Sunday, May 21, 2017

Early Running Trains - Another Easy Fix?

With all all the talk about late or cancelled trains, some readers may be surprised that Queensland Rail (QR) also have a chronic issue with early running trains. These early running trains are often observed during the off-peak, when the combination of QR's padded out timetables, train crew not paying attention to the timetable, and no digital train regulation methods, can result in trains running early. BrizCommuter quite often observes early running outbound trains on the Ferny Grove Line at weekends and late at night. As QR do not publish off-peak on-time statistics, then commuters and politicians are in the dark as to how often this occurs. QR can locate their trains by the signalling system, and thus these statistics can be obtained by QR.
3 minutes early - unacceptable QR! 
This photographed example was taken at 09:10am, at Enoggera station. The watch was synced to a time server the previous day.  The train in the photo was timetabled to depart this station at 09:13am. So the train was running 3 minutes early. In fact, the train arrived at this station 1 minute earlier than the time that it was timetabled to depart the previous station on the line - Alderley (at 09:11am)! This of course totally unacceptable, and is yet another example of QR's ongoing contempt for the travelling public.

BrizCommuter has also observed passengers jumping pedestrian level crossings to get to trains that were running early, otherwise they would have missed the train with a resulting 30+ minute wait. This isn't good in the "zero harm" department. Only last week, BrizCommuter nearly missed an early am peak train service that was running 2 minutes early (though it still ended running 2 minutes late through the CBD).

Lets hope that QR's renewed "customer focus", and new CEO Mr Nick Easy can stamp out this timetable annoyance.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

QR's Daytime Track Closures - An Easy Fix?

...except without the "Sorry" bit
There are 2 pairs of tracks (4 in total) through Brisbane's CBD. For many years, Queensland Rail (QR) have been regularly closing one of these track pairs for scheduled maintenance during the daytime off-peak period, much to the annoyance of passengers who have been delayed. Since the January 2014 timetable, when 15 minute off-peak services were added on a few lines, there have been delays due to:
  • Services that are timed to run through Brisbane's CBD at the same time on seperate tracks, will always result on in a delay to one of those services. 
  • Too many trains running through Brisbane's CBD in the daytime off-peak to reliably operate on one track pair. 
  • A late running train will delay all subsequent trains as there is limited operating margin.
  • Conflicting junction moves at Roma Street, Fortitude Valley, or Bowen Hills (e.g. Ferny Grove bound trains having to cross the path of all inbound services at Bowen Hills) causing further delays. 
  • Lazy operations - e.g. 2 minute dwell time at Central for late running services. 
The effect of this on commuters and stakeholders:
  • Typically, trains running up to 10 minutes late on all lines. 
  • In some case, trains running up to 15 minutes late, or getting delayed further in their journey as a result of the earlier delay.
  • Commuters being late for appointments, work, lectures, and meetings.
  • Commuters missing onward train and bus connections - not good when some bus routes in Brisbane can be hourly (and yes, BrizCommuter has missed an hourly bus thanks to a daytime track closure). 
  • Further evidence of QR's contempt for the travelling public. 
  • Off-peak reliability figures are not published due to poor transparency, thus stakeholders are unaware of QR's mediocre off-peak performance. 
BrizCommuter is not aware of other urban rail systems that close tracks in the middle of day, resulting in delays. So why does QR think that they can get away with it? This is yet another example of QR's lack of customer focus. Lets hope that this is an easy fix for QR's new CEO - Mr Nick Easy.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Inland Rail vs Cross River Rail - The Irony

Cross River Rail - no federal funding,
no bi-partisan support
In the 2017 Federal Budget, $8.4b of additional funding was announced for the Melbourne to Brisbane Inland Rail Project freight line, but no funding was made available for Brisbane's urgently required $5.4b Cross River Rail. Claims have been made that the Inland Rail corridor from Kagaru (near Beaudesert) to Toowoomba may allow for train services from Toowoomba to Brisbane in around half the time of current train services,  allowing train services to compete with cars. Train services may also be able to call at new suburban stations along the existing part of the Inland Rail corridor between Kagaru (near Beaudesert) and Salisbury, such as Flagstone (New Town), Greenbank, Browns Plains, and Acacia Ridge. Unfortunately, there is one slight problem - lack of Cross River Rail.

Based on the October 2016 Timetable, 20 trains per hour (tph) should run into Brisbane from the Gold Coast, Beenleigh, and Cleveland Lines, running via South Bank. This may be pushed to 22tph in coming years after the opening of the Helensvale to Coomera duplication and eventual resolution of Rail Fail. A maximum of 24tph is possible - unreliably with current signalling, reliably with ETCS signalling. This means that there is realistically no more space for additional passenger train services coming from Toowoomba via the Inland Rail Corridor, or the existing rail corridor between Kagaru and Salisbury.

Building Cross River Rail, preferably with an extra track between Salisbury and the portal at Dutton Park, would allow for train services from Toowoomba via the Inland Rail Corridor, or the existing corridor between Kagaru/Beaudesert and Salisbury to run via South Bank into the CBD (note: standard gauge trains can only run as far as Roma Street), allowing Gold Coast and Beenleigh Lines to run via Cross River Rail.

