Brisbane's best public transport blog, with views and opinions on SE Queensland's "third world class" public transport system. This blog is about a long-suffering Brisbane commuter, fed up with some of the world's most expensive fares, overcrowded trains, and a diabolical bus network.
After 956 days of Rail Fail, Queensland Rail (QR) managed to today (Monday 13th May 2019) restore the grand total of 32 out of the 330 weekly train services that were axed due to lack of train drivers. So how did TransLink and Queensland Rail spin this news? By claiming that they were adding 32 "extra" train services. They may have fooled a few people who had forgotten about Rail Fail's axed train services, as it happened so long ago. However, the spin has not fooled BrizCommuter and many other frustrated commuters. It would be great if QR, TransLink, the Queensland Government, or even the missing in action CityTrain Response Unit (remember them) could tell commuters when the other 300+ train services will be restored, or when the abomination that is Friday Fail Day will have the same train services at Monday to Thursday. Sadly, we can only hear chirping Crickets.
Almost a year ago (March 2018), BrizCommuter wrote a blog post on the looming Cross River Rail Fail - #CRRrailfail. Unfortunately, not much has improved during the last year. Thus Cross River Rail Fail has edged another year closer to yet another public transport debarcle. So what are the problems that will impact the opening of Cross River Rail?
Cross River Rail (CRR) is currently scheduled to open in 2024, and the above service plan for Cross River Rail is proposed for 2026 (am peak). The current state of play shows that this may not be possible due to the following:
Rail Fail caused by lack of drivers has now been ongoing for nearly 900 days. Queensland Rail (QR), nor the overseeing Citytrain Response Unit can commit to when the October 2016 timetable will be restored. Considerably more rail services, and thus more drivers need to be added to optimise the existing (pre-CRR network) - examples being 15 minute off-peak service on Springfield, Ipswich, Caboolture, and Redcliffe Lines, and improvements to pm peak services on almost all train lines (Cleveland Line being the most critical).
The proposed 2026 service pattern for Cross River Rail will require approximately 26 more train services in the am peak, as well as additional off-peak and pm peak services services. This will also require another further increase in train drivers.
The NGR train rollout has been a disaster with less than 2/3rds of the fleet operating after more than 1000 days since the first train arrived in Queensland, and years worth of fleet rectifications required.
Not enough NGR trains have been ordered to optimise the train services on the existing (pre-CRR network). In fact approximately 13 additional 6-car trains are required just to optimise the existing (pre-CRR) rail network, as well as replace all EMU, ICE, and unreliable SMU200 trains.
Approximately 29 additional 6-car trains (thus 42 in total) will be required to provide the extra train services proposed for CRR in 2026.
Given the severe design issues with the NGR trains, and the Palaszczuk government's "Buy Queensland" policy, an add on order for extra NGR trains is looking increasingly unlikely. Thus a whole new procurement, design, and construction process will be required, delaying the addition of additional trains onto QR's network. This process would realistically need to start before the end of this year if the additional trains are to be in service in time for CRR's opening.
Multiple additional infrastructure projects are required to meet CRR's proposed service pattern - including additional tracks along parts of the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor, duplication of the Cleveland Line's single track sections, additional train stabling, turnback facility at Salisbury or Acacia Ridge, and optimised track layout at Kippa-Ring. Limited or no progress appear to have been made on these projects, and none are funded.
28tph on one track (am peak from Caboolture/Sunshine Coast/Kippa Ring between Northgate and Mayne) will be highly unrealistic and/or highly unreliable, even with ETCS L2 signalling.
The imbalance of train services from each side of CRR (18tph vs 12tph) makes for operational issues and inefficient use of trains and crew.
The risk of a political interference (such as a future LNP government repeating destructive policies, such as driver recruitment freezes, or attempting to privatise QR by stealth) before the opening of CRR.
Ongoing poor public transport governance under Department of Transport and Main Roads.
