Ensuring that rollingstock supply keeps up with the boom in infrastructure construction is a significant task for Victoria, but the state has a plan to do it.
The 2020-21 Queensland Budget has confirmed a $1 billion rail manufacturing pipeline in the state. Read more
The dichotomy between building trains in Australia or overseas ignores the opportunities for procurement reform that would keep Australia competitive, writes Australasian Railway Association CEO Caroline Wilkie.
In recent months we have seen two very different approaches to rail procurement in Australia.
In New South Wales, the state government welcomed new rollingstock onto the network, after importing trains from overseas.
Meanwhile, in Victoria, the state government confirmed the order of the next tranche of V/Line trains, to be manufactured at Bombardier’s Dandenong facility.
As one state looked to promote local jobs in its own backyard, the other claimed doing so wasn’t really an option.
The truth is, both procurement processes highlight some of the challenges the industry is facing.
The NSW government’s erroneous claims that is wasn’t realistic to build trains in Australia were understandably met with disappointment from the industry.
We have – and always have had – a strong rail manufacturing industry in Australia.
We can be proud of our $2.4 billion rollingstock manufacturing and repair industry with capability and experience across the country.
Companies like Alstom, Bombardier, Downer, and UGL are leading the way in Australia, with over 900 businesses involved in rail manufacturing and supply nationally.
The industry can design, manufacture, maintain, and repair rollingstock to the highest standards, with capability in Cardiff and Broadmeadow in NSW; Dandenong, Ballarat and Newport in Victoria; Maryborough in Queensland; and East Perth in WA.
Metropolitan Sydney and Melbourne are the largest centres of rollingstock maintenance and repairs in Australia, and two of the three largest non-capital city employment bases for the industry nationally are in Newcastle and Lake Macquarie.
But the sector lacks the scale of its international counterparts and is hamstrung by the procurement processes that exist across the country.
While contract awards like those in Victoria do create jobs and support local businesses, more needs to be done to support the long- term health of the sector.
Victoria, like most state governments, applies local content requirements at the state level.
It is not hard to see why governments are prone to favouring a state-first procurement policy when awarding these contracts.
Research conducted by the ARA this year found that while the average business spends about twice their wages cost on intermediary inputs, the rollingstock manufacturing
and repair industry spends five times their wages cost.
It is understandable that governments believe keeping manufacturing in their state will realise these flow-on benefits and maximise the jobs and economic benefits generated from their investment.
But in practice, it really means there are fewer and fewer chances for the industry to win work, create jobs and support innovation and growth.
It means the team working on rollingstock in Victoria might not meet the local content requirements set by NSW, Queensland, or WA.
If the same team wanted to bid for a very similar contract outside of Victoria, they might need to have facilities and people located in the state where they are bidding.
For many companies, that kind of duplication – often for a single contract – is impractical, expensive, and difficult to manage.
Even if they do choose to establish a local presence, the costs can be prohibitive not just because of the need to be local, but because different states may favour different specifications to achieve the same outcome in their tender process.
In the end, this creates layer upon layer of complexity that drives up costs, makes it hard for rail manufacturers to work across jurisdictions and erodes the size of the project pipeline Australian businesses can work towards.
A national approach to rail procurement is the only solution.
We need an approach that recognises our manufacturing industry can only grow and scale up if we treat the whole of Australia as one single market.
We need to ask industry to deliver an outcome or solve a problem, rather than specify the individual components that must be used, even if they are not the best choice available.
We must consider the whole of life costs of an asset, and the additional economic and sustainability benefits our industry can deliver, rather than choose options that are cheap to produce but could cost much more to maintain.
If we take these simple steps, the industry will have greater certainty, increase its investment and training, and have access to a bigger project pipeline.
They will achieve new efficiencies and forge innovation that will make a difference for the industry and the people that rely upon it.
Ultimately, rail manufacturing will grow and increase its competitiveness, providing more jobs and opportunity than is possible right now.
We were heartened to hear NSW Minister for Transport and Roads, Andrew Constance confirm that he is willing to work on the issue with other state governments.
With more rail contractors and manufacturers looking to increase their use of Australian suppliers in the wake of COVID-19, there is no better time to act than now.
We look forward to working with Constance and his counterparts across the country to deliver better outcomes for the industry and the economy.
