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.

Mount Isa, Queensland. Photo: Creative Commons

Study to assess double-stacked freight on Mount Isa line

The Queensland government will complete a business case into the potential to run double-stacked freight trains from Mount Isa to Stuart and the Port of Townsville.

Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey announced the business case, which will be completed by the end of 2020, along with flood resilience upgrade works.

To improve the line, which was washed out in heavy flooding in 2019, ageing rail equipment such as sleepers and ballast will be renewed. Queensland Rail will conduct geotechnical and survey work this month, which will enable new bridges to be installed and culverts to be replaced with spans and new piers.

“Those works will significantly increase capacity on waterway openings and provide protection to embankments to better withstand flood events,” said Member for Townsville Scott Stewart.

These upgrades are in addition to the $6 million works to improve the line’s resilience between Cloncurry and Hughenden.

Port of Townsville CEO Ranee Crosby said enabling double-stacked freight trains to run on the line would mean more freight coming into the port on rail.

“Townsville Port is Australia’s largest exporter of zinc, copper, lead and fertiliser, with significant growth opportunities from the North West Minerals Province, one of the world’s richest mineral-producing regions,” she said.

“These investments into the Mount Isa to Townsville Rail Line, such as enabling double-stacking of containers on rail, will offer customers greater flexibility in transporting freight to the Port, improving efficiency and helping drive down supply chain costs.”

Queensland Rail, which owns and manages the Mount Isa line, will carry out the business case, and CEO Nick Easy said improving the rail line will unlock further investment.

“The Mount Isa line is a critical connector for communities in North West Queensland and one of the state’s key freight paths, and Queensland Rail is committed to ensuring it meets the needs of communities and freight operators,” he said.

“These investments will help existing mining operators export their resources and encourage new investment in the state’s north west.

flood

Monitoring processes improved following rail flood incident

An out of service water level sensor led an Aurizon freight train to plough through flood waters that had inundated a rail bridge near Tully, Queensland, in 2018.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) found that the driver had attempted to stop the train before the flooded bridge, but as the bridge was soon after a curve, applying the emergency brake was not enough to stop the Brisbane-bound train.

Following investigations unearthed that the water level sensor at the bridge had been out of service for several weeks, and the crew was not informed that the bridge was flooded. A CCTV camera also installed had an out-of-service illuminator, so was ineffective at night.

Further inquiries by ATSB established that Queensland Rail (QR), the infrastructure operator, could not effectively ensure that network control staff knew that monitoring systems were working or not, especially during conditions such as wet weather. The ATSB also noted that control staff were not required to actively search for information about track conditions ahead of a train when there was a realistic potential that conditions had deteriorated.

“This investigation highlights the importance of having serviceable weather monitoring stations at known flooding locations on a rail network, and ensuring that if these systems are not functioning all relevant parties need to be aware of the defect,” said ATSB director transport safety Mike Walker.

The incident occurred on March 7, 2018, after a significant period of wet weather, the Tully area is also one of the wettest towns in Australia, with an average March rainfall of 756mm. A flood watch had been issued on the afternoon of March 6 for that area.

Due to these conditions QR had placed a speed restriction on the area, limiting the speed of trains so that they could stop short of an obstruction within half the distance of a clear line that was visible ahead.

“Operating under a condition affecting network (CAN) requires effective communication between all relevant parties,” said Walker. “Train controllers need to ensure that all relevant information associated with the network conditions are passed to train crews and track maintenance personnel so that they can effectively perform their roles.”

The train driver and crew were not injured, and following the incident moved the train to the Tully yard.

QR has improved its processes to ensure weather systems are reliable, and that control personnel are aware of any faults. Network control staff have also been trained to proactively monitor network conditions.

Rail R U OK?Day

Participation higher than ever in Rail R U OK?Day 2020

Rail R U OK?Day has been marked by rail organisations around Australia and New Zealand, with engagement reaching all-time highs.

On April 30, for the sixth year running, those within the rail industry reached out to their colleagues, co-workers, and friends to ask, “Are you ok?”

While traditional face-to-face get-togethers have been limited due to physical distancing measures in place to keep people safe due to coronavirus (COVID-19), numerous organisations still encouraged employees to pick up the phone or jump on a video call to check in on each other.

South Australian Public Transport Authority executive director, Anne Alford, said that Rail R U OK?Day in 2020 was the most significant yet.

“It’s now more important than ever that we promote a sense of community, reach out and ask our friends, family and workmates and ask, ‘Are you ok?” said Alford.

In Melbourne, Metro Trains driver Stephen King said that the simple action of asking a colleague how they are going can make a significant impact.

