Select Committee on Transport Written Evidence

Memorandum by Dover Harbour Board (POR 21)


  The main railway line from Dover to London lies immediately adjacent to the Western Docks at the Port of Dover. Prior to the opening of the Channel Tunnel a direct link allowed access from the main line to a group of sidings which served the train ferry service from Dover to Dunkirk. With the perceived ability to handle international rail freight more efficiently through the Channel Tunnel the train ferry service was discontinued and the rail link lifted in order to simplify the rail layout and signalling in the area.

  With the benefit of hindsight it is apparent that the international freight business through the Tunnel has not been able to flourish as anticipated. Freight volumes have not grown significantly, at best only reaching three times the volume handled by a single train ferry vessel ten years ago. Not insignificant amongst the reasons for this is the low priority placed upon freight by the French railways, where relatively slow freight trains are sidelined to allow high-speed passenger operations.

  In the meantime the freight traffic growth through the Port of Dover has doubled in the seven-year period from 1994-01, with a total of 1.8 million lorries passing through the port in 2001. No freight left the port by rail. The port anticipates a further doubling of freight traffic in the next ten-year period and is actively pursuing a reinstatement of the rail connection to ease the burden on the nation's road system.

  The geographical location of the port enables the most cost-effective means of crossing the Channel, allowing intensive use of the major assets employed (the majority of ferries complete five return crossings per day). Without serious distortion of the market (resulting in additional costs to UK businesses) the freight traffic growth through Dover will continue unabated.

  Current interruptions of freight movements through the Tunnel underline the potential advantage of not being dependant on only one short-sea route for rail freight to Europe. The advantages of a second adjacent link, which does not necessarily have to terminate in France, have been recognised by the Strategic Rail Authority. The port is looking at a three-stage strategy:

    —  Short term: Loading containers or swap-bodies which have arrived in Dover by road onto rail wagons for distribution inland

    —  Medium term: Reintroduction of train ferries sailing from Dover to Dunkirk (accessed by Belgian railways) or Zeebrugge

    —  Longer term: Expansion of the port on the western side to cater for additional rail-connected freight arising from container and short sea shipping vessels.

  These proposals would greatly assist the SRA in reaching the target of 80 per cent growth in rail freight, but have not yet been fully recognised in the strategic plan published in 2002. It is understood that a South-East freight study is to be undertaken in 2002-03, but infrastructure improvements are not scheduled before 2006-10. In order to take full advantage of the opportunities outlined above the inland route needs to be cleared to W12 gauge. "Piggyback" gauge would offer even further potential for diversion of freight to rail.

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