Posted on June 23, 2013 · Posted in North West & Wales

The visit to Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) factory at and railhead at Halewood, on 12th June 2013, was the final visit of the 2012/13 season was also one of the highlights. The visit allowed members to see both a modern car factory which produces a Range Rover Evoque every 52 seconds and the despatch of 300 cars a day by train to Southampton for export across the world. Members were able to appreciate the challenge of matching rail freight services to the ever changing demands of the consumer market place. The visit also illustrated the global nature of the modern economy.

Mark Toomer from JLR showed us the factory which is owned by the TATA Group from India. The factory uses Japanese management techniques of mass production – every car is produced for an individual customer’s order. The secret is a “just in time” approach where the parts for each individual car are delivered to the assembly as they are needed. No more than 2 hours of stock is held in the factory. The logistics company DHL (now owned by the German post office) delivers the parts inside the factory to the workers on the assembly line. JLR directly employs some 18,000 people in the UK and supports the jobs of 180,000 others. The workers in the factory work as teams and take responsibility for the quality and productivity of the work of their team. The high quality of modern cars owes much to the use of robots, especially for work involving the body panels. Members were surprised to learn that robots are relatively cheap to buy – equivalent to the employment costs for a year of a skilled worker.

Simon Willard, the General Manager of STVA in the UK described the rail operation and led the visit to see the rail wagons being loaded with cars. STVA (Société de Transports de Véhicules Automobiles) is a subsidiary of the French railway company SNCF, specialising in transporting cars by rail, road and sea. STVA provides the specialised wagons and DB Schenker (owned by the German railway company Deutsche Bahn) provides the locomotives and drivers.

Rail transport to and from Halewood peaked in the 1980s. There are now just three train timetable paths available each day and, until the success of the Evoque, only two were in regular use. STVA has always provided some road transport to supplement rail but the increased demand from JLR now means that many more cars have to travel by road. STVA is investing in additional wagons but finding more paths is a challenge for Network Rail.

Our thanks are due to Mark Toomer, Simon Willard and their colleagues and to Dave Mason of Mott MacDonald who organised the trip on behalf of the IRO.