“To be able to just ask and check in on somebody to see how they’re going can make all the difference.”

Train drivers, station staff and the wider rail industry are often the first witnesses or respondents to traumatic incidents that occur on the rail network, leading to a focus on mental health within the industry.

“On any given day, at any given time, we’re prepared for any incident – whether it’s an accident or a trespasser. There are also things that happen away from the job that can affect us as drivers,” said King.

“There is a fair bit of stress and pressure that goes with the job for sure.”

In Queensland, Queensland Rail set a Wellbeing Conversation Challenge to encourage their team to check in on their workmates. Sydney Trains also encouraged employees to get involved in the conversation challenge.

“The virtual conversation challenge saw employees across Sydney Trains engage with each other by sharing videos and posts on our internal communication channels, and nominating others to take up the challenge,” said a Sydney Trains spokesperson.

Roughly 3,500 Sydney Trains employees participated both at in-person, socially distanced events and virtual panel discussions and live streams.

KiwiRail similarly looked to virtual methods to get colleagues to check in on each other.

“As we continue to be in lockdown due to COVID-19, we used our staff closed FaceBook group to share the message. More than 1,600 staff belong to this group and use the page as a discussion and information sharing forum,” said KiwiRail group general manager human resources Andrew Norton.

Rail R U OK?Day is facilitated in collaboration between TrackSAFE and harm prevention charity R U OK?. Participation numbers are still being confirmed, but across Australia and New Zealand, over 75,000 people participated, surpassing previous years’ figures. Bob Herbert, chairman of TrackSAFE, said that each year leads to more ongoing conversations that last throughout the year.

“We keep hearing numerous anecdotal accounts whereby a rail employee has trusted their instinct and noticed the signs that someone near them has been struggling, and we’re thrilled to learn that they have started a conversation that has put that person on a whole new path.”

Katherine Newton, CEO of R U OK? Said that the event showed how the rail industry can work together to address challenges such as mental health and wellbeing.

“Our partnership with TrackSAFE is one R U OK? is extremely proud of and is a brilliant example of an entire industry being committed to the R U OK? Movement,” said Newton.

“Participation in Rail R U OK?Day has grown more than 800% since the inaugural event in 2015, as we see, rail employees from across Australia and New Zealand are transforming their workplaces into strong and resilient environments every day of the year.”

QR enables extra freight movements

Over the past weekend, Queensland Rail has been taking extra steps to ensure that freight rail can continue to transport essential goods to Australia and export commodities to ports.

Over the weekend of April 4 and 5, six freight trains travelled in each direction between Brisbane, Townsville, and Cairns. The extra capacity on the network was enabled by Queensland Rail cancelling a scheduled maintenance closure and only completing essential maintenance on the South East Queensland network overnight.

Carrying household goods, groceries, manufacturing materials, and exports, the freight services are more in demand than ever for businesses, households, and exporters.

“Queensland Rail is working closely with its freight partners to ensure Queenslanders get the essential supplies they need, by keeping the network open to extra freight services wherever possible,” said Queensland Rail CEO, Nick Easy.

Although some long-distance and tourist-focused rail services in Queensland have been cancelled, the continuation of freight rail has been a priority for state and federal governments around Australia. Easy said that the network was open for greater freight movements, if required.

“Queensland Rail is continuing to liaise with its freight partners to discuss any necessary changes to future works to accommodate freight services, should they be required,” he said.

“Most lines across the Queensland Rail regional network can currently accommodate more freight movements alongside normal timetabled passenger services. Reducing long distance Travel and Tourism passenger services has naturally increased network capacity for freight operators should they require it.”

Continuation of passenger rail services a priority

While official advice in Australia and New Zealand is to now limit all non-essential travel, authorities across both countries have prioritised keeping passenger rail services running to ensure that front-line health workers and other critical staff can get to work.

Queensland has now limited long-haul train services, however the state will maintain capacity on some routes, said Transport and Main Roads Minister, Mark Bailey.

“People will still have access to long distance passenger services for essential reasons on all key corridors, but the frequency of those services will be reduced, and we’ll manage passenger numbers on board to separate passengers from each other.”

Services which largely cater to tourists have been cancelled, including the Spirit of the Outback (Brisbane to Longreach), Westlander (Brisbane to Charleville), and Inlander (Townsville to Mount Isa). Additionally, The Savannahlander, Gulflander, and Kuranda Scenic Railway have also been suspended.

There will be no impact on freight services that use these lines.

Passenger services along Queensland’s east coast from Brisbane to Cairns will be reduced by 50 per cent.

Bailey noted that these measures will be temporary.

