Brisbane Trains: The Rant

I went to catch a train yesterday. Actually, a few trains: one to get me from Auchenflower to the city, and another to get me from the city to the Gold Coast. I left my apartment at 12, so should have been on the Coast no later than 2:15, and that’s assuming i just missed the train both times and had to wait a half hour for each.

I walked the 100m from my apartment to the station, and promptly ran into my first problem for the day. The station had 3 active ticket vending machines – but all of them only accept coins. The ticket I needed to get was a zone 1-15 off-peak daily, which costs $15.90.

I had plenty of cash on me – but in coins, only $2, which wasn’t enough to get even the cheapest ticket from the machine. There was a change machine provided – but it was out of order. In the end, I decided to take my chances and just take a train into the city and get a ticket there – they do have ticket windows inside the ticket barriers, after all.

After this dilemma was resolved, I then had to wait almost an hour for the first train to go through Auchenflower toward the city. I don’t know what happened to the first train that was meant to come through: presumably it was cancelled for some reason, but I have no way of knowing as there was no announcement made.

When this train finally came, I couldn’t get on. There wasn’t any space. I’ve seen plenty of crowded trains – I push my way onto an already crowded train every morning at town hall station – and there’s always room for just one more person, especially if people are willing to spread out into the aisles. Not this time though – every carriage already had the aisle completely full of people; the vestibule areas where so full of people that they were bulging out the doorway, and only everybody collectively breathing in and squishing together allowed the doors to close.

Fortunately, a special service had been provided just 10 minutes later to cater for the crowds – there was a Broncos game on and everyone was heading to Suncorp Stadium, one stop away from me in the direction of the city. When this train came, I was able to squeeze on board, but only just barely. Unfortunately, there were 3-4 families or groups of people on the platform, and although I could squeeze myself in, there was no way a group of even 4 people could have found space – so they were again left behind, to wait for the next train in another 20-25 minutes.

So, I was on the train, and about 3 minutes later, everyone else was getting off at the next station. I noticed one very sensible thing here: there were no ticket barriers at this station. Given that the station is right beside the stadium and regularly has to deal with large crowds like this, I can only imagine that CityRail would have erected a monstrosity on the order of Olympic Park station. I know for sure they’d have put up an amount of ticket barriers about 50% less than what was required to allow everyone a swift egress from the station; and they’d for sure have swarms of greyshirts around ready to fine anyone who even looked sideways at them. In other words, it’d be a great chance for them to really make some revenue for a change.

In Brisbane though: no ticket barriers. Two security guards, whose sole function was to ask people to step behind the yellow line for their own safety. No-one checking tickets at all. The platform just has two wide open gates, one onto a footpath and one onto a special walkway that goes direct to the stadium. It’s amazing how quickly an entire trainful of people can disperse when artificial impediments are taken away.

Unfortunately, this was to be the only sane thing I saw CityTrain do all day.

Admittedly,not ahving ticket barriers or ticket machines at Milton doesn’t really make much difference. Brisbane’s tickets are flimsy little bits of paper, printed on a thermal printer. Even at the stations where there are ticket inspectors (there are no ticket barriers in use anywhere, as there are no tickets that can be read by a barrier), they’re only their for show – when they have a whole trainload of people walking past them, as they often do at the city stations, they barely have time to check that each person is waving a piece of paper of approximately the right shape/size/colour at them – there’s no way in the world they can possibly verify what’s written on the bits of paper.

By the time I got to Roma Street, it was a little after 1:30 – already 90 minutes since I’d left my apartment. I was starving by this point, so went upstairs to the foodcourt (buying a ticket from the internal ticket window on my way out) and had somethign to eat. I came back down, checked the indicator boards and found that my train was leaving in about 10 minutes on platform 5. I headed over to platform 5 and sat on a bench to await my train.

I’d been there about 7 minutes when a train pulled into platform 6, across the other side of the tracks from me. As it was pulling in, an announcement came over the PA: Passengers awaiting the something service on platform 5, your train has now arrived on platform 6. This naturally produced a bit of a scramble, with the 5 or so people who’d been waiting for the train leaping up, sprinting down the stairs, and across to the train.

I’d seen this behaviour of not telling customers about platform changes until the train arrived the previous night as well, and it struck me as strange then. It’s feels like the trains creep up on the station and play little jokes by appearing at the wrong spot. “Oooh, look at that passengers.. That naught Cleveland train that’s meant to be on platform 5 has been a bit cheeky! Yes, he switched tracks while we had our backs turned, and now he’s over on platform 6! How naughty of him. You’d all best run over there right now, or he’ll be gone and you’ll have to wait half an hour for the next one. Last one in is a rotten eg!”

This was the point at which I decided I need to write a rant about the service CityTrain was(n’t) providing, so I pulled out my phone and started making notes. This was almost my downfall, for while I was busily scribbling away, my train pulled up behind me on platform 4. This time, there was no announcement at all – I only realised it was my train because of the shrieks of the other passengers on my platform as they jumped up and raced over to platform 4.

Fortunately, that was almost the end of the insanity from CityTrain for the day. Other things I did notice, though:

* A boy of about 16 jumped into our train just as the doors were closing. The train got about 3m past the station, then stopped so that the drive could come out of his cabin and give a very stern lecture to the boy and hold everyone else up for a few minutes

* Unlike Sydney, where the base unit is a 4-car set, which is usually combined with another set to make a total of 8 cars, the base unit here is a 3-car set, usually combined to make a 6-car set. At night though, most trains are only 3-cars. How do they acheive this? Simply by turning off the rear 3 cars. They’re still there; CityTrain is still expending vast amounts of electricity to drag them around the network, but they’re switched off and inaccessible to passengers. This might make sense if there was little clientel, but I saw trains that had their three cars full of people standing in aisles – given that the other three cars are there anyway, and are incurring a cost to be dragged around, it seems senseless to arbitrarily exclude passengers from those carriages.

I ended up arriving on the coast about 3:30, by which time their was a lovely stiff chill sea breeze whipping up sand and making the beach uninhabitable. Thanks, CityTrain!

Leave a Reply