Maintenance for a new generation: A look inside the Wulkuraka Maintenance Centre

With all of the New Generation Rollingstock now in passenger service, Bombardier is now ensuring the fleet’s service, safety, and reliability from its base in Wulkuraka.

With the purchase of the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR), Queensland made the largest ever single investment in public transport in the state’s history. Not only did this introduce new rollingstock, but brought rail in Queensland back to where it all began, in Ipswich.

The QTECTIC consortium – of which Bombardier Transportation (BT) is a member – is delivering the NGR program and has constructed a purpose-built maintenance facility at Wulkuraka, west of Ipswich.

For decades, Ipswich was the centre of rail construction, maintenance and technology in Queensland. Over 150 years ago, the very first train to run in Queensland steamed through Wulkuraka on its way from North Ipswich to Grandchester, just west of Ipswich.

Fast forward to December 2015 and the Wulkuraka Maintenance Centre was handed over to Bombardier to receive the first NGR train in February 2016 for early testing. The depot completion then occurred in June 2016, a major milestone for the project. The first three trains were accepted in October-November 2017. By December the first three trains were in passenger service. At the end of 2019, the final train in the 75-strong fleet had arrived and was accepted into passenger service. This marked a key turning point for the facility, as it now became solely focused on ensuring the modern trains meet and exceed the ongoing performance to ensure the travelling public enjoy safe, reliable and clean trains all while providing passenger comfort.

To meet this challenge, Bombardier Transportation recently brought on Ben Wagener, an experienced rail manager with a safety-first mindset in alignment with Bombardier’s ethos, as general manager on the QNGR program. Having most recently managed maintenance in NSW for Aurizon, Wagener saw the opportunity for a new challenge.

“Bombardier Transportation is a global leader in rail and rollingstock and I was very keen to be a part of a place where safety of all personnel is a key part of the maintenance philosophy. I also wanted to leverage the latest vehicle technology at the purpose built Wulkuraka facility to assist in delivering infrastructure critical to the people of Queensland,” said Wagener.

“Being part of a public-private partnership (PPP) creates a new dynamic for me and a project like this brings challenges and opportunities. There are multiple stakeholders such as delivery consortium QTECTIC, the Queensland Department of Transport and Main Roads, our union partners at the RTBU and AMWU, and of course our subcontractors. I also have previous relationships within Queensland Rail which I was keen to reignite. So, this is a really interesting place to be as there is a diversity of equally valuable views around the table,” said Wagener.

“The opportunity opens new pathways into executive management and, having studied my MBA, it was simply an offer I could not refuse.”

Getting performance levels to meet goals is a key outcome of any maintenance contract, and with Bombardier contracted to deliver maintenance to 2045, having an innovative rail maintenance centre sets the team up for success.

“Everything is safety focused. All of the kit and facility is new, there are less hazards and legacy infrastructure to deal with, and the movement of vehicles is easy due to the size of the facility. This should also eliminate many depot capacity constraints,” said Wagener.

“Ultimately, if you have the right tools and right equipment in the right location, you will have a quality outcome. We are here for the long haul in Queensland, so our goal is to always keep our people safe and delight our customers and
the commuting public.”

Of course, early teething issues have had to be overcome, but the opportunity to work on advanced pieces of rollingstock that are critical for the state’s growth has motivated Wagener’s team.

“The team is working on world class technology. It’s exciting to be involved in this, using enhanced metrics and computerised processes,” said Wagener. “I’m focused on building this sense of camaraderie among the team around our shared purpose for the people of Queensland. Having a place that people are proud to work at drives efficiency in our processes.”

The purpose-built Wulkuraka facility is focused on maintaining the NGR fleet to the highest standards.

The access to the latest fleet performance data generated by the locally designed trains has informed maintenance practices so far.

“There is an opportunity to align asset management standard 55001, sustainability, and the maintenance required on some of the new technology,” said Wagener.

While the maintenance of the NGR fleet presents new opportunities, it is supported by Bombardier’s knowledge and experience when it comes to the maintenance and servicing of rollingstock.

Wagener’s team in Queensland share relationships with key Bombardier suppliers and systems that are deployed on other Bombardier fleets around Australia and internationally.

“We very much work as a team and we draw insights and processes from other locations that can help us at a new facility like we have at Wulkuraka and outstations,” said Wagener. “Further to this, we have a baseline of standard processes and procedures across the services business and support from multiple projects not only around the nation, but the globe.”