“These are temporary measures, but they are critical to curbing the spread of COVID-19 into our rural and regional communities.”

In South East Queensland, passenger services are continuing, however Queensland Rail is going cashless. EFTPOS transactions, online top ups or pre-purchased paper tickets are encouraged.

These measures have followed a fall in patronage of up to 60 per cent in Queensland.

Other jurisdictions have also seen large falls in passenger numbers, with a 40-45 per cent decline in NSW in the past two weeks. This drop has in some ways allowed for services to continue, as social distancing can be practiced.

“It is no surprise to anyone that customer numbers are down across our trains, buses, ferries and light rail due to the Coronavirus outbreak, however importantly this has created sufficient space on all modes to allow our customers to socially distance themselves in the majority of cases,” said Transport for NSW secretary, Rodd Staples.

Regional rail services in NSW remain running with booking measures in place to allow for social distancing.

Rail operators are ramping up hygiene to combat COVID-19 transmission

Major Australian rail operators are helping authorities minimise the spread of COVID-19 by seriously ramping up hygiene and cleaning protocols.

Current advice from the Australian Department of Health is that everyone in the community should go about their business as usual, unless they have travelled from a country or region with a high or moderate risk of COVID-19, or have had contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus. There is no need to take actions like limiting movement on public transport.

State government agencies including Transport for NSW (TfNSW), Queensland Rail, Victoria Department of Transport (DoT), Transport Canberra, South Australian Public Transport Authority (SAPTA), Western Australia Public Transport Authority (PTA) are advising rail operators around the nation to take extra precautions and maintain good hygiene practices for both employees and passengers.

On Tuesday, March 17 the NSW government announced that part of the $2.3 billion economic stimulus, $250 million will be invested to employ additional cleaners of public infrastructure, which includes TfNSW’s external operators statewide.

Cleaning squads have been deployed across NSW trains, light rail, and the metro, particularly in high-traffic areas including Central, Town Hall, and Wynard.

TfNSW is encouraging customers to use Opal and contactless payments where possible, to further reduce chances of community spread and safeguard staff.

Andrew Constance, NSW Minister for Transport said while staff have boosted maintenance and cleaning efforts on the network in response to COVID-19, customers need to take extra precautions too.

“For those services that do not offer contactless payment, we are advising all frontline staff to wash their hands and use hand sanitiser to limit the spread of viruses,” he said.

Jeroen Weimar, head of transport services Victoria said we’ve all got a part to play in responding to the significant challenge presented by COVID-19.

A Victorian DoT spokesperson said all operators on the state’s network have been asked to activate their increased cleaning protocols which will be rolled out in the coming days.

The increased cleaning measures mean all carriages on Metro Trains and V/Line trains will undergo nightly sanitation, and Melbourne’s trams will undergo a deep clean before each service.

A TransLink spokesperson said it  is working behind the scenes in preparation and have plans in place to respond to any recommendations from Queensland Health.

Gold Coast trams have already moved to daily sanitised cleans, and Queensland Rail will boost dedicated cleaning staff, ramping up regular cleaning measures and beginning a new disinfecting process on South East Queensland commuter trains from Tuesday, March 17.

Queensland Rail has stated in an update that it has strict maintenance and cleanliness standards for its trains and stations to ensure the comfort and safety of customers and employees. 

SAPTA has also increased cleaning schedules and extra crew are being used across all modes with particular focus being given to hard surfaces such as handrails, validators and push buttons. 

Stephan Knoll, SA Minister for Transport and Infrastructure said the safety of passengers and staff remains the highest priority. 

“We are taking these additional measures to help protect South Australians who deliver and rely on public transport to get to work or go about their daily lives,” said Knoll. 

Transport Canberra said there have been no changes made to public transport, and all governments are working together to ensure a national approach.

“We are implementing an increased cleaning regime on our light rail vehicles as well as at high-traffic areas such as stops and interchanges,” Transport Canberra stated.

Chris Steel, ACT Minister for Transport said the state government has engaged Robson Environmental to undertake a study to make any further recommendations on Transport Canberra’s cleaning practices.

Rita Saffioti, WA Transport Minister said along with other state transport agencies, Transperth trains have transitioned from getting a basic daily clean each night to a full daily sanitation.

“So far there is no evidence of community transmission in WA, and the increased cleaning regime is intended to reduce the risk – as much as practical – against potential exposure,” Saffioti said.

Across the Tasman in New Zealand, Auckland Transport have been quick to adopt similar health and safety initiatives to those that have been put in place by Australian transport operators.

Auckland Transport (AT) advised in a statement that the NZ Ministry of Health has made it clear that there are no issues with people using trains.

