• Engineering for data: The evolution of rail services

    Friday, August 28, 2015

    It's easy to think of the internet as a giant invisible blob encasing the globe.

    Terms like 'cloud computing' only reinforce this misrepresentation. In reality, the web is comprised of billions of physical assets connected via fibre-optic or copper cabling. 

    So, when civil engineers open the discussion about integrating digital technologies into next-generation railway projects, they must design solutions that are compatible with the internet's tangible infrastructure. 

    Understanding 21st-century technology

    Before analysing the repercussions of engineering internet-connected railroads, let's take the time to understand two terms that have taken the tech world by storm: big data and the Internet of Things (IoT). 

    According to Gartner, big data refers to an unfathomable amount of varied information generated at a rapid pace. It's a concept (or movement, depending on one's perspective) that obligates organisations to implement solutions capable of managing a high volume of diverse data and leverage it to gain competitive advantages.

    TechTarget described the IoT as a situation in which people, objects, animals and other 'things' are equipped with data production assets, enabling them to share this information with one another over the web automatically.

    How the IoT and big data impact rail engineering 

    Railways will invest $2.41 billion in big data annually by 2021.

    Rail companies have expressed interest in new signalling and asset management systems that allow them to establish data-based transportation networks.

    Imagine being able to readjust a train schedule to accommodate an unforeseen burst in demand or notifying maintenance crews of pending malfunctions to prevent faults. Supporting these capabilities requires thousands of smart devices, a dependable fibre-optic network and software able to process and organise all of that data.

    Interest in such technology is tangible. According to Frost & Sullivan, rail companies across the globe will invest approximately $2.41 billion in big data every year by 2021. 

    "The main aim of the rail industry's implementation of big data technologies has been predictive analytics. Integrating media analytics to improve the security of rail infrastructure and payload are also key applications," said Shyam Raman, research analyst at Frost & Sullivan Automotive and Transportation. 

    A new mission for engineers

    The IoT and big data will impact how engineering consultants design railways, buildings, water systems and other solutions. Because these technologies will define how 21st-century rail networks operate, specialists must conceptualise tunnels, bridges and tracks that work in tandem with digital automation. 

    An engineer's job is to design a solution that serves a specific purpose. If a rail system's purpose is to independently make educated decisions based on a real-time information, they need to assess the design implications associated with such an operation. 

  • The basics of total water cycle management planing

    Friday, August 21, 2015

    In 2010, the South East Queensland (SEQ) Healthy Waterways Partnership (HWP) developed a total water cycle management (TWCM) planning guideline.

    Published by the Department of Environment and Resource Management, the protocol delivers a framework for stakeholders responsible for supporting sustainable water management initiatives throughout SEQ. 

    The HWP's endeavour brings up an interesting discussion. What can environmental engineers glean from the TWCM strategy? What are the core principles within the plan that can be applied to similar endeavours? 

    The basis of a TWCM strategy 

    Before designing drainage networks, wastewater treatment centres and other solutions, engineers, project managers and other stakeholders must familiarise themselves with SEQ's natural water cycle. 

    Water cycles are integral components of greater ecosystems, and are influenced by geographical factors, climate, demographics, settlement trends, rural and industrial actives and other factors. Understanding a water cycle enables engineers and developers to determine how new structures, solutions or investments will impact its continuity.

    The primary idea is to maintain balance; develop strategies that sustain communal water requirements without disrupting the environment's integrity. 

    Processes associated with TWCM planning 

    As one can imagine, developing an effective TWCM strategy requires stakeholders to conduct investigations. Analysing water resources is an example of such action.

    Water resource planning can either be regarded as a sub-responsibility inherent in TWCM development or as a standalone initiative. It all depends on stakeholder commitments. Regardless, water resource assessments consist of analyses regarding: 

    • Resources: Regional rivers, lakes, dams, springs, groundwater and overland flow. 
    • Ecological outcomes: Will water be consumed and replenished in accordance with the natural continuity of water cycles? 
    • Future use: How much water will be needed to support the requirements of future socieities? 

