Queensland, and make Brisbane look even more backwards on the world stage. 

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Less Rail Patronage - Why?

Perth - 15 minute frequency, 7 days a week
After significant SE Queensland rail patronage increases in the mid 2000s, patronage has declined significantly in recent years. This is being used by the LNP as an excuse to axe Brisbane's Cross River Rail (yet again). There is huge latent demand for rail transport, but unfortunately this patronage is being stifled for the following reasons:
  • I would catch the train if the pm peak frequency wasn't half of the am peak frequency.
  • I would catch the train if the off-peak frequency wasn't so poor.
  • I would catch the train if I didn't have to travel on overcrowded 3-car trains.
  • I would catch the train if it wasn't for the axed train services due to Rail Fail.
  • I would catch the train if Fridays had the same timetable as Monday to Thursday.
  • I would catch the train if night time services didn't keep being replaced by buses.
  • I would catch the train if my services didn't keep getting cancelled or expressed past my station.
  • I would catch the train if weekend services were sometimes not hourly. 
  • I would catch the train if it wasn't cheaper to drive.
  • I would catch the train if I could salary sacrifice the fare.
  • I would catch the train if the station car park didn't reach capacity at 6:50am.
  • I would catch the train if there was a frequent bus service to the station.
  • I would catch the train if the last connecting bus service ran after 5pm.
  • I would catch the train if the air conditioning wasn't too hot/cold.
  • I would catch the train if they weren't filthy cess pits. 
Unfortunately, most of the above are due to failed public transport policy by successive governments on both sides of politics (and in a  few cases Brisbane City Council and TransLink incompetence).  The biggest causes of patronage decline is poor frequency and overcrowded train services due to chronic lack of trains and drivers. The #RailFail lack of drivers won't be resolved until at least 2019. As not enough NGR trains have been ordered to maximise use of the current network, lack of trains will again be an issue by the early 2020s. Fare policy is a other huge issue, with a clear link between successive 15% fare increases and patronage decline. Lesser issues include the removal of cleaners at termini under the Newman government, and lack of station car parking.

There is huge latent demand for public transport in Brisbane, all it requires is for QR to run a frequent  train service that the population of SE Queensland deserves (as per Perth, Sydney, and Melbourne). Of course, governments may be purposefully stifling demand for public transport to avoid having to build more rail infrastructure such as Cross River Rail, and Salisbury to Beaudesert Line. If Queensland governments continue to ignore public transport, then Brisbane will struggle to attract business as it descends further into car-centric transport failure. 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Sunshine Coast Line Duplication - Reality Check

Add - Beware of Politicians! 
With the 2017 Queensland State Election campaign underway, there will be a few political footballs that involve public transport. The most critical is Cross River Rail (CRR), which is vital for increasing rail capacity through Brisbane's CBD by approximately 50% allowing for more services to run through Brisbane to/from the suburbs, and allows for passenger services on the Salisbury to Beaudesert Line. However, the project most likely to receive bi-partisan political support (at least until the day after the election) will be the duplication of the Sunshine Coast from from Beerburrum to Landsborough, or even Nambour. However, anyone who thinks that this is going to be problem solver for peak period passenger services to the Sunshine Coast, needs a reality check. These are the facts:
  • Current am peak service from the Sunshine Coast is approximately 3 trains per hour in the peak direction (tph), with 9 tph running through to Brisbane from Caboolture. These services share tracks with the Redcliffe Peninsula Line from Northgate through the CBD, running at 18tph, out of the maximum 20tph capacity. 
  • Proposed ETCS signalling will allow approximately 24tph reliably. This is only a 20% increase in track capacity to be shared between the Sunshine Coast Line, Caboolture Line, and Redcliffe Peninsula Line. 
  • Due to the limited spare track capacity between Northgate and Brisbane's CBD, there is little potential for increasing train services. Even with a duplication, the Sunshine Coast Line may just see 1 or 2 extra tph in the am peak. There would however be significant potential for increasing the current inadequate off-peak services. 
  • The only way of significantly increasing peak train services to/from the Sunshine Coast is to construct the "barely on the political radar" Trouts Rd Line / North Eastern Transportation Corridor, which would connect with CRR just North of Roma Street. This would cost in excess of $2b. 
  • Thus unless political parties support both CRR and the Trouts Rd Line, then duplicating the Sunshine Coast Line will have little benefit for increasing peak train services to/from the Sunshine Coast. The LNP and One Nation appear to be anti-CRR, and no political parties are makings series effort towards building the Trouts Rd Line. An LNP MP has been quoted as wanting to build a road along the North Eastern Transportation Corridor instead of a train line. 
  • The Sunshine Coast Line services a few hinterland villages and small town (Nambour). Whilst duplicating the line would have benefit for freight services, a better solution for passengers would be to construct the long planned CAMCOS Line from Beerwah to Caloundra and Maroochydore. 
It can be concluded that duplication the Sunshine Coast Line will have benefits for improving reliability, rail freight and off-peak passenger services. However, for any significant peak period service improvements, the Trouts Rd Line and Cross River Rail will be required. Without these two projects, the Sunshine Coast Line duplication may be a white elephant. To better service the larger population centres on the Sunshine Coast, will require the construction of CAMCOS to Caloundra and Maroochydore. Brave politicians will need to spend big to solve SE Queensland's transport woes, and allow SE Queensland to support growth and attract business to the benefit of Queensland's economy.