Year in Infrastructure conference highlights digital twin innovation

At the Year in Infrastructure conference, hosted by infrastructure software company Bentley Systems, audiences were told that adoption of digital tools for infrastructure delivery and operations will only accelerate after the experience of COVID-19.

With global investment in infrastructure as method of economic recovery coming together with the impetus for more sustainable methods of construction and mobility, efficiencies through using digital tools are becoming unavoidable.

Through the use of digital twins for modelling and simulations in the design and construction phase, or for monitoring asset and network performance in the operational stage, more environmentally friendly materials can be used, waste can be reduced, while costs can be reduced and timelines shortened.

In addition, as COVID-19 has demonstrated, projects will still need to continue even when workforces are dispersed, either working from home, or across countries without being able to easily meet in person.

These factors have meant that digital tools such as those supplied by Bentley Systems are invaluable for infrastructure builders, managers, and operators.

Another macro factor that is impacting on the adoption of digital tools in the infrastructure space is the possibilities of big data and IoT. With more data being collected than ever, modelling and simulation software will be needed to make sense of this data and allow it to be seen as a productive resource.

One example of the benefit of digital twins can be seen in the adoption of digital engineering tools in the design and construction of the world’s tallest rail pier girder bridge in northern India. Constructed by Indian Railways, the railway bridge is required to support high-speed and broad gauge trains for the next century in difficult terrain. Seismic events and strong winds were also a concern for the 141 metre tall bridge.

On of the Year in Infrastructure Awards finalists, Indian Railways is using Bentley tools including OpenRail, PLAXIS, and STAAD, and the project has been able to make savings of US$24.61 million ($34.58m). These efficiencies were found through the better selection of types of materials and construction methodologies.

Once the bridge is complete, embedded instruments and drone surveys will be used to monitor the health of the bridge remotely, with a digital twin used to simulate how the bridge is behaving and the effect of inputs. This will ensure the infrastructure manager will be able to make timely decisions to ensure the sustainability of the bridge.

Aurizon targets net zero operational emissions by 2050

Aurizon will invest $50m in low carbon locomotives such as battery and hydrogen-powered trains to meet a net zero goal by 2050.

The freight hauler and network owner will also look to maximise the benefits of the electrified freight network in Queensland, particularly as more renewable energy is fed into the grid.

Managing director and CEO of Aurizon, Andrew Harding said that the company was confident that technology would meet the company’s goals.

“We are confident that rapidly-advancing technology in the rail sector will unlock major benefits like we are seeing in motor vehicles, energy generation and general industry. Our focus will be low-carbon technology for our locomotive fleet which accounts for more than 90 per cent of Aurizon’s CO2 emissions.”

In addition to actions undertaken internally, Aurizon will also push for government action.

“We directly advocate for policy actions to increase the use of rail freight on key national freight corridors. Our aim is to ensure that rail freight remains competitive and part of the solution as the economy transitions to a low-carbon future,” said Harding.

The company’s commitment follows the latest Sustainability Report from the freight operator. In the report, Aurizon advocates for lowered electricity costs to reduce the risk of substituting electric locomotives for diesel-powered trains. In addition, Aurizon outlines that the company has been advocating for greater infrastructure investment, improvements to regulation and finding efficiencies at interfaces between modes.

To meet the goal of lower emissions, Aurizon said that it would be making significant investments in new rollingstock shortly.

“Aurizon is already working with other railroads and manufacturers on the early development of battery and hydrogen-powered locomotives for deployment in a heavy-haul railway environment. This includes options of upgrades to the existing fleet and new rollingstock. We would expect to see prototypes trialling on our network by 2025, as technology advances and costs come down further,” said Harding.

“Locomotives are long-life assets of 20 – 30 years. We have some significant decisions ahead in renewing our locomotive fleet – potential game-changers for the freight industry – when we invest in the next generations of rollingstock to power our business through to 2050.”

Moorebank Intermodal Terminal. Graphic: MICL

Moorebank Logistics Park recognised for sustainability

The Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA) has awarded the first stage of the Moorebank Logistics Park an Excellent Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) rating for design.

