Shaping the future of movement

Michael Caltabiano, CEO, Australian Road Research Board. 
Michael Caltabiano, CEO, Australian Road Research Board.

Roads & Infrastructure talks to Australian Road Research Board CEO Michael Caltabiano about the organisation’s role and future agenda for guiding the multi-modal transport sector in Australia and New Zealand.

The past five years have been exciting for the Australian Road Research Board (ARRB). During this period, the organisation has worked alongside state transport agencies, the Commonwealth and local governments to develop new knowledge, innovation, standards and specifications for the transport sector.

As ARRB CEO Michael Caltabiano reveals, the period was also significant for the organisation as it re-structured internally into five separate business portals. These were Sustainable Materials Performance; Safer, Smarter Infrastructure; Asset Performance; Mobility Futures; and Infrastructure Measurement.

“We have deep global skills across each of these portals, through which we can guide the private and the government sectors,” says Caltabiano. “With an established network of offices in every mainland state in Australia, including a world-class materials testing facility in Melbourne, we have built the foundation to properly serve the transport sector across roads, rail, ports and airports.”

ARRB’s latest transport initiatives

Through its Sustainable Materials Performance Group, the ARRB team has been looking at next generation materials for use in infrastructure projects. The team has been instrumental in developing standards for state transport agencies and the Commonwealth Government in areas such as use of crumb rubber in bitumen, crushed glass and crushed concrete in pavements, incorporating waste plastics in bitumen, as well as recycled plastic noise walls and other related infrastructure.

The group is also launching a new Sustainability Assessment Tool (SAT) in collaboration with the Western Australian Road Research and Innovation Program (WARRIP) – an initiative between Main Roads Western Australia and ARRB, and the National Asset Centre of Excellence (NACOE) – an initiative between the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads and ARRB.

Using the SAT, the government agencies and private sector contractors can calculate lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and cost benefits for a broad range of innovative road pavement designs and rehabilitation treatments across the entire road infrastructure.

ARRB’s Safer, Smarter Infrastructure Group is focused on designing next generation pavements. Initiatives undertaken by this group in recent years have led to the incorporation of Enrobés à Module Elevé Class 2 (EME2) bitumen technology into new motorway pavement designs in Queensland and Western Australia. 

ARRB’s Safer, Smarter Infrastructure team has also recently introduced NetRisk2, a web-based tool that, for the first time, combines both the Australian Road Assessment Program (AusRAP) and the Australian National Risk Assessment Model (ANRAM) of risk assessments into a single cloud-based software tool. This is an engineering tool that enables the user to enhance the star rating of a road through a suite of infrastructure changes like road widening, wide centre line, or removal of roadside vegetation to keep people safe.

ARRB’s Asset Performance team is engaging the industry to help increase infrastructure asset lives and optimise capital expenditure in major infrastructure projects. The Bridges team within this group is helping extend the life of Australia’s existing fleet of nearly 52,000 bridges, a majority of which were built in the 1960s and nearing the end of their lives.

The Mobility Futures team at ARRB is responsible for setting the standards and specifications to enable a connected and automated transport future. Led by Principal Technology Leader Dr Charles A. Karl and working with a global team of experts, the group has been providing insights on future-proofing transport infrastructure.

The Mobility Futures team also oversees ARRB’s data hub, where it stores millions of files and hundreds of terabytes of data to facilitate easier decision-making for state transport agencies.

The fifth team within ARRB is dedicated to Infrastructure Measurement. This is the group that gathers insight into the performance of infrastructure, including road, rail, ports and airports, for use by other ARRB divisions and external stakeholders. 

Tools such as ARRB’s Intelligent Pavement Assessment Vehicle (iPAVe), which is changing the way local government authorities and road agencies manage their road assets, comes under this working group. This technology is now being adopted by almost all states and territories in Australia, and even in New Zealand.

Expanding to other modes of transport 

The past five years were significant for ARRB to grow and develop deep skills in new areas. Caltabiano says the next five are going to be even more so. The organisation has an agenda to play a broader role in shaping the future of mobility in Australia and New Zealand, expanding its knowledge transfer across all modes of transport including roads, rail, ports and airports.

ARRB recently developed the National Transport Research Organisation (NTRO) in response to the shift towards multi-modality in transport policy and operations, with a goal of building a more resilient transport future.

In February this year, ARRB established a new office in Canberra, where it aims to spearhead its activities in the rail sector, partnering with the Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation (ACRI).

The partnership with ACRI means NTRO already has a client base that features names such as the Australian Rail Track Corporation. ACRI’s existing contracts and relationships with universities and the industry means NTRO will be actively engaged to provide expertise for the rail sector.

Caltabiano says the industry knowledge will build on the existing skillset of ARRB’s 250 staff members, while also borrowing from a global network of research laboratories that have been built up over ARRB’s 62-year history.

“The beauty of the merger of the entities to create NTRO is that we are now one of seven global research laboratories, partnering with similar laboratories in England, France, Germany, Sweden, China and the United States. We’ll be able to bring back the learnings across the transport sector from those countries to Australia,” he says.

He also notes how ARRB’s existing expertise in roads can be expanded to other transport sectors.

“Railway lines and roads both have embankments. Within rail infrastructure, access tracks, car parks, and everything below rail are very similar to the road environment. The only difference is in the loading arrangement,” he says. “Our skillsets in asset management and infrastructure performance, construction, mobility futures and driverless vehicles will allow NTRO Rail to spearhead the innovation space in Australia. We’ve been very good in the road sector. We now need to be very good in the rail, ports and airports sectors.”

Current and future priorities

Going forward, Caltabiano says the ARRB will prioritise initiatives that contribute to a net zero vision for greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector. 

“Transport represents 30 to 35 per cent of total emissions in this country. We have a role to play in measuring infrastructure construction and use emissions, with tools such as SAT, and then assisting governments to make transport journeys smoother and more sustainable to reduce emissions,” he says. 

“We will also have a role in which vehicles can be used, the impact of new drivetrains and how our infrastructure platforms are enabling an electric future or a hydrogen future or both. The zero emissions space is important for us and each one of ARRB’s five groups is working towards that in their own way.”

Extending the life of existing infrastructure assets is another key focus for ARRB during the next five years, Caltabiano says.

“We have a mature asset environment in Australia, both across road and rail. So, while we are not looking at building new major highways across the country, the second big tranche that ARRB is looking at is how do we enhance the use of existing assets? How do we make the user journey better, smarter and more efficient? What’s the technology overlay of our highway system and how do we enable future vehicles to use it?”

With that twin focus and a strong structure in place, Caltabiano says ARRB, through the NTRO, is set to play its role in shaping the future of mobility in Australia and New Zealand.

“Transport agencies, governments and the private sector across Australia are asking ‘How are we applying the best technology in each of the transport modes? How should they interrelate?’ We are saying: engage us on this journey and we will source solutions to your problems, not just through our own skillsets, but relying on the Australian university skillsets, our global commercial partners and our global university partners,” he says.

“NTRO is an innovation portal through which the industry and government can get great outcomes. It is the culmination of a five-year journey and sets us up for the next five-year journey to deliver in this space.” 

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



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