The historic Flinders Street viaduct is undergoing critical repairs to ensure the over 100-year old rail bridge can continue to support rail traffic.
The finalists for the Year in Infrastructure Awards have been announced.
Facilitated by software and digital twin provider for the design, construction, and operation of infrastructure, Bentley Systems, the finalists span categories including digital construction, digital cities, and rail and transit.
The awards recognise users of Bentley Systems software and highlight those who are pushing the envelope of digital design, construction and maintenance of complex infrastructure assets.
Chris Barron, Bentley’s chief communications officer said the awards showcased how digital tools have been used throughout COVID-19 to ensure that infrastructure projects are delivered.
“The circumstances of the global pandemic have made the past few months a challenge for us all, and it is a testament to our users’ resilience that we received over 400 nominees for our Year in Infrastructure Awards program.”
Projects that will be competing for the final award include the Skanska-Costain-STRABAG Joint Venture, that is delivering the UK’s HS2 main works civils contract for the Digital Cities category.
In the Rail and Transit category, high speed rail, signalling renewal, and digital engineering projects are finalists. Projects utilising Bentley’s asset performance tools are also highlighted in the Road and Rail Asset Performance category.
Other rail related projects to reach the finals stage of the awards include the design and construction of the world’s tallest rail pier girder bridge by Indian Railways and Saidel Engineering’s nine storey residential building above subway tunnels in West Bucharest.
Users of Bentley’s reality modelling solution have also been recognised. In Australia, the Warragamba Water Pipeline Digital Twin is a finalist.
To hear more about how Bentley System’s software can be used in a rail context, register via the link below for the upcoming webinar, hosted by Rail Express.
The winners of the Year in Infrastructure Awards will be announced during Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure conference, that will be delivered virtually on October 20-21.
While governments have trumpeted major stimulus spending projects in rail to spur the economy out of COVID-19, the value of contracts awarded in 2020 has fallen significantly, according to analysis from Infrastructure Partnerships Australia (IPA).
In 2019, contracts to the value of $27.1 billion were awarded in the infrastructure sector. In the first eight months of 2020, only $6.7bn in contracts have been awarded, a quarter of the 2019 total.
Of the contracts awarded, rail has been overlooked, with roads, water, social infrastructure and other transport receiving more money.
According to IPA, as governments have turned to small-scale stimulus projects, approvals and signatures on contracts has fallen. In many cases, these projects were already funded and were brought forward to get money flowing into the economy and increase business activity to rebound after COVID-19.
“Over the last few months, governments have taken smart steps to accelerate small-scale quick to market projects to soften the COVID landing,” said IPA chief executive Adrian Dwyer, who noted that larger projects will sustain the economy for the long term.
“This data shows we now need to accelerate approvals of large-scale projects, add to the major infrastructure pipeline, and ensure we keep pace on delivery,” he said.
“As we governments prepare for the delayed budget season, this is the time to scale up for the long economic recovery ahead.”
With the third quarter of 2020 drawing to a close, contract values could pick up for 2020 in the final quarter, with the contract for the next stage of Sydney Metro expected to be announced. Other contracts, such as those for the Narrabri to North Star section of Inland Rail, could also contribute to the 2020 total.
While rail was the smallest infrastructure sector in 2020 by contract value, it was the largest in 2019, with $11.6bn committed to the sector. In 2018, $6.6bn of contracts were awarded to rail projects.
There is over $3bn of announced funding for rail as part of state and federal stimulus plans.
Using a digital twin to drive operational decisions when it comes to maintenance is about turning what could be a cost into an asset.
By 2025, the world will be creating 175 zettabytes annually, according to market research firm IDC’s Data Age 2025 report. To put that in context, one zettabyte is equivalent to one trillion gigabytes. How rapidly this data is growing can be demonstrated by the fact that in 2012, only one zettabyte of data existed.
But, with all this data being produced, how much of it is actually useful? While a rail organisation is only a small proportion of the global data total, according to Andrew Smith, solutions executive responsible for Bentley’s Rail and Transit solution, they are still producing a significant amount of data.
“Rail organisations typically are very data rich,” said Smith. “They’ve got a large number of asset disciplines because it’s a huge complex system and each of those asset disciplines has a number of inspection and measurement mechanisms that can produce data.”
This data on its own, however, is not yet a useful resource.
