Category

Infrastructure

Is there too much focus on high-speed rail at the expense of better urban networks?

rail networks

“When thinking about building another rail line, or another road, or another piece of the electricity grid, you need to consider what it means for the networks. Individual pieces of the network must work for one another,” says Sir Rod Eddington, a keynote speaker at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference.   

Transportation is one of the big-ticket items in Australia’s $100 billion public infrastructure pipeline. Data from industry research and forecasting consultancy Macromonitor predicts the annual spend on road and rail projects alone will reach $16 billion by 2020, and the Federal Government’s latest budget included a $75 billion allocation for significant transport infrastructure projects over the next decade.

This is all welcome news for Sir Rod Eddington, former chairman of government body Infrastructure Australia, who believes the liveability of our cities rests upon smart transport infrastructure. Eddington will share his views on the future of our cities at this year’s Australian Engineering Conference, where he will be interviewed by WA Scientist of the Year Peter Newman, whom he worked with at Infrastructure Australia.

“Cities are seen as more attractive places to live for a whole series of reasons, despite the challenges that living in them brings: the cost of housing, congestion, availability of services, commutability,” Eddington said.

“The bottom line is, we didn’t invest in our rail networks for a long time. As the cities get bigger and more congested, the best way to move large numbers of people down narrow corridors is rail.”

Eddington is considered a leading expert in infrastructure. A non-executive chairman at J.P. Morgan, he studied engineering at the University of Western Australia and completed a Rhodes Scholarship before beginning a career in transport and aviation in 1979. He went on to become CEO of Cathay Pacific, Ansett Airlines and British Airways.

When it comes to transport infrastructure, Eddington stresses a need to be “modally agnostic”. In 2006, he completed a study for the British Government on the links between transport and the economy. He wrote a similar independent report for the Victorian Government in 2008, which identified a need for a major city road tunnel, an underground rail link and a new western suburbs rail line for Melbourne.

“I’m not suggesting road is a better solution than rail, but in terms of relieving congestion in big cities, investment in the right rail networks is fundamental,” he said.

“As the motor car arrived, rail patronage either stalled or fell a bit and, as a result, we took our eye off the rail ball particularly. Roads are an important part of the jigsaw too, but inner cities only work if you have the right rail network as well as the right road network. When cities get to about the size of where Melbourne is now, you need an urban rail network to compliment the suburban rail network. The state of Victoria is beginning to build the first of what it calls its metro lines.”

A reason for high-speed rail?

While rail infrastructure was a significant feature of the latest Federal Budget, including $1.1 billion for Perth’s Metronet, $475 million for Melbourne’s Monash rail connection and $220 million for Adelaide’s Gawler rail line electrification, Australia is yet to get on track with the high-speed variety. Indeed, Eddington questions the role of high-speed rail between centres such as Sydney and Melbourne.

“What would that do to help people to get into work in Melbourne or Sydney from the suburbs any quicker?,” he asked.

“How much would it cost and what else could you do with rail networks for the money? If the major challenges are around city congestion and getting people to move freely and easily around the city, then that’s where the spend should go.

“There might be different rail projects that have merit [and] you have to look at all of them and then decide where you’re going to allocate capital. Are you going to invest in all the rail networks in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane? What about improved rural and regional rail?

“What about better rail networks to our ports and our airports? You just can’t jump on a solution [such as] a high-speed rail between Sydney and Melbourne and think that’s a good idea, because you need to look at the alternative spends and the alternative needs. Nobody says they can’t get from Sydney to Melbourne, but what they do say is ‘I can’t get on a train from the suburbs of Melbourne into work in the morning’.”

This topic is sure to make for interesting conversation at this year’s Australian Engineering Conference, when Eddington takes to the stage with Newman, a proponent of high-speed rail. Eddington is certainly up for the debate.

“You need to think about infrastructure in the context of networks, not in the context of single pieces of the jigsaw,” he said.

“When thinking about building another rail line, or another road, or another piece of the electricity grid, you need to consider what it means for the networks. Individual pieces of the network must work for one another.”  

Sir Rod Eddington will be speaking about advancing Australia’s urban liveability, workability and sustainability at the Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To register, click here

WA Scientist of the Year on cities, sustainability and how to get it right

scientist of the year

Peter Newman, a professor of sustainability at Curtin University, was recently named Western Australia Scientist of the Year 2018. In the lead-up to his appearance at the Australian Engineering Conference, he sat down with us to talk about sustainable urban design, transport practices and why more engineers should contribute to policy.

