Melbourne's Newest Icon

The Victorian government announced last week that Bombardier will supply Melbourne’s next generation of trams. Melbourne-based development group Cobalt worked with Bombardier to develop the design of the new trams.

Bombardier won the tender with a submission that featured a high percentage of local manufacturing. They realised the importance of local content not only to manufacturing but also culturally to a tram city like Melbourne. The Bombardier bid was underpinned by the collaboration of the in-house Australian industrial design teams of Bombardier and Cobalt, ensuring the tendered design uniquely captured Melbourne’s identity.

The project will pump hundreds of millions into key parts of Victoria’s manufacturing industry and has been nominated as being ‘strategically significant’ by the Victorian government. Whilst high local manufacturing content is rightly being formally acknowledged, our tourist and creative sectors will also benefit by the tram’s local design identity.

Iconic Status

According to Jack Magree, Cobalt’s managing director and transport team leader, Melbourne has a unique relationship with trams. “They are like red double-decker buses are to London, or even as the Opera House is to Sydney and it’d be unheard of for these icons to be based on off-the-rack designs imported from elsewhere”. The trend in transport, as in automotive and other industries is to rationalise models, where apart from minor local requirements and livery, the same rolling stock can be seen in cities as diverse as Vienna, Amsterdam and Budapest. Whilst there are obvious economies of scale for this approach, Magree believes that “given the cultural and infrastructure importance trams have to Melbourne, not to mention the sheer size of our tram fleet, we believe our new trams should be relevant and unique to our city.”

Cobalt used their local and transport experience to develop a number of interior and exterior tram designs to supplement the tram designs from Bombardier’s in-house industrial design team. Cobalt also produced sophisticated computer-generated animations of the new tram designs which created scenes of the trams travelling through archetypical Melbourne streetscapes. Referencing Melbourne’s history, design and architecture “we sought to enhance and tailor Bombardier’s platform to be unique and relevant to Melburnians. Our part of the Bombardier lead submission was a super human effort by all involved and the result is one we have been dreaming of for a long time. We are very proud,” said Magree.

Design History

Cobalt have a strong base in transport design with two particularly striking examples; the Victorian Police booze bus and the ‘Melba 2011’ a pre-emptive design study on what was then future-gazing what a new Melbourne tram may look like.
The original W-Class model had an extraordinarily long life and remains the quintessential Melbourne tram. Cobalt’s ‘Melba 2011’ featured a single, round LED powered front lamp, an external asymmetrical route number plaque and three side lights. The aim was to project what the design of the Melbourne tram would be if there had been a continuous link from its launch in 1923 through to the present.

About the designers

Cobalt is a leading Australian product development group with local and international clients. Employing 18 staff, and working with clients across Australia, the United States, Europe and South East Asia. It designs products for a number of industries including award-winning medical devices, the innovative KeepCup and even sculpturally-styled water tanks for our cities’ parklands. Within the transport sector, Cobalt has worked with Melbourne’s tram operator Yarra Trams since their inception and their distinctive green anchor grab-handles were designed and supplied by Cobalt.

“Completing this project required us to expand our IT infrastructure and human resources. Ultimately this led to reaching new capabilities in collaborative design practices and in the level of our computer generated imaging (CGI)” said Magree. The project’s tight timeframe stretched the whole company. Key designers within Cobalt & Bombardier teams were each averaging 70 – 80hrs/week for several weeks to meet the deadline.

The results are stunning, and show how CG animation can transform good design into a compelling and successful narrative.