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

Memorandum by Environmental Freight Services Ltd (E.F.S.) (CHT 18)



  1.  EFS is an intermodal operator with 650 curtain sided equipment units and containers capable of both road and rail carriage of freight.

  2.  EFS was established in 1998 in line with UK government policy dedicated to moving freight by rail through the Channel Tunnel for the Italian market. By utilizing Rail Heads in the Midlands this minimises UK haulage usage.

  3.  The strategy for EFS was to use the Channel Tunnel for 80% of its business whilst 20% used short-sea for London and North-Eastern markets. Since November 2001 we have had a succession of occasions when the rail freight services through the Channel Tunnel have been suspended by SNCF (the French Railways) because of continuing problems with Asylum seekers at the Fréthun Goods Yard just outside the entrance to the Tunnel. The effect on our use of the Tunnel has been as follows:—
Channel Tunnel % Short Sea %
Target 80 20
2001November42 58
December34 66
2002January54 46
February52 48
March19 81
April31 69



  4.  The suspension of the freight services through the Channel Tunnel is having the following effects on the business of EFS:—

    (a)  Financial losses have been incurred from 6 November 2001 to 31 May 2002

    (b)  The use of short sea ferries rather than use of the Channel Tunnel has increased our UK haulage costs by £100,000 per annum.

    (c)  Whilst alternative routes are available for rail from Italy to the UK via the Ports of Zeebrugge and Rotterdam, the consequence of the Channel Tunnel suspensions on freight services has resulted in congestion on the alternative routes, which has increased average transit times from five-12 days from collection to delivery. This compares with an overland road transit of three days from Italy to the UK and VV. The five day transit time is generally acceptable by customers because of the reduced price of transporting by rail and support for a more environmentally friendly transport system. A 12 day transit time is driving many of our customers to road.

    (d)  As referred to in the previous paragraph our customers are moving to road to meet their transit time needs. The use of Italian hauliers has led to them seeking UK southbound business at any price in order to avoid their southbound journey being undertaken empty. This has severely affected market pricing, which is now 25% less than 18 months ago.

    (e)  Our equipment is primarily curtain sided units, which gives the flexibility of side entry for loading and delivery. This type of equipment is however prone to damage by asylum seekers coming to the UK. Their usual access is through the top of the unit, which is more difficult to see at interchange points. If the asylum seekers gain access they cause damage to our units and invariably cause damage to our customers cargo, who will also refuse to accept loads if there is evidence of human waste. This causes more wasted journeys and escalations in our UK transport costs.

    (f)  EFS had an in-house transport fleet of 16 vehicles, but because of the ever-increasing losses, the drivers have all been made redundant in an effort to reduce costs.


  5.  All the above factors have led to a loss of credibility with the Channel Tunnel for freight services. Many of our customers are now instructing EFS not to use the Channel Tunnel in any circumstances.

  6.  The whole rail freight structure for the Channel Tunnel is in crisis. It is not possible to offer any regular or reliable service through the Channel Tunnel. We have already seen the US Parent Company of the Railhead at Hams Hall dispose of their interest, and the Channel Tunnel Rail Aggregators, with whom we contract, have advised us that they have to consider the possibility of closure.

  7.  We are being advised that SNCF are in the process of building a new fence around Fréthun Goods yard. We have had news like this before and we and our customers have no confidence that the rail freight service will improve. The fence should be accompanied by a larger police resource.

  8.  It is the view of E.F.S. and shared by many in the Industry that SNCF and/or the French Government are in breach of the Free Movement of Goods Regulations and EFS should be compensated accordingly for the financial losses we have sustained. Claims submitted so far to the Rail Companies with whom we contract have been met with a defence of "Force Majeure" because they had no control of decisions made by SNCF/French Government.

  9.  As any legal action is likely to be time-consuming, we believe that it would be right for the British Government to give EFS and others within the industry financial support in the intervening period in the form of an interest free loan to cover the losses incurred since the first closure of the Channel Tunnel on 6 November 2001. This loan should be repaid following a successful action against either the British or French Governments.

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