Digital environment and planning reporting pilot for Rail Projects Victoria, Australia

A pilot of digital reporting to assist regulators with their assessment of ecological approvals for the Shepparton Line Upgrade

Rail Projects Victoria liaise with regulators to seek approval for complex rail projects, all with large volumes of supporting documentation. At times, regulators request further clarification on elements to assist with their assessment of projects.

The joint venture of Aurecon, Jacobs and Mott MacDonald (AJM JV) is working with Rail Projects Victoria on the Shepparton Line Upgrade – Regional Rail Revival. The joint venture piloted the development of an ecological impact assessment in digital format, to be presented to the regulator and stakeholders.

The outcome is a digital report in 3D that integrates both the design and environment data for planning and environment approval on the upgrade.

Together, the joint venture and Rail Projects Victoria, embarked on a digital journey. Translating ecological impact assessment information into a digital report. Collaborating this way resulted in a new way of presenting project elements to assist the regulator with its assessment, and stakeholders with their review.

Telling the story of a project

The digital report told the story of the design innovations made iteratively to protect environmentally sensitive areas. It visualised spatial data to allow the reader to see immediately how environmental protection measures are integrated along the entire rail line.

Digital maps develop a visualisation of the report’s project summary, interactive mapping, time series information and design innovations.

An Ecological Impact Assessment PDF report is traditionally more than 600 pages, with appendices accounting for up to half of the page count. The digital report demonstrates that not only can information be hosted fully online, it can also incorporate the appendices within the body of the report, therefore eliminating the need for PDF map sets.

This digital report replaced 118 PDF maps with eight interactive maps. It allows a user to zoom in and around different areas that might not have been possible with a printed PDF.

A feedback function was incorporated into the digital report to retain comments from the regulator or stakeholders, linked to a specific discipline or location.

A step change in environment and planning reporting

The digital report is a step change in the way that the regulator and project stakeholders can visualise spatial data connected to environmental and planning approvals. The application has relevancy to other major infrastructure projects as well.

The greatest benefit of this report is its ability to weave reporting and spatial information together for greater understanding and legitimacy of results and be an engaging and interactive experience.

Whilst it was conceptualised prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, its development and deployment matched the rapid pivot Australia has made to digital ways of working.

In a digital environment, this way of reporting allows close collaboration between different teams while still maintaining the level of information required in environment and planning approval applications. It provides Rail Projects Victoria with a unique way to engage with the regulator and the community in a socially distanced environment.

The fact that the digital report pilot occurred during COVID-19 led to a further appreciation of how digital reporting can aid in the transition between face-to-face meetings and non-office-based working, whilst still replicating the immersive experience.

Bringing complex data to life digitally

The digital report provided complex technical data in a visual format and brought to life the design innovations that were developed for ecological protection. It will make accessing environmental data much easier during detailed design and construction.

Tabled data and project information has been transformed into annotated maps and 3D visualisations. It allows Rail Projects Victoria to be much more confident when sharing information with stakeholders and the regulator.

The digital report has provided them with assurance around ecological protection and environmental preservation along the rail line. It is also taking stakeholders on a journey of how the project addresses their concerns and protects the environment.

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