Memorandum by the Rail Freight Group (CHT
CROSS-CHANNEL RAIL FREIGHT
1. The Rail Freight Group is the representative
body of the rail freight industry in the UK. Members include customers
of the railways, terminal operators, train operators, infrastructure
providers, contractors, consultants, local authorities and others
whose objective is to grow the amount of freight carried by rail
in, to and from the UK.
2. We do not need to repeat here our evidence
to the Committee's Inquiry into the 10 Year Transport Plan. However,
in support of this, a recently completed survey for the Rail Freight
Group found that 91% of people think that more freight should
transfer from motorways to rail, and 58% believe that the Government
should subsidise the companies to move their goods by rail.
3. Furthermore, 91% thought that the UK
should increase the percentage of freight carried by rail from
11% to the German figure of 23%, and 58% thought it "very
important" and 34% "important" that Government
targets of an increase in rail freight of 80% in 10 years were
achieved, and 71% thought that the targets should be increased.
4. Thus, the growth of rail freight is an
important, and achievable, element of the Government's transport
policy. Similar policies apply in most European Member States
as well as at the Commission.
5. Before the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994,
it was expected that it would carry six to eight million tonnes
of rail freight in the first few years. Sadly, it has never achieved
more than three million. There are a number of views as to the
reasons for these differences, including service quality, high
prices and an overoptimistic forecast although even the eight
million figure represents just 6-7% of the cross-Channel unitised
market. In the summer of 2001, service quality did start to improve
significantly and the industry had a much more optimistic view,
expecting strong growth from the plateau of three million tonnes
a year so far achieved.
6. However, in the autumn, the number of
asylum seekers trying to board freight trains suddenly increased,
partly as a result of the completion of a much more secure fence
around the adjacent Eurotunnel terminal. SNCF (French Railways)
staff were being attacked at their Calais Fréthun yard.
SNCF suspended services whilst it negotiation with the local Prefect
for more police protection. SNCF also improved the fence around
the terminal, and stepped up the security checks inside the terminals
to detect people who had smuggled themselves into the wagons earlier
on their journey.
7. Since November, SNCF has suspended services
on three occasions, and have never achieved more than 40 trains
per week, against a planned 96, a service level regularly achieved
before November last.
8. Train operations are undertaken by EWS
Railway in the UK and SNCF in France. The main types of traffic
carried are intermodal (swap bodies), conventional wagons and
automotive products. Train operators sell complete intermodal
trains to aggregators, who market the service to individual customers.
Wagonload services are generally part of the European railway
companies' own networks, and automotive traffic is normally train
loads sold directly between the train operators and specialist
car transporting companies.
9. In the UK, there are at least 30 companies
in these chains, some part of large international groups, some
SMEs set up particularly to take advantage of the new opportunities
offered when the Channel Tunnel opened, and many, if not all,
of whom are operating against a background of high fixed costs
resulting from substantial long term investments in essential
fixed assets such as rail wagons, terminal installations and so
10. Customers were attracted to the service
because of the reliability, security and speed offered compared
with competing modes. Sadly, since November, the situation has
deteriorated drastically. The effect of such an unreliable service
is that customers do not know from one day to the next when a
train is going to arrive at its destination. In addition, many
wagons are trashed inside as a result of illegal immigrants spending
several days there without food or sanitation. One train had every
wagon trashed in this way.
11. Customers are therefore leaving in large
numbers. This is particularly serious since it is the high value
cargoes that are generally being lost to road, for understandable
reasons. Traffic is likely to be down to between one and two million
tonnes a year if this problem continues and many UK companies
are likely to close as a result.
12. RFG has estimated that closure of the
service would result in 6,000 extra lorries on the M20 and roads
around London, about 8,000 jobs lost with financial losses to
the industry reaching about £30 million over the first six
months since November. This figure includes both loss of actual
orders, plus the shortfall in meeting fixed cost commitments as
described above. A number of companies are lodging claims against
the French Government.
13. The trains have to stop at Calais Fréthun
to change locomotives, and for a security check to be undertaken
before they enter the Channel Tunnel. This check should also cover
the detection of asylum seekers inside wagons, or hanging onto
the outside. To be effective, there has to be a secure fence around
the terminal, with gates to protect those working inside and to
ensure that, once a wagon or train has been checked, it will remain
free of asylum seekers.
14. Inside the yard, SNCF police and security
staff undertake these checks and apprehend asylum seekers, handing
them over to the police outside.
15. Outside the terminal, the CRS or Gendarmes
patrol the fence but, since it is several kilometres long, this
is labour intensive. If they apprehend asylum seekers, they may
take them back to the Sangatte Centre or just tell them to "go
away". Neither is likely to have any effect on these desperate
people. Fines or gaol are not apparently used, and would in any
case put further cost on the French taxpayer.
16. Simply stated, rail freight customers
need reliability, safety and security. Damaged, late or lost goods
cause financial losses to all concerned but, more importantly
for rail freight, they destroy confidence in the industry's ability
to deliver a proper service. Unsurprisingly, customers turn to
competing modes. Experience on previous interruptions through
strikes, all of much shorter duration than the present seven months,
shows that it may take many months if not years of near excellent
service before customers return in quantity.
17. This is therefore the tragedy of the
present protracted period of delays and cancellations. In the
months before November 2001, the service had reached its highest
level of quality ever, and there was confidence in the future.