Bombardier’s efforts in Australia to grow and maintain diversity within its workforce are at the core of what makes a successful rail business today.
In late September, a milestone was reached at Bombardier Transportation Australia. The date marked 12 months since the launch of the Women’s Professional Network (WPN), an internal empowerment group for the women employed at Bombardier’s sites around Australia. To mark the occasion, a photo taken earlier in 2020 was published on the manufacturer’s social media sites showing the Melbourne base WPN members, and a few male staff, standing in front of a newly built VLocity train set at the manufacturer’s Dandenong facility.
Demonstrating the commitment to diversity from the top down, standing at the front of the group were Victoria’s Minister for Women and Prevention of Family Violence, Gabrielle Williams, Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie, ARA Chair Danny Broad, CEO of the St Kilda Gatehouse, Stacey Aslangul, and president of Bombardier Transportation Australia and New Zealand Wendy McMillan.
“Diversity has many faces but the WPN is a shining example of grass roots work that is being done in our business to help lift our female colleagues in their work with Bombardier Transportation,” McMillan said to acknowledge the project’s milestone.
The significance of having a leader like McMillan is not lost on Rahul Kumar, head of human resources Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia at Bombardier.
“It starts from the top. Most of the diversity and inclusion initiatives have to be top driven, so the leadership buy in is key for us and we’re very lucky to have Wendy as president.”
Kumar has been part of a core team that has been leading a push on diversity and inclusion at Bombardier in Australia. Avoiding large, complex projects that lose momentum and fail to be implemented, Kumar has focused on grassroots initiatives such as the WPN that can be sustained over a long period.
“If we’re going to be focussing on diversity, let’s bring women together. Most of the work is done outside of HR by testing and commissioning engineer Kamakshi Rambhatla. What started as just an effort of getting women together has now resulted in mentoring programs, we’ve had workshops being run by local speakers and we’ve had our local member for Dandenong and the Minister for Women, Minister for Prevention of Family Violence and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gabrielle Williams come and address them.”
In the 12 months since its launch the WPN has not only improved the careers of those involved and connected women from Bombardier’s sites across Australia but has inspired a movement of sorts with other WPNs being born in Southeast Asia and India. Today, over 20 mentoring groups run under the WPN banner, and an award and recognition program highlights those who have gone above and beyond.
“We now get 20-30 nominations consistently every month,” said Kumar. “At the start, we had to go and ask, ‘Do you want to nominate someone?’ Now it’s changing from a pull to a push system.”
While the program has driven engagement internally, Kumar is aware of the challenges of attracting not only women, but young people, and people from a variety of cultural backgrounds to the rail industry. However, this has not dissuaded Kumar from trying.
“Everyone keeps telling us we don’t have female graduates, we can’t find females in shop floor roles, we can’t find tradeswomen. It’s a reality too, and it’s not easy to find if you advertise, but we said, ‘Are we going to stop at this problem or are we going to find a way?’”
In addition to the traditional pathways into a manufacturing career such as apprenticeships and graduate programs that Bombardier offers, development plans were put in place to provide pathways for those who maybe not have been able to access the same training and education opportunities or who did not come from a traditional rail background.
One of these was TRANSIT. Set up by the Level Crossing Removal Authority (LXRA), the initiative highlights potential rail careers to those from other sectors that were in decline, in particular the automotive sector. Also, in collaboration with LXRA, Bombardier partnered on GROW, which seeks to introduce people from marginalised or disadvantaged backgrounds – including asylum seekers, refugees and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – to training and employment opportunities in the transport and construction industries. A third program that Kumar invested in is the Overseas-Qualified Professionals program, run by Melbourne Polytechnic, which provides a pathway for those with international qualifications to have their training recognised in Australia.
“In a conventional world, individuals from these programs would have found it difficult to get through because they either didn’t have the skills, the background, or the education,” said Kumar. “We have broken those barriers; they prove themselves during internship programs and they considered against any open position in Bombardier.
“We focused on these unconventional ways of getting talent in and once they’re in, then we make sure that they have a buddy and a mentor to put them on the journey.” Most of our OQP employees are doing a fantastic job, said Kumar.
