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.
Bombardier’s Wendy McMillan describes how the company is creating a rail manufacturing centre of excellence as it reaches a major milestone.
Announcing the Victorian government’s purchase of 50 new trams for the Melbourne network in 2010, then Public Transport Minister Martin Pakula, highlighted what the first order of locally made trams in 20 years would mean for the state.
“The order is a boost to our tram fleet and is a fantastic endorsement of our local manufacturing industry with major components built at Dandenong as well as assembly and testing.”
Three years later, and a different public transport minister was riding the first of the E-Class trams as it left the Southbank depot and travelled on route 96.
“The E-Class tram will mean an improved ride for passengers with pivoting bogies and air-conditioning designed specifically for Melbourne,” said Terry Mulder, who noted the considerable difference the tram would make for the city and Melbourne’s commuters. “Each E-Class tram can carry 210 passengers, which is significantly more than other trams on the network.”
The company behind this series of trams, Bombardier, is now approaching production of the 100th E-Class vehicle, and the trams, proudly adorned with the ‘Made in Melbourne, For Melbourne’ motto, have become testament to the benefits of local manufacturing. Wendy McMillan, President Australia and New Zealand at Bombardier Transportation, said that by being made in Melbourne, the global mobility provider can “think global, act local”.
“It means you’ve got the full suite,” said McMillan. “We have the engineering capability to match what you actually bid, product assurance and design safety, and then you go into production.”
With the Dandenong workshop now completing vehicle 86 in the series, each tram is the result of Bombardier’s local and global expertise.
“If we look at the E-Class, you have industrial design in Brisbane, and we have at least a third of the global capability of industrial design in our Milton office. What it means is that you have a collaboration between functions, either here or overseas, full collaboration to actually bring the book together for the customer to enable sign off,” said McMillan.
In addition to the trams manufactured in Dandenong, Bombardier also produces the Vlocity 160 DMU for Victoria’s regional network. On both products, Bombardier has been able to update and vary the design locally in line with changes to requirements. Having local engineering capabilities is essential to these changes.
“There might be new standards that come in that the customer may wish to do a variation for,” said McMillan. “For example on LRV crashworthiness, it might be lines of sight, there might be driver requirements that change from the operator. Having engineering presence on the ground enables you to have that assurance.”
The first introduction of the E-Class trams saw improvements in accessibility for travellers by increasing the number of low floor trams running on the network. In addition, the enhanced capacity built into the design of the trams has become increasingly important.
“With COVID-19, larger capacity is a nice thing in hindsight because that allows more people on that tram, so that will give the highest capacity for the Yarra Trams fleet. That obviously means greater access and equity for the commuter and it also ensures that it’s the smoothest ride,” said McMillan.
Other improvements included positive feedback for safety standards in the driver’s cab, and Bombardier has worked with research institutions to look at other areas where design innovation can be introduced to respond to the particularities of Melbourne’s network.
“We’ve worked with a tertiary institution around visibility, line of sight, windscreens, and cameras outside the vehicle so that the driver is fully aware of their surroundings,” said McMillan. “The Melbourne network is not a closed network, it has a high interface with vehicles, whether they’re private drivers, Ubers, taxis, trucks, so we’re working with Yarra Trams and the Victorian government to plan a trial of an Obstacle Detection Assistance System (ODAS) that warns a driver about cars and passengers in front of the tram.”
In addition to upgrades, being local means that Bombardier are working on the trams every day, both in Dandenong and at maintenance depots.
“There was an incident today, an interface with a car or a truck on one of our trams. We hold spares for that. Our ability being on the ground means that we can work quickly, with Yarra Trams at their site in Preston, to repair those vehicles and have them back out. We can do that sourcing from both the Dandenong site and also with Yarra Trams,” said McMillan.
STRENGTHENING LOCAL MANUFACTURING
Bombardier’s presence in Dandenong continues over half a century of rail manufacturing heritage in south-east Melbourne. First opened by Commonwealth Engineering, then taken over by ABB, the current Bombardier plant is built in such a way to provide the best services for the Australian rail industry.
“Because the site itself has got access to the main line it’s very accessible both for V/ Line and Yarra Trams. We have an LRV test track there too and that gives us the ability to do a lot of work for the Victorian government and Yarra Trams on site,” said McMillan.
As McMillan highlights, it’s this collaborative relationship that has developed over the decades that has allowed Bombardier to serve the largest tram network in the world with local knowledge and production.
“We’re in production up to 91, well on the way up to 100 with the E-Class. That’s a big achievement and we can’t do that without our customer the Department of Transport and the State government, as well as a lot of hard work and dedication from our partners in the supply chain,” said McMillan. “We’ve worked to get the right quality supply chain partners, to get it right first time, minimise rework, while having capacity for repairs.”
Across Dandenong and the wider south- east Melbourne region, Bombardier has been key to the flourishing manufacturing ecosystem. The 11,000 manufacturers in south-east Melbourne employ 105,000 people, with each manufacturing job supporting four more jobs in other sectors, according to peak industry body South East Melbourne Manufacturing Alliance (SEMMA). Manufacturing large, complex systems such as rollingstock here enables a flow on effect across the entire region.