    Overall, TWCM plans are compounded on a variety of assessments, such as industrial application audits and water replenishment analyses. Developers may seek technical advice from civil engineering firms, ecologists and even virologists if epidemiological risks are suspected. 

    Developing for specific uses 

    No single TWCM strategy is identical to another. An agricultural operation will have different implications for a regions water cycle than a bustling metropolitan area, for instance. To expand on this example, consider how using certain fertilisers and pesticides can impact water cleanliness and result in certain ecological repercussions. 

    According to the HWP, SEQ's catchment and waterway designs have, despite population growth, decreased the amount of sewage-based pollutants that have permeated into Moreton Bay. This is a small example of TWCM planning in action.

    TWCM, as a topic, cannot be summarised within a 400-word blog. You can be sure that we'll be visiting this subject more than once. In general, treat this article as a reliable overview, rather than a granular analysis. 

  • Government expresses interest in developing Australia's north

    Friday, August 14, 2015

    As far as civil construction is concerned, the northern portion of Australia typically doesn't receive as much attention as the south.

    For one thing, the most populous cities lie further south, which hasn't driven much interest in developing the northern parts of Queensland, Western Australia (WA) and, of course, the Northern Territory (NT).

    Inciting fresh interest

    However, authorities aren't keen on leaving the north behind. In a white paper titled "Our North, Our Future: White Paper on Developing Northern Australia", the Australian government introduced a number of strategies geared toward building the region's infrastructure. Key efforts include:

    • Accessing and efficiently utilising available water resources
    • Establishing a more appealing investment environment for private enterprises
    • Opening tenders for infrastructure-related projects

    Serving as a comprehensive plan with multiple projects in the works, there's no doubt this initiative will require the expertise of water engineers, structural specialists and other such professionals.

    An overview of the north

    The north may not be a major topic of discussion in the media, but it's economy has offered promise. A green paper released by the Department of the Prime Minister and the Cabinet noted that global interest in natural resources, for example, prompted the construction of the Ichthys Liquefied Natural Gas Project - the largest building initiative ever to take place in the Northern Territory.

    Engineers may find themselves working hard to bolster Northern Australia's infrastructure.Northern Australia is known for its unique landscape, but what about it's economy?

    About one million people in Australia call the north their home - approximately 5 per cent of the nation's population. However, it has grown 0.4 per cent more than the rest of Australia over the past decade. Most of those residing in the north inhabit northeast Queensland.

    Northern Australia also has plenty of natural resources. Bauxite, uranium, iron ore, base metals, oil and gas are just a few commodities energy and mining companies are interested in accessing.

    Challenges ahead

    Despite the fact that more than 60 per cent of Australia's total rainfall occurs in the north, a few parts are known as some of the most arid regions in the country. Lake Argyle, in Western Australia, for example, loses about a quarter of its volume every year due to evaporation.

    This presents a unique challenge to water engineers who will need to figure out how to conserve natural water season when the drier parts of the year roll around.

    In general, environmental engineers will have to apply myriad concepts in order to support infrastructure development initiatives throughout Northern Australia. All things considered, it's a diverse region, meaning one solution in Northeast Queensland may not be applicable in other parts, for example.

  • Queensland wants to use Bruce Highway's sunshine

    Friday, August 07, 2015

    In a recent article, we discussed some of the engineering priorities highlighted in the Bruce Highway Action Plan, which aims to renovate the disruption-prone motorway.

    However, the state government isn't stopping at improving Queenlsand's traffic infrastructure. A recent announcement by the Queensland Cabinet and Ministerial Directory maintained that green energy investment is on the agenda. 

    The Bruce Highway is going solar 

    According to Minister Assisting the Premier on North Queensland Coralee O'Rourke, Townsville may be the first of many municipalities to have a service station where electric vehicle (EV) drivers can plug in. The power won't come from coal-fired plants, but rather on-site solar panels. 

    "Our vision is for this to be the start of an 'electric super highway' by facilitating fast-charging service locations for drivers travelling up and down the length of Queensland," said Mrs O'Rourke. 