Thus to allow passenger train services to run from Toowoomba to Brisbane via the Inland Rail Corridor, or the existing corridor between Kagaru and Salisbury requires the construction of Cross River Rail. With the (allegedly incomplete) Palaszczuk Government's Cross River Rail business case not being made publicly available, is is unknown as to whether running train services from Toowoomba via the Inland Rail line has been included in the business case. The requirement of running trains from Beaudesert / Flagstone should be included, but costs would additional to the $5.4b for Cross River Rail which only covers Dutton Park to Albion section.

The Palaszczuk Government needs to both complete, and come clean on the business case for Cross River Rail, making it publicly available. As previously discussed, to take full advantage of Cross River Rail, considerably more than the quoted $5.4b will need to spent on other rail infrastructure around SE Queensland. Realistically, the cost may be around $8b. Is this extra cost a reason to not fund Cross River Rail? No.   Without Cross River Rail, Brisbane will have difficulty competing for business with other Oceana cities which are building new cross city rail tunnels, such as Sydney, Melbourne, and Auckland. Road and rail congestion will continue to get worse, making Brisbane fall even further down the liveability rankings. A SE Queensland Olympic Bid without Cross River Rail being open would be laughable. Even if the Federal Government fails to cough up the money, the state government needs to have the balls to go it alone on funding, at least for the first few years. There also needs to be bi-partisan support, and BrizCommuter is concerned that the LNP Queensland state opposition just don't understand the benefits of Cross River Rail.

Thanks to ongoing tit-for-tat politics, and political incompetence, BrizCommuter is very concerned for the future of Cross River Rail, and Brisbane as a competitive "world city".

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Citytrain Response Unit - Ineffective Bureaucracy?

In the Strachan Inquiry (Queensland Rail train crewing practises commission of inquiry), released on 31st January 2017, there was mention of the implementation of the Rail Review Office, which is now known as the Citytrain Response Unit (CRU). The purpose of the CRU, as per the inquiry report is below:

35. Establish a Rail Review Office to monitor, independently audit and report on the implementation of Queensland Rail's response and recovery plan and the agreed recommendations of the Commission
(a) Release public progress reports each quarter, commencing with the announcement of agreed recommendations

36. Task the Rail Review Office with leading reviews of the governance, legislative framework and structure of passenger rail service delivery in Queensland. These reviews should consider the appropriate operating model and accountability for public transportation services in light of forthcoming major changes, such as the introduction of the New Generation Rollingstock, the Commonwealth Games, European Train Control System and Cross River Rail. As a starting point, the Rail Review Office should undertake four key reviews:
(a) Assess, make recommendations on and oversee the implementation of a closely integrated public transport service developed based on leading models of such integrated organisations
(b) Assess the requirement for, and composition of, a Board of Queensland Rail
(c) Define accountabilities for Queensland Rail's long-term industrial relations strategy, ensuring alignment with its long-term business strategy
(d) Undertake a whole-of-business review of Queensland Rail to identify any systemic organisational issues and develop actions to address these issues.

Unfortunately, 3 months after the Strachan Inquiry, it seems that things are getting worse for commuters, rather than better. Only one report has been released by the CRU, entitled "Fixing the Trains". BrizCommuter has the following concerns that CRU have not resolved.

  • Ongoing cancellations due to "operational issues" or "mechanical issues".
  • Concern about falling reliability of ageing EMU trains. 
  • Ongoing poor or non-existent information from Queensland Rail (QR) staff and TransLink when service alterations occur. 
  • Filthy trains. 
  • Lazy guards keeping doors locked for whole journeys, when they only need to be locked for Alderley (due to reconstruction work).
  • QR's Easter timetable having worst frequency in Oceana (Australia and New Zealand).
  • Frequent daytime CBD track closure delaying trains and causing missed connections. 
  • External applicants for driver positions still not allowed. 
  • Perceived lack of progress in driver recruitment. 
  • Laughable timeline to the resolution of Rail Fail in Fixing the Trains document (see screenshot below). 
  • Lack of transparency related to ongoing delays to New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) project - including multiple Right to Information requests being denied.
  • Stalling tactics towards disability advocates over NGR accessibility issues. 
  • Lack of transparency related to detailed passenger loading and patronage reports - in fact, the QR Passenger Load survey has been hidden for years.
  • Lack of transparency related to Moreton Bay Rail Link signalling issues.
  • No publicly available plan of train service restoration - e.g. when will Fridays have the same timetable as Mon-Thu? When will individual axed train services be restored?
  • Lack of transparency (and question avoidance) related to expected train service cuts during the Commonwealth Games. 
  • Limited changes to QR's Board, executive, and culture. 
Laughable timeline - needs to be split into
Months or Quarters, not Year! 
Whilst it is still early days for the Citytrain Response Unit, it appears that the CRU is just another layer of ineffective bureaucracy for SE Queensland and Brisbane's ailing public transport system. With the combined mediocrity of the CRU, QR, Department of Transport and Main Roads, TransLink, and Queensland Government, commuters are left with no idea as to what is going on regarding driver training, restoring cut rail services, NGR delays, improving train cleanliness, improving customer information, and Commonwealth Games train services. The public aren't stupid, and treating them as such may well decide the next election.