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

Memorandum by Alberti & Santi (CHT 05)

  Many thanks for your letter of 25 April concerning companies currently experiencing problems using the Channel Tunnel freight service.

  I am sure that this problem is very well documented, however, I am grateful for the opportunity to present a resume, regarding how Alberti & Santi have been affected over the past five months.

  Since early November 2001, the operation via the Channel Tunnel for rail freight has been seriously affected by continual attacks to rail freight by clandestine illegal immigrants in the region of the Fréthun freight terminal at Calais, details of which I am sure you are well aware. During the busy run-up to the Christmas period, Alberti & Santi were forced to seek alternative routes for the movement of goods between Italy and the UK and vice versa. Unfortunately, due to the time involved and having to revert to largely, a road operation, there was a serious loss of traffic as well as increased cost. The situation became so serious during January, February and March of this year, that the freight service via rail was abandoned for several weeks at a time.

  It should be remembered that when the Channel Tunnel was opened for freight in the early 1990s, companies such as Alberti & Santi were encouraged to expand transport operations and in particular to operate via the rail systems. We were assured this would be a secure and reliable system and the decision was taken that this was the direction Alberti & Santi should take. Considerable investment was put into equipment, in the setting up of Road Track Ltd and whilst in the early years there were teething problems the service developed and was working to acceptable levels. The problems with illegal immigrants started two years ago, when the train wagons were being emptied in Italy. Following strenuous efforts by operators, the Italian authorities improved security in both the terminals and the trains-generally by-and-large, the troubles ceased. It appears that the immigrant influx transferred to the Calais area and initially ferries and Euro Tunnel were affected. Ferry companies and Euro Tunnel invested heavily in increased security and again the problem was more or less curtailed. It then seems that the illegal immigrants, or persons involved in organising them, turned their attention to the freight terminal at Fréthun and together with the opening of the Sangatte Refugee Camp (Just a short distance from Fréthun) the situation was allowed to escalate.

  I, myself have written numerous letters to the UK and European Government Ministers and whilst sometimes replies are received, up until the last few weeks, no one is doing anything about this ongoing problem.

  During the latter part of March, the UK and French Governments gave categorical assurances that services for rail freight would be restored to normal by mid April. This, obviously has not occurred and the situation has deteriorated so dramatically that the clandestine persons are now even attacking metal containers or hanging onto the outside of freight trains, in order to pass through the Tunnel.

  Alberti & Santi have now decided that whilst we are willing to continue support for the rail freight operation, alternative methods of moving goods from mainland Europe to the UK and vice versa, have to be found, as we are unable to maintain client confidence any longer. This clearly means a return to more road operations.

  Alberti & Santi have had to reduce their client base and this has been developed over the last 8 years involving movement by rail, which in both volume and cost terms is more efficient for long haul transport. Even though we have reduced the volume, our costs have increased and this can not be sustained indefinitely. For these reasons, it is vital that continued pressure should be brought upon both French and UK Governments, by whatever means, to resolve the problem for rail, as it is impossible for rail operators to resolve this dire situation alone.

  Please keep me informed as to the outcome, after the evidence is presented to the Transport Sub-Committee.

R T Sheppard

UK Manager

8 May 2002

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