“Data is a discrete fact about something,” said Smith. “For example, the distance between the left and right rail at this location is X, but data is no use to you when you’re actually trying to either work out short term what you’re going to do or longer term what may happen in the future. What you need to do is start a transformation process, so the first step of that is to go from data to information, which is data in context with meaning attached.”
Giving data its context turns what can be seen as a cost, the accumulation and storage of data, into a resource, information that can be used to make a decision.
“In order to be able to do that, you need to have a framework in place that allows you to pull all the different classes of data together, such that you can see all of that data in context,” said Smith. “And to me, that’s at the heart of the digital twin.”
Digital twins are a replica or model of a system or asset that can be used to take the information that a rail organisation has, in the form of data, to create insights, that are conclusions drawn from data and information.
“When you bring all this information together, the digital twin can tell you how as well and why things are happening, and it can give you contextual history,” said Smith. “The digital twin can give you design intent information that you wouldn’t necessarily have otherwise, as well as the as-constructed record. Critically, a railway is a system, it’s not just a set of isolated components, and what a digital twin allows us to do is understand specifically the relationships between those components and how they can be affecting each other.”
While digital twins are widely used in many fields, including construction and manufacturing, they have a distinct role to play when it comes to the maintenance and management of rail assets. As the complexity of operating a railway requires various departments covering different skills and mandates, applying a digital twin can overcome the data and organisational silos. Smith, who has been working in the rail industry for over 20 years, highlights one way in which this can be applied.
“For anywhere that’s got overhead electrification for example, if you’re on ballasted track you can move the track from side to side through maintenance, but you need to maintain the relationship with the overhead wires, but these are often managed by two different teams. The digital twin will manage by design the relationship between the two. The maintenance records, where you’re going to go, and the type of maintenance you’re doing means that there is a chance that you will actually introduce a change to the overhead wire relationship. Therefore, you need to tag that work order as needing somebody to go out and actually measure the overhead wire relationship as well, whereas historically that relationship wouldn’t be as tightly coupled.”
DESIGNING A RAIL-BASED DIGITAL TWIN
Getting to this level of maturity with a digital twin takes a deep understanding of how a rail network operates and how best to design a digital twin that fits the reality of a rail organisation. Bentley, as part of its portfolio of solutions in the rail and transit space, has experience working with rail operators around the globe to design and deploy digital twins. From this experience, Smith highlights, the usual understanding of what a digital twin is can be re-evaluated.
“Normally if you think about a digital twin you actually start with a four-dimensional model, however railways often don’t think in terms of XYZ axes. They tend to think in terms of linear distances with lateral and vertical offsets and that drives the way that measurements are made, the way that inspections are made, but also the way that maintenance is actually managed. If you’re sending someone to go out and do some tamping along a piece of track, you don’t send them to an XYZ coordinate or a latitude- longitude coordinate, you’ll send them this many metres past kilometre post seven on such and such a track.”
With this in mind, Smith suggests that digital twins in the rail space can be more useful if they are designed to fit the way that railways are understood. Then, the data that makes up the digital twin can be overlaid on the representation of the network. When needed, for example at a station or in yards, this data can be visualised as a three-dimensional model, but linear visualisations may be more appropriate for a section of track.
To get to the point of having a representation of a rail network, a large amount of data will have to be collected and interpreted. As managers of an array of legacy assets, rail organisations can turn to the use of artificial intelligence (AI) to sort and organise the vast streams of data, said Smith.
“One of the challenges that we see with a digital twin for a lot of brownfield sites in particular is that there are a large number of assets in place that are not being represented digitally. Being able to use image recognition or identifying features from reality meshes and then being able to put an attribution against them is a great use of AI to be able to identify where the assets are.”
With this data in place, the twin must be maintained and kept up to date. With networks spanning across hundreds of kilometres, rail organisations can use automated surveys of a network to provide the constant data upkeep needed.
With the digital twin now operating as a living representation of a rail network, defect detection can be done in a way that gets to a root cause, rather than just addressing individual issues. One example, that Smith describes is if measurement scans identify vertical deterioration. A digital twin would then allow for a cross referencing against other assets that are in place, to see if there is a culvert on that section of track.