The IS rating scheme seeks to evaluate and promote sustainability in infrastructure programs, projects, networks, and assets, and looks a broad range of indicators to assess a projects governance, economic, environmental, and social sustainability. Excellent is the second highest rating a project can receive.

Michael Yiend director of development at Qube, which manages the development of the Moorebank intermodal site, said that the rating highlights the innovations that were a part of the project.

The Moorebank Logisitics Park’s use of automation in particular helped the project reduce its greenhouse gas footprint. By using automated gantry cranes, straddle carriers, sortation systems and terminal operation systems, Qube can reduce energy use, while enhancing safety and productivity.

Overall, the site’s energy efficient design will save two million tonnes of CO2 equivalents over 40 years of operations, however through transporting freight via rail, rather than road, the site will contribute to a reduction of four million tonnes of CO2 equivalents.

CEO of ISCA Ainsley Simpson said that with 70 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions enabled by the infrastructure sector, with the majority coming from transport, projects such as Moorebank are critical.

“Moorebank Intermodal demonstrates that freight infrastructure presents an opportunity for decarbonisation through better measurement, reporting and implementation of reduction initiatives.”

Ian Learmouth, CEO of the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) which invested in the project, said that Qube had exceeded Australia-first sustainability standards.

“Qube’s success reflects its commitment to sustainability and demonstrates the possibilities for decarbonisation across even the most complex infrastructure operation,” said Learmouth. Infrastructure is considered a challenging sector to decarbonise, yet this project shows that it also offers great potential. Qube tapped into that potential to find many creative ways to lower its carbon emissions.”

Half the energy required for the 243-hectare precinct will be generated by solar power, and the first warehouse will have one of the largest rooftop solar arrays in the southern hemisphere, generating 3MW. In addition, the project used a unique modelling technique to address climate risks related to the urban heat island effect, a first for Australia.

Learmouth said that the project would serve as a guide for future developments.

“The lessons learned from the design and construction of Moorebank will see the benefits of this project multiplied across the infrastructure sector – another significant step towards its decarbonisation and Australia’s transition to a clean energy economy.”

Simpson concurred.

“The leadership demonstrated thought this project could shift the freight industry to move beyond compliance on multiple fronts – decarbonisation, reliability and safety. It sets a new standard for intermodal infrastructure.

“There is real potential to influence wider supply chain activity, shaping a resilient freight sector that delivers innovation and improved productivity now and in the long term.”

associations

Global railway associations highlight post-COVID mobility improvements

A trio of global railway associations have noted that rail is part of the solution to the linked crises of climate change and coronavirus (COVID-19).

In a joint statement, the associations highlight how mobility is key to creating trade and prosperity, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Europe, rail accounts for 7.6 per cent of passenger and 17.6 per cent of freight transport, while only producing 0.5 per cent of the continent’s greenhouse gas emissions.

During the COVID-19 crisis, rail also provided an essential service, by enabling the movement of essential workers and crucial goods.

Noting that the current ways of doing business are not enough in future, the International Union of Railways (UIC), the International Association for Public Transport (UITP), and the European Rail Industry Association (UNIFE), set out areas where mobility will need to be improved, committing to a sense of urgency in updating transportation.

“Railways have demonstrated their resilience and their capacity to deliver essential services even in these difficult circumstances. We all know that railway and public transport are the key for a sustainable future, provided that they are able to implement seamless multimodal mobility networks,” said François Davenne, UIC director general.

The three primary areas for change are customer experience, increased capacity, and an increased recognition of the importance of collective travel on rail rather than in individual vehicles. Technologies such as flow management to adapt to consumer patters, the design of intelligent infrastructure networks to optimise existing systems, and autonomous rail vehicles are identified as areas for rail to pursue.

Together, the associations welcomed work done by the EU to boost rail travel, but also pointed to the need to continue to invest in infrastructure, rollingstock, and research to meet future challenges, said Philippe Citroen, UNIFE director general.

“UNIFE believes that the [European Commission]’s recent Multiannual Financial Framework and Next Generation EU proposals are powerful recovery instruments that can help complete EU Green Deal objectives, but they must be mobilised for the decarbonisation of European transportation. This is only possible through a greater multimodal mobility shift with rail at its backbone.”

