“The process of bringing separate entities in an alliance together into one coherent unit is a major challenge, and yet also a wonderful opportunity. Each alliance partner needs to adapt to work together effectively, something that I believe requires a high level of maturity.”
The world’s cities are growing at a rapid rate. That’s a fact. The expansion is such that the UN has predicted that by 2050 the world’s population living in urban areas will rise from today’s levels of 55% to 68% – another 2.5 billion people. Moving such vast numbers of people quickly and efficiently can deliver major economic and sociological improvements – a process that can be achieved with the latest high-capacity signalling, communications-based train control (CBTC) systems and rolling stock. So for this, the latest edition of Work in Progress, the feature that looks into major infrastructure projects, SmartRail World examines two very different networks in two very different environments: Melbourne and Bangkok, where Bombardier is installing a high-capacity signalling system and a two-line monorail, respectively. The latter in the Thai capital is a shining example of the rail revolution taking place in Asia, the continent that – along with Africa – accounts for a remarkable 90% of the UN’s projected population spike.
To get a behind-the-scenes look at both the projects, SmartRail World speaks with Gregory Enjalbert, the Vice-President Asia Pacific at Bombardier Transportation Rail Control Solutions, to discover the challenges and opportunities that the projects present, the improvements and benefits they’ll bring and why, when it comes to a team, cohesion is the only way forward.
Scheduled for opening in late 2021– 39 months after breaking ground – when Bangkok’s INNOVIA monorail 300 system enters operation it will enhance the daily travel of more than 400,000 people, with 72 walkthrough-style trains moving more than 28,000 passengers an hour in each direction across the city’s new Pink and Yellow lines. “It’s based around easing congestion in Bangkok, and there is certainly a lot of traffic in the city,” says Enjalbert, who has been involved in the Bangkok Monorail (NBM) and Eastern Bangkok Monorail projects since 2016.
“The government wanted to do a lot more in terms of metro projects in Thailand and decided that instead of doing a lot of the independent financing it would work better as part of a public-private partnership (PPP). The Bangkok monorail projects are the first to come from that,” he explains, before shedding light on the funding model that is making the approximately 65-kilometres of line possible. “Bombardier is providing the full system integration which involves taking care of the trains, the signalling, and all other wayside sub-systems including power supply, platform screen doors (PSD) and telecommunications. Basically everything except the civil works.”
With Skytrain and underground MRT lines used elsewhere in Bangkok, Enjalbert makes clear that monorail wasn’t the only option but it is one that is ideally suited to the city’s topography. “Its tight curve radius is good for a city with a packed architecture like Bangkok,” he says, adding that being situated at the end of the Chao Phraya River, “where the soil is soft and more challenging for underground works”, the capital expenditure on a monorail is “significantly lower” than when having to dig tunnels.
Unsurprisingly, the task ahead for implementing the CITYFLO 650 signalling solutions – the system destined for the Melbourne and Bangkok projects – is significant but will bring big improvements. “For both markets, when CITYFLO 650 is operational it will mean being able to run trains more efficiently, while its moving block system ensures there is less distance between each train. As a result, you can move more passengers and have a more frequent service – that’s vital in a city centre while in the suburbs, where services can be less frequent, it will give more time for maintenance.”
Despite the Australian and Thai cities both using the CITYFLO rail control solution, adapted for each market’s unique characteristics, that is where the similarity ends, says the Bombardier Transportation Vice President. “Unlike Bangkok, Melbourne is a brown-field site which means that the project team must introduce the new signalling into an already operational rail system, with as little disruption to passenger services as possible. Therefore, installation will be carried out over ten stages, introducing the changes incrementally.
“In recognition of this complexity and to deliver the project safely and successfully, the Metro Tunnel Project is being delivered under an alliance model, comprising three organisations: CPB Contractors, Bombardier Transportation and Metro Trains Melbourne, along with owner-participant Rail Projects Victoria,” says Enjalbert. “The process of bringing separate entities in the alliance together into one coherent unit is a major challenge, and yet also a wonderful opportunity. Each alliance partner needs to adapt to work together effectively, something that I believe requires a high level of maturity.”
Certainly, achieving a fully-functioning team was at the forefront of Bombardier’s mind when it recruited the workforce for the Bangkok monorail projects. “We carried out coaching for our teams to make sure they have the support from the beginning. Diversity and investment in local talent are also key fundamentals for Bombardier – its Bangkok site has more than 620 employees, 80% of whom are Thai, and with 30% of the total workforce made up by women,“ Enjalbert adds. “We have trained a generation of people in a quickly expanding rail environment.”
One bittersweet outcome of training staff to a high standard, Enjalbert tells me, is that they may join other companies to expand their experience. However, as he explains, it often doesn’t always stay that way. “I am never totally happy when people move on, but it is a natural part of the fact that we are a training centre for the rail industry in Thailand and for our employees who are building a career path. But we also see many returning to Bombardier again later in their careers, so we must be doing something right!”
And, much like the number of cities that Bombardier Transportation’s rail systems serve, the number of staff at the company’s Bangkok site, one of its regional hubs located across Asia Pacific, has also grown, “nearly doubling in five years”. “We’ve moved our site in Thailand from a standard signalling company to a fully operational systems integrator that offers long-term services – so things have evolved quite a bit. We’ve seen companies come in and say that they will integrate a system but, guess what, it’s not that easy. For us, delivering a total turnkey system is what we do – and we do it well.”
To download a case study on Bombardier’s mobility solutions for Bangkok, click here.
And for more information on Bombardier's CBTC signalling systems, visit the company website.