Planning for transport infrastructure reliability

Planning for transport infrastructure reliabilityThe main objective of any transport provider, public or commercial, is to administer safe and efficient transport of people and goods. Reliability, is a measure of the variability of travel time, and includes recurrent and non-recurrent congestion. The reason reliability often gets left out of the former statement is that, while inherent to safety and efficiency; it is difficult to assign a value. The challenge is in achieving consensus. How much variation in a trip are people willing to accept? What is the economic value of reliable travel time?

These are questions that some of our brightest minds are trying to answer. Austroads provides expert input to the development of national policies on road and road transport issues for Australian and New Zealand road transport and traffic authorities. Austroads’ Network Operations research program includes reliability of the road network as one of its focuses. Many of the current projects in the program are related to providing and managing a network using Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and the further development of a Managed Motorways system. Research into road network reliability is not limited to Australia.

The U.S.A.’s Transportation Research Board of the National Academies has created a Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP). It is significant enough of an issue that the U.S.A.’s Transportation Research Board of the National Academies has created a Strategic Highway Research Program. This program has four key focuses, one of which is the concept of travel time reliability.

The program has funded dozens of projects related to reliability over the past five years and has devoted over eighteen million US dollars to the completion of active projects. Over the next 2 years, another five million dollars of funding is expected for anticipated or pending projects.

Procedures previously developed within SHRP enabled an estimation of cost savings due to an improvement in reliability. These costs were associated with vehicle operating costs and the value of a person’s time.

The procedure requires calculations using travel time data. However, commonly available data sources do not provide the raw data that make these calculations possible.

It is important to understand reliability in the context of a transport network. Reliability has real value, and in transportation it can and should be planned for. There is value in having a road network that is able to maintain its capacity. There is value in a rail network that is able to accommodate passenger and freight services without compromising scheduling.

The planning of the Inland Port at Bromelton has been in progress for some time. Without adequate infrastructure, a project of this scale cannot be built. Placing the Intermodal freight terminal in Bromelton now would be akin to placing a reservoir in the Gobi Desert; there isn’t adequate flow into the reservoir, and even if it did fill up, there is nothing to deliver the water to the surrounds.

The Inland Port at Bromelton has the potential to have a considerable and positive impact on the economy of Queensland and the whole of Australia. The past few years suggest that there is significant investment in key associated infrastructure. Most notably, improvements to the Mount Lindesay Highway suggest a strategy that is gearing towards the construction of an inland port at Bromelton. The success of the inland port relies on improved rail and road infrastructure in southeast Queensland and beyond.

The Engineers Australia (EA) Infrastructure Report Card 2010 – Queensland, states that two future challenges associated with rail transport are linked to congestion at Brisbane’s rail crossings as well as the lack of dedicated freight lines. The only dedicated freight line currently is the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) leased line and the line to the Port of Brisbane. The  overall grade given to Queensland’s rail infrastructure was a C-; a grade one would attempt to hide from their parents.

The need for an additional rail crossing of the Brisbane River is one of addressing congestion, but also improving network reliability and redundancy. Any maintenance or incident that requires the closing of one of the existing crossings would potentially have significant negative consequences on rail services.

The negative impact of the above issues contributed to the below average grade. Even more alarming is the absence of “alternative funding models for new rail infrastructure”. This clearly implies that there would be no mechanism to pick up the slack if the current funding system fell behind. Failing to resolve the two key issues may mean that the true economic value of the inland port would not be realised.

Both the EA report card and the Queensland Government Mount Lindesay/Beaudesert Strategic Transport Network Investigation (MLB STNI) acknowledge a future need for a new intermodal terminal. However, the performance of the port will be dependent upon the ability of the surrounding road network. The EA Infrastructure Report Card 2010 also handed out a C- for the roads for the entire state. The two major highways in the vicinity of the port are the Mount Lindesay Highway and Beaudesert-Boonah Road. The Mount Lindesay Highway runs predominantly North-South from Brisbane to just south of the New South Wales border. Beaudesert-Boonah Road is part of route 90 that connects the Cunningham Highway in Kalbar, to the M1 Pacific Motorway in Nerang. It is anticipated that the Mount Lindesay Highway and Beaudesert-Boonah Road will bear the greatest burden of the traffic impacts caused by the development of the inland port. With the Bromelton development potentially creating 30,000 jobs, a high amount of light and commuter traffic would be generated in addition to significant road freight traffic.

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Bio: Zachary Clark is a Senior Traffic Engineer with
Kittelson & Associates based in Brisbane.
The firm provides comprehensive transportation
planning and traffic engineering services