Engineers Australia: What was it like to be named Scientist of the Year?

Peter Newman: Fantastic. I have always been a scientist, but I realised early that having a science background could only really show what the problems were and help set a vision for the changes needed.

If I was to deliver this vision, I needed to understand how government systems like planning worked and also how politics worked. I was very fortunate to have been given experience working in government and in politics.

The combination of science, planning and politics has enabled me to not just imagine the future but to deliver it. I have applied this approach locally, nationally and globally, and I found I could make a contribution.

This recognition as WA Scientist of the Year suggests that others can now see how a scientist can cross into planning and politics and still be seen to have kept true to the fundamentals of being a scientist.

Engineers Australia: What are you most proud of in your career?

Professor Peter Newman.

PN: The work in resurrecting the railway in Perth over the past 40 years was a labour of love, as nearly every election we were able to win one more step along the journey. The last election was a $6 billion extension of five rail lines – that is a long way from bringing back the Fremantle line, which I led the campaign for in 1979-1983. I was able to write papers and books about the lessons I learned, and with Jeff Kenworthy providing data we helped spark a rail revival.

Now I am the coordinating lead author for transport with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). I was also involved in numerous local issues like stopping the logging of old growth forests, creating a new water future for Perth and the Roe 8 victory.

Engineers Australia: What is the importance of more scientists and engineers contributing to policy and planning?

PN: You must begin with a vision derived from science or engineering, but you can’t deliver this unless you can do policy. This requires a combination of planning in whatever part of government the issue is based and politics. You must bring together these three elements – science and engineering, planning and policy – and they are not something we get taught in the STEM disciplines.

Engineers AustraliaWhat does sustainability mean in terms of urban design? Is it just green spaces, or something more?

PN: It is much more and has become the major paradigm guiding all development. My work has been to apply the concept to cities. Sustainability in cities is when we can reduce the metabolism (resource consumption and waste) while simultaneously improving the liveability (jobs, community, green space, health).

This can be applied at any scale – from household to precinct and local government, through to whole metropolitan areas. We are now applying it to the three urban fabrics that are part of every city: the walking city, the transit city and the automobile city. These have different histories and metabolisms and need to be treated differently by planners and engineers who suggest there is only one type of fabric (automobile-based urban fabric) with manuals that detail how it should be managed.

Engineers Australia: How do you think Australian cities do when it comes to sustainability and things like transport or infrastructure?

PN: We have been a leader at times in some global sustainability issues and mostly do our bit in major global agreements. But our cities remain middle ground at best when it comes to metabolism.

The Economist rankings are good at showing we have cities that generally work well on their liveability scale. On metabolism we are not as good as European or wealthy Asian cities when it comes to transport and energy, and we can learn much from them.

However, we do have some signs that these changes are happening. The disruptive innovations of solar, batteries and blockchain are world leading, and our growth in public transport investment suggests some big changes are underway.

My next project is to see how trackless trams and local shared mobility will disrupt cars and oil. I hope these changes will all continue so that in five to 10 years I can say we led the world in removing both coal and oil from our cities.

Professor Peter Newman will be speaking about the future of sustainability and resilience at the Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To register, click here

Why engineers – not politicians – need to solve our infrastructure problems

infrastructure design

Professor Peter Newman wants entrepreneurial engineers to solve our infrastructure problems rather than politicians.

Australia’s ever-expanding cities are placing significant burden on vital infrastructure, such as transport, housing and energy supply.  Peter Newman, professor of sustainability at Curtin University, will address the liveability, workability and sustainability of our cities – and the way in which they might be improved – during a session at this year’s Australian Engineering Conference (AEC).

Newman will interview Sir Rod Eddington, former Chair of Infrastructure Australia, whom he met on the football field in Perth more than five decades ago.

“I was his coach,” said Newman, “so clearly I was the senior person in the relationship, although I was all of three or four years older than him. He often still calls me ‘coach’ and, of course, I call him ‘Sir Rod’.

 

Engineering our cities

 

As it is engineers who build our cities, they must play a key role in improving their sustainability, said Newman. He cites British civil engineer and ‘Father of Railways’ George Stephenson as a fine example.

“The first railways came about because engineers were entrepreneurial enough and politically connected enough to make them happen,” he said.

“Prince Albert was a great supporter of the railways and he had the entrepreneurial engineer, Stephenson, who came along and said, ‘We can build this if we get real estate developments to fund it’.”

