Thursday, November 24, 2016

Queens Wharf Bus Changes - Opportunity Lost

Due to the closure of William Street for the construction of Brisbane's new Queens Wharf Casino  complex, there have been many changes to Brisbane's bus routes through the CBD. These are listed on TransLink's website here. Some buses have also been re-timed to take into account changing road conditions (i.e. different journey times). The latter is not much of a surprise as some timings were almost impossible even if driving a Ferrari through red lights (Brookside to Enoggera in 4 minutes anyone?)

Unfortunately, the changes do not go far enough. So what is wrong with the changes, or lack of them?
  • More bus congestion through Cultural Centre and Victoria Bridge - Brisbane's infamous bus jam will only get longer as yet more hourly bus services that should go nowhere near the CBD have been re-routed through the Inner SE Busway. 
  • Multiple routes along the same corridors - these still exist with up to 8 different bus routes (instead of 1 or 2 at the most), with minor route and stopping variations all travelling along the same transport corridors. This causes inefficiency, confusion, and longer effective waits for buses. 
  • Multiple CBD bus stops - despite changes to CBD bus stops, there is still the bizarre mix of different routes to the same destination, departing from different locations in the CBD. Again, this causes confusion, inefficiency, and decreases effective service frequencies.
Bus flavoured Jam
What should have been done is a large scale re-design of Brisbane's bus network, as follows:
  • Turn the Victoria Bridge into a Green Bridge (bus, cycle, and pedestrian only) to decrease bus congestion. 
  • Consolidate bus routes along the same transport corridor to a maximum of just 2 routes (all stops and express). 
  • Infrequent "welfare" bus services to terminate outside of the CBD and connect with high frequency bus services or train services. 
  • Consolidate CBD stop locations so that all bus services along a particular transport corridor depart from the same stops. 
  • Re-use resources to add high frequency bus routes to public transport black holes such as Centenary Suburbs and Old Northern Road corridor. 
The changes that have been made by Brisbane City Council and their bus subsidiary Brisbane Transport are (as we have come to expect) half-arsed, resulting in Brisbane continuing to have Australia's most inefficient and confusing bus network. 

BrizCommuter is also concerned that re-timed bus routes will result in more buses running early during the off-peak, passing through bus stops before the passengers have arrived at the bus stop. This is already a chronic issue on the inbound Northern Busway. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Will QR be ready for the Commonwealth Games?

Carrara Stadium - not on a train line
Brisbane's rail network, run by Queensland Rail (QR) is currently a huge mess. Since the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line in early October 2016 with insufficient trains and drivers, commuters have suffered (and are continuing to suffer) from axed train services in the Interim Timetable, as well as "random" train cancellations due to "operational reasons". The situation is so bad, that BrizCommuter is aware of many commuters who have given up using trains and have gone back to driving to work.

Between the 4th and 15th April 2018, the Gold Coast will be hosting the Commonwealth Games. At the time of writing, this is just 17 months away. BrizCommuter is very concerned that QR will not be ready for the Commonwealth Games and existing commuters will continue to suffer. The reasons why are outlined below.

Service expectations

On QR's project page for the Coomera to Helensvale duplication, it is mentioned that the Gold Coast Line will run 8 trains per hour (tph) in both directions during the Commonwealth Games. That is a train on average every 7.5 minutes in each direction.

Lack of infrastructure

To run the above mentioned bi-directional 8tph service runs into a few issues due to lacking track infrastructure on the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor. There are only 3 tracks between Park Road and Kuraby, and only 2 tracks between Kuraby and Varsity Lakes (with a 3rd track at Bethania). This allows an 8tph service in one direction with express Gold Coast trains able to overtake slower all stations Beenleigh Line trains. But in the other direction, the Gold Coast trains are unable to overtaken the Beenleigh Line trains as they have use the same track.

To achieve the 8tph, then in one direction, Beenleigh Line trains can simply be extended to/from Varsity Lakes or Robina. Trains will alternate between express and all stations services. But in the other direction, the lack of overtaking provision will mean that the 8tph service will only be achievable by slowing down the train services. Quite how this will be achieved will be unknown, but some regular commuters may experience a considerably slower, though hopefully more frequent train journey. The required timetable changes and/or system reliability may also have knock on effects on other lines during the Commonwealth Games.

