Manufacturing News

What if Australia had made the Waratah trains?

Waratah Wonkys

Would you have made these mistakes?

· ‘Milky’ windscreens
· No ceiling padding
· Cables shrouding driver’s view
· Poor-quality steel welding
· Gaps in plastic moulding
· Handrails not lining up with stairs
· Unreliable software

Waratah by name, not by nature

THE first of 78 China-made Waratah trains has finally been commissioned in Sydney, 15 months late and after a script of quality and OH&S problems were revealed. Is this an example of what can happen if you don’t keep it in the family? 

Significant problems associated with Sydney’s $3.6 billion Waratah train project have further highlighted the need for greater involvement of Australian manufacturing companies in major rail projects.

Since the get-go, a range of problems has impacted the completion of the project including production rate, quality, safety, software integration and general cost escalation issues, resulting in the first of the 78 trains being accepted for commissioning in June this year – more than 15 months late.

Which begs the question: why wasn’t the entire Waratah project handed to Australian companies to begin with? According to Australia’s largest railway association, local companies had more than enough capability to deliver these trains, if only the timeframe was more lenient. 

Keeping it in the family

The cars of the Waratah train are built in China by Changchun Railway Vehicles Co Ltd (CRC), while the driver’s and guard’s cabins are manufactured at Cardiff in Newcastle by Downer EDI. 

According to Bob Newham of the Rail Tram and Bus Union (Locomotive Division) in Sydney, many quality and OH&S issues were identified with the Waratah train. 

"This includes windscreens that go ‘milky’ when hit with sunlight at certain angles, and padding that needed to be added to the ceiling-mounted guide rope pulleys for the passenger emergency ramp at either end of the train. These were installed within the crew’s cabin to protect from head injury when the crew is moving around the cabin in the performance of their duties," he told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

"Other problems included cable shrouding that partly obscured the driver’s peripheral vision, train monitoring computer screen glare and reflection issues, poor quality stainless steel welding, and gaps in plastic moulding. Stairwell hand rails were difficult to install because they did not line up and had to be redesigned. The handrails had to be connected with collars instead of internal spigots, and welded connections were removed and replaced with collars or clamps.

"However, the main issue with the train was the software package, which has to be enhanced. These various issues raise the question as to how reliable the Waratah will be in 10 years."

The Australasian Railway Association’s Garry Whiting says that Australian rail industry manufacturers have the capability to deliver on major projects, but there can be a difficulty in manufacturing at the rate of delivery required.

"A long-term demand plan of 20 to 50 years is required to enable planned replacement of rolling stock so suppliers have some certainty in order to invest in skills and system performance improvement," he said. 

 "Projects such as the Waratah should not be treated as one-off events, and the Federal Government should be taking a leadership role in long-term planning of infrastructure for Australia’s cities. Modelling is required based on factors such as population growth and urban planning, and the related need for investment in rail infrastructure and rolling stock.

"For our manufacturers it’s more an issue of the timeline required for production rather than the capability to build in Australia."

Need to globalise

Tony Carney, the national sector manager – rail, located in the Industry Capability Network (ICN), sees a need to globalise the Australian rail manufacturing industry to compete both locally and internationally. 

"Continuing action is needed to expose rail suppliers to best practice manufacturing and to facilitate integration into international supply chains. This can be assisted by building international competiveness, and developing international partnerships and technological innovations," he said.

"Australian companies have the capability to manufacture rolling stock and their competitiveness would be greatly assisted by better forecasting the demand for passenger rolling stock nationally, thus allowing suppliers to better plan facilities and production schedules, and thereby reduce costs."

The Waratah train's windscreens went 'milky' when hit with direct sunlight - just one of the defects that attributed to the train's 15-months-late delivery.General manager of the Australian Rail Manufacturers Group, Jill Walsh, believes that a major issue for the Australian rail manufacturing industry is that procurement of rolling stock is often in small orders, and is currently uncoordinated by state rail authorities.

"There is an evident need for better demand forecast information and some form of continuity between governments in the placing of orders to avoid volatile demand cycles," she said.

"Australia has the capacity to build high quality trains at competitive prices, but this would be significantly enhanced if procurement planning was streamlined so that orders were not required to be built in bits and pieces."

Chief executive of Australian Made, Australian Grown, Ian Harrison, emphasises that governments at all levels need to use public infrastructure projects to invest in Australia’s manufacturing industry.

"This is where governments need to show leadership. It’s not just about governments paying more or less for the product. It is about governments working with the manufacturing industry to encourage innovation, expertise and greater capacity in the businesses contracted under the projects," he said.

"Australian made products are renowned for their innovation and quality. They are made by Australians, for Australian conditions and to Australia’s high standards.

"Yes, the $3.6 billion Waratah project has created hundreds of jobs for Australians, which is great, but it has also been hampered by quality and time management issues – these may have been avoided if local participation and local product had been increased.

"If Australia is to sustain and grow its manufacturing industry and economy, state and federal governments need to show leadership by increasing their own investment in Australian made products."

Technology roadmap

Action has commenced to develop a technology roadmap for the Australian rail supply sector to 2040 and beyond. 

The project is aimed at helping the industry leverage world-class skills and knowledge to identify the opportunities and prepare for the challenges of the future. It will involve all stakeholders, from operators, manufacturers and service providers, to researchers, policymakers, and industry bodies to develop a unified vision and strategic plan.

Funding for the project, which is being undertaken by ANU Edge, is from the Commonwealth Government; the state governments of NSW, Victoria, and Queensland; and the Australasian Railways Association on behalf of industry.

A series of workshops is being conducted as well as open surveys, and further information is available by visiting or phoning (02) 6125 9025. 

Above image: The Waratah train’s windscreens went ‘milky’ when hit with direct sunlight – just one of the defects that attributed to the train’s 15-months-late delivery.

Do you think more Aussie companies should have been given a chance? Comment below.

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