Optimism in infrastructure sector on post-COVID future

There is broad optimism in the infrastructure sector that the pipeline of work will continue and the shocks felt during COVID will not be long lasting.

Speakers at the National Infrastructure Summit highlighted that while there were some short term impacts during the height of COVID-19, the sector has largely been able to continue and is looking towards future projects.

CEO of Infrastructure Australia, Romilly Madew, summarised that the sector’s response to COVID-19 by setting up COVIDsafe worksites, cutting off access to overseas and interstate staff, and some supply chain issues meant a drop of 50 per cent in productivity during the peak COVID-19.

However, unprecedented collaboration between senior officials in the public and private sector meant that sites remained open in Australia, unlike in other jurisdictions, which ensured optimism and that there was flexibility around meeting contractual obligations that prevented projects from grinding to a halt.

This focus on ensuring business continuity and optimism was echoed by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who said that during the pandemic the state government’s focus was ensuring works could continue.

“Not only are we a COVID safe environment to operate but one of the few places where business continuity is assured,” Berejiklian said. “I think we can feel optimistic about the future of the infrastructure pipeline in NSW.”

What shape the infrastructure pipeline will be was a point of discussion, particularly following the federal budget. Federal Minister for Population, Cities and Urban Infrastructure Alan Tudge said the government’s focus was on projects that could begin in the next 12-18 months, and that was why there were no new mega projects in this year’s budget.

Despite this, Marion Terrill, transport and cities program director at the Grattan Institute, noted that the size of the infrastructure pipeline is still growing, with the amount of work underway in the public sector having doubled over the past five years, and the average size of projects is twice the value of projects over the previous five years.

The shift to smaller projects and upgrading existing assets such as roads and rail lines also reflected an uncertainty about what travel patterns will look like once Australia emerges from COVID-19, said CEO of Infrastructure Victoria, Michel Masson. Masson said the large transport projects which were popular up to COVID-19 may not be the right projects if demand changes.

Amid these larger trends, infrastructure builders and operators were dealing with their own challenges. CEO of Pacific National Dean Dalla Valle noted that state government regulatory changes to allow high performance vehicles through city centres to access ports was undermining the goals of these governments to shift more freight onto rail. Resetting the imbalance in fees and charges between road and rail freight would ensure that infrastructure assets are more efficiently used, with benefits for the wider community.

RFPs sought for Byford Rail Extension

Contractors are invited to submit proposals for the completion of the Byford Rail Extension, part of the Metronet program in Perth.

The project involves constructing 8km of new track, a new station at Byford, a bus interchange and up to 600 parking bays.

Armadale Station will also be expanded for longer trains, and the project will include a new Australind platform and an extended pedestrian overpass. Armadale’s bus station will also undergo an upgrade.

The project, estimated to cost $481 million, will connect the high-growth suburb of Byford on Perth’s south eastern fringe to the rail network. A contract is expected to be awarded in mid-2021 with the concept design phase underway.

WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said works on the Thomas Road level crossing, ocnudcted by Main Roads Western Australia would begin the project.

“Works will commence later this year with the removal of the Thomas Road level crossing which will create more than 300 local jobs,” she said.

Local federal member Andrew Hastie said the community had been looking forward to the project.

“The Byford Rail extension will change the way people in Byford live and work,” he said.

“It will create more opportunities for local workers, students and businesses.”

State member for Armadale Tony Buti said his community was similarly enthused about the project.

“Our local community has been waiting for this project for many years and I’m pleased to see it is full steam ahead for these works.”

The Byford Rail Extension was submitted to Infrastructure Australia in July 2020, however the independent advisory body has yet to finalise its evaluation.

Options for the reconfiguration of other level crossings between Byford and Armadale are still being considered.

infrastructure

National Infrastructure Summit speakers and agenda announced

As Australia looks to invest in infrastructure as a way to build the country’s economy out of the COVID-19 crisis, the National Infrastructure Summit has arrayed some of the most significant leaders in this space to discuss the opportunities ahead.

Opening the virtual conference on day one, October 14, will be NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who is looking at an expanding rail infrastructure pipeline in the state, with new Sydney Metro lines recently funded and moving ahead in the contract process.

For a federal view, day two will be opened by Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack. With the conference taking place days after the delivery of what the federal budget, which is widely expecte to include more infrastructure spending, McCormack will highlight these commitments as well as other projects such as Inland Rail that are always underway.

The program also includes discussions between Romilly Madew, CEO of Infrastructure Australia, Marion Terrill, Transport and Cities Program Director, Grattan Institute, and Cathal O’Rouke, who will pick over what impact COVID-19 has had on the infrastructure sector.

With logistics impacted by new trends during COVID and the acceleration of others, Dean Dalla Valle, CEO of Pacific National, and Maurice James, managing director of Qube will be joined by Marika Calfas, CEO of NSW Ports and Brendan Bourke, CEO of the Port of Melbourne to analyses these changes.

Alan Tudge Minister for Cities, Urban Infrastructure and Population and NSW Minister for Water, Property and Housing Melinda Pavey will give ministerial addresses, followed by a Q&A.

Other panels include a focus on infrastructure funding and post-pandemic transport.