These approaches are leading to success at Bombardier, with the female workforce introduced to manufacturing roles working on the Dandenong shop floor, another first in Bombardier’s long history at the site. There are six women working in various roles currently, and recently, two more female electricians have been selected to join the manufacturing workforce. A similar very structured approach is being followed in our services site in West Melbourne, where we now have four female employees in shop floor roles.
“Now we are starting to see cycles building, so all those efforts now are seeing fruition after a two-year journey,” said Kumar.
A now common element of corporate reporting is metrics which measure diversity. Often measured at the board level, these metrics can also be across a company as a whole. For Bombardier, the company globally tracks the number of women in management roles.
Beneath these headline figures, Kumar points out, is a focus on ensuring there is a pipeline of diverse expertise, and not only based on gender. In addition, diversity is not always captured in clear percentage figures.
“What we have done locally is look at how many women we have in succession plans to leadership because we always need to invest and ask if we have that pipeline of talent. Then we also look at diverse nationalities. This is a hard one to track in a place like Australia. For example, I myself came from India and I moved here in 2004. So, when I put my application down now what do I call myself, an Australian with an Indian background? I would not because I have got an Australian passport, I am Australian. We have done informal mapping, and in Dandenong itself we have over 30 different nationalities represented in some shape or form.”
Another focus is ensuring that the diversity is spread throughout the business, and not only in roles that are traditionally associated with a gender or cultural background.
“Sometimes there are good numbers on diversity but that 10 per cent or 20 per cent figure is skewed because a chunk of it is getting picked up by these traditional functions. In Australia, we are focusing on where we struggle, and that is in what we call conventional rail roles, and that’s building trains, maintaining them and also rail signalling,” said Kumar.
The final area that goes beyond a simple statistic is the retention rate. A diverse hiring policy is no use if the staff come and go through a revolving door, so Bombardier is looking closely at the reasons for a person leaving the organisation to see where it can do better.
“Most people will say I’m going to a new company for career progression but why could we not provide those avenues internally? We will track that to gather that information and then try and make some initiatives to bridge those gaps,” said Kumar.
THE VALUE OF A DIVERSE ORGANISATION
While academic research has proven that diverse organisations are more productive and profitable, as Kumar points out, for an organisation like Bombardier the value of inclusion is self-evident. With products and services operating in over 60 countries and approximately 36,000 employees, working across cultural boundaries is essential.
“Having a workforce that’s inclusive is the cornerstone of delivering projects, that’s how we survive.”
For example, the high capacity signalling system for the Metro Tunnel Project in Melbourne that Bombardier is delivering as part of the Rail Systems Alliance, brings together Australia and Thailand based teams along with other sites around the world. Similarly, the locally designed New Generation Rollingstock for the South East Queensland network are a collaboration between Bombardier teams in Australia and India.
“If we are not a diverse and inclusive organisation, we will start to see it in our delivery, in our products in the way they’re made and developed,” said Kumar.
In 2021, Bombardier will be doubling down on these efforts in Australia with the introduction of a hiring process that is blind to gender, sexuality, religion, marital status, and age, to remove any forms of unconscious bias.
“We are almost ready with a standard format,” said Kumar. “When CVs come in, they come in all fancy shapes and forms, some have got a vision statement, some have got objectives, so we’re going to remove that. We’re going to standardise our format. We’re going to say if someone is interested in Bombardier we want you to put your inputs into these broad categories and we don’t want your name, we don’t want your sexual orientation, religious beliefs, whether you’re married or not, your date of birth and also any reference to your gender.”
While such company-wide efforts are making a difference, as Kumar points out, there are stories every day that showcase why it is always important to keep a focus on diversity and inclusion within rail.
“In 2019, one of the graduates from the GROW community was telling me that he was the first in line from his whole family to ever get into a professional job. He had a double degree in engineering but was working part time as a home removalist. There was a graduate position coming up and I got a call from our LXRA contact saying you should have a look at this young engineering graduate. I said, ‘Not a problem, we will put him through the process.’ Now that guy is doing a fantastic job based in our West Melbourne site.”
Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Transport & Regional Development Catherine King sets out how rail transport could lead Australia out of a COVID-19 recession.