Without sustained driver (and train crew) recruitment throughout the next 5 to 7 years, timely orders for approximately 42 additional 6-car trains, and multiple expensive infrastructure projects, it will be impossible to achieve to proposed service patterns for Cross River Rail when it opens in the mid-2020s. Failures in any of these areas will result in a repeat of Rail Fail where there were insufficient drivers and trains to operate the October 2016 timetable after the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line. This would result in a repeat of sub-optimal train services on both the existing train network and on train lines that that will run through CRR. Failure to meet the 2026 service pattern would also make a mockery of the business case, which is already dubious by claiming that CRR will allow for service improvements on the unconnected Ipswich and Springfield Lines. Given Queensland's track record of blundering transport planning, and minimal progress since BrizCommuter raised the issue of Cross River Rail Fail a year ago, things are not looking good. In fact, expect this blog post to be repeated verbatim next year with little progress.
BrizCommuter usually covers more conventional methods of transport, so this subject is a bit of a change. Anyone who has recently walked through Brisbane's CBD or South Bank cannot helped have noticed (or been knocked over by) the rapid increase in Lime Scooters. These li-ion powered electric scooters can be unlocked and paid for on a time basis using a smart phone app. A trial/temporary law exemption is running in Brisbane until the end of February for electric scooters. Lime scooters are proving to be very popular (or possibly a fad), but unfortunately there are huge risks being taken by the majority of users. So what are the issues surrounding Lime Scooters in Brisbane?
Despite helmets being mandatory, over 85% of Lime Scooter riders observed by BrizCommuter are not wearing helmets.
Despite only one person being allowed to ride on a Scooter, BrizCommuter has observed two people riding on one on around 50% of days of observations.
Lack of policing of the above. If a police offer was to be stationed at the city end of the Victoria Bridge, they could make a hefty profit in fines!
Scooters are being observed being driven at up to 30kph along footpaths, dangerously weaving past pedestrians.
Scooters are being illegally driven on narrow streets at night.
A huge increase in injuries has been recorded by Brisbane emergency departments, with associated cost to the taxpayer. Some of these injuries have been people hit by scooters (in one case in a no scooter zone), and not just the scooter riders.
Cases of drunk scooter riders and even Lime Scooter pub crawls.
Scooters being "parked" in the way of pedestrians.
Lack of decent cycleways is causing scooter riders to mix with pedestrians.
Lack of protective clothing (unlike many cycle, motor scooter, and motorbike riders).
Litigation and accountability grey areas.
It will be interesting to see what decisions are made at the end of trial. Innovative transport options needs to be weight up against the public nuisance aspect. Decisions need to be made around issues related to speed limits on shared footpaths, use of cycleways, serious policing/crackdown of helmet wearing, clear laws of what do in case of an accident, and clear guidelines related to accountability and litigation. In the mean time, you might need eyes in the back of your head when walking the city streets so that you don't get hit by a souped up kids toy.
It has recently been announced that at the last minute, $3.6m worth of bonuses was stopped from being paid to senior Queensland Rail (QR) managers by the Queensland Government. How on earth QR's Board (update: some of whom have now resigned) could think that bonuses were appropriate is beyond anyone who actually has to suffer from using QR's mediocre rail service. It is also concerning that this wasn't picked up early by Transport Minister Mark Bailey - maybe he wasn't checking the right emails? So why shouldn't QR's managers get bonuses?
2 years after the start of Rail Fail (#RailFail), QR's CityTrain network is still running on interim reduced timetables, with further service reductions on Fridays, and no end in sight.
QR's recruitment and training process for new drivers is agonisingly slow.
QR have failed to control the RTBU, who appear to be running the show. The RTBU's opposition towards external driver recruitment and a closed shop mentality has hit Rail Fail recovery hard.
There is allegedly poor moral amongst train crew, in particular due to ongoing overtime requirements.
On-time running stats are misleading, as they don't show unscheduled expressed services, off-peak services, or services removed due to Rail Fail.
Communication from staff at times of delays is still poor to mediocre.
Other things wrong with SE Queensland's rail network, that also have successive state governments, and the Department of Transport and Main Roads (TMR) to blame are:
The disastrous New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) project - "illegal" trains that don't meet disability accessibility requirements, door problems, and a "who knows when" fix for these issues.