Recognising the value of public transport will be indispensable to ensuring the resilience of cities in the future said Mohamed Mezghani, UITP secretary general.

“Public transport and the environment are inextricably linked and with a strong local network, emissions are lowered and our cities become healthier and more sustainable.”

Adding value

City Rail Link has redefined sustainability for the delivery of rail infrastructure projects.

The importance of embedding sustainability into a rail project from the outset may seem like an addition to the many other concerns that beset a rail infrastructure project in its early stages. However, incorporating sustainability outcomes at the beginning can have a significant impact. Even when taking the asset’s 100-year lifecycle – excluding traction power – into account, the embodied carbon in materials and use of energy in construction make up 47 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. (this figure comes from the first two contract packages – C1 and C2 – of Auckland’s City Rail Link (CRL).

From the formation of City Rail Link Limited, the crown entity jointly funded by Auckland Council and the New Zealand government, sustainability was core to the project, said Liz Root, principal sustainability advisor to the project. At the start, sustainability was on par with the other major elements of the project when Root joined the project six years ago.

“We were relatively small team of discipline project managers, all as peers, and sustainability was one of the things that we as a project were doing,” said Root.

Having come from the building and construction industry, Root was familiar with the array of codes, guidelines, and ratings, which could certify a building and construction project’s sustainability, but in moving to infrastructure, there was not the same kind of background understanding of the importance of sustainability in a project’s delivery. Early conversations in the project team focused on what sustainability meant for an infrastructure project. Although this could be seen as a disadvantage, for CRL this meant that the project team could redefine sustainability to be appropriate for their context.

New Zealand has a commitment to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, and Auckland Council has a target of zero waste to landfill by 2040. Root and the sustainability team used these goals to help define the project’s own sustainability objectives.

‘We are using the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA)’s Infrastructure Sustainability (IS) framework as a verification tool. It was a case of working with our wider project team to really understand if we just carried on as we were, where might we sit, where might our sustainability performance fall, and where can we stretch ourselves?” said Root.

These discussions were occurring as the first two contracts, C1 and C2, were progressing to early contractor involvement (ECI). Now, as the C3 stations and tunnels contracts are underway, sustainability has been embedded in the project.

“The journey has continued, and our thinking has evolved and enabled us to build an enhanced suite of requirements and expectations into the contracts,” said Root.

CRL has five focus areas within its sustainability strategy – reducing resource consumption, zero waste to landfill, social outcomes, Mana Whenua outcomes, and governance and reporting. Having begun from defining what sustainability means for the project, having these target areas within the IS framework can enable the project to provide measurable outcomes on sustainability, something that Root describes as an evolution for sustainability in infrastructure.

“Ten to fifteen years ago, sustainability was seen as full of tree huggers and hippies, and as something that was an expense, and for me, it’s been really important that the work we do is really tangible and that we calculate and demonstrate the benefits of what we’re working to do,” said Root.

“That is where the IS framework comes in. We’re setting ourselves targets in this space and challenging ourselves to reduce our footprint, to reduce our waste and here’s an independent industry body that can verify the work that we’re doing.”

Concept design of the interior of CRL’s Karangahape station incorporating traditional Māori designs and narratives.

WORKING TOWARDS OUTCOMES
While the IS Framework is an important part of CRL’s sustainability strategy, Root highlights that the tool itself is not the goal.

“I’ve worked with rating tools in the built environment and infrastructure in the UK, Australia and NZ, with mixed feelings, and from a sustainability practitioner point of view, the rating tool is not really the end point, you want to deliver better outcomes, and deliver the project as efficiently and effectively as you can.”

This approach led to CRL using the ISCA verification tool to quantify outcomes.

“We want a particular performance in the IS rating to demonstrate that we’re at a particular level in our sustainability performance. We’ve already said resource consumption and zero waste to landfill are really important so we’re going to focus our contractors on those parts of the tools, as well as the additional criteria around those areas, and ensure that it gets verified at the highest level of performance.”