In July 2019, prior to the arrival of COVID-19, governor of the Reserve Bank, Philip Lowe called on governments around the country to invest more in infrastructure. Cutting the official cash rate to a then-record 1 per cent, Lowe said that more spending on infrastructure was needed.
“This spending adds to demand in the economy and – provided the right projects are selected – it also adds to the country’s productive capacity. It is appropriate to be thinking about further investments in this area, especially with interest rates at a record low, the economy having spare capacity and some of our existing infrastructure struggling to cope with ongoing population growth,” he told the Darwin business community.
Much has changed since that speech, but in some ways, Lowe’s words could be read, word for word, again, with added emphasis, as the cash rate is now 0.25 per cent and spare capacity in the form of unemployment has only risen.
To hear how the federal government and opposition are responding to this call for an infrastructure-led recovery, earlier in 2020, Rail Express spoke to Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development Michael McCormack and his shadow, Catherine King. The below interview with King has been condensed and edited for clarity and length. To read Rail Express‘s interview with Michael McCormack, follow this link.
THE ROUTE AHEAD FOR INLAND RAIL
It’s a project that all major parties support, however Inland Rail has been a headache for the government and the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) since objections have been raised to the route over floodplains in northern NSW and Queensland. With the rail industry looking for certainty over the project, governments are hoping to increase the project’s momentum.
Rail Express (REX): Labor has brought up some concerns with Inland Rail in the past, particularly around the section over the Condamine River floodplain in Queensland, how confident are you in the delivery of this project, particularly that section in Queensland?
Catherine King: Labor supports Inland Rail and in fact we put the first billion dollars into the project to actually get it started. I’m surprised the government has taken the notion of Inland Rail very literally with it not having any connection to the Port of Brisbane or the Port of Melbourne. They are important, difficult, and challenging issues to sort out but you can’t just build Inland Rail with no connectivity to either port. These projects are complex and we know that you’re never going to please everybody and there are issues around having to procure land, having to dissect across farmland, but one of the things that I’ve learnt as being a long time local MP and also having portfolios like this before is that you have to get the consultation right and when you’ve got such a big community expressing significant concern about the sort of hydrology work that has been done by the government and a lack of transparency about how the decision was made, you’ve got a problem.
REX: How would Labor look to extend Inland Rail or make those connections to other freight networks around Australia?
King: If we were fortunate enough to be in government in 2022, we don’t know what plans would be in place but what I would like to see is the start of a discussion about it. At the moment all we know about it is there’s going to be significantly increased trucks going through Acacia Ridge but no plan or discussion about what some of the alternatives are. The government needs to start that work now because without those connections Inland Rail doesn’t make as much sense as it should.
A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR FREIGHT
Without freight rail continuing to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia’s supermarkets shelves would be empty and commodities would be sitting at farms and mines, never making it to market. To ensure that this critical link in the logistics chain continued to operate, governments stepped in, allowing freight to cross otherwise closed borders. In May, the ARTC provided some financial relief for rail freight operators by extending payment terms for current access charges and deferring a consumer price index increase that was scheduled for July. Rail freight operators are still concerned however, with more empty containers being transported by sea, and a lack of competitive neutrality with road freight.
REX: Would you want to go back and have a look at competitive pricing neutrality between rail and road, and access charges?
King: That wasn’t part of our policy at the last election but we’ve just seen an extraordinary effort in terms of all our freight and logistics companies, whether it has been rail through to what’s happened in the trucking industry.
I think there’s a much stronger appreciation about the role that our freight and logistics companies play and we support the government’s pausing of some of those fees and charges in order to make sure that we get through this crisis. As a nation, what’s the most efficient way of delivering our freight? It’s important to ensure that we don’t pick one over another that we make sure that there is a reasonably level playing field for both but what we want to focus on is ensuring that we have the most efficient system that we possibly can whether it is road, whether it is rail, or whether it’s via shipping and our ports.
THE FASTER OR HIGH-SPEED RAIL DILEMMA
In a speech delivered to shadow cabinet in May, Anthony Albanese reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to building a high-speed rail link between Melbourne and Brisbane, via Sydney and Canberra. As a nation-building project it would certainly be iconic, but could COVID-19 actually turn Australia’s long held dream of high-speed rail into reality?
REX: High-speed rail proposals obviously have a long history in Australia. Why did Labor feel like now is the right time to return to the project?
