Australia has a significant opportunity to transition its road and rail sector to achieve net zero emissions by 2050, a new report has found.

Prepared by KPMG in conjunction with Roads Australia, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) and the Infrastructure Sustainability Council (ISC)l and sponsored by Arup, the report outlines 46 recommendations across five areas.

It also highlights 29 case studies which demonstrate how innovative strategies are being applied.

Australasian Railway Association Chief Executive Officer Caroline Wilkie says the road and rail sector are crucial in delivering a carbon neutral future.

“Transport systems shape how we live and work and will be a critical part of our sustainable development,” Wilkie said.

“This report confirms the transport sector will be a key role in leading Australia’s journey to net-zero.”

(The Canberra Light Rail project is aiming to be carbon neutral in construction and operations.)

According to the report, the importance of transport in moving toward net zero should not be underestimated.

As at 2020, Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory estimated that the transport sector contributed 94 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent in carbon dioxide emissions – around 18.3 percent of the nation’s total emissions.

Moreover, the road and rail industries remain heavily reliant upon use of fossil fuels.

This is true not only of road, rail and bridge infrastructure itself (in construction, operation and maintenance) but also in fuels burned within vehicles themselves and the electricity which is used to operate them (such as trains).

Moreover, the impacts of climate change not just to the environment but also the economy should not be underestimated.

On current trends, the Climate Council estimates that the nation will lose more than $211 billion in wealth by 2050 and $4 trillion in 2,100 due to reduced agricultural and labour productivity as a result of climate change.

Meanwhile, extreme weather events and climate change are expected to impact infrastructure and property values by $770 billion by 2100.

(As part of its aim to be net zero by 2030, the London Underground is exploring how to use waste heat generated by underground trains can be captured and reused to heat homes and businesses.)

According to the report, technical drivers to enable change revolve around the electrification of transport fleets, investment in sustainably produced biofuels and the development of a zero emissions hydrogen industry which can assist in the transition of long distance, heavy haulage road and rail stock.

At a broader level, it says strategies are needed in four areas.

First, successful placemaking approaches to urban planning and design can reduce the need for people to travel long distances to access work, education, healthcare, entertainment and services.

A national approach to this is needed with shared learnings being applied at the local level.

Next, suitable policy and investment levers can help to attract investment in technology and solutions for renewable energy, sustainable materials and manufacturing.

Third, circular and whole of life thinking should be applied to inform decision making and material selection.

In Europe, the Energy Transitions Commissions estimates that a more circular economy can reduce carbon dioxide emissions from four major industry sectors (plastics, steel, aluminum and cement) by 40 percent globally and 56 percent in developed economies such as those in Europe by 2050.

Since Australia is a developed country with similarities in relation to infrastructure and the economy, the report argues that these numbers are likely to translate into an Australian context.

Finally, new approaches are needed to enable collaboration, capacity building and education at all stages of an asset life cycle.


(Through its import/export terminal, Moorebank Logistics Park will enable freight to be moved between the Southern Sydney Freight Line between Port Botany and Moorebank in Sydney’s south by rail and will remove more than 3,000 heavy truck movements from Sydney’s road each day and reduce truck emissions by more than 110,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year.)

As mentioned above, the report calls for 46 actions across five areas.

These include:

  • Creating a national, strategic, approach to the transport sector and its infrastructure revolving around effective placemaking strategies.
  • Introducing policy, investment and incentives for a sustainable, efficient and resilient transport system.
  • Implementing and advocating for robust and exemplar governance structures and decision-making processes to drive transparency and enable sound decision making around the decarbonisation of transport systems
  • Enabling collaboration, capacity building and education at all stages of the process; and
  • Adopting and promoting technology solutions which optimise asset design, construction, operation and road and rail fleets to assist in the transition to a low carbon economy.


(Across North-Western Europe, a Euro 9.8 million ($A14.9 million) HECTOR (Hydrogen Waste Collection Vehicles in North West Europe) project approved in 2019 aims to demonstrate the viability of fuel cell garbage trucks as an effective solution to reduce emissions from transportation.)