    "Up to two electric vehicles could charge at the same time, with an expected average charge time of 15-30 minutes." 

    The initiative is being supported by both Economic Development Queensland (EDQ) and Ergon Energy. The latter is offering small businesses the chance to lease 25 kilowatts (kW) of solar panels, while EDQ will help enterprises cover the costs of leasing EV charge equipment.

    How will EVs impact Queensland's transit infrastructure?

    At first glance, it's hard to imagine that EVs would have a dramatic impact on urban engineering solutions, highway traffic, and Queensland's wider transportation infrastructure. The Energy Supply Association of Australia (ESAA) wrote a discussion paper that alluded to these concerns, highlighting a mix of concerns and benefits.

    When developing urban streets or highways, traffic analysts always consider how their decisions will impact driver safety. Road safety audits, impact assessments and intersection capacity analyses‚Äč all provide insight into this concern. 

    Because EVs don't have large combustion engines, EVs typically weigh less than gas-powered vehicles. EV manufacturers can utilise this lighter weight to improve their automobiles' structural safety, according to the ESAA. This trait also makes for a vehicle that is more easy to manoeuvre, suggesting that drivers will be able to exercise better control. 

    Still, EVs aren't without their own safety concerns, as mentioned in the following tweet:

    Changes to the power infrastructure 

    The idea of placing solar panels at petrol stations to provide power for electric vehicles may relieve pressures on the main grid. Researchers from the University of New South Wales noted that the average EV has a range of about 160 kilometres.

    While the technology is improving, this range means those travelling long distances will have to charge up quite frequently. Assuming that EVs become immensely popular in the state, Queensland's grid will have to accommodate them. 

  • An engineer's view of Queensland's Sustainable Planning Act

    Friday, July 31, 2015

    No matter what sort of solution an engineer is developing, be it water or structural, he or she must understand the environmental repercussions of those projects.

    Given the fact that humans are the dominant species on the planet, it's easy to forget that we're a part of a global ecological community. Like any living organism, our actions have an effect on our ecosystems.

    The SPA emphasises three ideals.

    In 2009, Queensland passed the Sustainable Planning Act (SPA), which serves as a framework under which developers and other parties can establish and execute ecologically-conscious projects. This article will discuss some of the larger points within the SPA and how they impact engineering.

    Understanding ecological sustainability 

    The SPA identifies ecological sustainability as a key project development consideration. According to law's fine print, the concept establishes a balance between three ideals:

    1. Protecting the integrity and operability of natural systems on a local, regional, State and greater level.
    2. Fostering economic development.
    3. Upholding the cultural, fiscal, physical and social prosperity of people and communities. 

    In regard to these values, engineers must determine how their solutions will impact not only the environment, but also economic opportunities and social development. What are the monetary implications of installing a berm? How will this bridge impact communal connectivity? These are just a few examples of the questions specialists must ask themselves. 

    An integrated approach

    The SPA provides a formula to structural engineers and other such specialists committed to developing ecologically sustainable solutions. The Act identifies this practice as the Integrated Development Assessment System (IDAS). 

    Applying environmental principles to engineering is becoming the standard way of doing business. Before construction begins, Engineers must determine how their solutions impact ecosystems.

    The IDAS is designed to consider legislative policies while supporting flexibility in case original plans need to be adjusted. As any experienced engineer knows, changes are bound to occur, so it's constructive to adhere to a system that allows experts to make adjustments when necessary.

    According to a guide created by the Queensland Government, IDAS possesses six traits:

    • Comprehensive: Considers approvals for all projects occurring in the state.
    • Scaleable: Applicable to both small and complex solutions.
    • Modular: Guides four phases inherently found in development initiatives.
    • Assuring: Assesses a solution's ability to deliver functions optimally.
    • Balanced: Ensures everything between community needs and legal obligations are adhered to.
    • Accountable: Forces participants and stakeholders to hold themselves responsible for any and all decisions made. 

