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.