Another area for CRL was making sure that the project reflected Mana Whenua cultural principles. While in NZ, under the Resources Management Act (RMA), projects such as CRL are required to engage with local Māori iwi or tribes. Since 2012, CRL had adopted a more in-depth form of collaboration with eight iwi in the Auckland area. This partnership has been structured through the Mana Whenua Forum, which is formalised in the project’s legally binding consent conditions. With CRL having adopted the IS Framework, Root was invited to present to the Forum on the project’s sustainability focus.

“At these types of presentations, people normally politely listen to what you’re saying and ask you the odd question or nod along. At the Mana Whenua Forum, I mentioned using the IS Framework, and it was not the polite nods and smiles and the odd question it was – I’m paraphrasing – ‘What are you thinking using an Australian framework?’” said Root.

“Australians are not known for their reputation of engaging well with their Indigenous people, so I came away from that meeting thinking, ‘What are we going to do?’ but it was really the start of something fantastic. It was the start of numerous conversations, numerous hui [meetings] where I was sharing detail on the IS Framework, and actually going into some of the technical nuances around the criteria. It was a two-way process where Mana Whenua shared their world view.”

These discussions have led to the project embracing Māori principles of Kaitiakitanga, which covers ensuring the welfare of the people and the environment, while also fulfilling spiritual and emotional responsibilities to the environment and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Māori view of the interconnectedness of living and non-living things. These principles then informed an adaptation of the IS Framework, which is one of the first in the world to incorporate indigenous cultural values. Within the project, the positive relationship with Mana Whenua has led to the design of stations and surrounding precincts incorporating cultural narratives. The project won international architectural awards for doing so, while also defining a process by which other projects could more deeply engage with their social and cultural context.

“Now other projects might use the same process that we used to engage with their local iwi around how their cultural considerations could be incorporated. The precedent that we set is a process of collaboration,” said Root.

CRL’s collaboration with iwi through the Mana Whenua Forum provided another lens to analyse the project, in a similar way to how the sustainability team are able to appraise work on CRL. As Root describes, having these lenses can add value to an infrastructure project.

“We are really trying to do things better, more efficiently, and more effectively. It’s a slightly different lens and some of the value is actually maybe a different way of thinking.”

Rather than an add on, sustainability within the CRL has been a tool for the project to achieve better outcomes.

“I don’t think we’re ever trying to tell an engineer how to do their job, but instead we are saying can you achieve the same outcome with a bit less waste. For example, those temporary piles that we’re designing, is that something that can get removed afterwards for reuse rather than being buried?”

With sustainability sitting at the top as an overarching goal for the project, part of the challenge is to ensure this thinking percolates down into the contractors and subcontractors who carry out the project. Root has been enthused to see this happening at all levels of the project.

“They’re suddenly doing a rejig of the C1 office space as the project changes and I’m there ready to ask that question again, ‘What are you going to do if you don’t need the desks or the chairs anymore?’ and they’ve already connected with a community group and it goes to charities to help them with their office space.”

Materials salvaged from office blocks and factories being demolished for the project have been shipped to the Pacific Kingdom of Tonga for re-use, and one of Auckland’s last remaining 19th century cottages was saved from demolition and transported to a new site 70 kilometres away.

Achieving this, however, begins at the most fundamental level, highlighted Root.

“It starts with procurement.You make it really clear in your contract what you want and, having worked in construction in the past, some of the contractors would think we don’t actually need to worry about sustainability because the client doesn’t check. We, CRL, have been a team that cares. We care about the reporting and if you look at our statement of intent and our statement of performance expectations, which are our governance documents, we report to our sponsors on sustainability outcomes.”

Just as the project looks to deliver 100 years of safe, electrically powered mobility for Auckland, the project’s scale means that in construction, it can have many generations of impact.

“We’re trying to share the learnings and talk about what value has been created so that other people can see the value in delivering infrastructure sustainably, creating a new ‘normal’. With the scale of CRL, we’re also impacting a significant portion of the infrastructure supply chain and seeing them upskill. Making it easier for the supply chain to deliver things more sustainably is a positive legacy for CRL, with benefits for the contracting industry and the wider community as well,” said Root.