“Then I’m not going to send a tamper out,” said Smith. “The first thing that I’m going to do is send a crew out to inspect a culvert to see if it’s collapsing over time. The next thing I might want to do there is ask, if I’ve got twin track, am I seeing the same deterioration on both tracks? Normally they’d be considered in isolation, separate from each other. Then I would ask, has any maintenance taken place at this region? That’s not just maintenance of this asset, but all maintenance records, so I could say, ‘Hang on, someone actually went in there and did some maintenance work on the drainage in-between, but it happens to be in an area that’s close enough that it could’ve had an unexpected knock on onto the condition of the track.’”
These kinds of insights can only be gained through the kinds of insights a digital twin is able to offer, by bringing together disparate data and putting that data into context.
DRIVING THE SOLUTION
While a digital twin may seem like a laudable goal on its own, according to Smith, the implementation of such a tool only makes sense when a rail organisation has identified what are the issues that it needs to solve.
“The driver here is not a technology change. The driver is to change the way of working, so an organisation has to first understand its current working practices, where the efficiencies and inefficiencies are, where the limitations and constraints may be, and then we can understand the aspirational state, where they actually want to be at some stage in the future.”
Implementing a digital twin begins with understanding the process of going from a current state to an aspirational state in the future. Rather than jumping in straight to a predictive maintenance solution, the first step may be to identify where the current most significant issue is, with a plan or vision to have a predictive system at a point in the future. Understanding where the technology is going to be implemented comes down to working with the people who are going to be using the software.
“It is absolutely critical that those people are engaged right from the outset, not just the management but the end users,” said Smith.
To get people on board, Bentley has used model offices where representative users are invited to be involved in the design process and give their insights into the particular challenges they face.
“Then there’s buy in,” said Smith. “There’s engagement at that side, which means that the final product is a tool that the engineers have designed and set up to help them do their job better that means they’re positive about the tool and they’re positive about the process change that’s in place to be able to do it.”
Rather than success looking like a piece of software that is installed to contract specifications, Smith outlines how in developing a success plan for the implementation of the software, the outcome is about delivering value.
“Owner operators of railways aren’t installing these systems because they like technology. Technology is an overhead to them – it’s a cost, an expense, and it’s a risk, so the only time that it’s worth doing is when they can show that the value is greater than the cost associated with it, so what we’re moving to is making sure that the focus is now on the value to the users instead,” said Smith.
“You can look into the future and run ‘what if’ scenarios. So, I’m going to increase the tonnage over a particular length of rail and I’m going to run a simulation of what that’s going to do to my rail replacement strategy that I have in place. We can use AI on top of this to look both tactically how do I optimise right now, where do I best spend money, but also starting to look further out by running simulations and trying to predict what the impact the change is going to have.”
This value can be defined in any number of ways, but as Smith highlights, it is the process of creating insights out of data.
While governments are recalibrating their infrastructure pipeline, Peter Gill of DCWC argues that this presents an opportunity to get the build right.
In the morning before Rail Express speaks with Peter Gill, director for Infrastructure at Donald Cant Watts Corke (DCWC), Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has just announced a $2.7 billion building blitz, including $328 million for transport infrastructure.
The funding is designed to get Victorians back into work following the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and associated lockdown. However, the package has a different flavour to the state’s so-called Big Build, where billions were allocated to major infrastructure packages. Instead, the funding has been directed towards renewal of sleepers on regional rail lines, tram and train maintenance, and local pier upgrades. In his announcement, Andrews flagged that further announcements would similarly focus on smaller projects that get people into work.
The shift from major infrastructure projects to smaller, distributed works programmes is one that Gill has been watching closely since earlier in 2020.
“There have been a lot of natural disasters, and the result of that is that governments have had to implement smaller infrastructure projects to accommodate the repair of the damage the disasters have caused,” said Gill. “With COVID, the economy has been hit really badly and the primary area for repairing the economy and getting us out of it will be in infrastructure projects.”
Prior to 2020, Andrews and his counterparts in other states had been in the habit of announcing major rail infrastructure programs, delivered by standalone authorities and with budget sizes running to 10 figures and beyond. With the dual shock of the bushfires and COVID-19, Gill see the market shifting somewhat.
“We believe that the government will have to deliver smaller infrastructure projects, not the major ones of 5, 6, or 10 billion dollars, but a lot more smaller infrastructure projects to help the economy, help the tier-2, tier-3 contractors, the subcontract market, the builders, and all of those associated with infrastructure to get this economy out of its current scenario.”
THE ISSUES WITH THE PREVIOUS APPROACH
Gill has been warning government and project authorities for years that the way that they had been approaching cost planning assurance and project management was leading to cost blow-outs and a lack of trust in the infrastructure sector. With a turn to a smaller, more distributed program of works, Gill sees governments as having the opportunity to get things right again.