This year, the conference will be delivered virtually via online events platform Brella. The platform will provide an opportunity for networking and viewing speaker and sponsor information.

For more information, click here: https://www.nationalpolicyseries.com.au/afr-national-infrastructure-summit/.

Designing smarter solutions: 4Tel’s AI innovation

4Tel is working to bring the latest in artificial intelligence technologies to simplify the uptake of condition monitoring.

In a report prepared for Infrastructure Australia ahead of the first Australian Infrastructure Audit, consultants GHD surveyed the maintenance needs of all major categories of Australian infrastructure. When it came to rail, the report found that maintaining Australia’s diverse rail networks was a high priority and in regional rail in particular there was a high likelihood of a coming maintenance gap.

For the regional rail networks, the combination of competition with road freight and existing infrastructure reaching the end of its useful life left much of these networks facing maintenance issues. As the provider and maintainer of train control technology for the Country Regional Network (CRN), Newcastle-based software and hardware engineering firm 4Tel is on the front line of developing innovative technology solutions that provide the ability to bridge the maintenance gap.

General manager of control systems Graham Hjort describes how condition monitoring has been enhanced on the Country Regional Network through application of an Internet of Things (IoT) approach.

“The I/O ports on selected field signalling and telemetry assets are connected to a modem which connects the ports remotely back into a central asset management system called 4Site, which then allows the health of the asset to be interpreted and, if need be, alarms or reports triggered based on the information received from the asset.”

The process also allows changes to be directed back to the field asset by the reverse connection to change selected settings.

“Another way in which condition monitoring has been improved is through improved analysis of information from the field sites,” Hjort continues. “One of the typical functions that 4Site is able to perform is a real time analysis of how long it takes a set of points to move between positions. If the time taken for those points to move and lock into place is above an acceptable threshold, an alarm is raised via 4Site and an appropriate course of action initiated.

By tapping into the existing telemetry, for remote connectivity, 4Tel has been able to remotely control field assets and their reporting without the need for any additional communications hardware. When you start to talk about return on investment, it is minimal outlay, maximum return.”

While this approach to condition monitoring has its benefits, unless maintenance providers use asset condition information as part of their infrastructure maintenance practices, then the benefits may be illusory.

Many physical rail assets are unable to provide an interface for health information, however 4Tel is using emerging technologies to solve this issue. In 2018 4Tel partnered with the University of Pretoria, South Africa, to understand the role that Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) could play in remotely identifying and assessing the health of rail infrastructure. This relationship, along with an existing relationship with the University of Newcastle, NSW, has proven fruitful by providing a platform for researchers to practically apply their work to solving current issues facing one of the largest industries across the globe. With students from these universities, 4Tel is exploring how AI will improve operations for both train operators and rail infrastructure maintainers.

AI is able to mine data collected by cameras

4Tel’s senior artificial intelligence scientist, Dr Aaron Wong is part of the 4Tel Artificial Intelligence Engineering team that includes staff in Australia and internationally. He also continues his work as a conjoint lecturer at the University of Newcastle.

“The use of AI not only can assist in the identification and analysis of defects and faults, but it can also help to reduce cost and risk by allowing the AI to trudge through the data to identify the areas of concern,” said Wong.

Putting these software-driven solutions into practice has also enabled 4Tel to take condition monitoring beyond signalling and cover a broader range of rail infrastructure.

“AI allows us the ability to move beyond track circuits, points, and interlockings for condition monitoring. AI can be applied to rail, ballast, sleeper, and structural defects,” said Wong.

With rail maintenance vehicles and trains travelling across the network, 4Tel is developing a suite of sensors and cameras which are able to easily be fitted to a range of vehicles to provide continuous monitoring of rail condition. The aim of this project is that faults are able to be identified in real time, geo-located and tagged, and then reported back to a maintainer, said Hjort.

“What we are aiming to do here is detect where the fault is or is developing, and if needed, send the maintenance team information about the defect to allow them to conduct their initial assessments before they’ve even left their depot.”

Wong highlighted that ML teaches the AI system the different characteristics of a fault or defect.

“Then the system will be able to utilise that learning in future assessments to identify these faults as they develop over time,” he said.

The introduction of AI into the rail industry in Australia is just beginning with practical applications across a range of environments.

“4Tel’s AI solution allows for multiple inputs into our AI and Machine Learning application. We are able to cater for all the different environments that impact rail operations including in areas of low light such as tunnels, fog, and other challenging spaces including those with high traffic, with the aim of reducing people in the corridor.” said Wong.

“Once the information has been captured through the sensors and/or cameras, the AI processing mines through the data that is collected and then provides detailed assessments to the maintenance provider on the state or the health of the asset,” he said.

AI can significantly shift the rail industry in Australia to more proactive maintenance structure. While this is an example of 4Tel using AI to monitor the health of rail infrastructure, the application of this technology also extends to the above rail operations.

Railway networks and train operations are going to be extensively impacted by AI-based innovation over the current decade and in the future.

Port Botany

Update to IA Priority List identifies rail projects as key for growth

In a mid-year update to the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List, Infrastructure Australia has added four rail projects to the list of nationally significant infrastructure.

