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Internet Down – Learning infrastructure literacy from infrastructure failure

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/06/2021 - 1:15am in

With level of internet use at record highs and the instability of internet services recently effecting millions across the globe, including scholarly publishers, Jean-Christophe Plantin discusses how much we actually know about the communication infrastructure on which many of us rely heavily in our daily lives. He suggests that moments of failure and outage,  provide opportunities both … Continued

Australia’s infrastructure plans: why can’t we get it right? Thorough inquiries are needed.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/06/2021 - 4:54am in

Recent reports confirm severe problems with plans for transport infrastructure in at least Australia’s two biggest cities.  The Commonwealth, as well as State Governments, is blameworthy.

Governments and Infrastructure Australia claim to have transport plans.  Most commentators meekly and foolishly accept those claims.

With such acceptance, transport failures – poor infrastructure, inadequate services, cost and schedule blow-outs for major projects – are ascribed to other causes.

‘Reforms’ proposed to address such problems – ‘improvements in decision making processes’ – are piecemeal and predictable: e.g. funding and financing, contracting, a pipeline of construction work, benefit cost analyses, government ‘gateway’ approvals, regulatory processes.  While each has some merit, in my view they miss the critical point: most plans are rubbish and cannot be salvaged by limited process improvements.


Take the Commonwealth’s ‘plan’.  Its Budget boasts of committing $110bn over the next decade yet ignores Commonwealth responsibilities.  It is based on twin bipartisan beliefs: the Federal government is just a back-stop for States; infrastructure is a pork barrel.  The plan is to throw money around.

The Budget also evidences absence of sensible plans in several States.

One example is the proposed $2bn Commonwealth spend on an intermodal – road/rail – freight terminal in Melbourne.

The likely ‘need’ for a new terminal was identified by Governments nearly twenty-five years ago.  Over a decade ago Infrastructure Australia asked for a proposal.

Yet the media says a location for a terminal is still not settled.

Over the last quarter century many potential sites have been jeopardised by housing development.  The failure to identify a site demonstrates an absence of real State and national freight plans – a deficiency not overcome by innumerable official meetings and brochures.

Another example is in Sydney, Westconnex which is evidence of a lack of a sensible plan.  The biggest problem with Westconnex is not discomfort for inner city residents or financial cost, exorbitant though these are. Rather it breaches a cardinal principle.don’t point motorways at central city areas.

Belated realisation (?) of consequences of that breach is the behind NSW now proposing a $14bn Western Harbour Tunnel – a motorway from Balmain to North Sydney – an inner city Westconnex bypass.  However, the tunnel may move traffic jams to even worse congestion in North Sydney. More will be needed to undo problems from Westconnex.  Another motorway – through the northern beaches – will be the start.

While NSW is mainly to blame, the Commonwealth also deserves censure.  Prime Minister Abbott (and Federal Labor) supported Westconnex, sight unseen, in a manner that attracted stern criticism from the Audit Office.

Infrastructure Australia deserves oppobrium as well.     Its recent recommendation of the Western Harbour Tunnel should be seen in the light of concerns about its earlier positive assessment of Westconnex.  Further, analyses of both appear technically deficient e.g. failing to take into account any effect of Sydney Metro on traffic.

The greatest concern is: none of NSW, the Commonwealth or Infrastructure Australia appear to understand the cardinal principle for motorways.-don’t point motorways at central business areas. No amount of process improvement can overcome resultant problems.

The lack of a sensible plan re Sydney roads presents enormous challenges, but not in the league of Sydney’s rail ‘plan’.  There is a rail plan – but it is stupendously bad.  It actively works against fundamentals.  This post raises one aspect – actual engineering of Sydney Metro.  A later post will raise financial engineering, recently reported as a ruse for State Government ‘cooking the books’.

The plan’s physical engineering conflicts with the golden rule for urban railways – promote flexibility.  Instead, it aims to prevent: interoperability; networking; scalability; matching technology to task.  It now breaches another fundamental principle by terminating trains in the CBD.