“The larger projects have much more risk in them, and they take a lot longer to establish the requirements for those projects, and this is where governments are making mistakes. On the major high-risk, high-value infrastructure projects, they have been political footballs in the past and they’re rushing them through the system, not doing the proper geotechnical, site, and community investigation and not getting the price right.”
Instead of going through the proper process, contingency percentages have been added to the project’s cost to make up for gaps that were missed in project scope
or planning, said Gill.
“To accommodate the lack of information that they’ve got, they’re adding a percentage for contingency. Risk is not for missed scope and bad planning, or bad pricing for that matter, risk is to give you more certainty around what you already know. Missing scope or missing pricing are the two areas that they are getting wrong.”
By approving and funding smaller projects, planners have fewer unknowns and there is more chance to get those who have been most affected by the crisis to benefit.
“By getting smaller projects you get much more certainty in the project outcomes because it doesn’t take as long to do those investigations that you require for the major infrastructure projects,” said Gill. “With smaller projects and smaller requirements, you can put more time into it and get greater certainty on scope, budget, and time.
IMPLEMENTING THE SMALL PROJECT PIPELINE
Gill cautions, however, that the major infrastructure projects should not be forgotten about just yet.
“The great thing is we take the lessons learnt from the big projects and apply them to the small projects. We don’t need as much time, so we can put the effort into and provide greater assurance.”
Another benefit of the new project pipeline is the lack of any need for extra labour or expertise from overseas. The relative complexity of the smaller projects can absorb those who are out of work or moving from one job to the next.
“We have enough resources in the country at the moment to accommodate these
big projects,” said Gill. “We have a unique situation where some projects are on hold at the moment and there are tunnel boring machine experts, for example, that can be used on other projects. There are tradesmen from those projects and there are blue collar and professional workers that can be moved to another.”
In addition, as has been shown in the projects that have continued throughout
the pandemic, infrastructure building works can continue with effective social distancing and not lead to outbreaks of infection. While some extra hygiene measures have been put in place, these issues are not insurmountable, said Gill.
“The designers, quantity surveyors, and planners can work from home, they can use platforms to continue those meetings, discuss with clients, and continue that work. What is going to be a challenge is the skilled and trade labourers on site, where they’ll have to have more space requirements for break out spaces, their lunch rooms, cleanliness, hygiene. All of those issues will have to be worked through.”
GOING BACK TO BASICS
While the challenges in delivering a distributed works program may be different from a major infrastructure pipeline, Gill notes that there is an opportunity for
lessons to be learnt. As governments look for projects with value for money, providing a comprehensive understanding of a projects’ costs and risks is critical. DCWC has found bringing together design and cost engineering as one way to provide certainty.
“We wrote a paper last year on integrated quantity surveying teams, where we bring together engineers, planners, schedulers, and project managers, and if we use those integrated teams, we can get greater certainty in project outcomes and costs,” said Gill.
Although the purpose may be just as much about getting people into jobs as it is about “congestion busting”, projects still need to be delivered by a competent, knowledgeable team, preferably with local expertise.
“These projects need to be project managed – designed and scheduled properly – and we need professionals that understand the location of these projects, who understand the ground conditions and the risks associated with building in those areas,” said Gill. “Bring those people into the team to give the best possible advice for those major infrastructure projects, as one company cannot do it on their own, it has to be an integrated team approach. If we have to go externally to find the right people we will do so.”
As attention turns to what is needed to get the economy back up and running now, governments have a little more breathing room on the larger projects which were planned for pre-COVID-19 levels of congestion and patronage. If travel patterns take a bit of time to return to those levels, this means those projects can be looked at comprehensively.
“The government has an advantage here to take the time to really look at the requirements of those major infrastructure projects like the Suburban Rail Loop, the Melbourne Airport Rail Link and stage 2 of the Melbourne Metro,” said Gill. “Stop rushing these big projects, take the time to get the requirements right, use this pandemic as an opportunity to let smaller projects get people back to work.
In a flurry of infrastructure funding announcements, the federal government has only allocated funding for one new rail project, a new stop on the Canberra light rail line in Mitchell.
The stop, at the intersection of Flemington Road and Sandford Street, will be the 14th for the network. The federal government and ACT governments will each contribute $6 million.
