Since reaching completion only a year ago, Melbourne’s Reservoir metro station has already received numerous accolades, most recently Australia’s first GBCA five-star rating. But for Fin Robertson, sustainability manager of the Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP) overseeing the rollout of 35 new stations across the network, this win is just a piece in the overarching sustainability puzzle.
Consisting of six boom gates that impacted over 36, 000 vehicles a day, the High Street level crossing was a nightmare, especially for those completing their morning commute to work. These gates could remain down for up to 24 minutes during the peak two-hour morning traffic with pedestrian and cycle links across the path both dangerous and disjointed.
The removal of the High Street level crossing and creation of the Reservoir Station marked the 31st project carried out by the Level Crossing Removal Project (LXRP), a government initiative to remove 75 level crossings across metropolitan Melbourne by 2025.
The station was completed in July 2020, subsequently receiving Australia’s only five-star sustainability rating by the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) in March 2021. The station also received the ‘Leading’ rating, the highest rating score by the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia (ISCA).
Robertson, however, sees Reservoir Station as more than single project triumph, but as a culmination – a program – of sustainable design and construction.
More than a project
“While Reservoir Station has achieved some really good things, I want to stress that it is a program of sustainability, not just a project,” says Robertson. “Our processes are very focused on taking the best thing we’ve done in a previous project and rolling it to all of our projects. I think that’s one of the most valuable things a program represents: the opportunity to roll best practice into standard practice.”
Robertson believes that as a design professional, no one can make every infrastructure project iconic. For him, the focus for the Level Crossing project isn’t to make a few good designs but to lift the entire standard.
“When you do a flagship program, you’re showing people what’s possible and giving them a chance to go and re-interpret that. It’s about making people think maybe, this can be the new standard,” says Robertson.
For the LXRP, sustainability had to be re-defined. According to Robertson, with so many interpretations of the word, he and the team learned that they couldn’t be everything to everyone.
“It’s been a bit of an evolution. When we started, we started very heavily driven and informed by sustainability rating tools,” says Robertson. “But over time, as you mature as an organisation you start to realise that no one else will understand the importance, the strengths and the weaknesses better than you do.”
From there, LXRP started to build an approach based on their intuition and experience on where best to invest their time and what the risks and opportunities they rose to were.
“And while we continue to use these industry frameworks to validate our work and act as an assurance that we are on track, we’ve come to realise that the targeted areas that we’re trying to improve, well it’s not on the framework because we’re actually trying to go outside these expectations,” says Robertson.
He says that through a program approach to building infrastructure, LXRP has been able to build a continuous improvement loop, with the organisation even feeding back to, and improving, the industry frameworks themselves.
Building the Reservoir Station
“The most obvious challenge for the project was where the station and level crossing physically sat, in an urban context,” says Robertson. “The road structure itself was a mess, and here we were trying to build a rail line on top of the whole thing … but you’d never plan it that way, it was incremental development.”
With even the simplest of sustainable projects proving difficult, working on a project also impacted by urban landscaping was just the cherry on top.
According to Robertson, working sustainable designs into already complex construction can run the risk of overloading the delivery team.
“This was a great example where looking at what we’ve done previously on projects was very valuable,” says Robertson. If we were scratching our heads about working with sustainable concrete, for example, we could look at previous level crossing projects and pinch recipes from there, which is far better than business as usual, but we’re not starting from scratch.”
This all feeds back into the advantages of viewing each completed project as an overarching program.
“Even if you’re using previous methods, it still takes work and intentional focus to make the ‘right’ thing happen but it’s definitely an opportunity. And that’s what we try do, borrow with pride; if it’s a good idea then, let’s reuse it,” says Robertson.
Reservoir Station has a long list of sustainable achievements that has used these ‘good ideas’ as building blocks, from a 41 per cent reduction in electricity demand during peak times to a 92 per cent reduction in water compared against standard train station functioning.
The raw materials used to build Reservoir station were also considered with 33 per cent reduction in Portland Cement by replacing it with a range of substitutes such as fly ash and slag. All steel used in the construction of the station was also responsibly sourced, as part of the project’s aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with materials production and sourcing.
“It’s focusing on our waste streams that we have and trying to come up with a state level strategy around creating a circular economy,” says Robertson on how best to respond to Australia growing waste problem. “And we use so much material in our programs, that it makes a lot of sense that we would be a great place to find uses for materials like these.”
Perhaps two lessor known highlights in the project are, however, the use of recycled glass fines in concrete and the use of remote energy water monitoring and metering, both first time innovations used in Australia.
“Using recycled glass fines is, surprisingly, something that’s been possible in construction in Victoria for well over a decade,” says Robertson. “Most building sectors have their own standards and systems of regulation which really plays an important role in ensuring safety, but that means changes can be difficult.”
With the LXRP already focusing on material use, the target for them was to reduce the quantity of material used and amount of carbon emissions.
“Any opportunity to either reduce the materials in a volumetric sense or to substitute with materials of lower environmental impact, through reusing or using recycled materials is fantastic,” says Robertson.
Glass fines are small glass particles that are considered an industrial waste product. Resulting from reprocessing glass, the fines pose a risk due to dust or air emissions that come from these fine particles.
The catalyst for reusing these glass fines in concrete, according to Robertson, came from their recent focus on materials efficiency and the recent release of the Victorian state government’s Recycle Victoria’s policy, which limits the ability to simply ship Australia’s waste away.
“The goal of the trial was to see if we could take this waste product and turn it back into a usable material,” says Robertson. “Glass and plastic materials are two that we’ve been able to apply in quite a few of our works.”
According to Robertson, the glass fine trials, which were conducted alongside Sustainability Victoria, successfully found that they could be utilised in shared user paths. This fitted in perfectly with Reservoir’s local community feedback which asked for greater active transport routes.
While to outsiders, being able to implement a technology which has been do-able for the past ten years might not seems like a big feat, to Robertson, the ability to actually get trials underway is the milestone.
As he explains, getting trials up during the construction phase can be difficult when the beneficiaries are often the asset owners who would normally get involved further down the project lifecycle. The resultant split incentives, for the project contractors, designers and operators requires significant planning to find better ways of designing.
“This just means we have to find a way to organise trials in a way that it benefits both the designers and operators,” says Robertson. “And this is how we’re going to develop more technologies which can successfully be applied to other projects.”
The other greatest achievement proves a milestone in a different way.
“In an energy sense, a big part of our program is not just identifying and implementing energy efficient initiatives. We haven’t had a strong data set to work with to identify how our stations perform; so, one thing we’ve done is introduce a lot more metering and sub metering to allow us to do that investigation,” says Robertson.
As the old saying goes ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’ With the importance of data ever increasing, being able to have a record of how the building is functioning helps with understanding operations, and thus how to fix it.
“We can theorise and do some basic levels of investigation, but nothing beats data to really understand and analyse performance,” says Robertson. “And this all links back into working on a program over a project. Being able to benchmark and compare against others means that there is a basis to go back and continue to improve systems.”
And while another train stations might eventually overtake the Reservoir Station as Australia’s most sustainable project, Robertson isn’t fussed. According to him, it’s all about a program of progress.
This article was published in the June edition of Roads & Infrastructure magazine. To read the magazine, click here.