Could Wigan Heinz plant get its own railway station?
For the past year, bosses have been looking at the possibility of delivering and picking up freight from the Kitt Green plant using trains travelling along the Manchester to Southport line which, handily, runs down the side of the site.
Earlier this year a nocturnal experiment - after the last passenger trains until morning were safely past - was held which examined the feasibility of stopping a locomotive and carriages there for loading and unloading purposes. It was later declared a “complete success.”
It would form part of a rail route all the way from Holland (where Heinz has another major factory at Elst) via Hull and supporters of the scheme say it would speed up the transporting of products and be much better for the environment.
As the Wigan Observer recently reported, Heinz management and workers have been locked in a dispute over alterations to contracts which the company wants to bring in if it decides to expand its operations in Wigan and bring sauce production back the UK.
The Unite union recommended its members back the changes but a majority of the workers voted against them and Kraft-Heinz is now saying it may take this business elsewhere, although talks to find a compromise are continuing.
Company bosses, however, say the sauce deal has no bearing on whether the rail project goes ahead or not - the latter being more about the company’s carbon footprint.
Locals in Kitt Green have not been asked for their opinions on the railway scheme at this stage but certainly one of the local beefs is about the large amounts of lorries toing and froing along Spring Road from the M6, so anything to reduce road traffic in the area could well be welcomed.
The company is still at the stage of deciding whether the creation of a “pad” or siding is viable. If it is, then detailed plans will be drawn up.
Of the experiment, a Kraft-Heinz spokesman said: “The trial was a simulation which involved a locomotive and 30 unloaded cradles.
“There was no need to run actual containers as there were no means to unload at this stage.
“The train was scheduled to arrive just after the last passenger train of the day had passed through the piece of railtrack next to the National Distribution Centre.
“This was around 23.30. There was a series of locomotive moves and the testing of safety procedures like signalling, points management, level crossings etc and then a simulated shuffle (six cradles at a time) every 30 minutes.
“The warehouse teams also simulated and timed internal site movements to ensure that the target timings per container move was within requirements.
“The trial was a complete success in both timings and the testing of our safety procedures and the next stage will be to work with commercial partners to build a business case together.
“The project is around the feasibility of creating a ‘rail-pad’ on the land between the railway line itself and the National Distribution Centre.
“This will progress if a commercially viable business case can be put together.”
Kraft-Heinz is being helped by the University of Hull’s Logistics Institute to improve its freight movement across Europe. The Liverpool-Humber Optimisation of Freight Transport scheme is designed to help haulage of Heinz products from the Netherlands to Kitt Green.
As part of the project products have been moved by rail via the Humber port complex.
Prof Amar Ramudhin, director of the University of Hull’s Logistics Institute, said this was done to make the scheme as “green” as possible.
“The University of Hull is at the forefront of accelerating a net zero future,” he said.
“The Wigan rail route opens up new opportunities for goods owners and service providers to collaborate to develop new, lower carbon transport routes.”
The project also partners with Oxford Rail Strategies, with the aim to develop a rail freight solution for the haulage of products from Elst to Wigan. The night-time experiment followed consultation with UK rail freight operator Freightliner, and Network Rail.
Emma Dempsey, from Freightliner, said: “As the largest operator of carbon neutral traction, we are continually developing solutions to deliver decarbonisation targets, working in collaboration with business partners and customers, and we were delighted to be part of the team to trial this potential modal shift to rail.”
Karla Jakeman, from Connected Transport at Innovate UK, added: “This is a very positive development of the project. It is always exciting when projects can demonstrate innovation in practice.
“I am looking forward to watching how this develops in the future.”
The Heinz spokesman said that he hoped to be able to deliver an update in 2022.
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