The funding comes from the $1.5 billion of infrastructure funding announced by the Prime Minister Scott Morrison on June 15. As of June 22, roughly a third of the funding had been announced, with the light rail stop in Canberra the only rail project receiving funding.
In his address on June 15, Morrison noted that $500m of the funding would go towards road safety upgrades, and $1bn would be for non-mode specific “shovel-ready” projects that were identified by the states and territories.
So far, funding allocated under the ‘shovel-ready” project stream has been distributed to Queensland with $204.3m, Western Australia has received $96m, $13.6m to the NT, and $16m in the ACT.
Out of the hundreds of millions allocated to “shovel-ready” projects, $11m will go towards non-road projects, with $6m for the Canberra light rail stop and $5m for pavement rehabilitation along Northbourne Avenue, also in Canberra.
A federal government spokesperson said that further road and rail commitments to be funded under the $1.5bn infrastructure package will be announced in due course.
ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said that work would soon get underway on the new tram stop.
“Design is being undertaken on a 14th stop on the light rail line and we will work with Canberra Metro to build the station at Sandford St over the next year,” he said.
“The new light rail stop on Flemington Road at Sandford Street will provide better access to the Mitchell business district in addition to the existing stop at Well Station Drive.”
Bentley’s Year in Infrastructure 2020 conference will be held digitally in October.
The move to digital will allow for greater global participation in the annual infrastructure conference.
The program includes the live judging of Year In Infrastructure 2020 awards and the final ceremony, as well as talks and workshops.
Confirmed sessions include Greg Bentley, CEO of Bentley Systems in conversation with top-tier infrastructure executives on how they are meeting resilience challenges through digital advancement.
Keith Bentley, founder and chief technology officer, will discuss examples of deployed digital twins with those who have successfully adopted the technology.
Six sector-specific sessions will be held on October 20, with one specifically focused on the implications of digital twins for the rail and transit sector. These will involve interactive panel discussions with industry and business leaders.
Finally, the latest advances in Bentley Systems applications and cloud services will be on display with interactive demonstrations of the technology in the field.
The Year in Infrastructure conference is hosted by Bentley Systems, a software provider of design, construction, and operations solutions for infrastructure.
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.”
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.”
THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING INFRASTRUCTURE JOBS
It’s an age-old economic principle. When people earn, they spend; when they do this, funds are further distributed, enabling even more spending. Infrastructure is one of the biggest employers in Australia, so the more we invest in keeping people in these jobs, the better the economy performs as a whole. With COVID-19’s economic fallout, it has never been more critical to ramp up impetus across our beloved industry.
For the most part, infrastructure jobs have been more secure than in other industries, with sectors such as construction deemed an ‘essential service’. But what other security is out there? For workers restricted by current pandemic measures, there is a big appetite to get people back into the workplace. According to surveys conducted throughout the construction industry, civil contractors are prepared to make significant investments in employment if government infrastructure projects are fast tracked. So capacity is there – especially for tier 2 and 3 companies with significant ability to create these employment opportunities. But what else do we need to consider?
While we’ve all been following recent government stimulus packages aimed at boosting infrastructure growth, the trick now is where to spend to achieve maximum benefit.
SPEND WISELY AND WITH PRUDENCE
Instead of ‘clustering’ projects in a small area, it may be more beneficial to spread the projects into rural and regional areas. The communities in these areas would benefit greatly from infrastructure investment by creating employment, as well as opportunities for training. Ultimately this translates to community spending filtering down to local businesses. This sentiment is echoing throughout our industry.
Treasury Secretary, Steven Kennedy, told a Senate hearing in October 2019, that spending big on large infrastructure projects is not the way to stimulate the economy. This point of view may have some merit, insofar as large-scale projects take significant time to plan to get the business cases and budget right. Spending more on smaller projects to match demand would make more sense – particularly when planning through to shovelling can be done within a much shorter timeline. This would allow for the main focus on larger projects to remain on planning, scoping and budgeting accurately.
Having said that, larger projects must not be abandoned in favour of the smaller ones. The smaller ones would merely provide shorter term relief in economic downturn, whereas the larger projects would stimulate the economy in the longer run. Mr Kennedy appears to reject the idea of extra spending except “in an emergency”. That was before COVID-19 became what it is now – an emergency.
WHY IS THE COVID-19 CRISIS DIFFERENT AND HOW MIGHT IT INFLUENCE HOW INFRASTRUCTURE IS DELIVERED GOING FORWARD?
