sustainability

Embedding sustainability in times of uncertainty

No longer an optional addition, rail infrastructure projects are looking to mandate sustainability as part of the project’s outcomes, and are looking to their long-term impact on people and environment.

Incorporating sustainability into the construction of a rail project may seem like an oxymoron. As rail transport gets people out of cars and into electrically powered trains, and goods off trucks and onto more efficient freight trains, isn’t rail by its very nature sustainable?

Ainsley Simpson, CEO of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA), argues that this is not the case.

“Just because it’s rail doesn’t make it more sustainable, similarly just because a wind farm produces renewable energy doesn’t mean that it’s been planned in the most sustainable way. It doesn’t mean it’s been designed in the most sustainable way, and certainly not that it has been constructed in the most sustainable way.”

Simpson’s argument that sustainability need to be a bigger focus in infrastructure construction is backed by some heavy hitters within the infrastructure sector, with Infrastructure Australia noting in its 2019 Infrastructure Audit that governments “often do not incorporate sustainability or resilience into their final infrastructure projects”.

“We do see occasionally on project or programs of work, contractual requirements or even preferred options around resilience and sustainability,” said Peter Colacino, chief of policy and research at Infrastructure Australia. “And obviously their inclusion time to time points to their exclusion the rest of the time.”

Researchers have also pointed to the emissions intensity of large infrastructure projects. In a 2017 study, researchers from the University of NSW, The University of Sydney, and the University of Melbourne found that while direct emissions from the construction sector in Australia were low, at 1.9 per cent of Australia’s direct emissions in 2013, emissions contributed by infrastructure when measured by final demand made up almost a fifth of Australia’s carbon footprint, 18.1 per cent. This calculation involved looking at not only the carbon emissions involved in the process of building, but those that were emitted in the course of manufacturing the building materials and providing other services, what’s known as embodied emissions.

In rail projects, which have a lifetime of 100 years, carbon emissions from the construction process and embodied emissions within construction materials can account for almost half of all emissions over the asset’s lifetime.

With these figures in hand, rail projects being built now are looking at how they can cut the emissions involved in construction and ensure that rail infrastructure is sustainable from all perspectives. One project that Simpson highlights as leading the way is the Sydney Metro project in combining operational, design, and construction impacts.

“Sydney Metro included all of the embodied energy and the construction materials that were being used, so they looked at using low- emission concrete and more recycled steel, which had a considerable reduction in the footprint of their project. They also had a look at how they might reduce operational energy, through design and the ways in which they operate the trainsets themselves, and then they’ve got the power purchasing agreement where they are offsetting 100 per cent of their operational energy with renewable energy. That’s a first in Australia, nothing has been done like that ever before.”

While this is a commendable example, looking across the field as a whole, Colacino argues that there needs to be greater consistency in the way that the infrastructure sector approaches thinking about the long-term future of their assets.

“A strong message in the 2019 audit is that there’s no consistent approach to resilience, and I think we’ve seen in this year – perhaps more than any year for people within the last century – just how critical resilience is, whether it’s floods that follow bushfires on the south coast of NSW, or of course the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which is affecting us now. We’ve seen this compounding impact.”

Where sustainability has been incorporated into projects, it is often because of efforts initiated at the beginning of a project or at a leadership level. While Infrastructure Australia found that until now governments were not often including sustainability, in rail at least, Simpson and Colacino have seen a greater focus on sustainability.

“We’re definitely seeing a greater consideration of social and environmental issues, and I think the challenge is around putting a cost around some of those issues and assessing them to monetise and then cost them,” said Colacino.

Simpson similarly noted a shift in the way that governments approach sustainability. “Particularly in the last three years there has been almost a doubling of emphasis and importance placed on sustainability,” said Simpson.“What we’ve seen is a significant shift for the transport sector that is largely being driven by government authorities wanting to demonstrate best practice and government wanting to ensure that social and community outcomes are being delivered by their projects.

“The way that they’re doing that is contractualising sustainability performance measurement.”

