Home Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Eurotunnel [UKBA 05]


Eurotunnel is the concession holder for the Channel Tunnel. It operates truck and passenger vehicle carrying shuttles between the UK and France and gives passage to high speed passenger and rail freight trains from other operators. 20 million people pass through the Channel Tunnel annually, with some 85% of them being of UK origin.

Article 27.7 of the Concession Agreement, signed between the British and French governments sets out that the two States must provide “… the measures appropriate to facilitate the execution of the Concession.”

Over recent years, the pre-departure UK Border Controls at the French terminal in Coquelles, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, have constituted a major, and increasing, element of delay for customers seeking to enter the UK in vehicles via the Channel Tunnel. Despite significant investment by Eurotunnel to enlarge and improve the facilities available for the UKBA on site, the number of open/manned booths and the speed of passport processing often fail to achieve the targets set out in the Service Level Agreement.

Delays at the UK Border controls (experienced at both peak and non peak travel times) cause a bottleneck of traffic that can block the access to French Border Controls, the Eurotunnel check-in booths and ultimately the motorway exit leading to Eurotunnel’s check-in plaza. At extremes this has resulted in the A16 motorway in France being blocked and caused a significant risk of road traffic accidents, which subsequently required the direct intervention of the French Police in order to ensure that motorway safety was maintained.

With crossing times of just 35 minutes from platform to platform, the Channel Tunnel was built, following the signing of the Treaty of Canterbury between the British and French governments, to provide a rapid transport fixed link between the two countries.

Currently, delays at UK Border controls can exceed that 35 minute crossing time, thus negating the Tunnel’s inherent competitive advantage, damaging the perception of service quality and ultimately damaging the commercial success of the business.

At the Channel Tunnel the consequence for customers of long delays before border controls is that they miss their booked departure and Eurotunnel is left to manage the problem of shuttles departing under-loaded and then has to cope with over-demand when customers present themselves late for boarding. This is a different impact to that seen at airports where border control delays take place on arrival at destination only impacting the customer transiting through the airport, but not causing them to miss their flight nor departures to leave without booked passengers, nor presenting airports with the issue of needing to create extra capacity to manage the backlog.

In the lead up to the Olympic Games in London 2012, Eurotunnel is extremely concerned that sufficient resources will not be available to process, in a timely manner, the increased numbers of customers travelling from the continent to the UK over the summer.

Our Experience of Chaos

On 2 January 2012 (New Year returns) Eurotunnel operated 76 shuttles from France to UK and carried 7,619 cars and 56 coaches. This equated to c21, 000 passengers needing to be processed through border controls during the day, with up to 1,492 per hour at peak travel times (based on 2011 averages of. 2.5 people per car and 39.5 people per coach).



Due to a bottleneck at UK Border Controls, severe traffic queues formed. Between 11.00 CET and 01.45 CET (following day), a period of almost 15 hours, customers experienced queues of up to four hours. For several hours the queues extended up to 6km from the Eurotunnel terminal check in, which meant that cars and their passengers were stretched out on to the French motorway system for approximately 3km of this queue. There were no other external or internal operational problems that day. French roads were fluid and Eurotunnel’s rolling stock was fully deployed.

Proof that It Can Be Managed Without Chaos

18 February 2012 (half term returns) Eurotunnel operated 71 shuttles from France to UK and carried 8,139 cars and 177 coaches. This equated to c27, 000 passengers needing to be processed through border controls during the day, with up to 1,722 per hour at peak travel times (230 more per hour than on 2 January).



As a result of an increase in the number of UKBA booths opened and the timely deployment of UKBA resources there were no bottlenecks and no delays.

It is our observation that the most significant difference is in the number of control points open and that this is therefore an issue relating to the quantity of resources available, not the quality.

Our Concerns for the Future

100 days of summer traffic

Eurotunnel forecasts that there will be 100 days of heavy traffic entering the UK from France starting on 1 June (spring half-term) until 9 September (end of the Paralympic Games)

The next big peak traffic test of UK Border Controls in Coquelles will be on Saturday 9 June and Sunday 10 June.

On both days Eurotunnel will be operating up to five departures per hour, with forecasted c7, 500 cars and c100 coaches per day. This equates to c22,500 passengers needing to be processed through border controls on two consecutive days with up to 1,500 per hour at peak travel times.

To manage the quality of service for our travelling customers, we have already—reluctantly—had to take the decision not to sell all of our planned capacity so that we can maintain some flexibility if customer flow through the terminal is impacted by delays at UK Border Controls. This represents a lost revenue opportunity of well over £100,000. We are also incurring additional cost through the need to draft in additional staff to manage potential queues. The Channel Tunnel travel concept is wholly dependent on the timely flow of cars and trucks through border controls to ensure that customers catch their booked departure. At the above levels of traffic we will need all booths (including those recently installed) to be open and operating to maximum efficiency.

Every following weekend in June will be busy. Current bookings are c20% above the same period last year. The Summer school holidays start in mid July. Bookings during the Olympic period are currently c18% above the same period last year whilst the four week period post-Olympics is up by c30%. The biggest summer peak is around the August Bank Holiday weekend returns (26/27/28August) when we anticipate record breaking traffic levels.

On peak Summer return days (mainly Sundays & Mondays) Eurotunnel will be operating up to five departures per hour, and is forecasting over 9,500 cars and 100 coaches per day travelling from France to the UK. This equates to c26, 500 passengers needing to be processed through border controls during the day with up to c1,900 per hour at peak travel times. This requires c+10% more border control checks per hour than provided during February Half Term (our only benchmarked success) and needs to be sustained over an eight week period, with the biggest traffic peak occurring at the end of this period.


The current focus of attention on issues at Heathrow, with promises from the Home Office to move resources from other ports of entry and from back office locations to deal with them, leads us to be concerned that sufficient resources may not be available for the Channel Tunnel.

Looking to the future, we would also like to be assured that the UKBA is aware of and implements new technologies and processes used for efficient and effective border controls elsewhere.

We would be happy to provide the committee with further written or oral evidence.


May 2012

Prepared 20th July 2012