Suburban Rail Loop team
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Meet Yuyu Zhang
Once the revered capital of 13 Imperial Dynasties, Xi’an in Central China is considered the birthplace of Chinese civilisation.
Famous for its Terracotta Warriors and as the starting point of the Silk Road, the ancient city now boasts, among other things, one of the most advanced and busiest transport networks in China.
So perhaps it is no surprise that a city which has kept pace with human and industrial evolution over thousands of years, has also produced some of the world’s engineering elite – including one of Suburban Rail Loop’s own, Yuyu Zhang.
“I finished my degree in civil engineering in Xi’an and then me and my then-boyfriend - we met at university there and decided to move together to Sydney,” she said.
It was a leap of faith more than 15 years ago and the pair never looked back.
Ms Zhang completed a masters in Transport Management at Sydney University, married her partner, started a family and then began carving out her career in rail planning with major Sydney projects.
“I worked on the Sydney metro project, including Sydney Metro West and Western Sydney Airport metro, which is now the Sydney Metro Greater West - and I was also involved in the planning of Australia’s high-speed east coast rail project.”
Yuyu Zhang is now helping plan the nation’s biggest rail infrastructure project, the $50 billion Suburban Rail Loop in Victoria.
“The opportunity to plan this project well, to leave a legacy for Victorian people - this is a once in a lifetime opportunity for a transport planner like me.”
The Suburban Rail Loop is an orbital rail system that will change how people move around Melbourne, providing better connectivity to employment, education and health precincts in the city’s middle suburbs, and linking to every major metropolitan service from Frankston to Werribee.
“Suburban Rail Loop provides a lot of opportunities for customers – the first thing is obviously providing better public transport and linking to the airport, but it also enables land use and economic development – not just in Melbourne’s centre, but in the outer-ring areas,” Ms Zhang said.
“This will hopefully allow the project to develop an economic corridor so that provides significant opportunities for the Victorian economy, in addition to the transport benefits.”
Ms Zhang’s expertise is in transport integration and it is her job to ensure the 90-kilometre loop isn’t “just a standalone transport project.”
She says for more motorists to leave their cars at home for public transport there needs to be a shift to a more convenient overall journey.
“We need to consider how we bring people to the stations efficiently, for example by bus, by tram – how does SRL integrate with the wider network to provide a comfortable and convenient journey for the customer?”
“I think these are some of the challenges, particularly in the business case development phase."
"As a civil engineer and transport planner, we need to really think about how we can optimise the network planning – not just focus on the corridor itself but the wider transport network.”
She joins a team of local and international experts who are in the critical design and development phase, ahead of planned construction in 2022.
“Working with a group of highly talented rail engineers and rail planners who have significant international experience working on complex projects – to work with them and learn from them is very attractive to me.”
It has been challenging working away from her school-aged children, but Ms Zhang says she believes she is leading by example.
“They’re great and they are old enough to understand, I just need to make sure that when I’m with them it’s high-quality time.”
“I think my kids get to learn that you’ve got to follow your passion and pursue it very hard, so they see these actions and they support me in that as well.”
Meet Daniel Williams
Picking up your life and moving to a city you have never been to, on the other side of the world, would be a daunting task for anyone.
Throw into the mix three kids under 12 who enjoy hanging out at the local ice rink, and that’s the tough pitch Program Director Daniel Williams had to make to his sons when a relocation down under was on the cards.
“It wasn’t an easy sell,” Mr Williams said.
“My eldest guy is a keen ice hockey player and there’s not too much of that going on here."
“It’s strange, that was a big part of our life, travelling around to a different hockey barn every week and watching him play - and we came here, and it stopped.”
An opportunity to join a talented Australian team to help plan, design and develop one of the world’s biggest infrastructure projects, Suburban Rail Loop, was too good for the British engineer to turn down.
Even though it meant a second family move in as many years.
“It’s a huge commitment, given we’d only been in Canada for two years previously, but the huge factor in coming to Melbourne was that there is no other project like this globally,” he said.
"This is a mega project - the size and scale are immense.”
The 90-kilometre Suburban Rail Loop will orbit Melbourne’s middle suburbs, connecting the existing metropolitan rail lines and linking to the planned Melbourne Airport Rail and regional services.
But Daniel Williams says it’s more than a transport system, describing it as a “game-changer”.
“It’s bigger than just a rail project — this is around land use, this is around connecting people with places and this is about development of precincts,” he said.
“It’s not just building a rail line, building a tunnel, but actually how do you develop public realm?”
Now a resident of Melbourne’s South-East, Mr Williams has experienced the city’s congestion first hand and sees the Suburban Rail Loop as an antidote.
“One of the key drivers is moving road congestion and I see the design of SRL being a major catalyst in helping that happen.”
As Program Director, Daniel Williams works with a skilled team of architects, designers, engineers and rail planners across every facet of the $50 billion project.
From the tunnelling alignment and track design, to construction of new stations and trains, environment and sustainability, urban design of the station precincts and architecture; every element of the enormous project is coming together to inform the business case.
Mr Williams has spent more than two decades delivering rail projects in Toronto, Scotland and London, including the £7 billion (GBP) Thameslink project that started in 2009, expanding the metro network to the north and south of metropolitan London.
As the Lead Advisor, Daniel Williams was responsible for overseeing station remodelling, new train orders and the overall user experience.
He says the commuting experience will be at the heart of the Suburban Rail Loop design.
“One of the learnings I had early on is how important it is to truly engage with the community and listen to people, harvest their ideas and ensure where possible, that their ideas are factored in and considered.”
“The real thing that excites me is that the project spans multiple generations and it’s a real chance to use my global experience in the front end of innovation in how we design this city-shaping project.”
He says he feels a sense of professional pride playing a part in a project like this.
“It’s a legacy too,” Mr Williams said.
“One of the key attractions for me coming over to Melbourne was to make sure it becomes a reality.”
A few months in, his children are adjusting to life in the southern hemisphere.
The ice hockey stick has been traded for a summer scouts’ uniform and camping trips and outdoors activities are helping them make the most of an Aussie summer.
But don’t expect the English Premier League fanatics to take up Aussie rules any time soon.
“No! Football – or soccer as it’s called here - is our passion”, Mr Williams said.
“If we are pushed – we would need to support our local team which is St Kilda, and I understand they have a few challenges to overcome.”