Due to the NGR project delays, the geriatric EMU trains are failing regularly, causing delays and rollingstock availability problems, including chronic overcrowded 3-car trains.
Inadequate base timetables - even the never delivered October 2016 timetables are inadequate compared to Perth, Sydney, and Melbourne - with 15 minute peak gaps on many lines, limited 15 minute off-peak coverage, and abysmal Cleveland Line pm peak service.
Inadequate rail feeder bus network and park and rides.
The looming Cross River Rail Fail - unless 40+ more trains are purchased soon, driver recruitment is ramped up, and multiple "bottleneck" infrastructure projects are completed.
Farcical situation caused by the guard being at the back of NGR trains, disability access being in the middle of the train, and half-arsed platform raising being in the middle of the train.
Lack of Automatic Train Protection across most of QR's CityTrain network - this means that getting rid of guards for more efficiency is a big problem.
Inland QR long distance services are extremely poor value for money for the taxpayer.
Lack of periodical (e.g. weekly) capping options on the go-card is a deterrent to weekend public transport use.
Until Brisbane and SE Queensland has a train service as frequent and reliable as other major Australian capital cities, there is no way that anyone in QR or TMR should be paid a bonus. With QR's failures and poor efficiency, it should even be questioned as to why QR should not be privatised. BrizCommuter will not be surprised if this happens within minutes of the LNP next gaining power in Queensland.
Queensland Rail's (QR) Rail Fail (#RailFail) started on the 30th September 2016, just before the opening of the Redcliffe Peninsula Line. Rail Fail was a result of insufficient train drivers to operate the October 2016 timetable. The cause and ongoing delays in the resolution of Rail Fail have been caused by a combination of:
Driver recruitment being stopped, and driver trainers being reduced under the destructive LPN Newman government (who were allegedly planning to privatise NGR operated train services).
Organisation incompetence within QR, including ignoring external advice that the October 2016 timetables were not feasible.
The Palaszczuk ALP government bumbling along with fixing the problem.
QR's board for signing off an EBU (with changes to drivers meal breaks) just before the Strachan inquiry into Rail Fail was handed down.
The Rail Tram and Bus Union for trying to prevent external driver recruitment.
Poor relationship between Department of Transport and Main Roads (TransLink) and QR.
The Citytrain Reponse Unit for doing, erm, not much.
After 2 years of Rail Fail, the net gain in driver sits at little more than 40 drivers. The result of this highly unimpressive gain in drivers has resulted in:
The continuation of over 330 train services each week being cancelled.
Friday "Fail Day" with different timetables to Monday to Thursday, and more cancellations.
Peak service gaps of up to 30 minutes (or 60 mins for the Doomben Line).
"Breaking" of the 15 minute daytime off-peak services (which was limited enough in the first place".
Up to 60 minute off-peak service gaps.
The totally inadequate School Holiday Timetables with up to 60% of peak services being cancelled, up to 50% of off-peak services being cancelled, and "third world" hourly weekend services. This particular impact may now be resolved.
The embarrassing Commonwealth Games timetables that resulted in abysmal train service for anyone that didn't use the Gold Coast Line.
An increase in trains being expressed past stations to meet QR's KPIs.
A decline in rail patronage from many stations, even more so when taking into account population growth.
A decline in Brisbane's liveability ranking.
Misleading excuses for delays and lack of transparency further decreasing QR's credibility.
Rail Fail may also be a contributory factor towards the slow rollout of NGR trains.
Unfortunately, the Queensland Government, QR, and the Citytrain Response Unit are all refusing to let commuters known when Rail Fail will be fixed. This was originally touted by Citytrain Response Unit as being in late 2019, before this estimate went missing in action in subsequent publications. BrizCommuter is estimating full recovery of the October 2016 timetable sometime in 2020 - 4 years late. Even the mythical 2016 timetable is far behind the high frequency service frequencies that commuters in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney have enjoyed for many years. Thus Brisbane and SE Queensland will continue to have a substandard train service that is damaging Brisbane's reputation and liveability well into the next decade. If further driver recruitment is not sustained, and further trains are not ordered soon, then the opening of Cross River Rail will be the next major failure on the horizon, as the proposed service provision will not be possible. And lets not get started on NGR Fail!