A sub-optimal track layout at Varsity Lakes may also make turning back of the 8tph service unreliable and prone to delays.

BrizCommuter's twin brother asked QR's project team how this services was to be achieved, and didn't received a response.

Lack of trains

The have been insufficient trains available to run an optimal timetable since January 2014, resulting in overcrowded 3-car services in the peak. The delays to the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) program have added to this commuter pain, with the first NGR trains not expected to be in passenger service until early 2017. This is disappointing as QR told commuters in January 2014, that the NGR would be introduced in late 2015. BrizCommuter has already worked out that insufficient NGR trains have been ordered to cover both replacement of the geriatric EMU trains, and provide an "optimal" peak train service on all lines.

To run the Commonwealth Game's 8tph train service, then approximately 8 of these extra 6-car NGR trains will be required for this service. This means that during the Commonwealth Games, either:

  • Trains lines other than the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines will have to experience a reduced train service (as is occurring at the moment with the Interim Timetables). This could impact passengers travelling on other train lines to connect with the extra Gold Coast Line services. 
  • To avoid cuts during the Commonwealth Games, QR will not improve train services on lines other than the Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines until after the Commonwealth Games has finished. Thus for example, urgently required enhancements to the Cleveland Line pm peak service (extend express service later) and Ferny Grove Line pm peak service (fill in the gaps) may be delayed.    
Both options are bad news for regular commuters.

Lack of train crew

It takes at least 12 months to train drivers (excluding recruitment phase). With the Commonwealth Games only 17 months away, that does not allow for much time to train up sufficient drivers to run both the "normal" train service (which is currently "sub-normal"), and run the "enhanced" Commonwealth Games train service. The lack of driver trainers also limits how many extra drivers can be trained. The effect on commuters is likely to be similar to the lack of train issues highlighted above.

Conclusion

Unless a miracle happens, then commuters should be very afraid that up to and during the Commonwealth Games, they may experience a sub-optimal train service from QR. The lack of accountability and transparency from QR and successive Queensland Governments only fuels BrizCommuter's concerns. Yet again, the policy failures of three successive Queensland Governments (from both sides of politics) is likely to result in yet another rail fail in April 2018.

Additionally, as the main stadium in Carrara is not directly on a train line (which is bizarre for most major sporting events), passengers using public transport to/from Brisbane will have to suffer slow and time consuming bus transfers to get to and from the trains. This will not show SE Queensland in good light.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Stop Press: QR axe Rosewood Line weekend services

Liar!
Last Updated Sat 12th Nov 2016 8:30pm

Only a week after commuters were recently told that Queensland Rail's (QR) Interim Timetable Mk2 would result in "no more cancellations due to lack of drivers", guess what has happened? You guessed it, more cancellations due to lack of drivers. This time, the entire Rosewood Line train service has been completely axed on the weekends indefinitely. Now it might not be the busiest or most frequent of lines, but the axing of yet more train services with less than a days notice is totally unacceptable. Buses have replaced trains, leaving up to 15 minutes earlier than the trains. This means that anyone turning up just before the train is due will have very very long wait. The replacement buses have also been reportedly not able to accept passengers in wheelchairs - what a disgrace!

Another "secret" unadvertised change occurred on 10th Nov, where all weekend Northgate to CBD trains have been axed, replaced by slowed down Caboolture Line trains serving "Inner North" station. This will confuse Inner North weekend commuters, who are probably completely unaware of the changes.

Just to add to the pain, the lack of trains issue has resulted in multiple Gympie North train services being replaced by buses, and the Doomben Line experienced a 90 minute gap in am peak services this Friday (11/11/2016). Things are only getting worse, and SE Queensland commuters are reportedly giving up on using public transport in droves.