Little wonder each new rail announcement gives new insight into an unfolding, epic, disaster.  The latest episode – a West Sydney Metro.

To recap, the under-construction City Sydney Metro – across the harbour and CBD – will only ever serve a single line, to Bankstown.  Construction bill: $17bn – a blow-out around $5bn, hidden until after the last State election.

As for Westconnex, even those sums aren’t the worst problem.  Rather, the big problem is the intent to proscribe future options – including any connecting Metro line – and probably prevent any other harbour and CBD rail crossing.  In that, it conflicts with expert public advice, indeed explicit warnings. That madness is being replicated in another under-construction Metro line, between St Marys and Badgerys Creek airport – stranded 50km-70km from the city!

When the NSW Government started its Metro mania in 2012 – the current Premier was Transport Minister – experts said a route Parramatta-CBD would be more useful than her start in outer suburbia.  They were ignored. The Government has now announced it is going ahead with some such idea – but as another, disconnected line – construction cost $27bn.

The West Sydney Metro will be limited to just one station in Western Sydney because it seeks an undeliverable political objective – a twenty-minute transit time. It will have only one station in the CBD – where its trains terminate!  No other trains or lines will run to that station.  The station will be a block or so from three or four other railway stations.  Many passengers will need to change stations not just trains or even platforms.

The question likely to puzzle visitors and generations to come is: why so many separate stations?  The answer appears to be a devotion to disconnect railway lines, deterring suburban residents from accessing opportunities available in more privileged areas.  The reason for such a fixation deserves, and inevitably will be examined by, a formal public inquiry.

As for Westconnex, while NSW is the main culprit, Infrastructure Australia and the Commonwealth cannot avoid blame.  Infrastructure Australia’s recommendation of the City Sydney Metro remains unique and inexplicable.  The Commonwealth is providing $5bn to the isolated St Marys Metro on the basis of an almost fraudulent study, against Infrastructure Australia’s advice.

That none of the parties show any cognisance of transport basics renders their business cases and assessments useless at best.  The result goes beyond squandering tens of billions of dollars into damage money cannot fix.

Worse, aspects of this disgrace are recurring in Victoria .  That State’s scrapping of the proposed rail tunnel for a line to Tullamarine appears to preclude future regional fast trains to Melbourne.  Instead, there is to be only a suburban line, perhaps an attempt to bolster the look of the under-construction central Melbourne tunnel, a project troubled by more than severe – $2.7bn near 25% – cost overruns.

Whether such a potential preclusion of modern regional rail services is intentional or incompetent is unclear.  Nonetheless, the Commonwealth is encouraging Victoria via $30m for a ‘business case’ – about which it is confident enough to commit $5bn for some project and predict when construction will start.

Given Victorian Governments have been unable – after a quarter of a century – to bed down a site for Australia’s most important rail terminal, and their best rail idea is a $50bn-$100bn or more fantasy called: ‘a classic example of everything that is wrong with infrastructure provision in this country’, such confidence is foolhardy.

The central issue in each of the above cases is not assessment of proposals – even though most assessments are woeful.  Nor is it costs or almost inevitable overruns.  It is not even the practice of shrouding infrastructure deals in secrecy.

The issue is: how could such stupid ideas be concocted in the first place? Such projects point to a grand and – with Commonwealth impetus – accelerating national strategic failure.

Commonwealth action

However grievous the infrastructure sins of the NSW Coalition and Victorian Labor Governments, arguably the failures of the Commonwealth are worse.

Its donations of tens of billions of dollars to States is encouraging infrastructure that is not merely irrelevant but damaging to Commonwealth, indeed proper, purposes.  The Opposition is cheering on the idiocy with rhetoric like ‘(insert name of State being visited) is not getting enough Federal infrastructure money’ and pursuit of infrastructure club mirages – like the Infrastructure Department’s high-speed rail ‘study’.

The responsible thing is for Federal politicians to cease such encouragement.

Commonwealth transport infrastructure payments should be stopped, at least until the conclusion of independent, open, public inquiries into transport plans in each State and major city. Those inquiries need to take a long term perspective and present options that reflect transport and public policy principles.