King: Well I think we’ve never left the project to some extent. We’ve been pushing high-speed rail as a visionary rail infrastructure project for the nation for a long period of time, and obviously when we had the opportunity to hold the government benches started to progress the business case for that.
REX: Labor took the policy of a billion dollars for land acquisitions along the corridor to the last election. Is that something the party is still committed to at a federal level?
King: Well obviously we’re reviewing all of our policies at the moment, we’re two years out from the next federal election and we’ll have a bit to say in the lead up to the next election in terms of our transport policies including rail. Obviously money is going to be pretty tight this time around for both sides of politics, given the COVID-19 crisis, but we’ve laid a marker down pretty clearly that we think high-speed rail is an important long-term economic opportunity for our nation and shouldn’t be one that’s lost.
REX: There’s also a number of proposals for faster rail. How would Labour see a program of high-speed rail interacting with the current businesses cases focused on faster rail on similar corridors to those the high-speed rail line would follow?
King: Faster rail can be anything from substantial corridor improvements, improvements in rail technology, through to more expensive projects of duplication and looking at improving some of the regional rail networks. It doesn’t have to be either or but what you have to do is be serious about it. There’s lots of potential for regional rail improvements and we should be looking at that all the time.
REX: One of the stumbling blocks for high- speed rail has been that price tag but there are alternative funding methods such as value capture that are used to get projects like these off the ground. Would you be looking at these as a way to fund a high-speed rail project?
King: One of the things that coronavirus crisis has shown us is that we’ve lacked any large scale, iconic infrastructure transport project and Anthony in his vision speech wanted to particularly go back and highlight high-speed rail because of a couple of things. One is the investment potential that it has, but also the nation building potential that it has, in terms of developing a much stronger sense of regional and decentralised towns from Melbourne from Sydney, all the way up to Brisbane.
REX: Another element of Anthony Albanese’s speech was calling for the local manufacturing of rollingstock. Albanese nominated successes in Queensland, WA, and Victoria. How would Labour seek to expand this to other states and for builds to continue happening in those states that already have a manufacturing capability?
King: My hometown of Ballarat is a railway town. We still have our railway workshops here, many of the X’Trapolis trains are built here as well, and they’re really important skilled manufacturing jobs for our region. Part of the problem for many of those manufacturers has been that the procurement is really patchy. Each state and territory government does that separately, they may procure three trains here, they may do 50, and the manufacturers in my own constituency tell me it’s that long term pipeline of projects that keeps those railway workshop doors open.
COVID-19 has taught us that our manufacturing does have enormous capability, but it does need support. One of the things we announced in the 2019 election campaign was that we felt there was a need to have a national rail procurement strategy to actually start to look at how you can smooth out some of those lags that occur in rollingstock procurement so that we can continue to still have those terrific railway workshops here. We’ve got a great history of it, and we don’t want to see railway manufacturing go the way of the car industry. You need a plan to support it, to keep it here and to keep local jobs here.
REX: Would you support or encourage quotes or targets for locally manufactured rollingstock like there are in Victoria?
King: As a Victorian I’m very attracted to the plan that the Victorian government has in relation to local procurement. Federally we are subject to trade law as well so we always have to be conscious about that but I am a big fan. Many people have decided that we should be manufacturing more things that we are capable of manufacturing in this country and I’m a big fan of local content and local procurement.
Australia has the opportunity to harness the current project pipeline to improve rail manufacturing productivity, a new report has found.
The report, Finding the fast track for innovation in the Australasian rail industry, authored by L.E.K. Consulting on behalf of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), highlights that rail innovation needs to be a national priority, and not fragmented between different state-based policies.
Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the ARA, said that the current investment in rail plus the renewed federal focus on manufacturing meant that the conditions were right for a rail manufacturing resurgence.
“The rail industry is expected to invest $155 billion in the next 15 years and we have to make that investment count,” Wilkie said.
“The world-first introduction of autonomous trains in the Pilbara region is just one example that shows Australia has the capability to lead the way on rail innovation.
“But the policy settings must be right to support innovation and technology adoption across the industry at a whole.”
Wilkie said that despite Australia having a large market for rail and the required network size, differing policies on local content in various states meant that the local manufacturing industry would struggle to compete.
