Network Rail has submitted a planning application to build a railway sleeper facility in Bescot, Walsall, West Midlands.
This final submission follows extensive engagement with local people and politicians, including briefings, public information events and meeting with residents at their homes to discuss the plans.
Much of the feedback received from these engagement sessions has helped shape the final planning application, which was initially not popular with some residents.
The changes made include the relocation of the proposed site further away from local properties by moving it some 600 metres to the east. In addition, Network Rail proposes to build a new link road that will improve access and remove the impact of vehicles on adjacent homes, and to develop a one-way traffic management plan which will halve the number of lorry movements past any one location.
This will be the second of Network Rail’s sleeper manufacturing facilities. The first, operated by Trackwork Moll, a collaboration between Doncaster-based Trackwork and Leonhard Moll of Germany, opened at the end of 2013 on the former Woodyard site near Ten Pound Walk in Doncaster.
The new facility will provide up to 600,000 railway sleepers every year, 60 per cent of Britain’s annual requirement, with the other 400,000 coming from Trackwork Moll in Doncaster. It is required as the current sleeper factory at Washwood Heath will close shortly as the site is required for HS2.
Network Rail programme director Anthony Marley said: “We have met with, listened to and taken on board the feedback we have received from local people regarding our plans. They have helped shape the application we have made.
“This new facility will bring millions of pounds to the local economy and support hundreds of jobs in the West Midlands. We have already seen significant interest in these jobs, with approximately half of respondents welcoming these new employment prospects. We will continue to work with Sandwell council as our application progresses.”
The location of the site isn’t the only controversy to affect the project. The Doncaster facility uses a ‘long line’ process to manufacture sleepers, while the new facility, which will be operated by German concern RailOne, will adopt a ‘carousel’ technique, as is often used on the Continent to manufacture concrete sleepers.
However, some experts have argued that the carousel technique is not suitable for the manufacture of the British G44 sleepers, which are heavier and stronger than their German counterparts. Network Rail has not accepted their argument and placed the contract for carousel manufacture despite the comments.