CONTRACTING SUSTAINABILITY
The shift in the way that infrastructure authorities and governments are thinking about sustainability can be seen in the sustainability reports put out with each project. No longer a catalogue of emissions reduced, or waste avoided at the end of the project, the reports are now stipulating how contractors and subcontractors are mandated to find sustainable solutions and are becoming much more of a compliance document than a public relations exercise.

As Sydney Metro outlines in its June 2019 update to the 2017-2024 Sydney Metro City and Southwest Sustainability Strategy, targets within the strategy will be embedded within contract requirements. Outcomes to be included in contracts include Aboriginal participation, apprenticeships offered, emissions and pollution, and climate change resilience.

The appearance of such initiatives in contract documents highlights how previously qualitative values have begun to be quantified. Colacino sees some more creative thinking occurring to incorporate these factors.

“If you think about quality of life and you’re considering the way that people perceive social time or access to recreational facilities, they are difficult to monetise. Therefore, we need to make sure we’re considering the range of tools that are available to improve decision-making. That means thinking about building a better evidence base about the impact of some of these themes on people’s lives.”

This ensures that the push towards sustainability does not end when the project finishes, but percolates throughout the supply chain in the practices and norms of the sector.

One way this can be measured is in the bulk of projects now receiving Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) ratings, certified by ISCA. As the CEO, Simpson oversees how these projects are able to prove that they have met standards and thresholds for sustainability.

“Three years ago, we had $65 billion of infrastructure under rating, now it’s over 170bn.”

Each state in Australia has different requirements about what projects have to measure their performance, starting at projects above $100 million in Queensland and Western Australia, projects above $50m, all state significant works in NSW and capital works above $10m in the ACT. In Victoria, where major projects such as the Level Crossing Removal Project have been split up into smaller packages, each of the packages are being rated. With all states having committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, and the federal government having signed onto the Paris agreement, infrastructure will be one
area where governments are looking to find environmental outcomes.

Outside of government mandates, being able to prove and certify with an independent third body that projects are sustainable is also being encouraged by the private sector.

“There’s a shift with investors as well and they’re interested in investing in infrastructure that has got resilience and is inclusive and will drive a low carbon economy into the future,” said Simpson.

Colacino has also heard from industry that private sector funding is encouraging sustainable thinking.

“Consideration around sustainability issues are growing as a focus for investors and there’s a whole class of funds that are specifically looking for those projects.”

While large rail projects have the funding and resources to be able to implement sustainability plans and comply with audit requirements, smaller contractors carrying out smaller packages of work may not be able to commit to the same level of sustainability. Simpson looks to larger infrastructure organisations to lead the way.

“There’s going to need to be investment in making sure that Tier 2 and 3 contractors are able to deliver these outcomes and are appropriately resourced and skilled and supported to do that.”

Additionally, embedding sustainability into brownfield projects and ongoing maintenance presents another area where sustainable outcomes can be embedded into work practices, and not act as an addition.

“While we’ve got this pipeline of new infrastructure building coming up, I don’t think that we should forget the tremendous asset base that we already have and that there is some low hanging fruit in how we maintain and operate that infrastructure,” said Simpson.

Within these contracted requirements for new and existing infrastructure, what a sustainable outcome means will be distinct for each project.

For updating existing infrastructure, Metro Trains Melbourne targeted improving water consumption in 2019, and by conducting a water audit leaks were able to be found, which reduced water consumption across the network by 35 per cent.

In Auckland, City Rail Link has looked to engage with local Maori iwi, or tribes, to ensure that in its construction phase, the project benefits the local community.

Another emerging area of focus is the move to a circular economy, said Colacino.

“Increasingly, we’re seeing consideration around recycled materials, reducing the use of water in construction, sourcing sustainable products like timber, and of course there’s waste.”

Whether driven by government targets, private sector investment, or civil construction practices, sustainability will increasingly become part of all projects as a way to mitigate against an uncertain future, said Colacino.