These common systems and processes provide the backbone for Bombardier’s ongoing commitment to Queensland’s transport and mobility.

“We are here for the long haul and the safe performance of these vehicles is a key priority. We are growing industry capacity through our work with the Rail Manufacturing CRC and have apprentices on site and we always want more. Building the next generation of rail workers for Queensland is important for our site and also BT more generally,” said Wagener.

This support of the industry also extends to contracts with local suppliers and subcontractors. The community is also invited to be involved with the project over the next 25 years as it becomes enmeshed in the Wulkuraka environment.

“We want to be sustainable centre of excellence and support this community and our people,” said Wagener.

As the population of Queensland grows and is concentrated in the south east region, the increase in rail network capacity engendered by the NGR will be reliant upon the continuation of a heritage of expertise at the Wulkuraka maintenance site.

IBAC announces corruption investigation into V/Line and Metro

Victoria’s Independent Broad-Based Anti-Corruption Commission (IBAC) has formally announced that it is conducting an investigation into serious corrupt conduct in Victoria’s public transport sector.

The announcement follows months of rumours which have swirled since V/Line CEO James Pinder was stood down by the Victorian Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll in August.

The investigation will focus on procurement and tendering processes within the Victorian public transport sector, with suggestions that cleaning contracts may be a focus.

IBAC commissioner Robert Redlich said the investigation would cover the management of contracts between V/Line, Metro and suppliers.

“The hearings will examine the effectiveness of controls associated with the proper delivery of essential services in the state’s public transport system during a time of critical importance to the health and wellbeing of Victorians,” said Redlich.

Hearings will begin on Monday, October 26 and be streamed online.

“As part of IBAC’s focus on preventing corruption, the public hearings will also consider whether the current systems and controls are sufficient to protect the integrity of the tendering and procurement process, and examine potential systemic issues, including how organisational culture and practices may have contributed,” said Redlich.

Hearings will look into whether contract tender and procurement processes were swayed by monetary incentives or gifts.

Since being stood down, Pinder has been replaced by Gary Liddle, who had previously steered V/Line through a troubled period in 2016 when safety concerns led to regional services not being able to travel through Melbourne. Nick Foa, head of transport services at the Department of Transport briefly stood in before Liddle was appointed.

Metro Trains rollingstock manager Peter Bollas was also stood down in August due to the same investigation.

Aurizon targets net zero operational emissions by 2050

Aurizon will invest $50m in low carbon locomotives such as battery and hydrogen-powered trains to meet a net zero goal by 2050.

The freight hauler and network owner will also look to maximise the benefits of the electrified freight network in Queensland, particularly as more renewable energy is fed into the grid.

Managing director and CEO of Aurizon, Andrew Harding said that the company was confident that technology would meet the company’s goals.

“We are confident that rapidly-advancing technology in the rail sector will unlock major benefits like we are seeing in motor vehicles, energy generation and general industry. Our focus will be low-carbon technology for our locomotive fleet which accounts for more than 90 per cent of Aurizon’s CO2 emissions.”

In addition to actions undertaken internally, Aurizon will also push for government action.

“We directly advocate for policy actions to increase the use of rail freight on key national freight corridors. Our aim is to ensure that rail freight remains competitive and part of the solution as the economy transitions to a low-carbon future,” said Harding.

The company’s commitment follows the latest Sustainability Report from the freight operator. In the report, Aurizon advocates for lowered electricity costs to reduce the risk of substituting electric locomotives for diesel-powered trains. In addition, Aurizon outlines that the company has been advocating for greater infrastructure investment, improvements to regulation and finding efficiencies at interfaces between modes.

To meet the goal of lower emissions, Aurizon said that it would be making significant investments in new rollingstock shortly.

“Aurizon is already working with other railroads and manufacturers on the early development of battery and hydrogen-powered locomotives for deployment in a heavy-haul railway environment. This includes options of upgrades to the existing fleet and new rollingstock. We would expect to see prototypes trialling on our network by 2025, as technology advances and costs come down further,” said Harding.

“Locomotives are long-life assets of 20 – 30 years. We have some significant decisions ahead in renewing our locomotive fleet – potential game-changers for the freight industry – when we invest in the next generations of rollingstock to power our business through to 2050.”