For a Better Brisbane

Archive for January 2011

Brisbane’s BUZ Revolution: Quality, and they will come

Credit: Alan Warren, Brisbane Transport in 'BUZ Routes' presented at the Thredbo 10 conference. Reproduced under copyright provisions for reporting the news, criticism, study, research and review. A link to the original paper may be found at the bottom of this post.

The staff over at the Auckland Transport Blog have picked up on this blog’s comment about Brisbane’s BUZ. This blog had a earlier post about Brisbane’s spectacular success with the BUZ concept, but it is worth banging on about our own city’s success with BUZ buses again here. Spectacular increases in patronage due to no-compromise wide service hours, high frequency and a common interchange point. The table above (published by AKL Transit Blog) speaks for itself- huge patronage growth in the off-peak and weekends.

Now imagine what would happen if you did frequency and scope-of-hours upgrades like that to the train system?

This blog argues that rather than trying to copy Paris, London, Tokyo and Berlin- Australian Cities have their own successes in public transport, and these are home-grown strategies that work under Australian conditions with the kinds of cities that we have. Talk about non-obvious; we should be looking at our own backyard, because many solutions are under our noses!

Perth has performed a revolution on its trains, and Brisbane has performed a revolution on its buses. Now imagine what would happen if all this was put together (Perth doing a bus revolution and Brisbane doing a rail revolution?). We would finally have a comprehensive, convenient, frequent public transport across ALL modes, from anywhere to anywhere. A comprehensive public transport system that works and is totally affordable, certainly much more affordable and faster to carry out than ‘European’ ideas such as putting a metro station on every street corner. (How much would that cost?)

This blog intends to collect these examples of success together so that they can be easily referred to. But for now there will be a few more posts about Perth’s Rail Revolution, debunking the density delusion, and the TOD and patronage impacts that Perth’s improvements have had.

Update: Paper referenced is here


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January 27, 2011 at 7:50 am

Perth’s Rail Revolution: Perth to Mandurah (NewMetroRail) 2

Credits: The Orange line to Mandurah railway, Channel 9 Perth

In 1979, the WA state government closed down the Fremantle railway line as a first step to closing
down Perth’s rail system. The BrisUrbane Blog continues its Perth Rail Revolution special with highlights from a Channel Nine Perth special ‘The Orange line to Mandurah railway’. It gives an idea about what Brisbane’s own Cross River Rail project might look like.

Perth’s Mandurah line is important because it demonstrates how public transport can be made successful and how freeways can be rehabiltated or reclaimed for public transport use. The key here is tight integration of rail modes with feeder buses to overcome low density and high car ownership, so that even in the Australian context, they can become successful systems.

We have about 1.3 million people, but they are widely spread
to the point to where our city’s population density is close
to the lowest in the world.

Only three other cities worldwide have a higher vehicle ownership
per person, and our love affair with the motor vehicle continues
with more than 90% of all private trips made by car.

– Philippa O’Connell, presenter.

Claims that low density, high car ownership, and passenger resistance to transferring present impossible barriers to successful public transport as ‘explanations’ as to why we can’t have good public transport are now starting look very unconvincing to this blog.

It’s worthwhile to also re-examine the idea that the advantage of busways is it can reach people in the suburbs, while with rail most people don’t live near the station, and the rail can’t reach them. The BrisUrbane Blog has heard arguments and has even seen presentations to this effect; It may be more of a mis-interpretation of the fact that busways can offer direct trips, an example-

But open BRT is most likely to be the project that delivers something a rail project cannot do: direct service to many branches without having to build rail on all the branch lines.  This has been a perfect fit for Brisbane, because that city has a very strong CBD but few other major centers, so the need is for service that can follow the busway some distance from the CBD but then branch out to cover several suburban corridors.  This is the one service pattern for which there is no rail option.

– ‘Bus Rapid Transit- Some questions to ask’ by Jarrett Walker, HumanTransit Blog

The Human Transit blog argues that busways can offer ‘transfer free direct trips’ from the suburbs, which of course is true and widens the catchment area to increase patronage. But it’s also true that if a connecting bus were put on you could get the same effects with a rail system, and this has been done with the Mandurah rail line and it works.

