Is this the city’s hardest job?

By Shane Scanlan

If you’re finding it hard to juggle your “to do” list today, spare a thought for Evan Tattersall who is pulling together the myriad threads of Melbourne’s Metro Rail project.

The logistics, inter-dependencies and sensitivities of the multi-billion dollar rail tunnel project are truly mind-boggling.

Mr Tattersall explains that there is a year’s work in the wider Melbourne transport integration issues alone.

“It impacts all of Melbourne,” he said.  “There are changes to train, tram, bus and road networks. So just that integration alone is a massive exercise.”

The quietly-spoken civil engineer modestly deflects admiration of his project management capacity to his team and also praises the attitude of his political masters for the success of the project so far.

“The good thing about this project is that the public transport ministry – (Public Transport Minister) Jacinta Allan and her team – are really good,” he said.  “They work really well with us.  They listen.  I get really good access to her and she’s got a very sharp team and they’re all passionate about the project.”

“They have a genuine desire to do something good for Melbourne,” Mr Tattersall said.

Although less than a year into the 11-year project, there is widespread acclaim and support for the nine-kilometre rail tunnel designed to take pressure of the existing rail network and allow for future growth.

Having observed how politics destabilised and ultimately destroyed the East-West road project, Mr Tattersall is no doubt hoping the goodwill continues.

He is happy that the cost benefit of acquiring a CBD apartment block and 14 commercial properties to leave Swanston St largely intact during the construction stacks up.

“It’s no more expensive to go deep, when you take all the issues into account,” he said.

He said the major factor in the decision was the massive cost of relocating utilities from under Swanston St.  Savings flowing from not having to relocate trams or pay compensation to affected business also figured in the equation.

“Going deeper was quite simple,” he said.  “The more we understood the cost of moving those services and the trams and the impact on businesses, and accepting a different construction method of coming in from the side, and not having to move all that stuff, that’s what neutralised the cost of going deeper.”

“One of the positive outcomes of going to this deeper alignment here is that we’re not going to impact Melbourne anywhere near the way we were going to,” he said.

But, despite the bright news of less disruption to Swanston St, Mr Tattersall still acknowledges that working with affected property owners and business remains his biggest challenge.  He said the Metro Rail Authority’s responsibility to these people “extends all the way through”.

“Finding alternative premises for some of these businesses is challenging, given that the city is pretty constrained,” he said.  “So the longer we’ve got to work with them the better.  We’ve got case managers.  We will manage each one separately with the right people to help them get the best solution.”

The Metro Rail Authority CEO position is Mr Tattersall’s first public service position, although he has worked closely with government in his previous roles on the Regional Rail Link and Craigieburn rail electrification projects.

Prior to that, his construction experience was exclusively in the less political private sector – constructing “roads, to water, to sporting facilities, building high-rise apartment buildings, schools, prisons, hospitals, Roxby Downs (SA mining) and a gold mine in Tassie”.

Asked whether his recent government experience hadn’t scared him off the job, he replied: “No, but it opened my eyes.”

“I wouldn’t have left the private sector for anything less than a project like this,” he said.  “This is a really good project.  I certainly didn’t move across for the money.”

He acknowledged that governments are hamstrung and that projects inevitably took longer.  He said he needed to be “a bit philosophical” about it.

“That’s our world.  It certainly adds time, but the flipside is that people get a chance to genuinely add their input into it,” he said.  “What’s right?  The Chinese model certainly is a lot more expedient!”

So, is he a patient man? “There are time when it gets a bit wearing,” he said.

He says he now knows enough about governments to navigate the project through to a successful conclusion.

“I know enough now to understand the importance of how we deal with departments and ministries and how they deal with us,” he said.

And he’s particularly grateful to be working on such a high priority project.

“It’s their number one priority so I’m getting support wherever it’s needed but, if I’m not, I only have to ask once and the support’s there,” he said.

Mr Tattersall knows he has to go through the extended processes but is excited about “going to the market” once the regulatory hurdles have been achieved.

It is at this stage that his depth of experience will be of greatest benefit to Victoria.

“I’ve probably covered most of the various construction contracting methods available around the world,” he said.

He anticipates the private sector will respond to offers to bid on the construction with time and cost-saving innovations that have not yet been considered.

“If we can get big stuff happening there by early 2018, then I think there’s a really good opportunity that we can come in before that 2026 timeframe,” he said.

“We won’t know until a contractor who is doing this every day say to us, ‘this is how much we can do it for and this is how long it will take’.  And they will come up with ideas we haven’t thought about.”

“If we can bring it in early, we will, because Melbourne needs it.”

So how does one person bend their mind around such a complex project?

“You live with it every day,” he said. “It’s what project delivery is all about, so you start off with small, less complicated stuff and, as you grow, you come into more complex things.”
“This is by far the most complex thing I’ve ever done.  But I’ve got a really good team of people in here too.”

“It will be a successful project because everyone’s behind it, and that’s really important,” he said.

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