Whilst Brisbane's public transport system continues into a death spiral, there is one Queensland Rail (QR) train line BrizCommuter hears more complaints about that any other - the Cleveland Line. What are the issues with the Cleveland Line?
Lacking infrastructure - single track sections between Manly and Cleveland, and lack of 3rd platform at Manly causes havoc with on-time running and track capacity.
Train services are often "expressed" past stations, with excuses from QR designed to obfuscate, including "Congestion on the network" and "Heavy passenger loading" (in other words, we are bypassing stations so that the train can get to the terminus on-time and meet our KPIs).
Overcrowded 3-car trains on some services, due to the ongoing NGR train delays and old EMU trains being beyond end of service life.
Woeful 30 minute am peak gap between the 6:24am and 6:54am from Cleveland (Mon-Fri) due to the ongoing #RailFail.
"Random" 30 minute gaps during the 15 minute daytime off-peak period, notably on Fridays.
Daytime 15 minute off-peak period only goes as far as Cannon Hill.
Peak services are no better than every 15 minutes / 4tph (and in many cases far worse) for most stations.
Notoriously early finish of the pm peak express service at 4:54pm from Central, before most people have left work!
23 minute pm peak gap for passengers heading to stations between Manly and Cleveland in the pm peak (Mon-Thu).
Multiple 30 minute gaps between trains in the pm peak on Fridays.
The Cleveland Line is so bad, that commuters has dubbed it Brisbane's "Misery Line". The train service is so infrequent and unreliable, that many of BrizCommuter's work colleagues who use the line have taken to using buses, or even driving instead. Some are even looking at leaving their jobs in Brisbane's CBD as they can't handle the terrible commute. It would be great if QR or politicians could tell commuters when the Cleveland Line's woes will be over, but don't count on it. The pain will continue for many years to come.
You might have noticed that BrizCommuter has been a bit quiet lately. BrizCommuter has been concentrating on more productive life projects, instead of going round in circles complaining about Brisbane's never ending public transport woes. BrizCommuter will be back, but in the meantime, posts will be sporadic.
Before BrizCommuter heads into hibernation, what is the state of play?
Queensland Rail (QR) - is still managing to be the worst train operator in Oceania. The expected date for resolution for #RailFail seems to be state secret, which can only mean that it won't be resolved this decade. Both the previous LNP government and the current ALP government should hang their heads in shame on how they have handled QR. In fact, BrizCommuter thinks that the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are running QR! Train service frequencies are now worse than Adelaide. Melbourne has a 500% more frequent train service on some weekends. The only thing that QR seem to be good at (sic) is obfuscation of reasons why trains are delayed - "congestion on the network" anyone?
NGR - an absolutely disastrous project, poorly managed by the Department of Transport and Main Roads. The lack of disability access is a national disgrace, and not enough trains were ordered. Lets hope the the inquiry finds out who made the wrong decisions, and why they were made so that the same mistakes are never made again. A further little known problem, is that more trains need to be ordered very soon for service expansion and Cross River Rail, and there is zero progress as to how this order will proceed.
Brisbane's Bus Network - still a confusing and inefficient mess, with multiple bus routes along the same corridors staring at different locations in the CBD. Maybe the Brisbane Metro might solve things?
Brisbane Metro - finally came good after the original ludicrous "rubber tyred metro" plan, but only really brings the busway to standard that it should have been built to in the first place. Unless you believe LNP spin, it is not as important as...
Cross River Rail - finally going ahead (unless a future LNP government cancel it again), but now cut price the point at which it is quite half-arsed. The tunnel needs to be designed to allow a railway line along the Trouts Rd Corridor/North West Transport Corridor to be connected. Without at least 40 extra trains, sustained driver recruitment, and multiple related infrastructure projects (including extra tracks on the Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line and Cleveland Line), Cross River Rail is heading towards being a $5.4b Rail Fail.
