The School notes with great sadness the passing of transport academic and researcher and treasured colleague Dr Upali Vandebona on 12 January 2023.

rCITI Director Professor Vinayak Dixit spoke of Upali's great contribution not just to the field of transport education and research, but to the people of the School. 'His smile and humility made him immensely approachable,' he said. 'Upali was an amazing mentor not only to students, but young academics. He personally guided me in the first years of my joining on teaching matters, and helped me navigate.'

'During rCITI's ten-year anniversary celebrations, the one common theme among a lot of our alumni was Upali and the impact he had during classes, and more importantly in their honours thesis. I know that he has been a source of moral support for innumerable PhD students.

Upali was born on May 12, 1951 in Maradana/Colombo, Sri Lanka, the son of Gilbert and Somawathie (Kirillawallpalliyaguruge) Vandebona.

In 1975 he graduated from the University of Ceylon in Peradeniya, Sri Lanka with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, and worked as an engineer at first with the State Engineering Corporation, Colombo, and then with the Department of Highways, Colombo from 1975-1978. During this time he obtained his Master in Engineering from the Asian Institute Technology, Bangkok, in 1977. He became a lecturer at his alma mater, the renamed University of Sri Lanka, Peradeniya, from 1978-1980.

When asked many years later why he had chosen engineering, his answer was succinct. ‘I liked science and I liked building things.  Engineering was the natural place to start.’

To the question of how he would advise prospective students thinking of studying civil and environmental engineering, his answer revealed his own ethos of service. ‘You will never run out of opportunities to contribute to society with the skills you learn here.’  Skilfully contributing to his society was exactly the path Upali himself followed, every day.

Upali arrived in Australia in 1981, to undertake his PhD in transport engineering at Monash University in Melbourne. After graduating in 1985, he became a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Calgary in Canada from 1985 – 1987, before returning to Australia to take up the position of lecturer in the Department of Transport Engineering at UNSW Civil & Environmental Engineering. He had married USyd medical graduate Manee Sahachatpocanan in April 15, 1986, and after his arrival at UNSW they settled in Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs, devoting themselves to their busy and caring professional lives.

Upali was a major contributor to the teaching programs of the department of transport, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level, while he and his colleague Peter Hidas were involved as researchers in transport network analysis and modelling.

Upali’s research work on development of simulation and animation models for light rail train systems and bus services also focussed on sustainable public transport systems. His research publications are mainly related to analytical modeling and simulation applications for urban public transport and freight systems, with topics including Markov processes, public transport, queueing theory, reliability, road traffic, stochastic processes, traffic engineering computing.

Of course the road within UNSW was not always smooth.  In the late 1990’s, budget crises were met with staff cuts and departures across the School, and with the UNSW-wide disestablishment of departments in 1998, the remaining transport engineering staff, including Upali, were eventually absorbed into the larger geotechnical grouping at the School.

He continued to skilfully serve his society through teaching and research and community service, undertaking core tasks in the School’s undergraduate committee, and in external relations outreach activities.  A kind mentor and colleague, he was always available for students, as well as his academic and professional colleagues. He kept up his international connections as well and in 2008 was Public Transit for Urban Mobility (PUTRUM) Program Fellow at the University of Calgary, Calgary, AB, Canada.

In 2011 the UNSW Research Centre for Integrated Transport Innovation (rCITI) was officially launched by Professor Mary O'Kane, NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer, in the presence of supporters from government, industry and across the university. From the beginning, its aims were high – its stated mission was, and is, to be a world-leading organisation in integrated interdisciplinary transport research and development

rCITI’s first Director Professor S. Travis Waller came from the University of Texas at Austin. He brought with him a brilliant team including Dr Vinayak Dixit, Melissa Duell and Dr Lauren Gardner.   And Upali, humble, hardworking and absolutely essential, was there to meet the new team, and help them as Vinayak said, to navigate their way into the new world. ‘Upali played a critical role in the ensuring continuity of the transport curriculum as well as incorporating novel materials into them.’

Although Upali officially retired in 2015, he was still a presence at the Centre, still mentoring and assisting, and still always interested in research that would improve and optimise transport systems.

Vinayak spoke for us all at the School, ‘I personally will sorely miss him. I will miss the joy of being greeted by his soulful smile. He has made an indelible mark to the transport education program at UNSW, as well as the thousands of students who have passed through his mentorship, who are now shaping transport now and into the future.’