Whether it’s snowmobiles, airplanes or locomotives, Bombardier is a testament to how a company can change over time. Even in this down economy, with its aerospace division underperforming, Bombardier’s transportation division has stepped up to the plate and shown its mettle. Recently the transit heavyweight signed a $1.2 billion deal with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) to supply more than 200 light rail vehicles.
But despite having its rail products in transit systems worldwide, Bombardier sees its future not just in supplying agencies with rolling stock, but in servicing those products and soon operating them as well. I had a chance to speak with Mike Hardt, Bombardier’s vice president, services, about the company, its new service initiatives, what the future holds for it and what it has to teach agencies.
Hardt has been with Bombardier twice, returning to the company in 1997 after a previous stint to help start up its new services division. In the last 12 years this division has gone from a startup to 20 contracts with 17 customers in 16 locations.
Hardt says services sprouted from Bombardier’s manufacturing division and a cradle-to-grave or lifecycle concept. “If we built the vehicle, could we operate the vehicle? Could we maintain the vehicle? Could we provide parts for the vehicle? Could we overhaul that vehicle when the time came? Could we provide other technology solutions?”
From this concept, Bombardier’s services division evolved. As Hardt explained to me, the company now offers a variety of services beyond just rolling stock creation, including parts supplies, maintenance, signaling, infrastructure and its most recent endeavor, operations. Starting in June, Bombardier will take over operations on five of the six GO Transit rail lines.
I asked Hardt if this was the beginning of a design, build, operate, maintain (DBOM) operation from Bombardier and he told me the value was in bundling work. “Train operation along with train maintenance along with parts supply agreements, they fit nicely together. Along with the technologies we have for training, globalizing the supply network and all of those things,” Hardt says.
Hardt says the GO Transit operations opportunity is basically an extension of this idea and the relationship the company built with GO through the last three decades supplying equipment and a dozen years providing parts.
Hardt says this opportunity has allowed them to expand the knowledge base for their employees, greatly expanding their capabilities. Case in point will be the train engineers who Hardt says are now being given some maintenance training.
“We are training them about the equipment so they don’t just drive,” Hardt says. “So if something goes wrong, can they do a reset, can they do an isolate, can they make the train get to the end stop on time?
“And when they get to return the train back to the shop, we have a better hand-off process because they’re all one family, in being able to communicate any symptoms or problems that may have occurred to allow us to better troubleshoot.”
Hardt says this training allows them to improve on-time performance and is all a part of a greater company synergy.
With a company as large as Bombardier, it isn’t unheard of to have a disconnect between the corporation and its employees, but Hardt says it’s not the case.
“Certainly in the services business, the key to success is our people,” Hardt says.
“Not just who we originally hire, but how we support them and what backing we give them in innovation, in technology, in training and all kinds of things.”
Hardt also points to the way the company has structured itself in the agencies it services. Each contract is effectively a standalone operation making its own decisions for that specific customer. Hardt says this allows them to be more agile in their decisions because they are making them right at the site level.
“The key here is in your synergy,” Hardt says.