By simply extending high frequency feeder buses from rail stations, it also saves on having to pay for a person to drive the bus all the way to the city, and you can also widen the catchment area to increase patronage and pick people up from the suburbs just like buses exiting a busway system and fanning out into the suburbs would. It might also decongest the CBD of buses.

There is a transfer involved, but how big an issue is that really? In a previous post, we heard Dr Peter Newman talk about how replacement of the busway lanes with the Mandurah rail line took patronage from 16,000 passengers/day (busway lanes) to 50,000 passengers/day (integrated rail).

So is putting on a high frequency feeder bus from a train station really such a big issue?

While the mere existence of the option to extend rail catchments by using buses is not necessarily an argument for or against conversion of Brisbane’s highly successful and excellent SE busway to a rail based option (this blog will look at the merits of this possibility at a future time) it is, however, an argument for better feeder bus services to rail stations on Brisbane’s existing QR CityTrain network, as the busway has been designed to fill in the gaps where there isn’t rail in Brisbane.

Consistent with Dr Mees’ writings in Public Transport for Suburbia, the integration of bus and rail and transfers is the key here. It would seem highly unlikely that the Perth Mandurah line would be anywhere as successful as it is today if it were not for integration with the feeder bus system. Without the buses feeding rail along this line, it could be argued that a rail line would probably be insupportable.

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January 26, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Perth’s Rail Revolution: Perth to Mandurah (NewMetroRail)

Credits: ‘NewMetroRail’ Public Transport Authority of WA/TransPerth

In 1979, the WA state government closed down the Fremantle railway line as a first step to closing
down Perth’s rail system. The BrisUrbane Blog continues its Perth series looking at an overview of Perth’s NewMetroRail project- a project which involved building the 70 km Perth-Mandurah line (the same distance as from Brisbane to the Gold Coast).

One can only guess why TransPerth called the project “NewMetroRail”. It certainly resulted in infrastructure that allows trains with good frequency on it. While Perth does not technically have a metro system (yet), the main ingredient of a metro is a very high frequency train service, and Perth’s trains would only be an upgrade or two away from one.

The video was produced by continuum resources and is divided into three sections.

The first section introduces the NewMetroRail project and various rail upgrades. At 0:42 minutes, the interior
of the trains is shown. That’s right- Perth’s new trains are the same as the new trains in Brisbane!

A number of new stations were constructed, including in the Perth CBD, including underground stations
in the CBD, so in some ways it is similar to Brisbane’s Cross River Rail project.

In the second section, the route from Mandurah is outlined. The stations on the Mandurah line are
spaced well apart to allow the train to reach very high speed, an average of 90km/hour, compared to
other Australian cities where the average speed is about ~30 km/hour. It is important to note that not all Perth railway lines are like this.

The line runs through standard, sprawling suburbia. Feeder bus interchanges and park and ride integration are used to bring people to the railway because, being in the middle of a freeway, it is a bit hard to get walk up patronage.

The Mt Henry Bridge has been strengthened to allow trains to travel down the middle.

This is very interesting for Brisbane. If Perth can strengthen an existing bridge to allow massive, heavy trains to run on them, then this leaves wide open the very tantalising possibility that Brisbane’s Victoria bridge could be strengthened to allow Light Rail to cross it. The Lord Mayor’s Mass Transit Report 2007 (page 60), included in the financial evaluation a $94 million Adelaide Street Bridge to allow surface Light Rail into the CBD from West End for the LRT option. This blog will look further into this possibility.

Closer to the Perth CBD, a previous freeway busway existed, and this also required conversion.

Canning Bridge bus station will be converted to a train station. From here the railway will run
in the existing busway lanes.

In the third section, the rail line’s entry into the Perth CBD is detailed. Tunnel boring machines
(TBMs) were used to bore twin tunnels underneath the Perth CBD and underground stations were installed.
That’s what Brisbane should be doing with its Tunnel Boring Machines- building rail tunnels!

In summary, there was a lot of work that went into this project, and the engineering tasks alone
must have been huge. The good news is that freeway corridors now seem to be fair game for ‘sprawl repair’
through conversion to public transport corridors and that it is quite possible to get good patronage enough to support heavy rail operation despite low density, if you integrate the system with buses, cycling and park & rides.