“If you look over the long term, issues of sustainability become increasingly important. We’re existing in a rapidly changing, uncertain market and COVID-19 is the standout example of that at the moment, but cyber-attack is a key risk for many infrastructure projects and equally factors like natural hazards, fire and flood.

“As you look beyond the immediacy of delivering a project to the long-term issues of market health and community outcomes, sustainability will always be a core consideration and so it should be.”

Morley-Ellenbrook Lin

Morley-Ellenbrook Line gets IA tick

Infrastructure Australia has added the Morley-Ellenbrook Line to its Infrastructure Priority List.

The decision by the federal government’s independent infrastructure advisory body signals that the project, which is part of the Metronet program in Western Australia, is of strategic importance. Infrastructure Australia found that the project will improve transport options, reduce car dependency and ease traffic congestion, said chief executive, Romilly Madew.

“We know one of the key areas to accommodate Perth’s growing population over the next 10 years will be the corridor that connects Ellenbrook to the Perth CBD.”

Infrastructure Australia calculated that the project had a cost-benefit ration of 1.2, providing $430 million in economic benefits for the wider community.

The recognition of the project’s importance comes after two contractors were shortlisted for the construction of the line in April and early work on upgrades to Bayswater station have begun.

WA Premier, Mark McGowan, said that the recognition of the project’s importance comes from the public transport that it will introduce to north-eastern Perth.

“The Ellenbrook line is the signature Metronet project, when complete it will be a game‑changer for the north eastern suburbs,” he said.

Enabling road infrastructure works on the Tonkin Gap highway will soon begin, which will pave the way for the rail line, said WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti.

“We are working to fast track the Tonkin Gap upgrade, which will include rail enabling works down Tonkin Highway, with construction on this project expected to start in coming months.”

Saffioti also highlighted that the project will allow for transport-oriented development around the new stations.

“Infrastructure Australia has found the Morley-Ellenbrook Line has strategic value, will improve connectivity and transport links, while improving liveability by encouraging development around stations and unlocking economic potential of the area.”

The 21-kilometre line will include stations at Morley, Noranda, Malaga, Whiteman Park, and Ellenbrook, with the option to build a future station at Bennett Springs East. The federal government is contributing $500 million to the line, and Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack welcomed Infrastructure Australia’s determination.

“This announcement shows exactly why the Australian Government has committed $2.5 billion for network-shaping METRONET projects in Western Australia, which involves 70 kilometres of new heavy passenger rail and up to 18 new rail stations,” McCormack said.

“This includes our $500 million commitment to the jointly funded Morley-Ellenbrook Line project which will create jobs and support economic growth.”

A number of construction projects are continuing as part of the Metronet project around WA.

“This year alone we have six Metronet projects underway, plus the construction of our Bellevue Metronet railcar facility, creating thousands of local jobs and supporting local businesses,” said McGowan.

Saffioti noted that these projects are stimulating local economies.

“Metronet projects will be a key part of our post-COVID economic recovery, providing opportunities for local businesses and creating thousands of local jobs.”

Port Botany freight network upgrades added to IA Priority List

Infrastructure Australia will add the Port Botany Rail Line Duplication and Cabramatta Passing Loop project to the body’s Infrastructure Priority List.

The recognition signals the project as a significant one for not just the rail freight network, but wider, national supply chains. Chief Executive of Infrastructure Romilly Madew highlighted how the project is critical.

“Port Botany handles 99 per cent of NSW’s container demand, making it a critical international gateway for Australia and a backbone asset for economic product within Sydney and New South Wales,” she said.

“With demand only increasing, it is vital that Port Botany maintains throughput capacity to meet container growth over the long term.”

The dual projects provide for an increase in the capacity of rail to deliver containers to Port Botany. The project involves duplicating 2.9km of the line and constructing a passing loop at Cabramatta on the Southern Sydney Freight Line.

Moving more containers by rail will also benefit surrounding suburbs and road networks, said Madew.

“Currently more than 80 per cent of containers to and from Port Botany are transported by road.