What COVID-19 has taught us so far, is that we are very adaptable. With a significant number of people getting used to working from home (and many coping well with this scenario), people may start to consider whether travelling to an office is really needed. They may think; why bother if they can achieve the same amount of work (and more) from the comfort of their own environment? This may be considered a radical approach and certainly is not without its own pitfalls, but still could be a consideration. This new dynamic also raises a number of questions around the allocation of industry resources in general.
Are train lines into the city from all around the metropolitan areas really going to be used for current or planned increased capacity? Should the spending on these planned projects be channelled to developments where digital connectivity can be vastly improved (let us face it, the NBN still struggles somewhat)? Should we invest more in renewable energy sources instead? Should there be a larger focus on innovation perhaps, and what does this look like? Maybe if local rail network spending gets pushed back to a lower priority, intercity or fast rail could get more funding to compete with domestic air travel. Or now there could be less spent on transport and more on other forms of infrastructure. These are all alternative options if funds for planned transport projects get redistributed.
But what about the flow on? Although these proposed infrastructure opportunities may lack similarly skilled resources as for civil road & rail construction projects, they could open up training and upskilling for people to work in these industries. This will promote increased capacity of tertiary educational institutions – again more infrastructure spending, creating more jobs.
WHO PAYS FOR ALL THIS?
While we can promote and encourage big spending on infrastructure to stimulate the economy in times of crisis, people will rightly ask where the funding for these planned projects will come from?
Both federal and state governments have already spent significant amounts of money on cash stimulus packages including JobKeeper allowances. This may well be unplanned and we, in the general public, may not really know whether funds earmarked for other areas of the economy, including infrastructure spending, have been redirected to pay for the various cash stimulus packages introduced. They may have come from some form of contingency fund in the government coffers. We certainly do not know. However, if funds from other projects were redirected, including planned infrastructure investments, and those projects required ‘new’ funding, all levels of government may have to rethink where the capital would come from to pay for these projects. Let us face it, short term cash stimulus only goes so far – what happens if that runs out or gets wound back early?
One of the major contributors to reinvestment in infrastructure could be the sale of assets, as NSW did when they sold the state’s electricity assets. This provided a major boost to infrastructure spending and could be done again. Alternatives to this could be increased borrowing, higher taxes (GST), print more money, etc. All these have their own pros and pitfalls and identifying the healthy balance would be the key to getting this right. No option will be perfect, but some may be more perfect than others.
In any case, in our current environment loaded with uncertainty, some surety remains. As a historically vital player, infrastructure continues to play a pivotal role in boosting our country’s economy during economic downturn. The key is not only to spend wisely, fairly and equally, but to embrace the potential redistribution of funds across fresh opportunities arising out of this novel landscape.
Infrastructure SA has released the first long-term infrastructure strategy for South Australia, and targets freight movements as an area for improvement.
The 20-Year State Infrastructure Strategy covers all aspects of infrastructure, from education and health, to energy and digital connectivity, however, makes a number of recommendations for the state’s transport network.
SA’s freight network is particularly addressed as an area that needs improvement. The report notes that there are limited options when it comes to bulk minerals, and that roads supporting industry in the regions are in poor condition.
Although road is expected to continue to carry the majority of freight, investment in rail spurs is one area where the efficiencies of rail can be realised. In addition, with forecast growth near Adelaide Airport and congestion at ports, more efficient rail connections should be focused on, highlighted Australian Logistics Council CEO, Kirk Coningham.
“ALC welcomes the Strategy’s recognition of the need for improved landside road and rail connections for freight at SA’s ports and airports to address congestion. We continue to encourage the SA Government to pursue the standardisation of SA’s freight rail gauges to enhance network efficiency.”
For passenger transport, buses are expected to remain the dominant public transport mode, however trunk corridors for future growth are where further investment should occur, write Infrastructure SA.
While the Infrastructure Strategy did not identify key projects, Infrastructure SA also released the Capital Intentions Statement, which identifies works such as level crossing removals as needing investment.
In addition to individual projects, the Infrastructure Strategy recommends an integrated planning approach, which Coningham welcomed.
“ALC strongly endorses the Strategy’s call to break down silos in the planning system by moving toward a more integrated approach. As part of this, we call on the SA government to adopt ‘freight and logistics lands’ as a distinct land use category within South Australian planning instruments.”