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January 22, 2011 at 11:25 pm

Perth’s Rail Revolution: Peter Newman on why Perth chose rail (Part 2)

In 1979, the WA state government closed down the Fremantle railway line as a first step to closing down Perth’s rail system. In this second part, Professor Peter Newman talks about the urban development impacts the presence of the railway is having on land use around its stations.

Professor Newman explains how Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a market-oriented process, and points out the number of TODs at Subiaco, The Esplanade and Wellard. The Property Council of Australia has some documentation on the Subiaco Central development.

Getting the rail project on its feet was difficult- the local newspaper capitialised on the perception that ‘rail is expensive’, which is of course is what this blog terms ‘cost-only analysis’, a type of pseudo-analysis where the benefits that arise from the expenditure on higher quality are completely ignored (see newspaper excerpt below, cf. cost-benefit analysis).

This Blog has sourced a slide presentation by the Public Transport Authority of WA. Titled New Metro Rail Project- Lessons Learnt [sic].*

The Public Transport Authority of WA’s challenge? (slide 19):

  • Pre existing,very low density urbanisation
  • Among highest per capita world car ownership
  • Entrenched culture of car usage for most trips
  • Disregard for Public Transport
  • A long, urban corridor
  • Maximise access along the route to major centres including Kwinana and Thomsons Lake

Of course that was only the engineering challenges! There were political ones too, with the leading newspaper publishing unfavorable articles. The high total cost (never mind the low per-km unit cost) and the exceedingly small population of Mandurah formed focal points around which a storm of criticism swirled:

Mandurah is home to 45,000 people, of whom roughly 350 commute to Perth by bus each weekday.
The government hopes that by reducing the 68 minute bus journey to a 48 minute train ride, 1,350 more Mandurah residents will choose to spend $75 each week travelling to Perth.

How many people want to spend 10% of their weekly salary and 96 minutes travelling to work in Perth each day?

Source: “ The West Australian” Friday 23/1/2004;
Special Advertisement – open letter to all West Australians

– slide 42, ibid.

It seems that the increased comfort, the performance of park and ride and bus feeders and the faster journey time as well as induced demand and the improved access to these suburbs for those thinking about living there didn’t factor in the criticism. This blog intends to argue, in the future, that the widening of the catchment area by using buses also appears to be a key reason behind the patronage on Brisbane’s South East Busway, rather than the technological choice of mode.

The success of the Perth-Mandurah line itself raises questions about “theoretical” best fit of transport to land use planning. Theories are there to help predict outcomes in the real world- when the theory no longer properly describes what is going on in the real world, the theory must be modified. Perhaps it is time to do just that.

Traditional mass transit railway achieves its “mass” through penetration of high urban densities.
In low urban densities the “masses” must be brought, or come to the railway in their own way – the stations become the concentration points of population density

– slide 20, New Metro Rail Project- Lessons Learnt

Dr Paul Mees has argued in Transport for Suburbia that integration, particularly with frequent buses running to rail stations, can get patronage up to levels that will support rail, despite low densities, and illustrates this by using many examples, the most prominent being Toronto. Of course it previously has been easy to argue and explain away that idea using classical “it won’t work here” arguments: Canada is a country overseas, Toronto is much higher density, Australians don’t do interchange, and it snows there.

The Perth-Mandurah line shows that it does work, and there is now a nice model right here in Australia to demonstrate that. By extension, one would expect the feeder model in low density areas to also work for light rail as as well, after all, to put it crudely, LRT is a rail vehicle with just lower capacity, and with the added flexibility of being able to run on streets.

The Transport Textbook places the unit cost for the Perth-Mandurah rail project at just $14.5 million/km (2009) which is amazing value for money. For comparison, the Gold Coast Light rail project is somewhere in the range of 20-35 million/km.


* Proper grammar would have this as ‘lessons learned‘.

Perth’s Rail Revolution: Peter Newman on why Perth chose rail

In 1979, the WA state government closed down the Fremantle railway line as a first step to closing down Perth’s rail system. A report by The Bureau of Transport Economics investigated electrification or replacing the rail line with a busway, and it was the busway which had the higher benefit-cost ratio.

This report presents the evaluations of alternative public transport improvements in the urban corridor between Perth and Fremantle, The alternatives considered are a continuation of existing services, electrification of the existing rail service, and replacement of the railway with a busway.

