Last Updated S012019


Unit Code MRI503
Unit Duration 12 Weeks

Graduate Diploma of Engineering (Civil: Railway Infrastructure)

Duration: 1 year


Master of Engineering (Civil: Railway Infrastructure)

Duration: 2 years  

Year Level One
Unit Creator / Reviewer Tamryn Heydenrych and Susanne Karcher 
Core/Elective: Core
Pre/Co-requisites None
Credit Points


Grad Dip total course credit points = 24

(3 credits x 8 (units))


Masters total course credit points = 48

(3 credits x 12 (units) + 12 credits (Thesis))

Mode of Delivery Online or on-campus. 
Unit Workload

10 hours per week:

Lecture - 1 hour

Tutorial Lecture - 1 hours

Assessments / Practical / Lab - 1 hour (where applicable)

Personal Study recommended - 7 hours (guided and unguided)

Unit Description and General Aims

This module will identify the link between sustainability and transportation engineering to illustrate that these two areas need to be considered together and not in isolation. To this end it seeks to incorporate the sustainability theme into the classic engineering principles and practices around functionality, practicability, cost, materials, designs and ease of maintenance.

The Unit starts out by introducing key definitions, concepts and principles around common environmental management terms defining various aspects of “sustainability”. This is followed by a historical overview of how the related “sustainable engineering practices” have evolved and increased in complexity and scope over time and in response to new and growing environmental threats. Carbon footprinting for various modes of transport is demonstrated as an example particularly applicable for a transportation engineer to evaluate the correlation between transportation choice and climate change.

The Unit will then introduce the concept of “systems integration” by applying holistic and lateral ways of thinking  in response to the growing need to change the way we currently design, manufacture and operate transportation infrastructure and communicate transportation engineering issues (e.g. with regards to required public education and engagement as part of a public participation process).

Identification of key resources and their availability on a global scale with a specific focus on materials used in transportation engineering is covered next and will be discussed, distinguishing between non-renewable and renewable resources as well as highlighting the impact of resources with regards to their material abstraction and waste generation impact on the environment. This is done under consideration of the life cycle assessment of key materials including their potential for subsequent “urban mining” to recover materials after their useful life-span.

This Unit will then advise on the design of interconnected systems demonstrating how city layouts, location of residents and their transportation needs are integrated and therefore cannot be considered in isolation. The term ‘Imagineers’ will be introduced where one is encouraged to think outside the box (from the conceptualisation stage to the planning to the execution phase of a transportation engineering project) in order to test boundaries and increasingly challenge the "current way of linear, non-systemic thinking". The aim is to change the engineering landscape we function in and embrace the introduction and increased application of both new system designs and materials that drive the ongoing innovation of transportation engineering.

Finally examples of “innovation in engineering” will be showcased through selected examples of Biomimicry applicable to transportation engineering that demonstrate how nature can guide us to improve on our designs and the way we construct ‘things’ according to environmentally intelligent, socially inclusive and economically sound engineering principles.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this Unit, students are expected to be able to:

  1. Evaluate and apply sustainability principles applicable to transport engineering.
    • Bloom’s Level 5
  2. Recommend and identify alternative designs and materials.
    • Bloom’s Level 5
  3. Produce strategic approaches in planning public transport.
    • Bloom’s Level 6
  4. Produce environmental management practices based on triple bottom-line sustainability principles from planning and construction to the operation phase.
    • Bloom’s Level 6
  5. Reflect on sustainability and choice of design and material alternatives that can drive ongoing future innovation and improvement of transportation engineering.
    • Bloom’s Level 5
  6. Develop, assemble and synthesise appropriate engineering and/or management elements within a major case study.
    • Bloom’s Level 6

Student assessment

Assessment Type

(e.g. Assignment - 2000 word essay (specify topic)

Examination (specify length and format))

When assessed

(e.g. Week 5)

Weighting (% of total unit marks) Learning Outcomes Assessed

Assessment 1

Type: Design Analysis

Word length: 1000

Topic: Report on sustainability principles applicable to transport engineering and identify alternative designs and materials - to be applied to engineering (as per aspects covered).

Week 4 20% 1, 2

Assessment 2

Type: Multi-choice test

Topic: A quiz on the covered topics to show an understanding of how sustainability should be incorporated into transportation engineering. 