Options involving major projects should not be adopted by Governments until their merit is demonstrated in further, specific, public inquiries – rather than via the slim, under-informed, behind closed-doors ‘assessments’ we have often seen.

If instead the Commonwealth persists with its current farcical approach, it may find its behaviour of interest to the inevitable – if less than friendly – investigations of State infrastructure follies.

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Book Review: America’s Long Struggle to Tame Its Greatest Rivers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 14/06/2021 - 7:55pm in

Rivers are live entities. Alter its flow, and a river will respond — though it might take humans time to notice.

Parking Reform Could Reenergize Downtowns – Here’s What Happened When Buffalo Changed its Zoning Rule

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/06/2021 - 6:55pm in

Rezoning cities to prioritize people instead of parking would free more space for affordable housing and encourage use of public transportation.

Keystone XL Developer Abandons Pipeline Project

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 10/06/2021 - 8:50pm in

In an apparent victory for environmentalists, the developer of the Keystone XL pipeline has pulled the plug on the project.

The Front Lines of Climate Change: Cyclone Yaas and the Sundarbans

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/06/2021 - 11:55pm in

Cyclone Yaas smacked India and Bangladesh in late May. Its most severe impact was on the Sundarbans, the vast delta the two countries share.

Radioactive trash – a tale of two Sydney suburbs

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 26/05/2021 - 4:30am in

Australia is relatively clear of nuclear reprocessing waste problems. But the Sydney suburbs of Hunters Hill and Barden Ridge have radioactive wastes from uranium processing which have been sitting there for decades. A bill is now before the Senate addressing the issue.

Australia does have radioactive waste problems in the lingering concerns over historic atomic bomb test sites in South Australia., and in both the functioning and the closed uranium mines. But there is only one uranium-processing facility producing radioactive wastes, the Opal nuclear research reactor at Lucas Heights in Sydney.

Now, Federal and State governments are making decisions on the disposal of these wastes. But there is still uncertainty and lack of public information on just how [or whether] these decisions will be carried out. For example, there’s no detail on transport routes, dates etc.

There are significant differences between the situations of the two suburbs. Perhaps the most significant one is that at Barden Ridge, the nearby Opal nuclear research reactor will be continuing to produce nuclear wastes for the foreseeable future, whereas the Hunters Hill wastes are set for final and permanent removal. Hunters Hill residents have been worried about this for over a century. For Barden Ridge, it has been been recognised as a problem for a much shorter time.

2021 looks like being a watershed year for both.

Hunters Hill.

In 1911, radium was a valuable commodity, and was processed at Hunters Hill, Some 2,000 tonnes of uranium ore were transported from Radium Hill in South Australia, to extract the radium. Several tonnes of uranium oxide were left, and also thorium 230, which itself decays to form more radium and is therefore dangerous for thousands of years. The project closed in 1915. From then on, it was a saga of mistakes and failed attempts to clean up this remaining debris. There was a tin smelter there until 1964.

Then the Australian Atomic Energy Commission (AAEC, now ANSTO) decided it was safe for housing. In the following years, residents and others became concerned about the uranium tailings spread over 6 housing blocks, in Nelson’s Parade, with the risk to health. They were met with cover-ups and obfuscation from the government. Health tests were kept secret, radiation hotspots were found, and cancers and deaths were claimed to be linked to this, and legal cases ensued.

Government plans to solve the problem included dumping the wastes at sea. This was resisted by environmentalists. The next plan was to dump it in Western NSW. This was strongly opposed by Aborigines from the area’s Bakandii tribe. When several Nelson Parade residents fell ill in the 1970s, the NSW government purchased several houses and demolished them, but failed to remediate the site.

in 1981 The then NSW Premier, Mr Wran asked South Australia to take 5,000 tonnes of contaminated soil. A NSW Upper House Inquiry in 2008 led to the government attempting to plan for the clean-up of 2,000 tonnes of radioactive waste. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency said radioactive waste from Hunters Hill wasn’t permitted to be stored at ANSTO’s Lucas Heights interim waste storage facility.

