Issue 6 2012
French railways ‘are strangling freight’ says Eurotunnel boss
There is little prospect of through- rail traffic via the Channel Tunnel growing significantly for the foreseeable feature, Eurotunnel chairman and CEO Jacques Gounon told a press conference on 23 October. “We are not expecting significant progress because of a lack of availability and quality of the French rail network,” he told journalists. “I’m afraid we will not see such traffic growing.” He cited difficulties in obtaining
paths on the French rail system, in particularly the bottleneck through Lille, as the main obstacle to growth. “We are addressing the issue with the French authorities, but they have a lot of different priorities.” He also lambasted operation of the French railways’ Channel Tunnel terminal
There is certainly a bottleneck at Lille.. It is preventing this market from reaching its potential”
Frethun as “a complete mess”. Rail Freight Group executive
director Maggie Simpson, commented: “There is certainly a bottleneck at Lille...It
is one of a number of factors which is preventing this market from reaching its potential.” RFG chairman Tony Berkeley added that other
factors may play a part. He said: “In France, freight gets a low priority on all routes, and in particular when there are many local passenger services paid for by the
regional governments who want their services to have priority. There is also no independent body allocating slots - SNCF (French state railways) does this and is also an operator.” Despite the difficulties, Gounon
continued, Eurotunnel would continue to work to develop through rail traffic and had recently tested one of the latest Alsthom locos, the Prima II, in the tunnel in late September. However, there appears to be no firm plans for Eurotunnel’s Europorte long distance rail subsidiary to order its own locomotives. A scheme by Europorte to
develop piggyback rail services through the Tunnel to the London area – the subject of a demonstration run earlier this year – have also stalled as hoped for traffic has not materialised and the service “will not be happening” for the time being, said Gounon. “It was a successful test but it is not in our hands…it seems that the flow does not exist now,” he told FBJ. The gloom over through rail
rail traffic is in contrast with truck traffic on Eurotunnel’s shuttle services, which is doing well. Shuttle truck traffic grew 19% in 2011 over 2012 and Gounon predicts that it will continue to increase by around 3% a year. On the day of the conference,
Eurotunnel also operated its first freight shuttles with the canopies removed, realising a considerable weight reduction. Around half the truck shuttle fleet should have its canopies removed by the end of
Ferry plans referred
The UK’s Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has referred Eurotunnel Group’s planned acquisition of former ferry operator, SeaFrance to the country’s Competition Commission for further investigation, over concerns that the merger could substantially reduce competition on the Channel. Eurotunnel is planning to buy three former SeaFrance ships and operate them as MyFerryLink The OFT said that while it recognises that the new service
provides benefits to passengers by replacing capacity on the Dover to Calais route which was lost when SeaFrance went into liquidation, “there is some evidence that an alternative
buyer would have
acquired the business, had Eurotunnel not done so.” OFT is concerned that prices
for freight and passengers may increase as a result of the deal. The Competition Commission is
expected to report by 14 April next year.
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the year, although they will be retained on around half the fleet owing to their different design. Gounon also anticipated that the MyFerryLink service using on
two former SeaFrance ships would eventually attract a 7-8% share of the very competitive cross- Channel market. Refurbishment work on the third ship inherited
from the bankrupt railway-owned operator, the freight-only Nord Pas de Calais, was expected to be completed at the end of November. However, the ship was unlikely to
operate a regular schedule and would mainly be used to cover for one of the existing mixed use freight ferries when they were not available.
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