    From the outside looking in, IDAS leaves no room for error. It favours thoroughness so that no specific items compromise the success and sustainability of a solution.

    The SPA leaves no room for error. Legislation or not, it delivers an effective set of rules that can help environmental engineers and other parties create solutions that do not waste the precious resources our earth has to offer. 

  • Planning for growth: Developing Queensland's infrastructure

    Friday, July 24, 2015

    Whenever a city's population expands, its infrastructure encounters greater stress. Some regions handle this pressure better than others.

    If traffic engineers develop roadways designed to handle projected expansion, communities will experience minimal disruption. Queensland officials are hoping they can achieve this feat in the near future.

    Queensland may have to accommodate 7.1 million people by 2036.

    Queensland's population set to grow 

    Recent figures from the Queensland Government Statistician's Office shows that the state's population rose by 70,540 people between June 2013 and June 2014, a 1.5 per cent growth rate. Currently, more than 4.7 million individuals call Queensland home. 

    Assuming medium rates of natural increase and migration remain consistent, Queensland will have to accommodate 7.1 million people by 2036, according to the Queensland Treasury. This means that Brisbane, the Gold Coast and other cities throughout the state must be prepared to support a greater number of workers and families. 

    Does the state have a plan? 

    Although projects have yet to enter the pipeline, the Department of Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning (DILGP) released a white paper detailing its intentions. By early 2016, it hopes to finalise a state infrastructure strategy that will: 

    • Encourage innovation among engineers, government contractors and the like
    • Describe specific public service needs and potential infrastructure investment options
    • Dictate sustainable funding plans for projects
    • Deliver information that allows public and private entities to better collaborate with one another

    Responding to demands and concerns 

    The DILGP recognised the interests of bodies such as the Business Council of Australia (BCA) and Public Infrastructure Productivity Commission. 

    The BCA called for thorough assessments that detailed projected land usage trends. In addition, the organisation expressed the need for public infrastructure development initiatives directly tied to strategic plans. From the BCA's perspective, these strategies should be scrutinised by third parties to determine their effectiveness and feasibility.

    Put simply: There's no room for wasted or ineffective investments. It's evident that specialists will need to develop well-researched, feasible civil engineering plans

    Project transportation investment

    Highways, urban public transport and city road expenses are expected to increase markedly over the next 16 years. The Australian Infrastructure Audit showed that government-funded transit and roadways' direct economic contribution will increase 138 per cent between 2011 and 2031, reaching $4.47 billion.

    As business relationships between Gold Coast and Brisbane intensify, Infrastructure Australia asserts that the number of passenger hours travelled (PHT) in a given day will rise. Currently, the Carindale to Brisbane Inner bus route experiences 1,850 PHT on a daily basis.

    These statistics shouldn't be cause for panic. Instead, developers must keep these insights in mind when creating infrastructure investment strategies. The future of Queensland's economy depends on it. 

  • Assessing a framework for sustainable multi-tenant buildings

    Friday, July 17, 2015

    Between 1990 and 2012, Queensland's carbon dioxide emissions output rose from 78.8 million tonnes to 134.5 million tonnes, according to the state government.

    Whether or not you believe climate change to be fact or fiction, there's no doubt that public authorities are developing policies geared toward curtailing this trend. Queensland's implementation of the 5-star energy code for multi-unit residential buildings is an example of such standards. 

    Although all new multi-residential dwellings must be designed according to the 5-star rating standard, structural engineers can leverage it as an assessment model. Doing so will help them identify ways to expand the standard, developing more eco-friendly multi-tenant housing. 

    The fiscal case for sustainable buildings

    Although developers may feel morally gratified by funding sustainable construction projects, they don't want to lose money after doing so. Like any similar initiative, the finished product must have a market price that does not exorbitantly exceed the mean or median cost.

