Major Projects & Infrastructure, Passenger Rail, Resources

Engineering a construction career

“At nearly 50 metres long and weighing 191 tonnes each, the beams were lifted by three cranes, a 400-tonne crawler and 400 and 500-tonne all-terrains. It was like my own personal episode of Megastructures and definitely a major career highlight.”

This is how Laura Barnes, Senior Project Engineer for WA’s METRONET Thornlie-Cockburn Link, describes her experience installing seven of the largest bridge beams ever fabricated in Australia.

The massive ‘tee-roff’ beams were used in the construction of the new Ranford Road Bridge as part of project works, but the installation was far more than an impressive engineering feat.

For Laura, it was a major achievement in her civil engineering career and saw her win the National Association of Women in Construction WA TBH Outstanding Achievement in Construction Award in late 2021.

“The installation of the beams was a massive team effort, and it was incredibly rewarding to see the job executed safely and receive the award and be recognised in this way,” Barnes said.

She coordinated a large, diverse team for the beam installation and identified design and installation improvements for a safer, quicker, and more cost-effective installation that helped keep rail and road traffic moving and protect major services on site.

“For me, engineering was a natural continuation of subjects I enjoyed at school like maths, physics and chemistry. Engineers are very logical with a love of optimising, problem-solving and debating so when I chose civil engineering, I met like-minded people and it was a great fit for me,” Barnes said.

“Seven years into my career, working on a major rail infrastructure project like the METRONET Thornlie-Cockburn Link gives me a great mix of office and site-based work where I can work in multi-skilled teams and walk on site every day and see the physical changes that result from me and my team’s work.

“It’s a dynamic, fast-paced job, and plans can change with a minute’s notice, but it’s very rewarding. Engineers play a large role in transforming empty land into roads, bridges, railways and tunnels and I really enjoy driving past pieces of Perth I have helped build.”

When asked if she would encourage others, especially young girls and women, to consider a career in engineering or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths), her answer is simple – just give it a go, as you never know where it will take you.

“Stay open to opportunities and talk to people in the industry about their careers and experiences as a STEM qualification can lead to many jobs and you’ll learn transferable skills like problem solving, teamwork and communication so you can easily pivot into other fields,” she said.

And while Barnes’ work on the Thornlie-Cockburn Link has well and truly placed her in WA’s engineering spotlight, her career focus and ambition doesn’t end there.

“I’d like to continue working on big infrastructure projects in Perth and I’m also passionate about flexible working arrangements in the construction industry to better accommodate a balance between family and works,” she said.

There are 207 females currently employed in construction-related roles across METRONET’s Thornlie-Cockburn Link and Yanchep Rail Extension projects combined and 586 in construction-related roles across METRONET’s full program of works*.

METRONET’s Thornlie-Cockburn Link will be Perth’s first east-west cross line connection – making travel around the city by train more flexible. It will provide a higher level of public transport service to Perth’s southern suburbs with direct access to employment, sporting and recreation opportunities at Canning Vale, Cannington Strategic Metropolitan Centre, Burswood Peninsula, and the eastern Central Business District.