Newman believes entrepreneurial engineers will play a vital role in improving our cities’ transport infrastructure in the near future.

“The new engineering that I really love is called the trackless tram,” he said.

“It’s an autonomous tram that is actually a series of buses in convoy, but they just follow sensors down the road. They’re electric, they get recharged at the stations and they’re much cheaper. They are what I believe is going be the next generation [of public transportation].”

While China is leading the way in trackless trams, Newman said he expects the technology to soon reach Australia.

“It’ll be the engineers who pick up on it,” he said.

“They’ll team up with entrepreneurs, developers and good governments and we’ll get a new regime of building trackless tram systems through our cities that will solve many of our current problems.”

 

More rail, less road

 

Newman said our cities can be engineered so that home and work are accessible within 30 minutes. According to him, our cities become dysfunctional when further time is added to the journey.

“Sydney is the worst – it’s very close to 40 minutes per journey to work,” he said.

“Melbourne is next, and it crossed the line about 10 years ago. Brisbane crossed about five years ago and Perth crossed it two years ago. They need to claw it back. It’s increasingly dysfunctional because younger families are just falling apart. It’s like fly-in fly-out every day. There’s a big social impact as well as economic impact.”

Newman said cars serve an important purpose, however he sees a risk of them becoming master rather than servant.

“Those cities that have become automobile dependent, such as Detroit, are now struggling economically,” he said.

“Cities like Houston and Atlanta are rebuilding around rail and they’re doing well, because that’s where the new jobs are, the new knowledge-economy jobs.”

He said he believes the time has come for high-speed rail here.

“That linking up across the country is something that every continent has done except us,” he said.

“There is one plane a day between Tokyo and Osaka, two of the biggest cities in the world, and that’s because every 10 minutes, there is a fast train transporting people, and you can’t beat that.”

Such firm views on high-speed rail should make for an interesting debate during this year’s AEC when Newman takes the stage with Eddington, who is not a fan of high-speed rail.

Professor Peter Newman will team up with Sir Rod Eddington at this year’s Australian Engineering Conference to discuss the vital role engineers play in advancing our cities’ liveability, sustainability and workability. To learn more and to register, click here.

Why transport infrastructure is key to Queensland’s future

Queensland infrastructure projects

South-East Queensland’s Cross River Rail is a key ingredient in the state’s future success.

A centrepiece of the Queensland State Government’s 2018 Budget was an announcement, made in May this year, of a $45 billion spend on infrastructure over the next four years. One of the key pieces of infrastructure under this announcement, seen as vital to the building of “future Queensland”, is the ambitious project known as the Cross River Rail (CRR).

The business case for the CRR says that it will “create the foundation for a world-class, integrated public transport system in South-East Queensland (SEQ)”. With a population expected to be 1.9 million greater by 2036, the state is having to answer questions about how it expects to move those people around. The CRR offers one of those answers.

Transport is not just a topic of political conversation in Queensland, but is being discussed Australia-wide. At the Australian Engineering Conference 2018, Sir Rod Eddington, former Chairman of government body Infrastructure Australia, will be discussing the fact that smart transport infrastructure is at the core of a city’s liveability.

“Cities are seen as more attractive places to live for a whole series of reasons, despite the challenges that living in them brings – the cost of housing, congestion availability of services, commutability,” he said.

“The bottom line is, we didn’t invest in our rail networks for a long time. As the cities get bigger and more congested, the best way to move large numbers of people down narrow corridors is rail.”

CRR, which will deliver 10.2 km of rail line (5.9 km in twin tunnels under the Brisbane River and CBD) between Dutton Park and Bowen Hills, as well as four new high-capacity, underground stations and two station upgrades, comes as the state admits roads and bus systems are beginning to reach capacity.

It has also been designed to release capacity across the entire rail network, clearing bottlenecks and creating opportunities for further rail extensions to growing parts of SEQ. It doubles rail capacity across the Brisbane River and, the business case says, allows for more people to live within 30 minutes of their work. Network expansions to Flagstone, Caloundra, Ipswich, Springfield and the Gold Coast all become possible thanks to the CRR. Around 23,000 trips each day are expected to shift from road to public transport by 2036, reducing travel times for all commuters.

Amazingly, the CRR’s Albert Street and Roma Street underground stations will be the first new CBD stations in 120 years! Growth areas such as Woolloongabba and Bowen Hills are expected to experience extra revitalisation support as a result of the new rail line. The project is forecast to generate around 1500 new jobs, directly and indirectly, annually over the next four years.

