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.

Queensland Labor promises $1bn pipeline of local train manufacturing

The Queensland Labor government has promised that if returned at the upcoming state election it would create a $1 billion rail manufacturing pipeline in Maryborough.

Labor would purchase 20 new trains at a cost of $600 million to be built in Maryborough. This is in addition to the $300m, 10-year pipeline of maintenance work of the existing Queensland Rail fleet and the $85m invested in refurbishing the New Generation Rollingstock to make the trains compliant with the Disability Act.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also announced $1m for a business case for the replacement of regional carriages, which is expected to lead to $150m in works also delivered by Downer.

“This $1 billion train building program heralds a new and ambitious chapter for manufacturing, not just for Maryborough, but for Queensland,” said Palaszczuk.

“This long-term future pipeline of work means there will be rewarding long-term career paths for our young people in trades like boilermaking, fitter machining and as electricians.”

Australasian Railway Association (ARA) CEO Caroline Wilkie said the investment highlighted Australia’s local manufacturing capabilities.

“This commitment would transform the face of Queensland manufacturing and shows once and for all that trains can and should be built here in Australia,” said Wilkie.

“We are pleased this commitment has recognised Australia’s extensive expertise in the field and the need to invest to this scale in the local industry.”

Queensland Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey said the tender process would require the trains to be built in Maryborough.

“Train manufacturers will be invited to bid in a procurement process to build the next fleet of passenger trains in Maryborough, with an order for 20 new six-car trains needed to support more frequent services once Cross River Rail opens in 2025,” he said.

“The initial order could be followed with an option to build up to 45 additional six-car trains in Maryborough, to meet future demand on the Citytrain network.”

In addition to trains built in Queensland for the Queensland network, Perth’s B-Series trains were manufactured in Maryborough.

Queensland’s latest train fleet, the New Generation Rollingstock, were manufactured overseas, however whilst compliant with the specification under which they were ordered, had to be retrofitted to meet Australian accessibility requirements

“This investment in rail manufacturing would ensure the trains operating on the state’s newest passenger rail line are absolutely fit for purpose and made for Australian conditions by the people that know them best,” said Wilkie.

Accessible transport council to guide Queensland projects

The Queensland state government has established a new Accessible Transport Advisory Council to give input on accessibility for transport projects around the state.

The Council would advocate on behalf of those with vision, hearing, physical, or cognitive impairments, as well as older people, parents, and youth justice groups. The Council will directly advise the Minister, the director-general of Transport and Main Roads, and the CEO of Queensland Rail.

Queensland Transport Minister Mark Bailey said the Council would assist the government in avoiding accessibility issues, such as the bungled design of the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR), which required the trains to be retrofitted to comply with disability legislation.

“The existing approach to accessibility on road and transport upgrades has been piecemeal, and this new independent body will provide frank and expert advice on how we can make our record $23 billion pipeline of road and transport projects accessible for all Queenslanders,” said Bailey.

“The establishment of the Queensland Accessible Transport Advisory Council (QATAC) will provide disability-sector representatives with an unprecedented opportunity for early and authentic consultation on all major transport projects.

In addition to the Council, the Queensland government is investing $500 million in accessibility upgrades for train stations in the state’s south east.

“As part of Queensland’s economic recovery plan, the Palaszczuk Government is investing an additional $136 million for accessibility upgrades at Bundamba, Burpengary, Banyo and Wooloowin train stations which will include full platform raising, setting a new standard for all future station upgrades to be delivered by Queensland Rail,” said Bailey.

Chairing the Council is former District Court judge Michael Forde, who was a commissioner on the NGR inquiry. An expression of interest process for membership has now begun and will run until mid-November.

“This will be a template for all transport infrastructure, requiring the council be formally consulted before the finalisations of any plans. This will apply to all forms of transport,” said Forde.