Tuesday 27th Oct, 2020

AusRAIL: Bombardier boss on rail’s next ‘golden era’

Rail worker manufacturing. Photo: RailGallery.com.au / Courtesy of Bombardier
Photo: RailGallery.com.au / Courtesy of Bombardier

Rene Lalande says Australia is poised to enter a new ‘golden era’ of rail, and he’s excited to talk about it with other industry members on day one of AusRAIL.

Lalande, the chief executive of Bombardier Transportation Australia, is one of ten executives set to take part in Tuesday’s rail suppliers CEO Forum in Melbourne.

He spoke with Rail Express ahead of the event, and shed some light on what he expects to talk about with the other panel members, and delegates.

“As of late I see a renewed interest in rail,” he said. “Especially passenger rail, because that’s our focus.

“You see congestion – for example in Infrastructure Australia audit report that was issued in May.

“In the CBD there’s now no open land to build more roads; it comes at a huge premium. So there’s a physical limit to fitting more roads out there.

“And when you think of how much more efficient a train ‘lane’ is to carry passengers, it becomes very obvious that you need to lean that way. We have studies that show that a well-managed passenger train ‘lane’ can carry as much as 50 times the number of passengers as a road lane.

“You can’t easily build 50 more roads to enter the Melbourne CBD, the Sydney CBD, or Brisbane, but finding the room to build one train ‘lane’ … it is a much greater benefit.”

Lalande believes reducing congestion will be key to keeping Australian cities among the most livable in the world.

“I think [livability] is more than about pride, I think it’s absolutely essential,” Lalande explained. “That’s one of the things that people appreciate the most about this country, and that’s what makes this country unique: livability.

“You wouldn’t want to jeopardise that by having traffic keep going up forever. So I think train is a real solution.

“There was a golden era of trains back in the early days of industrialisation.

“I would be perhaps a bit bold in saying we’re seeing a second golden era of trains coming. I think people have not fully embraced that just yet, but if you look rationally about what passenger rail can provide for our busy city centres, the answer becomes pretty obvious.

“I’m totally excited about that.”

Also on Lalande’s agenda at AusRAIL this year is the discussion around local content vs. imported products from ‘low cost’ economies.

“I believe [the benefits of low-cost imports are] a little bit overstated,” he said.

“Of course, not taking advantage of lower-cost countries at all would be silly.

“But I think there’s room for a good balance, where we keep some of this key industry right here in Australia, while leveraging the lower cost of some components.

“If you think about importing everything, that also means all the high-tech jobs that come with it disappear. The support over the life of the asset is no longer done by people that have first-hand knowledge of the product.

“So I think we’re still soul searching, as a country, about how best to strike a balance between local content, and imported.

“But when I look abroad … what I see in the G20 countries is a lot of local content. These guys sign free trade agreements, just as we do. These guys believe in free trade, just as we do. But they also believe in an infrastructure industry that is strong enough to sustain the economy over a long term.”

Lalande also expects to talk about the increased role public private partnerships are having in the rail supply space.

“We’ve been seeing larger contracts as of late. Full systems, and larger quantities of vehicles, purchased under public private partnership types of agreements.

“That’s a change, because it means you’re no longer delivering trains, you’re delivering a whole system. And you’re taking responsibility over a whole system for a long period of time; handling the financing, the maintenance, and taking on the major risks that come with managing a fleet like that.

“I think that’s a trend that’s well-established now, and I see that continuing in the future. Clearly it’s a significant shift within the industry.”

Lalande will join nine other executives at 11.30am on Tuesday, November 24, in a Rail Suppliers CEO Forum at AusRAIL PLUS 2015.

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