Cross River Rail

An artist’s impression of the future Albert Street Station. (Image: Courtesy Queensland Cross River Rail Delivery Authority)

Why is rail so important? A standard six-carriage train carries 750 people (and trains on the CRR will be up to nine carriages in length), compared to a bus that carries 65 people, a light rail train that carries 250 people, and a ferry that carries 165 people. Cars, of course, carry one to five commuters. No other form of transport comes close to rail in terms of moving large numbers of people.

Tenders for the major works are, at the time of writing, in progress. These include the tunnel work, from a location near Dutton Park station, under the CBD and the river, to a northern portal, four new underground stations, tunnel portals and dive structures, plus all associated electrical, mechanical and safety systems, vertical transport systems for passengers and track work, power systems and operation and control infrastructure. Minor works include demolition and clearing projects.

Clearing works have begun on the Woolloongabba site, which will be the launch pad for the tunnel boring machines and, eventually, the site of a new station. The CRR is expected to be fully complete by 2024.

Experts agree that the CRR is not just an interesting engineering project, but also an excellent way for the state of Queensland to future-proof its most populated regions.

“As the motor car arrived, rail patronage either stalled or fell a bit and, as a result, we took our eye off the rail ball particularly,” Eddington said.

“Roads are an important part of the jigsaw too, but inner cities only work if you have the right rail network as well as the right road network.”

Learn more about the future of Australia’s transport infrastructure at the Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To register, click here

Melbourne’s unprecedented population growth prompts huge infrastructure investment

Melbourne North East Link

The biggest transport infrastructure investment in Victoria’s history, the North East Link is actually three major projects in one.

A budget announcement from the Victorian state government in April 2018 confirmed the earmarking of $110 million to begin the process of detailed planning and design in order to create a blueprint for roadworks and tunnel boring for the North East Link. A further $3.12 million was set aside to put in place pedestrian crossings as well as various traffic flow measures that will become necessary as the work begins.

The North East Link, Victoria’s biggest ever transport infrastructure investment, has been referred to as ‘the missing link in Melbourne’s freeway network’. It is actually a combination of:

  • the North East Link – completing the ring road between the Eastern Freeway and the M80 Ring Road in order to connect Melbourne’s northern and south-eastern suburbs;
  • the Eastern Freeway upgrades – including new lanes, and technology that has the potential to improve trip times by 40 per cent; and
  • Doncaster Busway – a new busway with dedicated lanes along the Eastern Freeway from Doncaster towards the city.

The office of Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said, “The $16.5 billion North East Link will slash congestion across Melbourne’s north east, take thousands of trucks off local roads and create more than 10,000 new jobs during construction.”

Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and a presenter at the upcoming Australian Engineering Conference 2018, says it is vital to fix the travel time issue in our cities as the cities themselves become dysfunctional when commutes to and from work take too long.

“It’s increasingly dysfunctional because younger families are just falling apart,” he said.

“It’s like fly-in-fly-out every day. There’s a big social impact as well as economic impact.”

Newman is excited about the possibility of technology such as trackless trams – autonomous trams that are actually a series of electric buses in convoy, following sensors in the road.

The North East Link is not only about roads, but also about tunnels. In fact, once the project comes to a close it will have produced Victoria’s longest tunnels – three-lane, twin tunnels that travel for five kilometres under roads, residential areas and parklands.

(Image: Courtesy North East Link project video screen grab)

Other infrastructure included in the project includes new local roads, intersection reconfigurations and land bridges for communities adjacent to the North East Link and Eastern Freeway, new cycling and walking paths along those two freeways and the completion of the 100-kilometre continuous ring road cycling trail. New and upgraded noise barriers will be erected to ensure traffic noise standards are met, a Freeway Control Centre for managing all roadway operations will be constructed, and a focus will also be on high quality landscaping and urban design along the new routes.

The entire project has become necessary as a result of population growth in Melbourne that is unprecedented for any Australian city. Incredibly, in the 2015-16 financial year, close to 30 per cent of Australia’s population growth occurred in Melbourne, claims the business case for the North East Link project.

“If current trends persist, Melbourne will be a city of 8 million people by 2051, surpassing Sydney as Australia’s largest city by population and reaching a population as big as London and New York City today,” it said.

Most growth is predicted to occur in the outer suburbs, meaning transport corridors between outer suburbs and employment/education/retail etc centres – including road and rail – must evolve to meet the coming demand. Cities that do not provide such critical infrastructure risk negative social, economic and environmental consequences, as Newman pointed out.