The report also showcases 29 local and international examples where environmental initiatives are being undertaken.

As part of its objective to become a net-zero railway line by 2030, the London Underground (pictured above) is exploring how waste heat generated by underground trains could be captured and repurposed.

A feasibility study conducted in 2020 examined how and where heat from 55 ventilation shafts and 20 pumped ground water locations across the underground network could be reused and uncovered routes through which this could be used to homes and businesses sustainably and affordably.

All up, it found that repurposing waste heat from the London Underground rail network could heat 55,000 homes and several significant buildings in London. This could help to save more than 260 kilotons of CO2 emissions over 40 years.

Across North-Western Europe, a Euro 9.8 million ($A14.9 million) HECTOR (Hydrogen Waste Collection Vehicles in North West Europe) project (pictured above) approved in 2019 aims to demonstrate the viability of fuel cell garbage trucks as an effective solution to reduce emissions from transportation.

Through this pilot project, seven fuel cell garbage trucks are being deployed across the cities of Aberdeen (Scotland), Grogiingen (Netherlands), Arnhem (Netherlands), Duisburg (Germany), Herten (Germany), Touraine Vallee de I ‘Indre (France) and Brussels (Belgium) for four years.

Back home, the Canberra Light Rail Stage 1 (pictured above) is aiming to achieve net zero carbon emissions in construction and operations.

The project aims to source 100 percent of electricity from renewable sources through design initiatives such as solar panels on the roof of light rail depot, solar powered lights and regenerative breaking technology (offsets will be used to offset any residual emissions).

In Victoria, the government is putting an extensive placemaking focus into its Fishermans Bend Urban Renewal Area (pictured below) in the inner west, which by 2050 will accommodate 80,000 people and host 80,000 jobs as part of its plan for the precinct to be a leading benchmark for sustainable urban renewal.

All up, the government is aiming for 80 percent of transport movements to be mad by public transport, walking or cycling.

This will be achieved through an integrated transport system that includes cycle paths, tram lines and an underground rail line as well as a walkable street network.

Activity centres will be located near public transport, community services and public spaces to ensure that people can access their daily needs close to where they live and work.

In New South Wales, the Moorebank Logistics Park (pictured above) is Australia’s largest freight infrastructure project and is set to transform freight transportation.

The development includes an import/export (IMEX) rail terminal to enable freight to be move by rail along the Southern Sydney Freight Line between Port Botany and Moorebank along with up to 850,000 sqm of high specification warehousing.

All up, the precinct has the capacity to transport up to 1.05 million twenty foot equivalent units (TEU) a year of import/export freight containers from road to rail each year along with another 0.5 million TEU of interstate freight.

All this will remove more than 3,000 heavy truck movements from Sydney’s roads each day and will reduce truck CO2 equivalent emission by more than 110,000 tonnes each year.

In addition, the project has implemented innovative technology solutions to improve environmental performance.

These include:

  • Use of automated stacking cranes, rail mounted gantry cranes, a fleet of low emission hybrid auto shuffles and computer software to handle all containerized freight on site
  • Design features such as landscaping, green space, a lighter coloured building facade, large awnings and bioretention structures such as rain gardens to reduce the urban heat island effect
  • Supply of a minimum 12 GW of solar generation capacity including the largest single rooftop solar installation in Australia (at time of installation) on its Warehouse 1
  • An online sustainability performance tool for monitoring performance.


(At the Fishermans Bend urban renewal project in Melbourne’s inner west, the Victorian Government is aiming for 80 percent of transport trips to be taken by rail, tram or active transport.)

Kerryn Coker, Arup Co-Chair in Australasia said there are significant opportunities to deliver a more efficient, effective and sustainable transport system.

“We see multiple opportunities for positive change through a combination of existing and new technology,” said Coker said.

“Governments can make significant impact through policies, and as major transport infrastructure and service providers – influencing low carbon investment choices across construction, manufacturing, fuels, operations, maintenance and decommissioning. We see this report as a catalyst for more sustainable public and private transport ecosystems with enduring social benefits.


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