“The international experience has shown that where governments lead a focus on rail innovation, private investment follows,” she said.
“We have the projects in the pipeline and we have the network scale to make rail innovation a real success.
“All we need now is for a true national focus to bring government and industry together to make the most of this opportunity.”
With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC earlier in 2020, the Australian rail industry has lacked government funding for innovation specific to rail. The report found that Australia was also falling behind in comparison to other countries, with only one per cent of the world’s rail patents in 2019 coming from Australia.
In a report released at the beginning of this week, the Rail Manufacturing CRC reviewed projects that it had completed and highlighted the potential for further innovation.
“Australia’s research sector is world class and there exist many opportunities for the rail sector to utilise Australia’s R&D capabilities. With the closure of the Rail Manufacturing CRC, there will be a need for both government and industry to consider new models to support ongoing innovation,” said Stuart Thomson, CEO of the Rail Manufacturing CRC.
The report highlights four ongoing challenges for the rail industry. These include the need for national harmonisation, industry co-investment in R&D, the support for a culture of innovation, and the need to secure future funding for rail R&D.
“There exist significant opportunities for the sector to increase local manufacturing, develop supply chains and to train and educate a highly skilled workforce, however Government intervention and support will be required,” the report highlights.
Wilkie said that the industry was at a critical juncture.
“We run the real risk of being saddled with an inefficient, outdated rail network if we don’t support greater innovation and technology adoption to deliver the best possible outcomes for Australian rail users.”
The Western Australian government will ensure more rollingstock maintenance and manufacturing happens in WA, with a $40 million investment and a new focus on building iron ore cars in the state.
$40m will go towards the maintenance of Western Australia’s new Australind fleet with the construction of an expanded Metronet Railcar Manufacturing and Assembly facility in Bellevue.
WA Premier Mark McGowan and Minister for Transport Rita Saffioti announced that the Bellevue site will be grow to include the maintenance of the new diesel multiple units (DMUs), manufactured by Alstom, which will replace the current Australind fleet.
The Bellevue facility will also service the Prospector and AvonLink railcars, WA’s infrastructure diagnostic vehicle, and track maintenance and rail shunting locomotives.
WA had previously brought railcar manufacturing back to the state with the announcement that 246 C-series railcars will be built with 50 per cent local content, said McGowan.
“One of my Government’s key election commitments was to return railcar manufacturing back to the Midland area,” he said.
“We’re delivering on this and now we’re doing what we can to ensure we’re removing interruptions in supply chains and allowing local businesses to take advantage of the great manufacturing opportunities in our State.”
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said the scale of the project will provide opportunities for local workers and suppliers.
“Around 250 railcars will be produced at Bellevue over the next decade, while it will also serve as a permanent maintenance facility for the expanded METRONET fleet,” she said.
“This new $40 million diesel maintenance facility will be a new key element to the services provided at Bellevue and will provide local job and training opportunities for local Western Australians.”
In a joint statement, McGowan and Saffioti said that an “action group” will be created to investigate the viability of manufacturing and maintaining iron ore railcar wagons that service the iron ore rail network in the Pilbara. This manufacturing could occur in the Pilbara or other parts of WA. Currently, manufacture of iron ore wagons often happens in China.
The study will look at how initiatives can support the steel fabrication industry in WA, and maintenance opportunities for new and existing ore wagons.
A contract for the construction of the diesel maintenance facility will be awarded next year.
Construction of the main manufacturing site is underway and is expected to be completed later in 2020. Local manufacturers are now able to register to supply components to the railcars.
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.
The Rail Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) held its last event on June 25 and officially closed on July 1 leaving a gap in the Australian rail industry’s research and development landscape.
Established in 2014, the Rail Manufacturing CRC has left a legacy in the form of new products for commercialisation, including passenger information systems installed at Wynyard Station in Sydney and prototypes of supercapacitor control systems and composite brake discs.
Stuart Thomson, Rail Manufacturing CRC CEO, said that more work needs to be done to build off the centre’s successes.
“New models of cooperation between industry and researchers, individual state governments and the Commonwealth Government will need to be explored. A national strategy for rail and rail innovation would be a great impetus for ensuring a future innovative rail sector.”