“Once we actually manufacture the design, we have an extraordinary, capable, local supply chain, and that’s around the Dandenong area in addition to Australia and New Zealand,” said McMillan. “Then there’s the multiplier impact, and obviously it’s in addition to the employment of those in the local community.”
The light rail operation alone employs more than 70 people directly, while enabling training through apprenticeships and partnerships with local education providers.
“Whether it’s safety training, welding, base manufacturing, or other skill sets, we have apprentices at the site and are close to Chisholm TAFE,” said McMillan. “Each quarter I give out service awards, and the incredible clusters around 5, 10, 15, 20, even 35 years, it blows you away.
“Another aspect is we’ve got a welding school that we offer to external training facilities, but you can’t do this unless you’re a good member of the community. We’re really trying to do not only the right things for the right reasons but really be proactive. We’ve done that in the bushfire appeal, we have an MoU that we’ve just signed with community development organisation St Kilda Gatehouse.”
BUILDING FROM A SUSTAINABLE BASE
Having these deep links to the community has become more important than ever. When COVID-19 hit, one unintended consequence of the local content requirement meant that there was minimal disruption to Bombardier’s manufacturing.
“We’ve been fortunate in our management and the local content policy assists in this regard in having suppliers around,” said McMillan. “Certainly, all supply chains were seriously disrupted and still are to an extent, but the actual impacts to us on these lines have been fairly minimal in a Victorian context. We were at one stage the only Bombardier Transportation site, apart from the China joint ventures, that were open in the world because of the unfortunate state of COVID and its impacts, particularly in Europe, the UK, and the Americas.”
While the disruptions of COVID-19 has an immediate impact on operations, McMillan also sees a role for rollingstock to play in enabling governments to respond. As governments look for ever greater value for money in transportation programs, changing the interaction between rollingstock and fixed infrastructure could provide a way forward.
“We’ve seen a request from clients to really stretch the rollingstock offer to match the associated network infrastructure. They look at expenditure and the interface in both. That might mean just your tram stops, how many of those need to go out, can rollingstock do something different about that? We’re very happy to look at the design possibilities in that regard as well,” said McMillan.
In addition, broader mobility trends will continue. As Melbourne looks to upgrade its network, innovations in light rail vehicles can overcome the limitations of a legacy network. Bombardier is involved in early design work for the next generation of trams, a defined benefit of which will be onboard energy storage to reduce the need for upgrades to the power network.
Another area for future development is integrating tram networks with the wider transportation system. Operating between heavy rail and active transport modes such as walking and cycling, McMillan sees an ongoing role for light rail in solving the ‘last mile’ of passenger movements.
“You have your last mile in logistics and you certainly have that in passenger movement. You’ve got the disruption of Uber and those operations as well in terms of how people still commute and get to nodes of heavy rail stations and meeting that with bike, so we are designing for bicycle capacity on our trains and trams.”
Increasing demand on Victoria’s regional network is leading to new thinking about the role of regional commuter trains, particularly to reduce emissions from diesel-powered units on unelectrified lines.
“In terms of regional-type commuter we can do a bi-mode diesel train, or a battery-electric train, and that can be introduced here. It could be utilised around the growth areas of the South East where we are but particularly to Ballarat and Geelong,” said McMillan.
Another area where Bombardier is involved in the next generation of transport networks is in delivering the signalling for the Melbourne Metro Tunnel project, as part of the Rail Systems Alliance (RSA). This is one area in particular where McMillian sees the local and the global coming together once again.
“Being basically in the same time-zone as Southeast Asia, and having very significant labs in Bangkok, assists with the RSA contract that’s on the ground here. You’ve got to be global for benefits and function shares. No one wants to reinvent the wheel and no customer wants that to happen on their program so that’s the benefit that we offer particularly in the services category.”
In the meantime, however, the day to day operations at Dandenong continue, with safety always the focus.
“At the Dandenong site we’ve achieved a safety record there and that is a result of every one of your staff, management down,” said McMillan.
Bombardier Transportation’s Todd Garvey sat down with Rail Express to discuss the mobility solutions provider’s approach to the booming local light rail market.
Australia, already home to the largest tram network on the planet, has become a hotbed for light rail developments in recent years. With new projects opened across multiple cities in the last five years, the project pipeline remains strong.
Despite this rapid development of a range of new opportunities for light rail vehicle (LRV) manufacturers in the region, Bombardier Transportation’s Todd Garvey told Rail Express the company doesn’t see its role changing drastically. Instead, the company plans to continue to rely on the qualities that have made it a successful player in the local market for years.
“There is a range of projects coming up that have a huge amount of focus for our business that we are excited about,” Garvey, the company’s head of sales for Southeast Asia and Australia, said.
“We’re focused on maintaining our role as a market leader in the supply and end- to-end manufacture of local content for Australia’s LRV needs. We’re working hard to ensure our local LRV manufacturing teams and indeed supply chain have a good, solid pipeline of work ahead of them.”