Unfair fares - the current fare system is broken. No weekly capping is causing a nose dive in weekend patronage. Increasing fares during #RailFail is not winning any friends.
LNP loony policies - however bad the ALP are running the show, the LNP really don't get it. Every election they come out with a ridiculous unworkable idea such as 7-car trains, the BaT Tunnel, and Hyperloop to Bundaberg. The plan to privatise QR by stealth has cause major issues with the NGR and #RailFail. The LNPs anti-Cross River Rail stance continues despite being a reason why they lost the last state election.
Backlog of infrastructure projects - with the slow progress of major infrastructure projects in SE Queensland, there is now a huge (and expensive) backlog of public transport infrastructure projects required to keep pace with population growth and urban sprawl. These include the Salisbury to Beaudesert Line, Trouts Rd/North West Transport Corridor, rail to Caloundra and Maroochydore (CAMCOS), Gold Coast Line extension to Coolangatta Airport, Springfield Line extension to Ripley, Cleveland Line duplication, extra tracks on Gold Coast/Beenleigh Line corridor.
Queensland Rail (QR), currently the worst rail operator in Oceania, is copping even more flak than usual from long suffering Cleveland Line users. This is due to the 7:28am from Manly to Shorncliffe running late and/or being expressed past stations on what seems like an almost daily basis. The reliability is so bad, that commuters are suggesting that QR should just remove it from the timetable instead of advertising a train that regularly omits stopping at stations. Regular excuses from QR include the rather obscure "congestion on the network".
Unfortunately, the lack of investment in infrastructure from successive governments has left the Cleveland Line with insufficient infrastructure to reliable run a peak train service. Between Manly and Cleveland the line is single track with passing places. This allows for a service in each direction every 15 minutes, but with little operating margin for late running before a delayed service delays services in the opposite direction. To add to the problem, there are only 2 tracks at Manly, where the additional "inner all stations" services start and terminate every 15 minutes. The train blocks a track during the turn-back at Manly, with minimal operating margin to allow for late running. Thus it is very easy for the Cleveland Line service to fall to pieces during the peak period, which can cause subsequent delays on other lines. A 3rd track and platform at Manly by 2012 was recommended in the the Inner City Rail Capacity Study (2008), but was never constructed.
Inadequate Cleveland Line infrastructure. Source: QR NAG 046.
With QR being obsessed by on-time running KPIs, and to avoid the knock on effect of late running services, QR will often run services express past stations that they are scheduled to stop at, much to the annoyance of commuters. It is unknown if there is a particular issue with the provision of the empty service that forms the 7:28am from Manly. QR's ongoing lack of driver #RailFail, lack of trains, and unreliable EMU trains are also not helping matters.
With a projected 10tph am peak service on the Cleveland Line when Cross River Rail opens in the mid-2020s, work needs to start soon to duplicate the single track sections of the Cleveland Line, and provide improved intermediate turn-back facilities for services that are not running all the way to/from Cleveland. More drivers and trains will also be required. The clock is ticking!
Another week in Queensland, and yet another week in petty politics preventing SE Queensland from moving forwards from being a urban backwater. This week, the federal Turnbull LNP government has offered to part fund ($390m) the much needed duplication of the Sunshine Coast Line from Beerburrum to Landsborough, expecting the state Palaszczuk ALP government to come to the table with more funding. At the same time, the Palaszczuk ALP government is having to 100% fund the more critical (and far more expensive) Cross River Rail (CRR) as the Turnbull LNP government is refusing to fund it. This is despite the Turnbull LNP government offering to find similar projects in other states including the barely planned Melbourne Airport Rail Link. As part of this childish funding battle, there has been debate as to whether Cross River Rail (CRR) is a prerequisite for the Sunshine Coast Line duplication. Here is a BrizCommuter's reality check on the situation.
The Sunshine Coast Line currently runs approx. 3tph in the am peak, with these services inclusive to the Caboolture Line's 9tph (maximum currently possible is 10tph with trains every 6 minutes). The Caboolture Line services interleave with Redcliffe Peninsula Line services between Northgate and Brisbane's CBD.