Sir Rod Eddington, former Chairman of Infrastructure Australia, who will be interviewed by Newman at the Australian Engineering Conference 2018, agrees. Eddington, who has a particular passion for rail, says the liveability of our cities very much rests on smart transport infrastructure. This infrastructure is ‘smart’ because it enhances other transport networks. The North East Link, for example, will include major upgrades and additions for bus, bicycle and pedestrian networks as well as those utilised by cars.

“You need to think about infrastructure in the context of networks, not in the context of single pieces of the jigsaw,” Eddington said.

“When thinking about building another rail line, or another road, or another piece of the electricity grid, you need to consider what it means for the networks. Individual pieces of the network must work for one another.”

Learn more about the future of Australia’s transport infrastructure at the Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To register, click here

Australia’s largest transport infrastructure project is a bold initiative

WestConnex Sydney transport infrastructure project

To solve its traffic congestion problems, Sydney is digging deep.

Few people will ever argue that an urban road is a thing of beauty, particularly when it is filled with the glint and growl of slow-moving traffic. But encase that road underground, in a tunnel, and it becomes something else altogether. It is an engineering marvel, an unimpeded way to get from A to B as quickly and easily as possible, and a way to give back open space to the communities above, rather than take it away.

That is what WestConnex in Sydney is now aiming to do. Having already widened the M4 between Parramatta and Homebush, releasing thousands of motorists from a chain of 28 sets of traffic lights on Parramatta Road, it is now digging downwards. The new project extends the M4 at Haberfield in the inner west, via twin underground tunnels around 7.5 kilometres in length, with the M5 at St Peters, near Sydney Airport.

Australia’s largest transport infrastructure project, the WestConnex initiative is coming in at a reported cost of around $16.8 billion. It is expected to be open to traffic in early 2020, with the main tunnel open in 2023. The tunnel linking M4 and M5 has a project cost of $7.247 billion.

Once complete, this massive infrastructure build will result in 33 kilometres (14 kilometres above ground and 19 kilometres underground) of new motorway linking western and south-western Sydney to the city and airport. It is predicted that travel times from Parramatta to Sydney Airport will be cut by up to 40 minutes, bus travel times from the inner west to the city will be halved and up to 52 sets of traffic lights will be bypassed. Most impressively for residents, around 4000 trucks per day will head underground, rather than clogging up Parramatta Road.

WestConnex Sydney transport infrastructure

(Image: Courtesy WestConnex project video screen grab)

It’s a big vision and a bold initiative, providing relief to the city of Sydney before traffic created chaos. Most impressive is the creation of green community spaces at the same time that trucks and other traffic are sent underground.

While road capacity will be doubled along the M5 East corridor, there should be no noticeable surface traffic increase. In fact, on the surface 10 hectares of disused Rozelle Rail Yards will become green space, reclaimed for the use of residents and including footpaths and cycleways. A new bridge is planned to link this space to other foreshore parks.

Another eight hectares of open space will be created, including six hectares in St Peters. These spaces, and the lesser transport times resulting from the better road systems, are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 610,000 tonnes per annum. Fourteen kilometres of new paths for pedestrians and cycles will become a reality. The entire project has/will create over 10,000 jobs, including 4,400 jobs on the New M5 project, 4500 jobs on the M4 East project and 900 jobs on the King Georges Road Interchange Upgrade.

“The M4-M5 link is part of a comprehensive range of road and public transport projects that are all connected and will make Sydney a much better place to live,” said Anthony Roberts, NSW Minister for Planning and Housing.

Such planning and progress is an essential to avoid an increasingly dysfunctional city, says Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University and a speaker at Australian Engineering Conference 2018. Engineers, Newman says, play a key role in ensuring the sustainability of cities, particularly around transport infrastructure.

He is particularly interested in new technologies and innovations, such as ‘trackless trams’, convoys of driverless, electric buses that follow sensors down a road. “It’ll be the engineers who pick up on it,” Newman says. “They’ll team up with entrepreneurs, developers and good governments and we’ll get a new regime of building trackless tram systems through our cities that will solve many of our current problems.”

Good roads, good rail systems and innovation between the two, Newman says, will turn cities into places where home and work are always accessible within a 30-minute commute. The answer lies with a coming together of government and private commerce, as is the case with WestConnex. When that collaboration occurs, he says, anything is possible.

Learn more about the future of Australia’s transport infrastructure at the Australian Engineering Conference 17-19 September in Sydney. To register, click here