“While many Aucklanders are working from home during this time of uncertainty, those continuing to use public transport should use good hygiene practices,” Auckland Transport stated.

Phil Goff, Auckland Mayor, said AT is well-prepared for a possible escalation of its COVID-19 response and has taken steps including installing new public hand sanitiser stations and has increased the cleaning of vehicles and facilities.

Shane Ellison, Auckland Transport chief executive, said AT are making sure information and advice from the NZ Ministry of Health on preventive measures is being supplied to its staff, operators, and contractors.

AT have created a COVID-19 update section on its website, as have most rail operators and state transport departments in Australia, to inform staff and passengers with the latest information.

Queensland transport agencies release ICT tenders

The Queensland government has issued a Request for Information (RFI) for digital workspace solutions and related services for the Department of Transports and Main Roads (TMR).

The RFI will allow for the government to gather information on potential end user compute digital workspaces.

The contract covers ICT assets across Queensland that belong to the TMR.

According to technology news site ARN, the department is moving towards a cloud first strategy, however the technology within the department varies considerably.

Solutions would focus on the 10,000 desktops, laptops, and tablets operating within TMR, which are currently transitioning from Windows 7 to Windows 10.

Tenders must be submitted by Monday, March 23.

Also currently up for tender is Queensland Rail’s customer relationship management system. The system is directed towards Queensland Rail’s internal business units.

The Request for Offer (RFO) sets out a term of five years, with an optional two-year extension. Tenders must be submitted via the SAP Ariba Sourcing System.

The RFO is split into two parts. Phase one, which covers implementation must be fully costed by the prospective supplier. Phase two details possible future implementations.

Queensland’s newest train fleet deployed to the Sunshine Coast line

On Monday, March 2, Queensland’s newest trains, the New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) fleet, were deployed to the Sunshine Coast line for the first time.

The NGR fleet has been deployed to Nambour on the Sunshine Coast to replace older train models to operate more than 40 existing weekly Sunshine Coast line services, Monday to Friday.

The final NGR train entered service for the Queensland Government in late January this year.

Manufactured by Bombardier, the NGR trains have travelled over eight million in service kilometres, and 150,000 passenger journeys, since December 2017.

Maintenance of the fleet is being carried out by Bombardier at Wulkuraka, near Ipswich, for 32 years, where testing and commissioning has been occurring.

The NGR trains are 147m long and weigh 260 tonnes and have a total passenger capacity of approximately 964 people, including 454 seated and 510 standing (depending on conditions).

Queensland Rail has also added an extra 32 weekly services to its South East Queensland (SEQ) timetable each week from March 2.

In addition, five services will extend on the SEQ timetable including extending an existing Caboolture service to start from Nambour at 5.38am weekdays, providing an additional morning peak train for customers between Nambour and Elimbah stations.

Queensland Rail said in a statement that the company has reviewed its operations across SEQ and have identified an opportunity to deliver these service improvements, within existing resources that are available.

“These changes will also reduce empty train running across the region by 1,460 kilometres per week, delivering extra services for our customers instead,” Queensland Rail said in a statement. 

“These improvements will deliver the largest number of weekly train services ever offered across SEQ and follows the introduction of 462 extra weekly services and 200,000 extra seats to our timetable in 2019.”

NGR to run on North Coast line for first time

Queensland’s New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) will be introduced to the Sunshine Coast line for the first time on March 2.

The change comes as Queensland Rail introduces 32 new weekly services across the south east Queensland network.

The services will join an extended inbound Caboolture service to Nambour, and come after 462 weekly services were introduced to the region last year. This increase responds to growing customer demand for rail in Queensland, said Transport and Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey.

“Close to 190 million trips were taken on public transport in 2018-19, and after two record years, we’re on-track for another record 12 months when it comes to patronage.”

The new services will be introduced along with other major improvements to rail services in south east Queensland.

“We’re backing commuters with more trains, a $371 million statewide smart ticketing system, more than $357 million in train station accessibility upgrades and the largest public transport project in Queensland’s history: the $5.4 billion Cross River Rail,” said Bailey.

In order to deliver the new services, Queensland Rail found efficiencies in the network, better utilising its existing resources, said CEO of the government owned operator, Nick Easy.

“These changes will reduce empty train running across the region by 1,460 kilometres per week – delivering extra services for our customers instead,” he said.

The introducing of the NGR will be enabled with dedicated support facilities.

“The trains will operate 45 weekly services on the line, replacing older train models, and their deployment will be supported by a new NGR stabling facility coming online at Woombye,” said Easy.

Last month, the final NGR entered service. Alterations to the current rollingstock fleet are underway to comply with disability requirements.