Train manufacturing re-energises Morwell

Choosing to set up its manufacturing base in Morwell, Victoria, CTEA demonstrates its ongoing commitment to local rail manufacturing.

The town of Morwell, in the Gippsland region of Victoria, is bordered to the north and south by twin coal mines and power stations. The still-operating Yallourn sits to the north of the town, while to the south lies the Hazelwood power station.

When the Hazelwood Power Station closed in 2017, the adjoining town, so dominated by the coal mining and power, seemed to be headed for a similar fate, tied to its legacy of 20th century industry. However, the unexpected resurgence of the local manufacturing sector could be what keeps the lights on in the town and the wider Latrobe Valley.

In late 2019, the Latrobe Valley Authority announced that direct investment in growing local industries is having an impact, with an extra 10,600 people in employment and a 3.7-percentage point drop in the unemployment rate since November 2016.

Alongside wind turbine and electric vehicles, rail is committed to the future of manufacturing in this region of Victoria. In 2017, CRRC Times Electric Australia (CTEA) announced that an assembly facility would be set up in Morwell and provide more than 20 job opportunities to the local community. The facility commenced operations in 2018.

The Chinese manufacturer of propulsion and control systems, which established its subsidiary in Australia in 2012, not only committed to being located in the Latrobe valley, but will utilise local expertise and supply chains, said David Wang, commercial manager at CTEA.

“With the establishment of the facility in Morwell in Victoria, CTEA’s operation has covered the whole La Trobe Valley area where Morwell is located. In order to support production in the facility, CTEA has been employing people from surrounding communities and procuring materials from nearby suppliers.”

The facility in Morwell comes as part of CTEA’s strategy to promote the transfer of production technology to Australia and New Zealand. To begin, the plant covers 2,500 sqm, but has the capacity to increase to 10,000 sqm as demand picks up. Today, the two- dozen strong local workforce is producing critical traction and auxiliary systems for a Melbourne metro project, which aims to have a substantial proportion of the project delivered by locally based businesses.

CTEA is the Australian arm of expanding propulsion and control systems provider for rollingstock, Zhuzhou CRRC Times Electric (TEC). TEC is a subsidiary of CRRC and with over 60 years of history, was listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange in 2006. The company’s global presence was well established in 2008 with the acquisition of UK-based Dynex Power which designs and manufactures semiconductors and further enhanced in 2015 with the acquistion of another UK-based company SMD Limited which specialises in marine engineering equipment design and manufacture. Today, TEC operates around the globe, with over 8,000 employees and revenues of US$2.41 billion ($3.59bn) in 2018.

This global operation brought to Morwell its knowledge of specialised manufacturing management system and insights gained from professional laboratories. For those at the Morwell site, training was provided and coordinated by technical experts from CTEA headquarters. With the successful manufacturing of traction systems in Morwell, CTEA can now claim to be filling a gap in the Australian rail industry and enabling the further growth of local manufacturing of parts and components.

According to Wang, having local expertise in this area will allow for other rollingstock projects to source Australian manufactured components.

“With the increasing investment from the state government and Australian government, more and more efforts have been focused on improving the efficiency and travel experience of the passenger rail market. Over the next couple of years, more and more passenger rail projects will be announced in different states with sufficient funding and CTEA is fully prepared to participate and support.”

This commitment goes beyond the factory walls. In Morwell, CTEA has engaged with the local Indigenous community, and meeting rooms at the site take their names from the region’s Indigenous language, spoken by the Gunai/Kunai people. Furthermore, cultural exchange has occurred through a series of events, including the sponsorship of the local community basketball team, and upcoming donations of books on Chinese culture to the local library.

Although a relatively new entrant into the Australian market, CTEA hopes that such an investment signals its long-term engagement with the Australian rail industry by providing a quality product, made in Australia.

ENSURING ONSHORE MEANS QUALITY

Australian manufacturing has often prided itself on its adoption and incorporation of high safety standards. CTEA has taken this to heart, and in its manufacture of traction systems the company has attempted to lead the market by achieving a SIL2 accreditation.

This accreditation level is above that reached by other traction system manufacturers in the market, said Wang.

“In order to meet the requirements from the client and provide a reliable solution, CRRC TEC has achieved SIL2 accreditation for several safe-related functions traction devices.”

Also, according to Wang, the SIL2 accreditation sets a new benchmark for traction systems products in Australia.

This achievement fits within CTEA’s broader range of products, as one of the truly turnkey providers in the rail market. As rail projects become increasingly more complex, the ability of CTEA to provide not only traction systems but power supply, signalling, and maintenance vehicles as an integrated solution. Furthermore, CTEA cites its relationship and partnership with globally- leading construction companies as enabling the combination of electromechanical and civil expertise.

Such an integrated solution can already be seen in overseas markets where CTEA’s services have been integrated into local projects, for example in the Los Angeles Metro project.

However, Australia’s unique challenges also require a response that is catered to local conditions and delivered by a highly skilled local workforce. CTEA will continue to pursue this approach in the future, the company said in a statement.

“CTEA will continue to invest in Australia to strengthen our capabilities ranging from production, engineering, maintenance and be more innovative with the aim of successful and smooth project delivery to our valued clients. Besides, CTEA will strive to maintain the mutual-trust relationships with the suppliers and also source other supportive local suppliers to ensure that CTEA’s local supply chain can fully support the project delivery.”