Perth-Fremantle corridor study, Bureau of Transport Economics, January 1973

Community outrage at the line’s closure and replacement with a bus service led to the formation of Perth’s Friends of the Railways, which included then Fremantle councillor, Peter Newman, who is now a world-renowned expert and professor of sustainability at Curtin University.

In 1983, the incumbent government was voted out of office and rail services were re-instated on the Fremantle line. In 1985 the line was electrified (many of the diesel trains would ultimately end up being sold to Auckland, NZ). The electrification of the Fremantle line led to a patronage increase of 20% (compared to when the line was closed). Rail extensions to the north, and later to the south, were built.

Interestingly, in 1992 patronage on the Perth rail system was 7 million, which is about where rail patronage in Auckland is today. By 1997 this had grown to 30 million, and in 2009/2010 this stands at 56 million and growing.

Brisbane’s patronage is 65.1 million passengers for its rail system, which is only just in front, despite Brisbane having almost double the number of stations, rapid population growth, and buying new trains that are identical to the ones being run on the Perth system. Comparison with Adelaide, which didn’t do any major upgrades and still runs diesel trains, over the same time period, showed more or less stagnant patronage. The basic service frequencies in both Adelaide and Brisbane are 30 minutes off-peak, all day, which is locally regarded as horrible, and bus connections leave much to be desired.

A crisis can be transforming, and cause a sudden change in both public policy and on-the-ground outcomes. The crisis facilitated dramatic changes to Perth’s rail system, and now it has come full circle, with high rail patronage for a city and network of its size and probably the nation’s best train service frequency, with trains every 15 minutes in the off-peak, all day and weekend to all stations. Linked to a feeder bus system, passengers are collected from bus stops in their street and then transfer to trains for the trip to the CBD. It doesn’t seem credible to say that a rail system cannot serve ‘dispersed trips’.

In each case there was a political process. You’d have to say the transport planners really didn’t want this. They always said, “anything a train can do, a bus can do better and cheaper.

And they are wrong.

And the reality is, we have shown that over and over again. But many of the transport planners still say it. They have a fetish about flexibility.
In reality what you need is speed and capacity.

– Peter Newman

While Brisbane looks to copy London, Paris, Tokyo and Berlin, where we really should be looking at is in our own backyard! Places like Perth where buses feed rail and Melbourne where orbital bus rapid transit (BRT) has been a success show that even with cities spread out like ours, good public transport is possible.

Brisbane’s Trams

video: aussiesmithys

(Clicking the video will take you to YouTube due to restrictive copyright on the music, an unfortunate eternal bane of blogs)

The BrisUrbane Blog came across this wonderful montage of Brisbane’s trams. Trams (or for North American readers, streetcars) are not light rail, but can be upgraded to light rail standards by increasing stop spacing and introducing other priority measures such as separation from traffic and signal pre-emption. Think of a tram as doing a similar job to a normal bus on normal roads with a lot of frequent local stops.

The trams were shut down on April 13th, 1969 after frequencies on the routes had been progressively cut and fares increased (which caused a loss of even more passengers), and progressive ‘bus-titution’. A fire at the Paddington tram depot a few years earlier was the icing on the cake, destroying much of the fleet.

At the time it was argued that trams got in the way of cars, they could not pull up to the kerb like buses could, buses were cheaper and anyway, the future was a massive plan of freeways covering all points of the compass which express buses could be run on, but trams could not (even today there are echoes of this, with ideas of running buses through the North Link tunnel, now known as ‘Legacy Way’).

At its greatest extent, one could catch a tram to Chermside, Enoggera, Toowong, Salisbury, Mt Gravatt, Carina, Balmoral and other places in between. One can only envy Melbourne to retain their system, but at the time, most cities worldwide were ripping up trams, even Paris, France was doing it. And if Paris was doing it, well how could Paris ever be wrong about anything to do with making a livable city? Every city around the world seems aspire to be more like Paris, regardless of the realities, so how could it be wrong?

This video has very good picture quality and colour, which makes it great to watch.

* Background research for this blog came from Clark, Howard R. and Keenan David R.; “Brisbane Tramways – The Last Decade”, Transit Press, 1977 (Reprinted 1985). ISBN 0-909338-01-9

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January 2, 2011 at 9:37 pm

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