Railcar Suppliers Look to Offer Range of Services

Posted on May 19, 2011 by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

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From maintenance to operations to rail ties to training, today's rail companies are supplying much more than rolling stock. In fact, many are bringing programs they have created and implemented for other countries, including turnkey solutions, to the U.S. as many agencies face budgeting issues that are forcing them to look more seriously at private investment.

The benefits of these rail supplier services for transit operators includes lowering their risk, saving money and working with companies with an array of expertise in all facets of operating a rail system.

Alstom has knowledge in all activities of a rail system, including infrastructure, track laying, electrification, electric and mechanical equipment, rolling stock, signaling and maintenance.
Alstom has knowledge in all activities of a rail system, including infrastructure, track laying, electrification, electric and mechanical equipment, rolling stock, signaling and maintenance.

With sustainable transportation in mind, Alstom Transport develops and offers a complete range of systems, equipment and services. The company is present in more than 60 countries and has 26,000 employees.

Alstom's services to public or private rail operators include maintenance, renovation, spare parts management and technical support, with its objective being to guarantee global, safe and optimized management of rolling stock — whether it is manufactured by the company itself or not - as well as equipment throughout its operating lifecycle.

Alstom has knowledge in all activities of a rail system — infrastructure, track laying, electrification, electric and mechanical equipment, rolling stock, signaling, depots, maintenance and more — enabling the company to implement a turnkey solution for everything from tramway projects and metros to main lines and very high-speed lines.

Meanwhile, Alstom's maintenance of rail equipment and infrastructure systems helps guarantee the network's continuous availability and performance for optimum operating costs throughout the network's lifecycle. Alstom's offerings include renovations and short or long-term maintenance contracts for all fixed installations on the rail network.

"Our Supply Chain service offering is very flexible and is designed to meet the individual customer needs; this is based on a review of the current 'as is' situation and identification of areas for improvement for added value," says Tommy Aspinwall, Alstom Transport's vice president of operations, train life services, U.S. & Canada.

The company's maintenance operations cover all types of installations and rail equipment, including workshop equipment, track, electric traction sub-stations, overhead wiring, third-rail or APS ground-based power system, signaling and telecommunication systems, and station passenger equipment. These maintenance operations are carried out in specialist workshops.

Alstom's experts prepare specific maintenance programs for each project based on proven methods, such as its all-inclusive maintenance programs, which provide regular preventive maintenance — revisions or maintenance — and permit the rapid implementation of corrective measures — repairing damage — when required. Other programs include simply replacing spare parts, on both Alstom products and those of other builders, with a computerized management service (parts folio) that enables the customer to rapidly and easily enter into contact with the various maintenance providers via a single entrance point.

"We have spent time developing our CBM (condition based maintenance) approach, to extending the life of components and avoiding catastrophic failures, this has helped reduce costs and heavy overhaul, which results in higher utilization of customers' assets," Aspinwall says.

In addition to several other services, Alstom also provides electrical and mechanical solutions for stations and tunnels, and provides ergonomics, design, supply, installation, entry into service and centralized control for electromechanical equipment.


Aside from building railcars, Bombardier provides rail services that are broken down into five areas: Operations and Maintenance, Overhaul, Material Solutions, Technology Solutions and Whole Life Asset Management.

"The services are offered independently as well as part of an integrated solution," Matt Byrne, vice president, Services business unit, for Bombardier Transportation North America, says. "Also, these services are not just available for Bombardier-built products; the expertise is applicable across all product lines whether they are Bombardier-built or not."

As part of its Technology Solutions, Bombardier worked with agencies both in North America and around the world to create its eLearning Web training product, Sentio Fault Diagnostic Tool, and TrackSafe, a product in the testing stage that will significantly improve the safe working environment for track maintenance personnel through an early warning notification to both train and track workers based upon RFID technology.

"If you look at training, the major needs and concerns from transit agencies are cost, consistency of delivery and business disruption," says Byrne. "So, after extensive market research and consultation with the industry, [our] eLearning product was developed. This product allows training to be provided on an individual basis at a time when an employee is available, without causing disruption to the agency's requirements."

Byrne explains that Bombardier's eLearning training program is successful because it ensures a level of consistency in the training experience the employees receive and take away. As the program is interactive, the learner can also go at his or her own pace, while having their knowledge retention tested at various points throughout the specific training program. It also enables a person to expand their job knowledge on their own time should they decide to undertake training for their own personal development, at no additional cost to their employer.

"If those being trained want to take on more courses for their own personal advancement, it means that courses can be taken on their own time without any cost to the business, because eLearning is not only available at the work site, it is also available wherever and whenever people have online access," says Byrne.

One of the newer offerings for the North American market is Bombardier's set of Whole Life Asset Management services where, in essence, the company manages assets for their entire lifecycle, while also taking on the risks for those assets.

"We design, build, maintain and support a vehicle for its entire life, with the client potentially only paying a defined price per mile, or, per year, so they get certainty of cost base, which in this economic climate offers a lot of advantages," explains Byrne.

Many rail agencies in the U.K. and Europe, as well as certain areas of Asia, due to more private investment in those continents' rail systems, have started to procure railcars using this total Asset Management formula, says Byrne.

"North American agencies are starting to also consider this innovation when they are purchasing railcars, as the significant benefits it entails address many of their short and long-term financial and operational challenges," he explains. "[Using this method], you are designing, building and maintaining for the full life of the asset, therefore, you can optimize your design to be more cost and performance-efficient in terms of maintenance, operation, energy usage, et cetera. This approach, combined with long-term technical, supply chain and fleet performance support, addresses the traditional worries, such as long-term maintenance costs, software and hardware obsolescence, spares and supply chain continuity, and long-term sustainment of reliability and availability growth."

Byrne says that there are many factors to be taken into account by Bombardier to help determine which or how many of these services will suit their customers' needs best, most importantly, their output requirements. The result has been customers switching their mentality from not just how many vehicles they need, but how to get the best bang for their buck, so to speak.

To work with the client, Bombardier typically assigns a designated resource to make sure their needs and requirements are fully understood from the initial stages all the way up to the actual delivery of the services.

"We try to tailor it such that the client has got a personal touch but, also, a very professional approach, so that he/she has a single point of contact and feels that there are sufficient resources behind that point of contact to deliver on the commitments and requirements of the project," Byrne says.

He adds that among Bombardier's strengths is its ability to recognize that the market is constantly changing; thus Bombardier's focus is not only on achieving its clients' current needs, but equally importantly, on understanding the clients' long-term goals and being sufficiently flexible to ensure Bombardier is planning and acting today to help its clients to achieve their vision.

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