Engineering, Environment and Sustainability, Major Projects & Infrastructure, Passenger Rail

New design casts serious shade on station

Sydney rail commuters travelling on the Illawarra Line will notice Como Station’s impressive transformation, showcasing innovation and an appreciation of the local environment. 

Como Station has transformed into a beautiful and unique, modern facility that enables safe and accessible public transport for people with disabilities, limited mobility, carers with prams and customers with luggage.  

The station is now sustainably powered with solar energy during the day, using an innovative Solar Photovoltaic Glass (PV) system that provides a reliable, clean source of power and increases the resilience of Transport for NSW’s energy supply.  

Built by Australian construction company Degnan, the facility is the result of more than 65,000 hours of on-site work and many more hours spent in design and collaboration with Transport for NSW. 

So impressive has been the outcome that the company has won the Banksia Foundation’s 2021 NSW Clean Technology Award, which recognises outstanding initiatives that showcase efficient resources through renewable energy, low emissions technology, and appreciable pollution reduction (beyond compliance) of the country’s water, air, and land. 

Degnan’s Managing Director Chris Degnan said the future-smart solution demonstrated how alternative technology and innovative ideas could be integrated within the rail corridor whilst also having a strong visual aesthetic. 

The upgrade includes two new lifts transporting customers from the car park to the platform through the natural beauty of exposed sandstone walls to an underpass with natural light passing light through the purpose-built void on the platform.   

The underpass entrances boast  beautiful, original artwork by Merindah Funnell, a local artist from the Kurranulla Aboriginal Corporation. All amenities have been upgraded, heritage reflections cast into concrete and thoughtful new landscaping unifies the new structures with surrounding bushland to create a station the local community can proudly embrace. 

The mural underneath the station.

In designing the station, Degnan identified that there was potential for the NSW rail network, comprising more than 300 stations, to become self-sustaining while meeting urban and community sustainability goals without disrupting the visual landscape.  

The company’s approach was to conceive a solution to integrate a sustainable clean power source into an essential piece of infrastructure generally included in Transport Access Program (TAP) station upgrades. TAP is a NSW Government initiative delivering safe, modern and accessible public transport infrastructure across the state. 

The goal was to deliver an innovative canopy solution that provided shade and shelter, enhanced the project’s sustainable outcomes, appealed to the end-user via aesthetics, and alleviated the community’s safety concerns of the originally dark subway by facilitating a source of natural light through the canopy. 

Degnan Head of Engineering, Assurance and Sustainability, Josh Petrie, said  the solution was to reinvent the traditional platform canopy design using PV Glass and use the solar power this produced to run the station’s lighting, communications, and general power requirements while using natural light to illuminate existing dark spaces. 

“Degnan’s vision was to deliver a project that set a new benchmark in innovation for rail infrastructure, focusing on clean energy and sustainability,” he said.  

“We designed and produced a sustainably viable and highly functional piece of infrastructure, which met the TfNSW’s and the community’s needs and advances numerous NSW sustainable development goals.  

“This wasn’t an easy process and the conversation around PV Glass installations actually began more than two years prior on another Degnan project. Given the constraints around having to discover the needs of Sydney Trains, to research the facts and educate around the long-term benefits of deviating from the tried and tested methods and the concerns around maintenance and operational requirements, the challenges were vast, but we preserved and achieved our goals.  

“What led us to the final outcome was the development of a Cost Benefit Analysis, supported by a ‘ Whole-of-Life’ cost assessment, which demonstrated that the Photo-Voltaic system would, over time, produce net profit due to the savings on electricity purchased from the grid, with the added benefit of receiving export tariffs when power generation exceeded power use.  

“The complexities of this system are controlled wholly by Artificial Intelligence which can review, monitor and manage remotely via an on-line portal.”  

Petre said that the project, delivered successfully in a highly regulated and standards focused environment, provides a pathway for future small-scale projects.  

“This design sets precedence to realistically transform future sustainably designed upgrades across the Sydney Trains Network and TfNSW projects,” he said.  

“Through the success of this project, the project team has demonstrated that size does not matter. It could be considered an advantage.  

“The small-scale, cost-effective solution is highly scalable and adaptable. Similar solutions could be installed throughout the transport network in other canopies and shelters, providing distributed power generation sources and lowering the overall imported power consumption of the transportation network. 

“The installation of distributed generation sources on the Sydney Trains network represents a new way of thinking for network planning. The final acceptance of this technology was only possible through alignment in the corporate values of TfNSW and Degnan partnering for success.”  

Sydney Trains also needed reassurance that the economic benefits were tangible, the innovation complied with their standards, and there would be no adverse risks to existing network operations and reliability.  

“Throughout the project, we faced many challenges, but were determined to create change. We learned the value of partnership through exceptional support from the TfNSW leadership team: without this collaboration, the end result would not have been possible,”  Petrie said. 

Recognised as one of the most client-focused Australian construction companies for challenging infrastructure, Degnan has successfully been delivering specialised solutions for challenging and unique projects, particularly in rail infrastructure and first-of-type projects. 

The family-owned Australian construction company has more than  40 years’ experience in delivering quality services for its clients and communities.