    The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) released a white paper detailing the monetary implications associated with sustainable structures. After analysing eight buildings with Green Star energy ratings (the system used throughout Australia), the GBCA generated the following insights: 

    • All owners and/or managers believed their structures were resilient to future energy expenses and more stringent building legislation. 
    • Owners typically marketed their dwellings' sustainability to attract tenants. In a related matter, buildings with Green Star ratings "appear easier to sell." 
    • There is a strong correlation between long-term leases (i.e. 15- to 20- year agreements) and sustainable residential structures. 

    Queensland's definition and the 5-star rating system

    According to the Queensland Department of Housing and Public Works, a building's sustainability largely depends on its shell design - the walls, windows, floor and roof. For the most part, positioning and facade composition determine just how green a structure is.

    Passive design decisions, while promoting energy efficiency, can be integrated with little to no costs. Orienting living areas toward the north, decreasing the number of east- and west-facing windows and installing wider eaves or window awnings are all actions that foster sustainability.

    Identifying green materials isn't as simple as some may think. When engineering consultants consider the eco-friendliness of construction products, they assess the energy used to produce, and transport them. They also consider how easily materials can be recycled and the emissions caused by the manufacturing process.

    Sustainable building is a multifaceted endeavour. Between design principles and careful selection of materials, green development supports a more compatible future between humans and global ecosystems. 

  • How is Queensland preparing for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games?

    Friday, July 10, 2015

    A tradition that coincided with the coronation of King George the Fifth in 1911, The Commonwealth Games features competitions and exhibitions from boxers, swimmers and other athletes from throughout the Commonwealth of Nations.  

    In 2018, Gold Coast is scheduled to host the fabled event. Some people may be asking whether the city will make a viable host. Both city planners and civil engineers based in Queensland are doing all they can to prepare the area's infrastructure and sporting arenas.  

    What can Gold Coast expect  

    If last year's event in Glasgow, Scotland are any indication of what Gold Coast will encounter in 2018, the city certainly has its work cut out for it. According to the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games website, the organisers sold approximately 1.2 million tickets.  

    Athletically, the Glasgow Games didn't leave sports spectators wanting. More than 100 Commonwealth Games records were set. In regard to attendance, the Rugby Sevens tournament attracted the largest number of people ever. Other notable figures are listed below:  

    • Approximately 12,000 spectators watched the flotilla of 250 boats
    • About 65,000 people were at the Glasgow Green Live Zone  
    • An estimated 30,000 supporters attended the marathon

    A tweet from one of last year's gold medal winners can be seen below:

    Costs and civil considerations  

    Preparing Gold Coast, as well as its sports facilities, for the Commonwealth Games requires a mix of technical insights and demographic behaviours. While traffic engineers may conduct parking studies, marketers could provide developers with insights into which facilities will accommodate the greatest number of attendees.  

    The Coomera Indoor Sports Centre and Queensland State Velodrome are two out of 18 buildings that will serve the purposes of the Commonwealth Games.  

    A fact sheet detailing the Velodrome's development states that approximately 31,000 cubic metres of spoil will be removed from the site and recycled during construction. When completed, the venue will deliver a 250-metre timber cycling track and a function room capable of accommodating up to 100 people, among other facilities.  

    The Coomera Indoor Sports Centre isn't going to leave anything to be desired, either. A $40 million-dollar endeavour, the building will feature eight mixed-use sports courts and a gymnastics arena. It will also provide 350 permanent seats and be capable of expanding to a capacity of 7,600 if necessary.  

    In summation, Queensland isn't putting these projects on the back burner. The state is taking constructive measures to accommodate the many attendees the Commonwealth games will likely attract. 

  • 3 questions from Queensland's water recycling guidelines

    Friday, July 03, 2015

    The completion of the Western Corridor Recycled Water Project marked a monumental time in South East Queensland's water engineering history. 

    A $2.5 billion project, the Queensland Department of State Development lauded it as the largest recycled water scheme ever built in Australia. The system is an impressive feat, capable of supplying up to 232 megalitres of purified, recycled water on a daily basis. 