“This worsens congestion on the Sydney road network, particularly in and around the already constrained Port Botany precinct, which includes Sydney Airport and the M5 Motorway.”

The project would further improve supply chains by increasing capacity on the Southern Sydney Freight Line and the Port Botany rail line, which are forecast to exceed capacity by 2023 and 2026, respectively.

A number of intermodal terminals are also planned for the Sydney basin, including at St Marys and a future site near Western Sydney Airport, and demand for greater rail capacity is also being generated by the Moorebank Intermodal Terminal and the Enfield Intermodal Terminal.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack welcomed Infrastructure Australia’s determination on the $400 million project.

“It’s great to see job-creating infrastructure and freight initiatives such as these recognised as priority projects by Infrastructure Australia, particularly at a time when getting goods to consumers is so essential.”

An upgrade of the existing line to Port Botany was also recently completed.

John Fullerton, CEO of the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), which is overseeing the project, highlighted that efficient supply chains are more important than ever.

“We have all seen how critical our transport and freight sector is during the current COVID-19 crisis.

“These two projects are essential to helping Sydney, and New South Wales, in meeting its future freight demands. Containers are expected to grow from 2.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU) to 8.4m TEUs by 2045. Rail can and needs to carry more of the freight task, not only through Port Botany – but across the country.”

CEO of NSW Ports, Marika Calfas, said that work should begin as soon as possible on the duplication and passing loop.

“Having been under development for many years, this project is ‘shovel ready’ and should be progressed as a priority to deliver long term port supply chain productivity benefits and provide needed economic stimulus for NSW.”

Calfas highlighted that Port Botany is hoping to significantly increase the number of containers moved by rail.

“Port Botany is the only container port in Australia with on-dock rail at all three of its container terminals and, together with the stevedores, we are making significant investments to increase port-side rail capacity to meet this goal. The first stage of investment of $190 million commenced in 2019 and will be complete by 2023.  This will double existing rail capacity at Port Botany.”

CEO of the Australian Logistics Council (ALC), Kirk Coningham, said that the organisation is ready to progress the project.

“ALC hopes governments will now work with industry to expedite the delivery of this priority project, to strengthen the efficiency of our supply chains and help provide economic stimulus in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In January this year, ARTC announced that it had shortlisted three contractors for the Botany Rail Duplication project, and that John Holland has been shortlisted for the Cabramatta Loop project.

Gold Coast Light Rail to begin construction to Burleigh Heads

Infrastructure Australia has announced Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A as a priority project in 2020 and major construction works are set to begin by mid-year.

The Infrastructure priority list (IPL) has recognised the largest number of  infrastructure proposals of national significance on record.

In August last year, IA added Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A project to the Infrastructure Priority List as a Priority Project. This was confirmed on the in our latest edition of the Infrastructure Priority List on Wednesday, 26th February. 

Infrastructure Australia said this project, known as Stage 3A, would replace existing bus services between Broadbeach South and Burleigh Heads with light rail services and implement a complementary urban renewal and economic development strategy in the corridor.

The strategic case depends on the project’s ability to shift travel from cars to light rail. 

$709 million in funding was locked in by the federal government in late November last year.

This follows the Morrison Government’s increased investment by $157 million, and the state government’s $351 million and council’s $92 million spend on the project.

Stage 3A is now progressing toward construction this year, with three proponents shortlisted to build the light rail extension to Burleigh Heads.

GoldlinQ, who currently operates the light rail, announced on February 3 that they will now invite the three proponents to proceed to the ‘request for tender’ phase.

GoldlinQ Chairman John Witheriff said each of the shortlisted tenderers was highly experienced construction contractors. GoldlinQ board met on Friday 31 January to complete the EOI phase and confirm the shortlist for tender.

“EOI submissions include leading Australian and international contractors and the responses were of a very high standard,” Witheriff said.

“The request for tender period will start immediately and continue for several months to ensure the successful contractor can deliver value for money and minimise disruption during construction.”

 Witheriff said the request for tender phase would conclude in May 2020 with the intention of appointing a preferred contractor in the second half of 2020.