Week 7 25% 2, 3, 4

Assessment 3

Type: Group Case Study

Develop, assemble and synthesise appropriate engineering and management elements within a major case study: E.g. Biomimicry in engineering (bullet train, solar roads, etc.)

Week 9 10% 5, 6

Assessment 4

Type: Rail-Related Report

Word length: 2000

Topic: Sustainability project related to an engineering module of student’s choice (showcase how sustainability has been successfully integrated into a project / engineering concept or showcase how sustainability was not included and indicate where improvements could have / can be made).

Week 12 40% 1 - 6


Continuous 5% 1 - 6

Prescribed and Recommended readings

Reference Materials

A number of books, peer-reviewed journals and websites:

  • P.Vannini, The Cultures of Alternative Mobilities: Routes Less Travelled, Routledge, 2016
  • CH2M HILL and Good Company, “Transportation and Sustainability Best Practices Background”, Sustainability Peer Exchange – Center for Environmental Excellence by AASHTO, 2009
  • U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Helping to Build a Safe and Sustainable Transportation Infrastructure, 2010
  • C.Jeon, A. Amekudzi, "Addressing Sustainability in Transportation Systems: Definitions, Indicators, and Metrics," Journal of Infrastructure Systems, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 31-50, March 2005
  • Books which may be accessed at the Knovel Library:

Unit Content

One topic is delivered per contact week, with the exception of part-time 24-week units, where one topic is delivered every two weeks.


Topic 1

What is Sustainability?

  1. Introducing key concepts, definitions and principles around the larger “Sustainability” theme
  2. From “compliance” to “voluntary disclosure” – the historical evolution of the environmental management approach and subsequent reporting
  3. Environmental performance measuring and evaluation tools relevant to transportation engineering (e.g. Environmental Footprinting, (including Water and Carbon Footprinting), World Overshoot Day, World Resources Maps)
  4. Comparison of the Carbon Footprint for various modes of transportation
  5. Mitigating Carbon Footprints
    1. Carbon footprint of energy sources
    2. Optimising train energy systems (HV vs. regenerative power vs. diesel)
    3. Carbon Credits
  6. Introduction to “Systems Thinking” and examples thereof
    1. as a way of to understand interconnectedness of parts, principles and behaviours
    2. as a way to design and do things differently
    3. as a way to communicate issues differently with stakeholders (e.g. the public)
    4. as a way to design feedback loops for (environmental) management performance
  7. "The Story of Stuff", a short documentary about the lifecycle of material goods.

Topic 2

Sustainability Applicable to Transport Engineering

  1. Identification of key resources on a global scale with a specific focus on materials that would be used in transportation engineering
  2. Availability of resources required for materials used in transportation engineering, with a consideration of non-renewable and renewable resources
  3. Highlighting the impact of resources and material abstraction and waste generation and putting this into perspective
  4. Urban Mining for optimised end-of-life resource recovery – what it is and how to design for it according to Circular Economy strategies and principles

Topic 3 and 4

Alternative Design

  1. An overview of sustainable cities and their respective blue print models (e.g. Masdar)
  2. Functions of cities beyond transportation
  3. Rural goes Urban- Densification in cities and the effect
  4. Routes of transport:– g. road versus rail
  5. Modes of transport – private transportation vs. public means of transport
  6. Transport combination options – Park and Ride
  7. Form Follows Function (e.g. 6 lane highways that use 4 lanes for peak flow traffic, which is switched during peak return flow of traffic. During normal hours 3-lanes in both directions
  8. Unintended consequences (e.g. social consequences – building pedestrian bridges over highways that are never used – understand social setting and needs. Upgrading road leading to increase in heavy vehicle use
  9. Imagineers – thinking outside the box, testing boundaries and "current way of thinking" to change the landscape we function in
  10. Front end versus back-end thinking leading to addressing the root cause not fixing symptoms

Topic 5

Alternative Materials

  1. Identifying alternative building materials, sourcing of materials (e.g. reclaimed asphalt) suitable for transportation engineering
  2. Reducing or eliminating waste through cost saving waste beneficiation interventions
  3. Life Cycle Assessment of key materials used in transportation engineering, illustrating how much resources and waste is used/ generated to produce required product
  4. Resource optimisation in designs
  5. Materials versus waste management
  6. Green procurement

Topic 6

Drainage Design

  1. Principles behind wetlands
  2. Consideration of natural features to facilitate drainage
  3. Bioswales/ artificial wetlands
  4. Permeable paving/ roads
  5. Design with surroundings in mind

