The Regional Rail Link Authority (RRLA) in Victoria has been working in partnership with the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and ESD consultant Jacobs to highlight that sustainability can be successfully embedded in large scale infrastructure projects from project inception and develop new green standards for train stations.
With no environmental rating tool available to help guide the delivery of sustainable train stations, the RRLA is committed to working with the GBCA to set the sustainability benchmarks.
The first five stations built or upgraded as part of the $3.9 billion Regional Rail Link in Victoria have been awarded Green Star ratings, which set these new benchmarks and can now be used as a showcase for other project teams to compare their achievements against best practice standards.
GBCA executive director of Green Star Jorge Chapa explained the groundbreaking custom rating tool to guide the sustainable design and construction of railway stations was created through collaboration.
“We already had a viable framework – the existing suite of Green Star rating tools,” he said.
“The GBCA’s role was to understand, with the assistance of the RRLA and Jacobs, which environmental impacts were relevant to train station design (such as good construction management practices), which were irrelevant (access to public transport, for example), and which needed to be modified to suit the building type (for example, we needed to look at what it meant to have indoor environment quality in an above-ground train station).”
The team then examined examples of best practice benchmarks in other countries. This assisted in determining where and how benchmarks should be set so that they would be robust, but also set at a point that would be achievable with added effort.
After that, it was a case of modifying the rating tool to create a set of viable credits that could be tested on the first project and then rolled out.
There are three key issues in train station design: comfort for staff and occupants; selecting the right materials; and design strategies for durability and resilience.
“For all of these issues, we had to create specific benchmarks or develop credits that previously we did not have,” said Chapa.
But Chapa doesn’t believe that train stations are any more challenging than other building types to make sustainable.
“There are challenges with every building type, so it becomes a matter of having a strong vision and commitment from the owner, having a good team to resolve issues as outlined, and challenges can be identified early on and sustainability initiatives incorporated from the outset to reduce cost and improve performance,” he said.
“All these were present by the time we got involved, so it was easy to assist them in setting best practice benchmarks that they could achieve. It’s a repeatable outcome for any building type.”
In terms of areas of opportunity which could be capitalised upon most effectively, extensive natural light reduces the train stations’ reliance on electric lighting, while more than 100 solar panels provide power and heat water in each station.
Lighting improves safety - so providing energy-efficient LEDs in car parks, forecourts, uncovered patron areas, and many internal areas means more lighting can be installed for the same cost. Sensors automatically switch off or reduce the use of lighting and air-conditioning systems when they are not required.
Each train station uses energy and water meters to monitor consumption. Water efficient taps, urinals and toilets reduce the reliance on potable water, while a rainwater harvesting system collects rainwater run-off from the roof which is used to flush station toilets and wash platforms. Low water-use and native plant species have been planted in the garden beds around the station.
The team also looked at impacts on the urban fabric and the rest of the transport network so the tool could encourage project teams to consider whether each train station was in the right spot.
The tool rewards and recognises the fact that well-designed, safe train stations promote healthy and active living. This first tranche of train stations scored points for having employment, community facilities and residences within a short walking distance of each station. Cyclist facilities and walking routes around the stations also prioritise physical activity.
The stations also achieved two Green Star points under the ‘Safe Places’ credit. The project team undertook a crime risk assessment, selected shrubs and trees that minimise sight impediments and chose perforated aluminium screens for balustrades and on bridges to increase visibility for pedestrians. The risk assessment also advised alignment and widening of ramps and thoroughfares to minimise pinch points.
Chapa says the message is clear for the rail sector and that there is no excuse not to build sustainably. The more sustainability initiatives are embedded within the concept, design, planning, construction and operation process, the less they are likely to cost and the more the learning objectives are shared within the project team.
According to Chapa, there are many inspiring examples of sustainable railway station design emerging, particularly in China (such as Tianjin and Guangzhou) in Europe (such as Malmo in Sweden, Kings Cross in London and Liège-Guillemins in Belgium) that maximise daylight and harvest rainwater. He is unaware, however, of any train stations that have achieved green ratings.
Chapa hopes other states in Australia follow the lead of Victoria.
“We would be delighted to work with other state governments around Australia on similar infrastructure projects. The gauntlet has been thrown down – let’s see who else wants to demonstrate a reduced footprint, better social outcomes, and fiscal responsibility!” he said.
Although Green Star ratings go up to 6-Star and these train stations have only achieved 4 Star ratings, Chapa is optimistic that the benchmarks for sustainable transport infrastructure will continue to rise.
“A 4 Star Green Star ‘Best Practice’ rating is an excellent place to start for public and private sector projects, ensuring good outcomes at minimum cost,” he said.