All this was lost by the failure of the two governments to control
security and allow the free movement of freight trains.
18. Simply, and in the short term, there
needs to be a fence of equal security to that of Eurotunnel, continually
repaired to avoid holes remaining. With this, it needs larger
numbers of security personnel inside, and very much more police
outside, all operating 24 hours a day since, otherwise, people
get onto trains when police are not there. Somewhere between 50
and 100 police outside are thought to be necessary. Sometimes
SNCF receives only single figures, and none on certain shifts.
19. Provision of the above resources could
and should make it so difficult for asylum seekers to get onto
freight trains either at the terminal of further afield, and remain
undetected into the Tunnel that we believe that they will try
other, easier targets.
20. There is now general acceptance that
this is the responsibility of the French Government. SNCF has
claimed force majeure and is declining any responsibility
for financial losses by others. The UK Government says that it
is the responsibility of the French Government to protect its
through trade routes within the European Union, and the European
Commission is threatening legal action against the French Government
on this same issue.
21. However, the UK Government cannot absolve
itself from blame. There is a general rule on frontiers that,
if one country wishes to keep people out, it has to build and
pay for a fence or other means, and police it. It is perverse
to expect a country that has no interest in keeping in the kinds
of people it does not want in the first place, to expend great
effort and expense to achieve this.
22. The difficulty with the Channel Tunnel
is that both countries have agreed that frontiers should include,
for some traffic, dual juxtaposition, where there are UK frontier
control staff at Eurotunnel's adjacent terminal and at Paris Gare
du Nord Eurostar station.
23. A further complication is that the UK's
immigration laws are such that, once a person steps ashore, he
or she has the right to claim asylum. Under the Dublin Convention,
it is no longer possible to send people straight back to France.
24. Thus, there is every reason to expect
the UK Government to take equal responsibility with France for
solving the immediate problem of asylum seekers affecting cross-Channel
rail freight services, including sharing the cost of protection
measures. In the regard, we were encouraged by the offer of the
Strategic Rail Authority, supported by Transport Minister John
Spellar MP, to contribute to the cost of a better and more secure
fence around the SNCF Terminal.
25. We have suggested to Government that
the UK frontier control zone around the Eurotunnel terminal could
be extended to include the SNCF Terminal. This would allow UK
frontier control staff to operate there, and staff who have rather
more incentive to keep people out than their French opposite numbers
have in retaining or apprehending people they do not want in France.
It would require secondary legislation but, since the Government
recently did this to extend the regulations to the Gare du Nord
in Paris for rail passengers, we see no reason why that should
not be done for freight.
26. It was clear well before November 2001
that asylum seekers were causing severe difficulties to freight
trains. The British Government's reaction was to impose a £2,000
fine on EWS Railway and SNCF for every asylum seeker apprehended
arriving by rail freight in the UK. Given the situation at Calais,
it was totally unreasonable to expect EWS Railway to have any
control over what happened in France, and SNCF would not pay anyway
and were claiming force majeure. The only effect that these
fines had on the industry was irritation that the Government chose
to make the transport industry into unpaid border guards, rather
than take responsibility itself for national security and policing
of frontiers. We trust that the Government will not seek to reintroduce
a modified form of such fines. If they do, it is likely that the
services will stop completely.
27. We have previously suggested, without
success, that the UK Government should offer assistance with policing,
with military support or with the construction of a fence as a
military exercise. It is, after all, in the interests of the UK
to do this, possible more so than activity elsewhere in the world.
28. The UK Government is now taking the
problem of asylum seekers on freight trains more seriously, after
a slow start in November. There is much pressure on the French
Government to step up security and policing and ensure that there
is a fence around the SNCF Terminal at least as good as that of
29. Welcome and late thought this initiative
is, there does seem to be a lack of a clear policy in how to deal
with the problem beyond a new fence and more police. These are
essential but short term palliatives, necessary to keep the business
going. But there is a need for the UK Government to address the
problem of the differences in asylum policies between it and other
Member States. It is after all the differences in policy which
are causing the queues of thousands of people at Calais seeking
to enter the UK.
30. We have seen no official reports on
why so many asylum seekers, or economic migrants (as many clearly
are), seek to come to the UK. Is it our English language, the
lack of identity cards, the ease with which people without papers
can get jobs for cash, free education and health facilities and
of course the presence of their family in the UK already?
31. We would have thought that the Government
would have detailed information on how the UK's policies on these
issues differ from other Member States and, in consequence, what
changes they should make to reduce the differences between the
UK and France.
THE UK MUST
32. For the UK, there remains the problem
that, in matters immigration and asylum, we are often seen as
"semi-detached"; from the rest of Europe. This is only
possible because we have the sea between us, and even this is
challenged by the Channel Tunnel. This attitude is having a serious
effect on our trade routes, on business small and large, and is
making a complete nonsense of out transport policy of encouraging
rail freight generally and through the Channel Tunnel in particular.
33. Finally, we have urged the two governments
at the front line to engage with each other at all levels on this
issue. They should be mature enough to take what may be seen as
politically courageous decisions, but make them they must! Continuing
to lob insults across the channel"you need more police
and a better fence" and "you have the wrong kind of
immigration policy" is no longer an option, either in private