    To fully appreciate the expertise and insights applied to this project, we'll answer three key questions engineers ask themselves when developing recycled water schemes: 

    1. What should be detailed in a recycled water management plan? 

    A recycled water management plan (RWMP) must detail the systems that produce and/or supply recycled water to a distribution network, according to Section 201 of the Water Supply (Safety and Reliability) Act 2008. In addition, the RWMP must describe:

    • How the infrastructure will be maintained
    • Any possible hazards and dangerous events that could impact the recycled water's quality
    • The manner in which any risks will be addressed and resolved

    2. Does Queensland classify recycled water? 

    The Queensland Department of Energy and Water Supply (DEWS) assigns recycled water either A+, A, B, C or D classifications if the liquid is sourced from a utility's sewage system. The same categorisation also applies when a water provider uses sewage or effluent to produce recycled water.

    DEWS uses log reduction metrics (percentage of microorganisms eliminated or mollified via a certain process) to develop classifications. So, when a recycled water scheme's virus filtration system receives a '4-log' rating, it means the solution removed 99.99 per cent of viruses. 

    3. What classification must drinking water receive? 

    When recycled water is delivered for potable uses, the contents must meet the following minimum log reductions for indicator organisms and pathogens:

    • Bacteria (Salmonella, Escherichia colia, etc.) must register an 8-log valuation.
    • Viruses (Adenovirus, Hepatitis A and Coronavirus) must receive a 9.5-log rating.
    • Protozoa (Cryptosporidium, Naeglergia fowleri) requires an 8-log appraisal.
    • Helminths (parasites or worms) must receive an 8-log appraisal. 

    In this regard the A+, A, B, C and D categories do not apply, as the aforementioned valuations exceeded the standards highlighted in each of these classifications. 

    Given the effects of climate change, concerns regarding devastating droughts and other such issues, recycled water will likely become an integral part of Queensland's metropolitan infrastructures and rural communities. 

  • How the Bruce Highway project will improve Queensland's traffic

    Friday, June 26, 2015

    In 2012, the Bruce Highway Technical Advisory Group was put in charge of creating a 10 year 'Crisis Action Plan' to address the issues posed by Queensland's Bruce Highway.

    Upon consulting traffic engineers as to what could be done, the authority created an action plan that outlined the motorways problems and actionable solutions. 

    Why the Bruce Highway? 

    The Bruce Highway is approximately 1,700 kilometres long, and serves as Queensland's primary north-south transportation corridor, running from Cairns to Brisbane along the coast. Given that these, as well as the other cities along the Pacific Ocean are essential to the state economy, it's not surprising that authorities are giving so much attention to renovating the motorway.

    There's a reason why the Technical Advisory Group referred to the Bruce Highway as a crisis. Studies have identified the corridor as one of the most dangerous roads in Australia. More than 17 per cent of fatal road accidents occur on the Bruce Highway.

    Flooding is another major concern. Authorities have identified nine areas that, on average, close for longer than 48 hours every year due to ineffective water engineering solutions. An another six locations are shut down for more than five days because of the same issue. 

    On top of these concerns, both urban and rural traffic along the Bruce Highway is expected to increase in tandem with economic development. Congestion has worsened from Brisbane to Maryborough and other areas. 

    Some concepts to remember

    To ensure the Bruce Highway can accommodate more commuters and commercial trucks, traffic engineers assigned to the project must keep a few principles in mind: 

    • Average travel speed (ATS) is greatly impacted by the number of heavy-duty vehicles on the road. 
    • For the most part, the ATS is higher in median lane than it is in the shoulder lane, even when traffic density is the same between the two. 
    • It is often advisable to regard each lane separately when performing traffic studies, because lane position typically has the greatest effect on traffic performance.

    What's being done to fix the Bruce Highway? 

    To address flooding issues, engineers are drafting solutions that will dramatically decrease delays. The goal is to design embankments that can withstand peak flood events. 

    Extra lanes are scheduled to be constructed in key rural areas were only temporary relief is required. Two-lane portions near metropolitan areas will be upgraded to four-lane or six-lane stretches, depending on current congestion data. 

    The project is currently underway, and is scheduled to be completed by 2022. It's hoped that these additions will sustain future traffic trends.