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From ARRB to NTRO: A vision for the future

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Roads & Infrastructure sits down with Michael Caltabiano to learn about the newly launched National Transport Research Organisation (NTRO), and its role in the future of Australia’s transport industry.  

For more than 60 years, the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB) has delivered innovative solutions for Australia’s roads industry and transport agencies.

As transport systems across the world have become increasingly integrated, the overlaps between these services, and the needs of the industries that support them, have also grown.

Which is why, on 1 December 2022, ARRB officially transitioned to the National Transport Research Organisation (NTRO), signalling an evolution from a roads-focused entity to one encompassing Australia’s entire transport network.

Michael Caltabiano, NTRO Chief Executive Officer, says this major transition has been in the works behind the scenes for some time.

“Our board has been working on this plan since 2017,” he says. “And this year, we’re seeing the culmination of all of that effort.”

Caltabiano says the process has been measured within the organisation, with ARRB’s staff transitioning over several years, from a focus on roads, to a much broader whole-transport-system methodology.

“We’ve been operating that way for the last three years or so,” he says. “The word ‘road’ no longer appears within our functional business groups – nobody’s fixated on one mode of transport anymore.”

Michael Caltabiano, NTRO Chief Executive Officer.
Michael Caltabiano, NTRO Chief Executive Officer.

One of the first big changes involved ARRB’s Transport Infrastructure Product Evaluation Scheme’s (TIPES) evolution into the wider-reaching NTRO Certification.

“ARRB has been running the TIPES process since 2015, and that focused on product certification for the roads sector,” Caltabiano says. “In transitioning to NTRO, we’ve expanded our offering to a road, rail, ports, and airport certification service. And, in doing so, we’ve also broadened the scope to include not just product, but also process, people, and services.”

“We intend for NTRO to be the central point through which certification happens for the transport sector across Australia and New Zealand.”

But what of ARRB’s decades-long legacy in the Australian transport landscape?

Caltabiano says ARRB will live on as one of two sub-divisions of NTRO – the other being the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI), which came on board with ARRB in July this year.

Driven by industry

Caltabiano says his organisation’s evolution into NTRO has been largely driven by industry and transport agency members, who have been seeking an independent portal to access certified resources for the sector.

“The industry has been craving a central location to have their innovations certified by a trusted third-party, so they can offer them to government,” he says.

“Being owned by transport agencies means that when NTRO certifies a product, process, person or service, these agencies can have absolute confidence that what’s being certified is fit for purpose, does what it says it’s going to do, and can therefore be accepted in construction projects.”


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Circular materials

As the demand for sustainable and recyclable construction materials has steadily ramped up across the sector, so too has the need for appropriate certification processes.

According to Caltabiano, innovation in this area will play a big part in NTRO’s near future.

“The circular economy outcomes that both industry and government is seeking need a certification pathway to be accepted,” he says.

Caltabiano says the laboratories at the ARRB facility in Port Melbourne – now NTRO co-branded – have put a lot of testing into such products, from new crumb rubber blends to special plastics blends for incorporation into bitumen.

“We’ve done a lot of work with Tyre Stewardship Australia to get new specifications written across the states, including writing standards for local government in Victoria,” Caltabiano says. “They’ve been great partners in that process of offering change, and developing those standards for incorporation into practice.”

A National hub

With a presence in almost every other state and territory in Australia, Canberra was chosen as the location for the NTRO national office. Caltabiano himself recently relocated to Canberra with his family to lead the organisation’s transition from the front lines.

“We opened the Canberra office in March this year – it’s the first NTRO-branded office in Australia,” he says. “It’s also our hub for rail in Australia – ACRI Chief Executive Rob Moffat and his team operate out of there as well.”

Caltabiano says proximity to both the Federal and ACT governments also factored into the Canberra decision.

“We are doing a lot of work with the Commonwealth in the certification space for heavy vehicles; as well as to assist with the journey to incorporating more recycled products,” Caltabiano says. “We’re working through exactly what that means, what they can specify, and what they can demand of their transport agencies.”

He says NTRO has also been working closely in partnership with the ACT Government on some important initiatives.

“The work we’ve done with them so far has been really positive,” Caltabiano says. “The reception we’ve had from their staff has been wonderful.”

A new office in New Zealand is also in the pipeline for 2023, and NTRO has also committed to extending its physical presence to the one remaining piece of the Australian puzzle, the Northern Territory.

“We do a lot of work for the Northern Territory,” Caltabiano says. “Getting people on the ground to further support the Territory’s transport and infrastructure department is very important to us.”

Moving forward

Caltabiano and NTRO will begin 2023 with some interesting challenges to deal with on the path to their vision for a more unified national transport sector.

“The reshaping of this infrastructure pipeline that the Federal Government has announced will have major implications for the sector,” Caltabiano says.

“It’s a really fascinating time for the industry. 2023 will be a seminal year, and it will set the stage for our journey over the next five years to deliver this step change that the community wants to see.

“NTRO’s vision is to enable transport agencies to give effect to that change, by providing that central portal for innovation in Australia and New Zealand. It’s a big vision, and a pretty lofty goal – but we’re up for it.”

This article was originally published in the December edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.


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