BrizCommuter thinks that it is time for the transport minister Stirling Hinchliffe (pictured) to also be "cancelled", and also time to again question whether a more competent private company could run QR much better. The worsening train woes are likely to cause the Palaszczuk government to be annihilated at the next election - Queensland voters do not taken fools gladly.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

QR's Nundah Blunder

Nundah - 77% reduction in am peak train service
Last Updated Sat 12th Nov 2016 6:30am

Aside from passengers using the Redcliffe Peninsula Line, the vast majority of commuters have only seen service cuts in the last month due to Queensland Rail's lack of drivers and trains. Those who have suffered most are commuters at Nundah and Toombul. So what has gone wrong for commuters from these stations?
  • Until 4th Oct 2016, Nundah and Toombul received 22 trains per hour (tph) in the am peak (trains departing Nundah during hour from 07:10am) as these stations were served by most Caboolture/Petrie and Shorncliffe Line services. Off-peak services were every 15 minutes. 
  • From 4th Oct 2016, Nundah and Toombul were timetabled 8tph in the same am peak period. This was to allow Caboolture and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines to run express through "Inner North" stations, speeding up journey times for 10,000+ commuters using these lines. Whilst a 64% reduction, a train every 7.5mins was still deemed quite reasonable. 
  • Unfortunately since 4th October, the cancellations and overcrowded 3-cars services significantly impacted these services resulting in much longer than expected peak (15 minutes) and off-peak (30 minutes) waits between trains, and passengers reportedly being unable to board some overcrowded peak services. 
  • Timetable information was also confusing with the peak Northgate starting/terminating services missing from the 4th Oct Shorncliffe Line timetable, and initially being shown under the Caboolture Line on the journey planner timetable. They eventually showed up on the belated Inner North timetable. 
  • A handful of commuters from these stations having to change to/from Caboolture/Redcliffe Peninsula services have also been rather politically vocal about longer journey times. 
  • The extra Northgate services were also pushing track capacity through the CBD, at 22tph, often causing minor (but still annoying) delays to Ferny Grove, Shorncliffe, Airport, and Doomben Line services. 
  • The Interim Timetable Mk2 shows only 5tph in the am peak during the same period as mentioned above. This is a whopping 77% reduction in service. In addition to this massive cut in services, some of these remaining trains are overcrowded 3-car units. 
  • Weekend Northgate to CBD trains were secretly axed on 10th Nov 2016, replaced by Caboolture Line trains that now call at all Inner North stations. Given the lack of information, many weekend Inner North commuters will be completely unaware of this change. 
There is little question that Nundah and Toombul commuters have a very good reason to be annoyed with QR, and the successive incompetent governments that caused the current crisis. Given the amount of apartment development in Nundah, this is an unacceptable situation that is only going to add to road congestion as commuters give up on rail. It will be interested to see what happens to train services for these stations when things eventually return back to "normal" (which BrizCommuter pessimistically predicts sometime in late 2018).

Friday, November 4, 2016

QR's Interim Timetable Mk2 - Summer of Misery

QR's Interim Timetables - A Sinking Ship! 
Last Updated 6am 5/11/16

BrizCommuter's most recent blog post was an analysis of Queensland Rail's (QR) lack of driver (and lack of train) induced meltdown since the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line in early October 2016. BrizCommuter also reviewed the first iteration of QR's Interim Timetable. The Interim Timetable (which is really a list of axed train services) has not worked as well as expected by QR, resulting in additional train services being cancelled, often at short notice. For the last two Fridays over 100 train services have been cancelled, considerably more than the 50 expected according to the Interim Timetable. Whilst the Interim Timetable has allowed for improved system reliability (which isn't difficult when running less trains), it has also resulted in excessive gaps between some train services, and also overcrowding on trains running after the cancelled service (in some cases 3-car units). The constant changes have driven many shift workers back to driving to/from work. Commuters from Nundah and Toombul have been hardest hit. When combined with the October timetable changes, these stations have seen a reduction in peak train services of up to 73%, and reduction in daytime off-peak services of up to 66%. Commuters have also been left frustrated due to the different timetables for Mon-Thu and Friday. Cue the Interim Timetable Mk2, due to be introduced from Monday 7th November, with 333 cancelled services.