Off-peak services on the Sunshine Coast Line are currently every 1.5 hours, and every 30 minutes on the Caboolture Line. Train paths are also required for freight traffic. A duplication would allow more of the Caboolture services to run to/from Landsborough or Nambour as long as there are enough drivers.
With duplication, but without CRR, or ETCS L2 signalling, the Sunshine Coast Line could run more peak services that currently start/terminate at Caboolture. The maximum realistically possible would be 5tph, a train every 12 minutes. This would cause increased crowding on alternate Caboolture Line services. It would also require more trains and drivers, which are currently both in severe shortage for many years to come.
With duplication and ETCS L2 signalling (across QR's network), but without CRR, the Sunshine Coast Line and Caboolture Line could both have service improvements. Up to 12tph could be operated on the Caboolture Line, of which realistically 4 to 6tph could run to/from Nambour or Landsborough on the Sunshine Coast Line in the am peak.
Due to capacity contraints (4 tracks) between Northgate and Brisbane's CBD, CRR would not add any capacity to the above scenario. CRR's 2026 service plan claims 27tph would be split between Caboolture and Redcliffe Peninsula Lines, but BrizCommuter doubts that this is realistically possible (and BrizCommuter is usually right).
If the Caboolture and Sunshine Coast Lines were connected to a new rail line along the Trouts Road / North West Transport Corridor towards Brisbane's CBD, then 24tph could run to Caboolture. A significant proportion of these services (such as 8tph) could run on the Sunshine Coast Line. Preferably by the time this was constructed a line serving Caloundra and Maroochydore would have been constructed.
So realistically, Cross River Rail is not required to increase am peak capacity from 3tph to 5 or 6tph on the post-duplicated Sunshine Coast Line. ETCS L2 signalling, more trains and more drivers would help alleviate added crowding on Caboolture Line services which can only be increased by approx. 20%. For significant (>20%) capacity increases on the Caboolture Line, and to allow high frequency (>6tph) peak services to Caloundra and Maroochydore, a new train line along the Trouts Road / North West Transport Corridor would be required.
Things are clearly not going well with the recovery from Queensland Rail's (QR) Rail Fail. After claims in early 2017 that the axed services would be restored (with driver overtime) by early 2019, 2020 is now looking more likely, possibly even 2021. QR, CityTrain Response Unit (CRU), and the ALP Palaszczuk government are all tight lipped on when the full October 2016 timetable will be restored, leaving long suffering commuters in the dark. It is quite clear that the Rail Tram and Bus Union (RTBU) are not helping matters when it comes to service recovery by their opposition to external driver recruitment. Questions that need to be asked to QR, CRU, the Queensland Government, and the RTBU, are:
Why was a new EBA (which included internal recruitment) signed off by the QR Board just before the Strachan report into Rail Fail?
What else in the EBA will affect Rail Fail recovery? (Hint: drivers break times).
Despite the Strachan inquiry recommending external recruitment, why have no drivers without previous QR experience been trained?
Does the RTBU and QR care about the external driver applicants stuck in job limbo? (Some are now in serious financial difficulties)
Does the RTBU care about long suffering commuters, and the damage to QLD economy and reputation due to Rail Fail?
When will there be a consistent Monday to Friday timetable?
When will commuters cease to be inflicted by reduced service holiday timetables, and hourly weekend train services?
When will the full October 2016 timetable be restored?
When will urgently required services improvements (such as improved pm peak services and 15 min off-peak on sector 1 lines) occur?
There is growing public resentment towards the ALP Palaszczuk government, QR, and RTBU, due to #RailFail dragging on for years. It is increasingly likely that QR will be rapidly privatised by the LNP when they next gain power. Of course, this was the LNP's original plan, as the seeds of Rail Fail were sown by driver recruitment freezes under the Newman government. It seems that if the RTBU continue to show contempt towards the travelling public, they will be shooting themselves in the foot, as their ALP bedfellows will loose power, and QR will be consigned to history.