LET THE TRAIN TAKE THE STRAIN
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
There's no blowing of whistles. No waving of flags. Quietly, discreetly, at precisely 5.30 every weekday morning, the Jaguar Express leaves a leafy railway siding outside Birmingham. Inside its two-tier covered wagons, safely protected from the elements, are 176 brand new XJs, XKs and XFs bound for England's south coast and then destinations around the world.
Before this railhead terminal, sited across the road from Jaguar's assembly plant at Castle Bromwich, it would have required around 22 lorry transporters to haul those 176 cars to the docks at Southampton.
“That's a lot of road miles, expensive fuel and emissions. Additionally, the plant is adjacent to one of the most congested motorways in the UK, so using rail offsets this impact as well as improving our own distribution efficiency,” says Darrell Elliott,
distribution manager for Jaguar Cars.
It's reckoned that in the 10 years from 2003, when the railhead opened, train transportation from Castle Bromwich will take a staggering 45 million truck miles off Britain's road network. Add to that the shipping of X-TYPEs from a similar railhead at Jaguar's Halewood plant on Merseyside, and the transfer from road to rail could total more than 60 million lorry miles.
"We know there's a real environmental benefit when we transport our cars by train. Today, around 70 per cent of our production goes by rail, and we're hoping that will increase," adds Darrell.
It certainly makes sense from a logistics point of view. After leaving the Jaguar railhead at 5.30am, you can set your watch by the train's arrival at Southampton at precisely 11.10am. The train pulls up right next to the massive car transporter ships. The cars can be off the train, loaded in the cargo hold and on their way to the US, the Middle East, Japan or any one of Jaguar's 63 overseas markets, by the end of the day.
The logistics part of the equation is down to Ray Gardner, a no-nonsense Midlander who is Rail Terminal Manager for STVA (UK), the company that operates the Castle Bromwich railhead terminal for Jaguar.
"From the time a car leaves the factory and moves across to our staging area, our target is to have it on the train and away within 48 hours. But usually it's gone within 24," he explains.
Ray helped set up the £10 million railhead when the go-ahead was given back in 2002. The site was previously a field used for occasional vehicle storage. It was levelled, paved and made secure with high fencing and closed-circuit TV. It now has space to accommodate more than 1,250 cars.
To bring the rail link into the storage area, a new extension to the main English west-coast line was constructed, big enough for two 500-metre, eight-wagon trains to be loaded side by side.
The wagons themselves are pretty remarkable. At the push of a button, the entire roof raises to make it easier for the twin decks to be loaded. Eleven cars go into the lower level, 11 at the top. It takes around six hours to load all eight wagons.
We watch in amazement as team lead driver, David Bird carefully eases a new XF destined for America's west coast into the wagon's lower deck. With only centimetres to spare on either side, it takes concentration and nerves of steel to get the car in place.
"When you start the loading process, you're driving the Jaguars more than 500 metres down the inside of the train. That does require a fair bit of focus,” explains David. “You also need to be pretty nimble, and slim, as once you stop you need to climb in and out without the doors touching the sides. You have to do a lot of twisting and turning."
Arguably the biggest challenge for Ray is knowing exactly which cars are destined for which train. “You'll be pleased to know that we have a system that tracks a car every step of its journey, from its location in the compound through to the port of exit in the UK and its arrival in any country worldwide,” he says.
That journey starts with it leaving the assembly line for a one-mile drive to the railhead. A windscreen-mounted bar code is scanned as it leaves, and scanned again when it arrives. When it's parked in its designated area, it's scanned again to record the location. The final scan is made when it is loaded on to the train.
"That bar code tells us, for example, ‘I'm a US-spec XF SV8 and I'm heading by train to Southampton and on to Port Hueneme in California.' I'm pleased to say we haven't lost a car yet."
Jaguar still uses road transporters to deliver cars to UK dealers, and to the English east-coast port of Grimsby for shipping to northern Europe. But for exports to most other European destinations, the trains deliver the cars to Port Dagenham in east London where they're loaded onto ships.
"We know the Castle Bromwich railhead terminal and our determination to ship more new Jaguars by rail is making a difference environmentally," says Darrell. "We believe it's the right way to go. It's certainly our aim for the train to take more of the strain."
Train length: 520 metres
Number of wagons: 8
Cars carried: 176
Cars carried per week: 880
Lorries needed to carry 880 cars: 110
Estimated truck miles saved each year: 4.5 million
[Issue 2, 2008]