The Interim Timetable Mk2 is expected to operate until the New Year, with no end date officially announced. In typical half-arsed Queenslander style, TransLink initially failed to publish the printable .pdf version of the Interim Timetable Mk2 [edit 5/11/16: now available online]. A list of which services have been axed from the original timetable is also missing. Until the .pdf timetables were published, the only way to see the timetables was via TransLink's journey planner timetable, which only shows 4 or 5 services at a time and is thus barely useable. Absolutely hopeless!
Barely useable timetable (and train service) - spot the mistake
This lack of timetable transparency will only annoy commuters further. BrizCommuter attempted to make some headway by trolling through the journey planner, before giving up [edit 5/11/16: more information added since .pdf timetables published]:
  • Interim Timetable Mk2 fairly similar to the Interim Timetable Mk1, with most of the cancelled peak services remaining cancelled.
  • Different timetables for Mon-Thu and Friday which will continue to cause mass confusion. 
  • Friday's Ferny Grove Line am peak service has been savaged, with two full 3-car services completely removed, potentially resulting in overcrowded on following services. 
  • PM peak Cleveland Line express service now finishes even earlier. 
  • Excessive gaps between peak services - 22 minute am peak service gap on inner Beenleigh Line, 30 minute am peak service gap on the outer Cleveland Line Monday to Friday, 30 minute pm peak service gap on the inner Cleveland Line on Fridays, 24 minute pm peak service gap on the Ipswich Line (at different times of course on Fridays). 
  • Disgusting outbound 60 minute off-peak service gap to Northgate, and 90 minute off-peak service gap to Shorncliffe - surely this is a mistake??? 
  • Bizarre 7:58 Doomben to Eagle Junction train on Fridays - where does it go after Eagle Junction?
  • Seemingly random gaps in early morning, daytime, and evening off-peak services an annoyance to shift workers. 
  • More cuts to the already heavily cut "Inner North" services, providing ongoing misery for Nundah, Toombul, Wooloowin, and Albion commuters which have had peak service frequency reduced from every 3 minutes to 15 minutes at times, and the added "fun" of overcrowded 3-car trains.  
  • No information on which services use overcrowded 3-car trains. 
  • Mistakes and inconsistencies found between the journey planner timetable and .pdf timetables. 
  • On the good side, the Inner North services (or lack of) are now sensibly shown on the Shorncliffe Line timetable. 
Politician spin (mainly from beleaguered Transport Minister Stirling Hinchliffe) has not helped the situation. Statements such as "the recent timetable has been less than optimal" doesn't resonate with those who have been suffering from the January 2014 timetable changes for nearly 3 years, such as passengers at Windsor not being able to fit onto some Ferny Grove Line services. Statements such as "the timetable will be more reliable and consistent" doesn't resonate well with those whose services have been axed, lengthening their commute and waits for trains. Different timetables for Fridays is not consistent in the slightest! Statements such as "we are still running more trains than before the Redcliffe Peninsula Line opened"doesn't resonate well with people who use every other train line, who have only seen services reduced.

QR's ongoing lack of train and driver issues, and the resulting Interim Timetable Mk2 will provide a summer of misery for many commuters in SE Queensland. Whilst the seeds of this problem were clearly sown by the previous ousted LNP government, the current ALP government has handled this situation badly with un-truths and spin. To regain any trust in SE Queensland's rail network, the state government, QR, and TransLink need to:
  1. Improve customer information and transparency regarding the new Interim Timetables Mk2 - which services have been cancelled, and which services are 3-car?
  2. Inform customers when the October 2016 timetables will return in full.
  3. Inform customers of when they will receive any financial compensation. 
  4. Inform customers of when the overcrowded 3-car services on the Shorncliffe, Ferny Grove, and Cleveland Lines will be resolved by the introduction of New Generation Rollingstock trains.
  5. Inform customers of when the NGR and extra drivers will allow for long awaited (since 2014) improvements to the timetables, such as extending the pm peak Cleveland Line express services, and improving off-peak services on the Springfield, Ipswich, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines. 
Right, now where is that car showroom? As I've had enough of trains.

Interim Timetables Mk2:
https://translink.com.au/service-updates/104191