Topic 7

Appropriate Strategic Approaches in Planning Public Transport (PT)

  1. Social consequences of location of PT – considering preferences and behaviour of community
  2. Park and Ride facilities – allow bicycles on buses, provide bike racks and showers at work, prevent cars parking in bicycle lanes, avoid subsidised parking
  3. Provision of transport corridors offering combined transportation mode uses (e.g. cycleway and railway)
  4. Making PT appropriate to the area
  5. Examples of unsustainable/ failed PT systems and reasons identified

Topic 8

The understanding of system pressures and the resulting environmental management challenges, particularly how the latter should form part of the planning, construction and operational phases

  1. Designing systems with actual local resource availability in mind (land, energy and water)
  2. Designing systems to improve existing structures and reduce urban sprawl (brown field vs. green field development)
  3. Understanding the reasons for adhering to Environmental Management Programmes, with a focus on mitigation rather than rectification
  4. Importance of induction training
  5. 80/ 20 principle (Pareto Principle) for the identification of key impacts and aspects

Topic 9

Alternative Materials and Transportation Systems Fit for the Future

  1. Building materials for the future of transportation – g. hemp fibres in cars, bamboo in houses and in bridges, and tyre waste in roads
  2. Inner City Tram System (Karlsruhe; Germany) – designed so it can operate on a railway system far outside of city too.

Topic 10

Sustainability in Terms of Transportation

  1. Focus on multifunctional uses of structures
  2. Structures not to hamper future use
  3. Considerations of safety and security while using structures – consideration of how design, location, etc., affect behaviour
  4. Critical to understand perceptions and behaviours to ensure structures are fully utilised
  5. Examples of unsustainable structures associated with transportation
  6. Traffic Impact Assessments – providing an understanding of the type of information that these studies should prevent to facilitate environmental processes, when being undertaken

Topic 11

Innovation in Engineering

  1. The focus should be on sustainable interventions, looking at examples so students can start to associate engineering with nature to see how they operate. For example:
    1. Innovation in Railway Engineering with the Japanese bullet train (Shinkansen) inspired by the design of a Kingfisher bird beak
    2. Innovation in Transportation logistics and communication by investigating the Pharaoh ant’s pheromone based trail and spatial information systems.
  2. Further Examples:
    1. Mushroom / fungus used in road building to absorb water beneath road surfaces
    2. Mercedes A-class exterior designed according to the dimensions of the yellow box fish
    3. Solar roads and Nano technologies

Topic 12

Project and Unit Review

In the final week students will have an opportunity to review the contents covered so far.  Opportunity will be provided for a review of student work and to clarify any outstanding issues.  Instructors/facilitators may choose to cover a specialised topic if applicable.

Engineers Australia

The Australian Engineering Stage 1 Competency Standards for the Professional Engineer, approved as of 2013. This table is referenced in the mapping of graduate attributes to learning outcomes and via the learning outcomes to student assessment.

Stage 1 Competencies and Elements Competency
1. Knowledge and Skill Base
1.1 Comprehensive, theory based understanding of the underpinning natural and physical sciences and the engineering fundamentals applicable to the engineering discipline.
1.2 Conceptual understanding of the mathematics, numerical analysis, statistics, and computer and information sciences which underpin the engineering discipline.
1.3 In-depth understanding of specialist bodies of knowledge within the engineering discipline.
1.4 Discernment of knowledge development and research directions within the engineering discipline.
1.5 Knowledge of engineering design practice and contextual factors impacting the engineering discipline.
1.6 Understanding of the scope, principles, norms, accountabilities and bounds of sustainable engineering practice in the specific discipline.
2. Engineering Application Ability
2.1 Application of established engineering methods to complex engineering problem solving.
2.2 Fluent application of engineering techniques, tools and resources.
2.3 Application of systematic engineering synthesis and design processes.
2.4 Application of systematic approaches to the conduct and management of engineering projects.
3. Professional and Personal Attributes
3.1 Ethical conduct and professional accountability.
3.2 Effective oral and written communication in professional and lay domains.
3.3 Creative, innovative and pro-active demeanor.
3.4 Professional use and management of information.
3.5 Orderly management of self and professional conduct.
3.6 Effective team membership and team leadership.

Software/Hardware Used


  • Software: N/A

  • Version: N/A

  •  Instructions: N/A

  •  Additional resources or files: N/A


  • Hardware: N/A