Stage 3A is due for completion in 2023.

ACT government calls for federal support for rail service between Canberra and Sydney

Infrastructure Australia has put investment in rail infrastructure between Canberra and Sydney on the national priority list this year.

On Thursday, February 26 Infrastructure Australia announced the 2020 Infrastructure Priority List.

Chris Steel, Minister for Transport said the ACT Government has been advocating for an improved rail service between Canberra and Sydney for a number of years.

The ACT and NSW governments will invest $5 million each in the joint priority to improve the Sydney to Canberra rail link.

“Investment in this link will not only make train travel a faster and more appealing option for Canberrans travelling to and from Sydney, but it will also provide better connections with regional towns,” Steel said.

“It’s time for the Federal Government to get on board with faster rail, and take this infrastructure investment proposal seriously.”

Improvements to Canberra’s public transport network is listed as a priority initiative this year, specifically the development of transit corridors connecting Belconnen and Queanbeyan to central Canberra.

Rob Busch, Infrastructure Australia’s senior economist told the Canberra Times that the IA’s assessment found the issue was “nationally significant” due to the congestion, lost productivity, and lost opportunity it caused.

Infrastructure Australia said the travel time could be made quicker by straightening and duplicating the track, electrifying and upgrading signals and investing in new rolling stock.

“The number of people living between Canberra and Sydney is forecast to grow by 1.5 per cent each year to 2036, increasing pressure on the road network and airports,” IA told the Canberra Times.

“Improving rail services in this corridor would provide more transport options for travellers, improve travel-time reliability for rail passengers and reduce pressure on the air corridor.”

Steel noted that such investment would align with other rail projects being carried out in the ACT.

“The continued inclusion of this initiative on the IPL reaffirms the national significance of the ACT Government’s investments in public transport infrastructure,” Steel said. 

“We welcome the 2020 IPL and as a Territory I am confident we are actively prioritising infrastructure initiatives to support Canberrans in the ACT and as they move around our region.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the NSW and Federal Governments to progress these projects.” 

Rail projects identified as priority for investment

An unprecedented demand for infrastructure has led to a major rail project being added to the Infrastructure Australia Priority List.

Often described as a catalyst for investment, the independent infrastructure body’s Priority List now includes Sydney-Canberra rail connectivity and capacity.

The project joins other high priority rail projects such as Sydney Metro: City and Southwest, priority projects such as Inland Rail and the Beerburrum to Nambour rail upgrade.

Gold Coast Light Rail Stage 3A has graduated from Priority Initiative to priority project, reflecting the project’s move towards construction.

The report identifies the need for continued investment in rail infrastructure, said Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO, Caroline Wilkie.

“The ARA supports the record investment being made by State and Commonwealth Governments into rail.  This report highlights the benefits of continuing that investment and that the current levels of infrastructure investment need to be the new norm.”

High priority initiatives include the Network Optimisation Program for rail, corridor preservation for East Coast High Speed Rail, Sydney Metro West, Port Botany freight rail duplication, corridor preservation for Western Sydney airport and freight rail connections, and a number of other projects around the country.

Adding Sydney-Canberra rail connectivity to the priority list will go towards making rail competitive with other passenger modes, said Wilkie.

“The ARA supports the record investment being made by State and Commonwealth Governments into rail.  This report highlights the benefits of continuing that investment and that the current levels of infrastructure investment need to be the new norm.”

While the projects range from identifying a business case to projects in the process of construction, Infrastructure Australia chief executive Romily Madew highlighted that the nation had a great demand for infrastructure.

“Compounding issues of unprecedented infrastructure demand, severe drought and other environmental changes, require a focus on our resilience strategies and a consensus on where to invest now for our nation’s future prosperity,” she said.

The total infrastructure pipeline is worth over $58 billion, and the Australian Logistics Council welcomed the focus on rail infrastructure in the 2020 list.

