Select Committee on Transport, Local Government and the Regions Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Unilog UK Limited (CHT 13)



  Unilog is a joint venture of Interferryboats NV, Belgium and English Welsh and Scottish Railways Ltd, UK, engaged in the business of Intermodal Rail transport between Belgium and the UK via the Channel Tunnel. Services have been operating since the start of Channel Tunnel operations in June 1994, peaking at 11 services per week in 1998-99 and then stabilizing at six services per week up to the end of October 2001.An average of 16,000 units per annum is moved via this route.


  From 6 November to 17 November there was a complete block on all Freight services through the Tunnel. This was due to the severe backlog of trains caused by the activities of the Illegal Immigrants in Calais in the preceding weeks. Our Services recommenced at a rate of three trains per week, a total of 17 services between then and the 28 December were run. A similar pattern of sporadic operation continued until 12 March when once again the Tunnel was shut to Freight traffic for a week to enable a further backlog of trains to be cleared. Our Service then continued at three trains per week until 2 April. During this whole period the activities of the Illegal Immigrants was intense and it was apparent that the whole operation was highly orchestrated by professional smugglers.


  Prior to the destabilizing of our service in November 2001 we carried a good proportion of time sensitive traffics. A typical train could reliably be assumed to carry 60% traffic requiring "next day delivery" particularly those associated with the petro-chemical industry. The nature of our operation was such that a high degree of reliability was sustainable and that consequently we were able to attract and retain a diversity of market leaders as Customers. Once we were reduced in service the majority of these clients were understandably forced to take alternative routes to maintain their own credibility. The reduction to our client base was dramatic as was our loss in revenue. We were left with 100% of direct costs to cover with a hypothetical maximum of 50% revenue.


  The SNCF declared at the Rail Freight Group conference in Calais on 27 March that effective 2 April all services would be returned to pre November 2001 levels. We attempted, once again, to run a daily service. This was only partially successful as the ever-increasing effects of the activities of the Illegal Immigrants attempting to board services in Calais, Fréthun, caused much delay and subsequent disruption. Once a train had missed its allocated pathway through the Channel Tunnel it was certain that it would be subject to the full attentions of the Illegal Immigrants. The damage to the train and its contents could delay the service by up to 72 hours. In one instance wagons were held in Calais for eight days whilst being made fit to travel. This situation continued until 10 May when all services were again suspended whilst the backlog of trains was cleared. Services restarted on 21 May for three nights and then, again, services were suspended to clear the fresh backlog. It should be noted that on some nights only two services in total moved through the Tunnel from France.


  Planned services 6 November to 21 May  —306 trains  Actual—164 trains.

  Budgeted loadings 6 November to 21 May  —7650 units  Actual—4100 units

  Shortfall in Revenue—£1.2 million


  (a)  Unilog's business has reached a point whereby commercial aspirations have been severely diminished and it is now questionable whether we have a viable product to put into the marketplace.

  (b)  The 89 units, since 1 March this year, entered and damaged by the Illegal Immigrants in Fréthun is a graphic illustration to our Customers that we have lost operational control of our own business.

  (c)  Whilst the alternative methods of transportation struggled to cope with the increased volumes in the pre- Christmas build-up last year, sufficient time has now passed for them to stabilize their operations and, as such, they are now a viable alternative.

  (d)  Confidence in the Channel Tunnel has been undermined to the point that even with a resumption of "Pre—Immigrant Normal Working" it will take much to regain the lost business. Reliability is now the over-riding consideration, any pricing revision to encourage lost business to return would be meaningless when recent experience has proved the integrity of the rest of the package to be wanting.

  (e)  only after substantive security measures have been put in place in Fréthun, backed up by political resolve and action on both sides of the Channel, will we see a long term future in our business. Regrettably those in the Freight community have very long memories and, as such, we could have lost the last eight years progress.

  (f)  At the time of writing 8 May we have been advised by EWS Railway that the Emergency Timetable will be reintroduced. The operating window in Calais, Fréthun will be reduced to eight hours from 1900hrs to 0300hrs instead of a theoretical 24 hours. This will mean a total of six trains per night to cover the needs of all Channel Tunnel Freight Customers. A truly disastrous situation.

11 June 2002

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