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Bringing together sustainability in major rail projects

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 16

Mott MacDonald’s group sustainability director, Davide Stronati, and head of rail, Tony Walker, discuss the importance of sustainability and innovation in developing major railway projects.

Traditionally in infrastructure projects sustainability has centred on protecting the environment, but has, at times, neglected the two other pillars: economic and social development. 

However, this is changing. Davide Stronati, group sustainability director at Mott MacDonald, said in new major rail projects sustainability is very much going down the route of social economic development. 

Emerging technologies 

“In order to grant permissions and get the licence to operate, and to be built, these projects need to prove they are going to bring jobs, and enable economic growth,” he said. “This is a clear trend. But, interestingly, we are seeing the use of sustainability in emerging technologies becoming more prevalent. This is probably an aspect less known in sustainability.” 

He added that the use of BIM and digital infrastructures are just two examples of emerging technologies being used to deliver sustainability benefits. 

Tony Walker, head of rail at Mott MacDonald, stated that while there is a growing trend to focus on these aspects of sustainability, “there is always a drive to reduce the amount of energy being used on projects”. 

“In new rolling stock it is always about getting the most efficient use of energy, so issues around the overall weight of rolling stock is a key feature, as are aerodynamics into reducing drag,” he said. 

“Regenerative braking has been around for a long time now. A lot of work is being done on aerodynamics, particularly for HS2. Aerodynamics is a significant issue at 400km/hr, and the forces that are exerted on the train. That is clearly an important one to try and reduce the drag and energy the train needs.” 

However, he added that in the construction industry there is a “big focus” on standardisation, particularly on major projects which use lots of the same things. Crossrail, for example. 

“Also, pre-fabrication is becoming more popular,” said Walker. “The idea is to do as much off-site as you possible can. That, therefore, limits the amount of carbon you use taking the stuff to site.” 

Supply chain carbon management 

In November 2013, the Infrastructure Carbon Review, authored by Mott MacDonald, was published. Since then, Stronati says he has seen a change in how supply chain clients are approaching projects. 

“What we are seeing is an increased interest, but from a very pragmatic perspective,” he said. “It is very much, ‘how can we do this, how can we get there, and how can we benefit from low-carbon solutions?’ 

“Crossrail understand that cutting carbon cuts costs is hugely beneficial, and this has been led from the top. It is a great example of where sustainability has paid back.” 

But it isn’t just the big organisations looking at their carbon management strategies. “You have suppliers who have been doing this for quite some time; innovating and promoting to some of the bigger players,” said Stronati. “This is going to become a much hotter topic in next few years.”

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