The mid-year update provides governments with a snapshot of the projects that will drive Australia’s economy, said Infrastructure Australia CEO Romilly Madew.

“Australia is planning its recovery from a rolling series of crises: drought, flood, the bushfires and now COVID-19. As we look forward, the focus is on delivery and as the nation’s infrastructure advisory body, we are continuing to improve our ability to move quickly to identify investments that will improve productivity – this is about expanding the pipeline, keeping the economy growing, helping to create jobs and attract investment.”

The total infrastructure pipeline is now worth more than $64 billion, and Madew said it was key that infrastructure investment was wisely spent.

“This is the first time we have formally released the Priority List mid-year, by doing so, we want to highlight the most recent priority proposals at a time when our infrastructure investment needs to progress quickly, without jeopardising the quality of those investments,” she said.

Rail will continue to play a key role in stimulating the Australian economy and lifting its productivity as the country recovers.

Rail projects added to the list include Stage 2 of the More Trains, More Services project in NSW, the Port Botany Rail Line Duplication & Cabramatta Passing Loop, and two Metronet projects, the Morley–Ellenbrook Line project and the high capacity signalling project. All were deemed “priority projects”.

Rail line and station improvements on the Gold Coast line from Kuraby to Beenleigh has also been updated to reflect the latest information on infrastructure constraints on the Gold Coast line.

The addition of these projects highlights that well-planned rail infrastructure will be key to Australia’s post-COVID-19 recovery.

Infrastructure Australia is now seeking submissions for its 2021 report, to be released in February.

Big reforms without a big price tag

CEO of the ALC Kirk Coningham outlines how governments could make significant reforms to unlock freight and logistics networks.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been an expensive experience for governments around the nation. Budgets that were in surplus or close to balance have been pushed firmly back into the red, and this will undoubtedly affect the policy choices governments make in the months and years to come.

Yet, significant reforms don’t have to be accompanied by a big spend. As governments turn their minds to policy actions needed to hasten the pace of Australia’s economic recovery, there is significant opportunity to achieve regulatory reforms that will be of lasting benefit to the freight and logistics sector.

Developing a set of National Planning Principles was a key action to emerge from the National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy released last year. Establishing these presents us with an opportunity to achieve a better balance and ensure that freight movement is properly integrated as part of a more nationally consistent approach to planning.

A key outcome flowing from the establishment of National Planning Principles must be to enshrine distinct planning recognition for freight and logistics lands within all state and territory planning schemes.

Of course, these new National Planning Principles would be significantly strengthened by the development of a National Corridor Protection Strategy.

A consistent national approach to corridor protection is essential to achieving the planning reforms that the freight logistics industry needs. Effective corridor protection not only serves to prevent future community discord over land use; it can also deliver significant savings for taxpayers when it comes to the cost of building infrastructure.

Infrastructure Australia underscored this fact in 2017, when it found that close to $11 billion could be saved on land purchases and construction costs for seven future infrastructure priorities listed on the Infrastructure Priority List if swift action was taken to preserve relevant corridors.

Now is also an ideal time to pursue harmonisation of regulations that govern freight movement as it transits across to the continent.

To take one example, the 2018 Review of Rail Access Regimes, published by the then Department of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development noted there were roughly 150 different environmental regulations that rail operators must comply with when operating rollingstock between Perth and Brisbane.

Clearly, there are cost savings and other efficiencies to be gained by moving towards a single set of laws across jurisdictions governing environmental regulation, workplace health and safety, workers’ compensation, and drug and alcohol testing for the freight and logistics sector. The new-found spirit of cooperation engendered through the National Cabinet process should now be harnessed to secure that outcome.

In a constrained budgetary atmosphere such as that which is likely to endure for several years in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is even more important that governments drive though low-cost regulatory reforms that will still deliver tangible benefits to the freight and logistics sector, and to the wider community.

Beerburrum

Call for tenders for early works on Beerburrum to Nambour upgrade

A request for tender has been released for early works on the Beerburrum to Nambour rail upgrade project.

The tender comprises civil works to prepare roads and surrounding infrastructure for future rail upgrades. This includes the construction of two carparks and the realignment of Steve Irwin Way.

The Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads will hold an online industry briefing for the project on June 17. The briefing will provide industry with an understanding of the project, the procurement process, and the timing of the works.

The request for tender is the first stage of construction for the long-awaited project, which involves duplicating of 20km of rail between Beerburrum and Landsborough, the extension of existing passing loops between Landsborough and Nambour, as well as route realignments, level crossing removals, station improvements, and supporting works.

Infrastructure Australia identified the $550.8 million project as a priority project in June 2018, and the state and federal governments have committing $160.8m and $390m respectively.

The works will ultimately benefit both freight and passenger services which share the line, with the Sunshine Coast’s population expected to grow by two thirds between 2016 and 2041 with a 3 per cent growth in passenger demand until 2036.

Disputes about funding between the federal and state governments in the past has led the project to be delivered in stages. According to the Department of Transport and Main Roads, the first stage will focus on improving passenger benefits via increase capacity and patronage while freight benefits will be realised in later stages.