Alstom Expands U.S. Presence with New Bay Area Facility

Posted on February 9, 2010 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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[IMAGE]Alstom-1.jpg[/IMAGE]Alstom Transport opened a new rail services facility on Mare Island, Calif., in December of 2009. Currently, the $1.4 million 120,000-square-foot facility offers the capacity to work on 15 railcars at one time. The site, which expands the company's presence on the West Coast, is set up to handle all of Alstom's Train Life Services (TLS), as their service philosophy is called, including maintenance/wreck repair, renovation/rebuilds, and supply chain management.

"Except for the few wreck repairs and the limited capacity we had in Oakland, we didn't have a presence on the West Coast," says Tommy Aspinwall, vice president, Train Life Services. "This [facility] is really putting us out there in true fashion."

Ideally located in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Mare Island facility is easily accessible to major cities, such as San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento. "Our strategy is to reduce cost on logistics," says Aspinwall. "We need to get close to the customer and, as you can see with this facility, we are willing to invest to achieve that goal."

The island has a distinguished history, as it once served as a naval shipyard until it was closed in 1996. As railroads were a part of its operation, the tracks that lead up to the Alstom site were originally used by the military base.

New track was installed as part of the site's renovations. A 50-foot-long pit was also built to enable access beneath double-decker cars, whose weight makes it impossible to work by lifting. Five double-decker intercity cars have already been transported to the site for renovation as part of the contract signed in August 2009 with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). A total of 66 cars of this type will be modernized by 2011.

Skill sets in use

Currently, 15 people are working at the Mare Island site, with a potential for 40 to 45 more employees. "Seven of the employees were already working for us at Alstom's repair facility in Oakland," says Aspinwall. Workers include machinists, electrical engineers, mechanical engineers and welders. "We've got skill sets that cover every type of requirement," he adds.

Because there are several transit agencies in the area - San Francisco Muni, Bay Area Rapid Transit District, Caltrans and Amtrak - finding the people wasn't difficult, Aspinwall says. "What we have to do now is get them used to our way of working - a culture that we have to drive them toward."

This company culture he is referring to is customer-centric. "We are a service organization and, without the customer, we have nothing," Aspinwall says. "Everything we do had to add quality, cost or delivery with a customer focus."

"Some of the people on the floor here, started back when Morris Knudsen was in the business," says Joe Quigley, Alstom's Chicago-based customer director. "When there's an issue on a train, our mechanics see it and they'll ring up [the customer]. Even if it has nothing to do with the renovation or the work that we're doing, if there's something that's not right, they'll call them and say 'Hey, you have a problem.'"

Another philosophy being used by Alstom is called Condition-Based Maintenance (CBM). Avoiding catastrophic failure and extending the life of components is the basis of this philosophy, which has been in place for almost four years now, according to Aspinwall. By monitoring the health of various components, the company is able to create signatures so that it can determine where the component is in its "life." "Our goal is to expand our condition-based maintenance [program]," he said. "That's a big differentiator for Alstom."

Benefits of new site

The Oakland repair and maintenance facility, originally established by rail company Morrison-Knudsen in 1995, was taken over by Alstom when it purchased the company in 1998. Because the site was outdoors and did not have a roof, the move to the enclosed Mare Island facility has already proven beneficial. Workers are now protected from the elements, which also helped improve workflow efficiency. "When it started to rain in Oakland, the guys had to stop working," Aspinwall says.

The lack of a roof also presented a problem in that permanent equipment, such as a crane, could not be used. If anything needed to be lifted, mobile cranes had to be used. The previous site also didn't have a pit, which has made a big difference, he says. "It's very difficult to work underneath a train when you don't have a pit, especially one that's lit and has the right environment around it."

Switching trains is also faster and more efficient at the Mare Island site due to the presence of two tracks within the facility. "Because there was only one track in Oakland, in order to move cars, you had to take it out of the main facility, back onto the main line and then bring it back in again," Aspinwall says.

 With the enhanced infrastructure, the company expects to deal with more volume in less time and more efficiently, says Aspinwall when comparing the two sites. The facility is currently set up to deal with 15 cars at any one time. If a third track were installed, the site would be able to service 20 cars. "To have a 20-car facility is a pretty big operation," he says. "With up to 45 people, we could satisfy a lot of work in that environment."

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