Feature, Freight News, Rail

Green light for France/UK piggyback service – updated

[ March 30, 2016   //   ]

A new intermodal rail service from the south of France to the UK has carried its first trailers. The VIIA Britanica service, operated by the logistics arm of the French Railways (SNCF) carried its first unaccompanied units from the port of Calais at 2am on the morning of Wednesday 30 March and was due to arrive the same night in Le Boulou (near the Spanish border) the same night after a journey of 22 hours.
Start-up of the service had been delayed from 12 January because of concerns over migrant incursions in the port of Calais.
At the same time, P&O Ferries says it has reached agreement with VIIA to provide transport across the English Channel to Dover for unaccompanied freight arriving on the new piggyback train service. It will provide a direct link between the UK and Mediterranean with a potential traffic of 40,000 units per year, says P&OF. VIIA puts the potential saving in carbon emissions at 50,000 tonnes per year, and the service could eliminate up to 50 million lorry road kilometres annually.
The port of Calais has installed a new €7 million intermodal rail terminal specifically designed to transfer freight units from the trains onto cross-Channel ferries.
The shipping operator’s chief commercial officer, Janette Bell, said: “London is the biggest city in Europe and Britain’s economy is continuing to grow. There are a significant number of exporters of fruit, vegetables and components for production lines who will benefit from this direct link between the Mediterranean and mainland Britain.” The service will be able to cater for temperature-controlled trailers.
VIIA Britanica will initially run one round-trip six days per week, connecting the two terminals in 22 hours. The trains have the capacity to carry 40 units each and frequency is expected to increase to two round-trips per day later in the spring.
Calais port operator SEPD will provide the tugs to move trailers between the trains and ferries. A spokesman for the ferry operator said that it was envisaged that most of the arriving units in Calais would travel to Dover on the European Seaway’s mid-day sailing.
Although similar piggyback rail services are available from various points in Europe into Zeebrugge – and the ferry operator already offers a connecting service on its Zeebrugge-Tilbury and Zeebrugge-Hull routes – the P&OF spokesman pointed out that the Calais-Dover route was considerably faster than services available to the Belgian port, particularly for the London area, which is seen as a key market.
He added that security in Calais has been tightened up with extra personnel on hand to ensure that migrants do not try to stow away on UK-bound trailers. During trails for the operation, it was pointed out that trains approaching the Calais terminal would have to operate at slow speed, giving migrants plenty of opportunities to jump aboard.
However, VIIA stated that the new measures would go beyond the normal inspections carried out at Calais Port, and would be equivalent to the inspections that lorries undergo before loading when they arrive by road.
VIIA president, Thierry Le Guilloux hinted that he would not be satisified with a link from Calais to only Dover. he declared: “This new service will reinforce the rail motorway network, allowing us to offer our road haulier clients ever more efficiency and competitiveness. We are already working on new connections to link Calais to other European terminals soon.”
President and CEO ofBoulogne Calais Port, Jean-Marc Puissesseau, added: “We are proud to be the first European port that has such innovative infrastructure. Beyond our commitment to make our port eco-responsible and to involve ourselves fully in promoting sustainable development, this facility will benefit the local community by creating new handling activities in the port, thereby creating new jobs.”

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