Caroline Wilkie, CEO of the Australasian Railway Association (ARA), said that the CRC’s work is already having an impact.
“The Rail Manufacturing CRC has worked alongside rail manufacturers and operators to deliver new technology and innovation that will make a real difference to the industry,” said Wilkie.
“The CRC’s collaborative focus has delivered some great results and the team can be very proud of its record of achievement.”
With the CRC now closed and no immediate plans for a replacement, Wilkie notes there is more need than ever for support for collaboration between industry and research organisations.
“New funding is now essential to keep the focus on technology and innovation in rail.”
Thomson said that with the current levels of investment in rail, there is an opportunity to grow local manufacturing.
“There is a need to strengthen the domestic rail supply chain. By providing incentives for SMEs to invest in research and development, and encouraging global suppliers currently not investing in local innovation or local supply chains to invest in the long term future of the local rail sector, this will create future advanced manufacturing businesses and employment opportunities.”
As the Australian rail industry adopts digital technology and smart systems, this investment should be supported with local research and development.
“Technology will play an increasing role in the rail industry and continued investment is essential to make sure Australia remains at the forefront of innovation,” said Wilkie.
“It is more important than ever that this work continues as the industry prepares for new growth.”
Projects conducted by the Rail Manufacturing CRC have been highly regarded, with the Dwell Track technology winning the CRC Association’s annual Excellence in Innovation award. In addition, projects have led to industry implementation, with CRRC, Bombardier, and Downer having already put the projects to work.
In a recent interview with Rail Express, Thomson said that the CRC was able to design research that met the needs of industry.
“The industry has faced, and will continue to face, infrastructure and innovation challenges in Australia. By developing research projects and teaming up experts to support the industry, we are ensuring innovation meets industry’s needs and requirements to deliver the transformational change required in the rail sector.”
Projects completed by the Rail Manufacturing CRC can be found here: https://www.rmcrc.com.au/.
Liza Harvey, leader of the opposition in Western Australia, has labelled railcar manufacturing as a practise from a bygone era.
In a speech to the state’s business community at the Business News Politics Breakfast on Wednesday morning, Harvey said “we don’t know the total cost to the state of the McGowan Government rail car experiment” and claimed that railcar manufacturing should not be a focus for WA.
“What we will not do is heavily subsidise industries where the State has no comparative advantage, nor bring back industries from a bygone era,” Harvey said in her speech.
Harvey said the opposition has been trying to scrutinise the decision by the McGowan Labor government to determine if this decision delivers value for money for the taxpayer of Western Australia given that this is a $1.3 billion investment.
WA Transport Minister Rita Saffioti said that building railcars in WA was cheaper than other options.
“The cost of WA-made railcars is cheaper than the cost of the previous procurement of B-Series from Queensland that was ordered when she was Deputy Premier,” Saffioti said.
“The cost per railcar under the last order of B-Series trains was $4.05 million, while the cost under the new C-Series contract is around $2.97 million.”
The spokesperson from the office of Liza Harvey said Saffioti has refused on many occasions to provide any transparency regarding this contract.
“The Minister has refused to provide any breakdown regarding the various cost elements of the contract such as the cost of maintenance,” she said.
“The Minister has refused to table the contract or provide a business case.
“The Leader of the Opposition indicated that a future Liberal Government would not be subsidising uncompetitive industries however, we will not do what the current Government does and create sovereign risk by ripping up contracts,” Harvey said.
Saffioti denied Harvey’s claims including a comment that WA’s facility was going to “fit out trains from Victoria”.
“Victoria builds its own trains – as do many modern economies around the world. WA will also be building its own trains,” she said.
Saffioti said train manufacturing involves modern skills that are easily transferable to other industries.
“The Opposition Leader’s embarrassing attack on WA workers shows the Liberal Party hasn’t moved on from their fundamental opposition to rail and local jobs,” she said.
“Our vision for WA is to build a modern train manufacturing and maintenance hub, that not only builds and maintains our public transport trains, but creates further opportunities for the freight, agricultural and mining industries.”
Saffioti said these industries are major users of rail and rolling stock, and the railcar contract provides growth opportunities throughout the state.
“The question for Ms Harvey is: If Western Australia should not build our 246 C-series railcars, and six Australind railcars, then who should?”