The transport sector is creating big opportunities for manufacturers across Australia. In Perth, Alstom is bringing rail manufacturing back to WA. By Carole Goldsmith.

Rail manufacturing has returned to the Midland area in Western Australia, 27 years after the old Midland Railway Workshops closed. World-class railcar manufacturer Alstom is building a fleet of 43 trains for the Public Transport Authority of Western Australia (PTA) at its new METRONET train manufacturing facility in Bellevue, east of Perth. This is part of the $1.3bn, 10-year contract that the WA State Government signed with Alstom in December 2019 to supply 246 new METRONET railcars.

Alstom commenced operations at the PTA’s new facility this May. The site’s official opening in June was attended by WA’s Premier Mark McGowan and the Minister for Transport Rita Saffioti. This is an exciting time for new rail manufacturing in WA, and the first of the new trains will be delivered to the PTA next year, much to the delight of all the passengers who will ride these super-smart, innovative new trains.

The project will create around 200 new jobs in WA, including for apprentices and Indigenous Australians, to manufacture, test, commission and maintain 41 six-car electrical multiple unit (EMU) trains and two three-car diesel multiple unit (DMU) trains. It also includes 20 years maintenance of the EMU trains and maintenance support services for the DMU trains.

Alstom’s Project Director for the METRONET railcar procurement project, Fabrice Ponti explains that Alstom moved into the Bellevue facility in May, and the fit-out will be completed by early October.

“The fleet of 43 trains will be built with local suppliers, contractors and equipment vendors,” advises Ponti. “Alstom has committed to 50% local content for the railcars, bringing additional flow-on benefits beyond the delivery of the trains to the WA economy.”

After graduating as a mechanical engineer in France and the US, Ponti’s career has spanned 18 years at Alstom. He has managed a wide range of global roles for Alstom in France, Argentina, Russia and China, before coming to Australia and settling in Perth with his family in 2019, specifically to work on the METRONET rail project.

As Alstom did not have its own manufacturing site in WA, Ponti says: “We are in the process of hiring a significant number of employees for the project. We have already sourced 80 local people to work on the site, mainly for production.”

As of late August the Alstom team was happy with progress on the fit-out of the new facility, as Ponti explains: “So far, the PTA has provided a manufacturing workshop for the fitting area, which is where we will assemble the railcar and install its components, plus a bogie workshop. The bogie is the rolling undercarriage, essentially composed of a steel frame, axles and suspension systems.”

Local supplier Hofmann Engineering will be manufacturing the bogie frames at its Perth manufacturing site from early 2022. Ponti remarks: “Hofmann is a significant supplier as the bogie frames are important parts of the railcar.”

He adds: “Soon the PTA will provide a 25,000-volt facility on this same site to enable us to test the train before delivery. The first train is scheduled for completion in the first half of next year. All the 43 trains will be completed by the end of 2029.”

Alstom’s new team of production employees attend a two-to-four-week internal training program depending on their proposed job. They learn about the company and then are trained on the products and manufacturing processes specific to the project. Trainers use company videos on manufacturing systems and procedures to assist new employee’s learning and skill development. Also, trainees can use virtual reality 3D display technologies to visualise assembling components inside the railcars.

“Production employees have iPads, which they use on the job for production processes and to access documentation,” Ponti explains. “As part of our local employment initiative, we are also working with the North Metropolitan TAFE, East Perth, on an apprentice program for Indigenous people. They will serve their apprenticeship on the METRONET project. This will enable them to learn valuable skills on the job, with the view to continue their career with Alstom after they complete their apprenticeship.”

Ponti is proud of how the METRONET railcar project is progressing and is very enthusiastic about its future operations: “It’s the return of railway manufacturing to WA after the Midlands railways’ workshops closed in the 90s. Alstom is proud to contribute to this important project for WA.”