Maintaining the strength of the local supply chain has long been a key focus for Bombardier in Australia.
“Bombardier is in a unique position given our local manufacturing and supply chain for LRVs,” Garvey continued.
“Given Bombardier has been in this market for so long there is a huge amount of engineering and LRV subject matter experts within the business. That means there is an ability to not only identify and resolve the day-to-day challenges but also evolve the local supply chain capabilities for specific LRV requirements.”
The primary manufacturer of LRVs for Melbourne since 2013, Bombardier has now delivered around 85 E-Class trams to the Yarra Trams network, and has a current orderbook that will bring that figure to at least 100 LRVs.
Garvey told Rail Express the E-Class, which is comprised of Bombardier Flexity model LRVs, is the result of the company’s long-term approach to supply chain and market engagement.
“The Flexity is a world class tram,” he said. “They’re DSAPT compliant and built with passenger safety and comfort in mind.”
Beyond safety and comfort, however, the Flexity LRVs running in Melbourne have been developed to suit a network that presents a unique array of challenges for a fleet manufacturer/maintainer.
“Vehicles in Melbourne operate on a vast network that is unique in so many ways,” Garvey explained.
“One major factor is that in many sections of the network the vehicles will be operating on brownfield tracks. Some sections have been in existence for many decades, and in some cases for more than 100 years.”
“This is a natural phenomenon that happens all around the world,” Garvey said, “but in Melbourne it makes it even more important the LRVs are built to withstand these tough conditions.
“Fortunately, the Bombardier Flexity class is designed to suit this environment and has a proven track record in providing safe and comfortable passenger services in Melbourne.
“The car body is robust to suit local network requirements, and has been built to European fire and crashworthiness standards, which enhance the vehicle’s safety levels to that of worldwide leader status.”
ODAS TRIAL PLANNED
Bombardier plans to trial its Obstacle Detection Assistance System (ODAS) with its Victorian partners midway through 2020.
A joint development with the Austrian Institute of Technology, Bombardier’s ODAS uses an array of stereovision cameras focused on the area in front of the LRV, and highly advanced software algorithms which evaluate the vehicle envelope in real time along the track.
As soon as the system detects a considerable risk in front of the vehicle, it can alert the driver using visual and aural alerts.
“The ODAS product is progressing well and is active in the Flexity class in Europe,” Garvey said, ahead of the Victorian trial.
“In Frankfurt alone we have almost 150 systems in service. So far the ODAS platform has accumulated more than 10 million kilometres of passenger services, ensuring new levels of passenger safety and security.”
Bombardier has designed ODAS to be easy to upgrade, and switch in and out, thanks to its decentralised design featuring three separate components.
The first component is the camera unit: three identical stereo cameras within a single housing, mounted onto the inside of the windscreen. The cameras provide the high-resolution imagery and depth perception needed to provide accurate visual data for analysis.
That analysis is carried out in the second component of ODAS, the control unit. The unit is responsible for picture processing and interpretation, as well as additional routines which can provide further functionality.
The third component of the system is called the sync box, and is responsible for energy supply to the cameras, managing inputs and outputs, and providing a watchdog function to the controller. The sync box also acts as the liaison between the system and the tram, taking in vehicle information and delivering hazard warnings when needed.
LOOKING TO CONTINUE GOLD COAST SUCCESS
Bombardier is in discussions to supply vehicles for Stage 3A of light rail on the Gold Coast, and Garvey took a moment to reflect on the success of the 18 Flexity 2 trams Bombardier supplied to the project’s first two stages.
“The Gold Coast vehicles are performing extremely well,” he said. “Between 2014 and December 2019 there have been more than 46 million paid passenger trips on trams on that system, all on Bombardier LRVs.”
A particular point of pride for Bombardier was the performance of the fleet during the Commonwealth Games in 2018.“On some days during the Games they were running for 24 hours straight, in high traffic and warm weather conditions,” Garvey said, “and they did so without any issues.”
The fleet carried nearly 100,000 passengers a day during the Games, more than three times the daily average at the time – a success highlighted proudly by state transport minister Mark Bailey.
“It’s great to see so many people using the light rail network and other public transport modes to travel to events during the Commonwealth Games,” Bailey said in April 2018. “It is clear south-east Queensland commuters have responded well to taking all forms of public transport.”
Just prior to the Games the state managed to commission Stage 2 of light rail on the Gold Coast, which connected the original terminus at University Hospital to the Helensvale railway station – thus connecting the light rail to the region’s heavy rail network.
The results were immediate, with Bailey citing a “massive uptake of heavy rail commuters from both Brisbane and Varsity Lakes” during the games, and more than 180,000 passengers travelling to the Games via the heavy rail network in the Games’ first week.
With that success in the books, in November 2019 Queensland secured a funding package from the federal government to help deliver Stage 3A of Gold Coast Light Rail, further south to Burleigh Heads.
The state has said the 6.7-kilometre extension will require five new LRVs “similar to the 18 current vehicles,” and industry engagement is underway.