“Infrastructure Australia’s rigorous, independent assessment process means governments, investors and the wider community can have confidence that investing in the projects and initiatives contained on the list will address genuine economic and social needs,” said Australian Logistics Council CEO, Kirk Coningham.

“The National Freight and Supply Chain Strategy, first included on the list in 2016, is an obvious example. ALC is pleased the Strategy remains as a High Priority Initiative on this year’s list, with a renewed focus underscoring the importance of its implementation phase.”

For freight rail operators, the focus on expanding port capacities down the east coast could create greater demand for containerised freight movements and intermodal terminals, said Port of Newcastle CEO, Craig Carmody.

“While IA correctly notes that no Australian port can accommodate the larger, more energy-efficient ships carrying more than 14,000 TEUs, it is also critical to examine the constraints to existing road and rail infrastructure in handling the nation’s current and future trade volumes,” he said.

Infrastructure Australia knocks back North East Rail line upgrade

Infrastructure Australia has announced that the current business case for the North East Rail Line upgrade is not nationally significant.

The business case, submitted by the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC), covers the 316km Victorian line from Melbourne to Albury, via Seymour and Wangaratta. The estimated cost would be $198.3 million.

In a statement, Infrastructure Australia noted that rail service disruptions are locally or regionally significant, but not of national importance. Infrastructure Australia’s independent review of the business case found that the estimated benefits were overstated, while the business case itself said the costs would be higher than the benefits, highlighted chief executive of Infrastructure Australia, Romilly Madew.

“We know compared to other regional Victorian passenger lines, there is relatively poor punctuality, and reliability on the North East Rail Line. However, based on the current evidence available, the cost of the project would significantly outweigh its benefits.”

The Commonwealth’s independent infrastructure advisory board noted that 1,800 people use the line each day, however demand has fallen due to poor punctuality, while the neighbouring Hume Highway has been improved.

The lack of benefit to freight services was one reason that Infrastructure Australia turned down the project, along with the lack of new rail services, new rolling stock, or faster travel times.

Madew noted that a revised business case would be welcomed by Infrastructure Australia.

“We recognise the importance of good-quality regional rail transport to give people genuine travel choices and equitable service levels,” she said.

Four appointed to Infrastructure Australia Board

Four new members have been appointed to the Infrastructure Australia Board, the Government’s independent infrastructure adviser, the minister for infrastructure, transport and regional development Michael McCormack announced on Tuesday.

Mark Balnaves, John Fitzgerald, Marion Fulker and Graham Quirk have been appointed to the twelve member board led by Infrastructure Australia chair Julieanne Alroe, and will will begin their tenures at the  this month.

“All four individuals bring decades of infrastructure experience and each will add to the depth and breadth of sectoral knowledge and proficiency of the Board,” Alroe said.

Mark Balnaves, having previously advised on a number of major projects around Australia including the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, has more than 20 years of director, strategic advisory and infrastructure experience and is a current director of Evans + Ayers.

Marion Fulker has experience in infrastructure-related research as well as being the inaugural chief executive of the Committee for Perth Ltd and an adjunct senior research fellow at the University of Western Australia.

From a local government perspective, Graham Quirk, brings an in-depth understanding at a community level, having previously served as the 16th lord mayor of Brisbane with a total of 34 years of dedicated service at Brisbane Council.

John is currently a director of the Victorian Funds Management Corporation, non–executive chairman of Evolution Rail Pty Ltd, Suburban Land Agency (ACT), InfraNexus Management Pty Ltd and Canberra Light Rail. He has previously been interim CEO for Infrastructure Australia.

Alroe thanked outgoing members Dianne Leeson, Andrew Ethell, Dr Peter Wood and one of the longest serving members of the Infrastructure board, Nicole Lockwood.

“Our retiring board members have had a remarkable impact on the Australian infrastructure sector, and I sincerely thank them for their leadership and contribution to Infrastructure Australia,” said Alroe.

Infrastructure Australia is an independent statutory body which provides advice on Australia’s infrastructure priorities and policy reforms. It also assists in public infrastructure investment decision-making.