Bombardier Transportation Australia has had a solid year in spite of the pandemic, thanks largely to their commitment to local manufacturing. Rail Express speaks to ANZ President, Wendy McMillan.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread internationally in early 2020, Bombardier Transportation stepped into gear. From March, global and regional steering committees were established to ensure business continuity across the global rail manufacturer.
As President of Bombardier’s Australian and New Zealand operations, Wendy McMillan was intimately involved in these conversations.
“We conducted continued reviews of inventory management, both in country and on sites and that’s across the board, for both the services business and manufacturing but also of course the critical stocks of PPE.”
With the company’s Australian footprint including a significant manufacturing and operations footprint in Victoria, when the second wave hit, protocols put in place early enabled Bombardier to continue throughout.
With temperature checks and mask wearing standard across all sites prior to the government mandates, business continuity was bolstered.
“We made sure that those additional controls were in place and our COVID safe plans were also complete to meet or exceed government requirements, as with all businesses there have been some delays to certain projects as a result of the pandemic. But by and large we have continued to deliver and build trains and trams. Most of the delays that we do see are supply side issues,” said McMillan.
A less visible but no less important requirement to enable operations to continue was to make sure that auditing could be conducted under COVID-19 mandates. As a provider of safety critical systems, Bombardier is required to conduct regular independent regulatory and quality audits. By being agile and adapting these have been able to continue.
“Taking the example of Victoria, a lot of personnel and visitors haven’t been able to come to site, so the audits have moved to being online and it’s worked extremely well with documentation, reviews and interviews.”
Amid these procedural changes, a focus for McMillan and the Bombardier executive team throughout has been on ensuring the wellbeing of staff. With the Victorian second wave largely isolating the state from the rest of Australia, and in particular with states such as Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales limiting cross border travel, managing the business throughout COVID-19 has been a human task as much as a technical one.
“We treat Bombardier personnel as a family. You’ve got your family at home, and when you come to work it’s another family, so we really want people to have the ability to look out for each other. If you’re not on site at the coal face, it becomes hard to work out body language via (Microsoft) Teams to see if someone may not be perhaps feeling themselves compared to normal, so we’ve tried to really get around that by trying to keep close and having check ins with management (and all) team members,” said McMillan.
The company has continued its close association with initiatives such as R U OK?Day and has also conducted mental health first aid training for staff. At its site in Dandenong, the company is now piloting a Quiet Room space where staff can privately reach out to the in- house employee assistance line, services such as Beyond Blue and LifeLine, or simply have a moment to themselves during a stressful period. This quiet room concept is being rolled out nationally.
With these measures and others in place, Bombardier has continued to deliver for the Australian rail industry throughout COVID-19. While Melbourne was under one of the most stringent lockdowns globally, the company has continued to manufacture a variety of rollingstock for Victoria and other states.
“Luckily, through great commitment from our workforce, we have not had one COVID case nationwide to date, and no stand-downs. We have been able to build both the trains and trams for Victoria, and also starting up
our production line for Adelaide as well,” said McMillan. “All of our service and maintenance operations and all of our signalling businesses have also continued really without a glitch.”
To continue to deliver on time and to spec, Bombardier has had to contend with global disruptions and how those have played out locally. Impacts on supply chains and the inability to access alternative sources overseas has meant that in certain cases, Bombardier’s tight partnerships with local manufacturers and suppliers have been a key factor of their sustained operations.
In addition, the company not only continued with existing orders, but added more work to its order book. In September the company confirmed that the Victorian government had ordered 18 additional VLocity trains for the regional network. A selection of the new trains will also be the first VLocity trains to run on the standard gauge network.
Locally designed and built using Australia’s highest local content percentage at 69 per cent, the new trains on order received recognition for their innovative design with the Best Interior and Gold awards at the Australian GOOD DESIGN awards. As McMillan highlighted, this achievement was the result of the local teams and collaboration.
“Not just design and engineering, but procurement, quality, operations, project management, customer relations, and sales; everybody has been involved so everybody has that sense of pride in the awards and working with our customers, the Victorian Department of Transport and V/Line and as well.”
Not only was the award a recognition for Bombardier and its customers, however, but also the supplier partners that Bombardier works with, and increasingly the local manufacturing base that supports each train or tram.
While transport infrastructure has largely been the focus of government stimulus spending, the rollingstock to run on these new or upgraded lines will go alongside investment in new track.
“Across the board, investment in transport infrastructure is part of the economic recovery and rollingstock is one component of that and there are projects around the country that are good examples of it. If you look at the election commitment from the Palaszczuk government that has been returned In Queensland, so you’re looking at a new manufacturing centre in Maryborough, to build the first 20 trains of the additional fleet required not only for their Cross River Rail project but further patronage growth and fleet retirement.”
With over one third of Bombardier’s global industrial design expertise located in Brisbane, and teams in Maryborough and Wulkuraka, Bombardier is able to ensure that local content requirements are met in the Sunshine state and that benefits are felt throughout the supply chain.
“Localisation and local manufacturing are key objectives of ours and things that we already do and do well,” said McMillan. “We work very closely with the union partners and we have industrialisation teams looking at that opportunity and entreating early to have good planning with our supply chain partners.”
Having a local design team not only means that Bombardier wins awards for Australian design but ensures that local regulatory requirements are met and innovation from other parts of Bombardier’s global business can be delivered locally.
“That’s where you get the best of both in being local,” said McMillan.
As cities and states start to encourage the public back onto public transport with the threat of COVID-19 receding, enhancing the customer experience and increasing safety will be one way to win back commuters. Globally, Bombardier has developed an antiviral HVAC filter which can remove 99.9 per cent of coronavirus – including COVID-19 – from rail carriages. The technology is already in trials on rail networks in the UK. In other areas, the company is looking to optimise or retrofit existing vehicles with new special awareness technology to encourage social distancing and encourage passenger flow.
To ensure that these benefits are felt up and down the supply chain and by the community at large, however, governments need to set clear pipelines for local manufacturing so that organisations like Bombardier can have the confidence to invest further. McMillan acknowledges the work of the Australasian Railway Association in this regard.
“For industries like us, rather than feast or famine, having the consistent pipeline to plan is as important for us with our own internal business cases as it is for the supply chain, particularly for local content,” she said.
Having survived the bushfires, pandemic, and economic crisis of 2020, McMillan said it was more important than ever Bombardier continued to support and nurture the communities within which it works.
“We’ve continued our association with community development organisations St Kilda Gatehouse and we’re able to support them in their mask drive and we are finalising our last pieces of our Christmas support to them at
At Bombardier’s maintenance site in Wulkuraka for the New Generation Rollingstock fleet, the company is working with local staff to select a community partner.
“The aim as always is to look after your backyard, and we will look to continue that and working as tightly as we can with community when there are requests of us.”