In 2012, most of the contaminated earth was reclassified as ”restricted solid waste”. Two Sydney suburbs were mooted as destinations for the wastes – Kemps Creek and Lidcombe. This was resisted by the local residents. Then in 2019, the New South Wales government proposed to store the contaminated soil on site in an ”encapsulated” form. This was vigorously rejected by the Hunters Hill residents.

Now, in 2021, beginning in July, New South Wales Property and Housing Minister Melinda Pavey announced that the radioactive material will be excavated and and be shipped to Idaho ,USA. The contaminated soil is to be sealed in bags, loaded into shipping containers and taken to a secure facility in the Eastern Sydney suburb of Matraville before shipping them overseas in scheduled consignments. ANSTO would oversee the process with up to 1800 tonnes to be transported to Idaho in an18-month-long mission.

Barden Ridge.

The radioactive waste problem of formerly Lucas Heights has a more recent history, with the original HIFAR nuclear research reactor starting operations in 1958. Lucas Heights was then a remote bushland site well outside the suburban area of Sydney. Nuclear development was meshed in secrecy, and controlled by influential experts Philip Baxter, and Ernest Titterton., without much understanding by the parliament or the public. It was the time of British atomic weapons tests in Australia, and heightened fears about the cold war. Little attention was paid to the subject of radioactive wastes.

In later years, as Sydney grew, Lucas Heights did become more of a suburb. And the Three Mile Island 1979 and Chernobyl 1986 nuclear accidents aroused a general awareness of nuclear risks. Radioactive wastes from Fisherman’s Bend in Victoria was brought to Lucas Heights in 1990. By now, public concern was raised. When Lucas Heights agreed to take the waste from St Mary’s Defence Base NSW (1991) the Sutherland Shire Council won a court case against ANSTO to stop Lucas Heights taking waste from other entities.

In 1992, local residents voted to rename the suburb of Lucas Heights, and in 1996 it officially became Barden Ridge. It is widely accepted that this was done to increase the real estate value of the area, as it would no longer be instantly associated with the HIFAR nuclear reactor.

Barden Ridge has a conservative community, historically voting Liberal, that accepts the reality of ANSTO and the now Opal nuclear reactor, with the jobs that come with it. Still, the presence of nuclear wastes is an issue. The Sutherland Shire Council in 2013 said that they liked having the nuclear reactor, but not the radioactive wastes. Local people and Council were relieved to learn, in 1997, of the federal government’s plan to set up a waste facility in another State. Sutherland Shire Council rejoiced in 2014, when the federal government announced plans for a nuclear waste facility in the Northern Territory.

Which brings us to the Australian Government’s Bill about radioactive waste, now before the Australian Senate, the National Radioactive Waste Management Amendment (Site Specification, Community Fund and Other Measures) Bill 2020. This Bill specifies Napandee, a farm near Kimba, South Australia, as the nation’s nuclear waste dump. Resources Minister Keith Pitt has recently announced more grants to the local community .Yet there is significant local opposition to the plan, from Aborigines and farmers.  If this Bill is passed, there can be no judicial review of the decision. So, Barden Ridge residents will get their solution. Or maybe not.

The Hunters Hill solution is an unusual one, and quite a precedent. There could still be some opposition to the planned process. The Barden Ridge one is also fraught with problems, as nuclear waste will continue to be produced by the nearby nuclear reactor. The Senate might not pass this Bill, leaving the Resources Minister with the option of declaring the Napandee site, which would then open the matter up for court action.

It’s again ‘wait and see’ time for two worried communities.

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Sputtering About Crypto and the US Pipeline Ransomware Attack

You can hear the silence about the role of crypto in the Colonial Pipeline and a growing spate of ransom demands.

Cartoon: Infrastructure tweaks

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 24/04/2021 - 7:50am in

Infrastructure Week might finally happen so I thought I’d pitch a few pet projects of my own.

The Basic Deal Between Corporate America and the GOP is Alive and Well

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 12/04/2021 - 3:48am in

For four decades, the basic deal between big American corporations and politicians has been simple....