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

Memorandum by The Potter Group (CHT 03)


  1.  The Potter Group have three large independent Rail Freight Terminals at—

  Selby—North East Yorkshire—64 acres.

  Ely—Cambridgeshire—100 acres.

  Knowsley—Merseyside—36 acres plus (27 acres for expansion).

  We are and have been very much at the forefront of promoting freight on rail, particularly from Europe utilising the Channel Tunnel.

  2.  The process of encouraging customers to consider using rail freight is a long and difficult process. It can take up to two years due to the fact customers already have freight arrangements in place, often contracted for a period of time.

  They really have to be convinced that rail freight can make a difference to their operations. Please remember The Potter Group have been in rail freight for over 20 years, it is far from being easy and certainly we are having success. This is only due to our determination as well as having a policy to invest, which enable the customer to have more confidence that we shall be able to meet their demanding requirements.

  Let us remember what it is that customers are requiring.

    (a)  A very reliable quality service.

    (b)  An economic price.

    (c)  Environmentally friendly transport.

  3.  Customers already enjoy a good service so why should they consider changing to rail, particularly if you consider for over the last two years rail in general has not had a good press. This has had a detrimental effect on rail freight.

  The problems with the Channel Tunnel really came to a head on 5 November 2001 when the number of trains dropped from approximately 20 per night to just four, due to the problems of the illegal immigrants.

  This continued the same until January, for a short period it improved a little, then in mid March 2002 it stopped completely.

  4.  The problem all along is that our customers could no longer rely on the Channel Tunnel service, so alternative transport arrangements have had to be made.

  The reason being the normal service level agreed is that :

  Day 1  Load and despatch from Europe.

  Day 2  Travel.

  Day 3  Delivery and unload at The Potter Group Rail Terminals.

  We all know when goods are despatched but we must be able to rely on when goods arrive. We recently had a consignment of paper which we were told would arrive after being held up for 10 days. The result being extra costs incurred and having to send other products by road.

  Why should customers have to put up with this sort of service along with all the stress these disruptions cause?

  The outcome is approximately 6,000 lorries a week coming via Channel Tunnel, because this section has not been affected, or by ferry.

  The results being that we "the UK Ltd" lose out on several counts:

    (a)  These lorries buy their entire diesel in France at a cheaper price.

    (b)  Vehicle Excise Duty—again there are no payments made in the UK.

    (c)  Jobs are affected in the UK. They are not allowing the UK transport industry to feed to and from the freight terminals. The Rail Terminals, particularly at PG Ely who used to operate 24 hours a day on a three-shift working system now have reduced to two shifts with the loss of jobs. The remainder of the workforce are on minimum working hours which is not sustainable because they will leave and find alternative work.

    (d)  Investment in private rail facilities. The Potter Group are at the forefront of trying to help the Government encourage freight back onto rail as The Strategic Rail Authority have clearly defined that they wish freight on rail to grow by 80% over the next 10 years. This will only be achievable if we invest. We have invested very, very large amounts of money in our open access rail freight terminals so that it makes them fit for this purpose.

  We have been let down very much as a result of the Channel Tunnel problems, which we all know are nothing to do with industry. This is clearly a political problem.

  We all appreciate that confidence in rail is at a very low ebb at this current time. We strongly feel we in the industry have been trying to help our customers achieve their and our goals, but we are being seriously disadvantaged, despite our continued efforts.

  5.  To give an idea of the types of traffic affected by the Channel Tunnel we list below some details.

Loss of Business from Potter Group Ely

Collection Point
Brive, Southern France
Product Qty900 tonnes Paper per week
PG delivery to customer
Now being railed to Northern France then put onto road vehicles for delivery to the UK.

Collection Point
Product Qty500 tonnes Paper per week

Collection Point
Product Qty200 tonnes Paper per week
Normally this customer would deliver 60,000 tonnes per year

Collection Point
Product Qty50 tonnes Lard per week

Collection Point
Product Qty1,000 tonnes Bottled Water per week.

Loss of Business from PG Knowsley

Gluntz, Germany300 tonnes per week
Nolte, Germany500 tonnes per month
Creilshiem, Germany80 pallets per day
Amiens, France200 pallets per day

The following is potential business for Knowsley:
Approx 9,000 tonnes per year from Switzerland, Austria and Germany.
Approx 6,000 pallets per month from Germany.
11,000 tonnes per year Wallpaper base from Germany
30,000 pallets per year Tissue paper from Germany
One rail wagon per week Automotive Product from Italy.

Loss of Business from PG Selby

Approx one wagon per month Lard from Italy
Approx one to two wagons per month of Animal Food Additive from Germany
Average of 8-16 wagons per month of Mineral Water from Southern France

  6.  We therefore strongly recommend the Government to help us; we cannot take all the continuing financial pain, week after week, month after month.

  What we require therefore is:

    A.  Financial Support. Bearing in mind even when the tunnel is brought back into full service freight will take a considerable amount of time to win back to rail.

    B.  Fréthun Freight Terminal needs to be properly policed and the fence made fit for purpose similar to the Euro Terminal. Inspection of freight trains carried out by the UK staff currently checking passenger trains at the French Euro Tunnel.

    C.  A Rail Ferry Service. We need to consider introducing a rail ferry coming into the UK from Holland, Belgium to say Harwich, the benefits being:

      (1)  Chemicals can come this route.

      (2)  Give confidence to customers there is an alternative to the Tunnel.

      (3)  Avoid freight trains having to come from the South into London. This would be a major plus.

      (4)  Allow us to service the Northern Europe market much better.

  The future of rail freight is in all our hands, we must all support each other to achieve the goal of 80% freight on rail. No one section of the Industry or Government will achieve that on its own.

C D Potter

28 May 2002

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