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All roads lead to Calais

All roads lead to Calais-Dover, says the Port of Calais in its publicity material – perhaps rather an ironic statement, given the number of would-be illegal immigrants heading that way.

Last week the British International Freight Association (BIFA) warned that a significant increase in people trying to stowaway on trucks passing through Calais is causing major problems – and, indeed, threatening the future of cross-channel trailer services.

BIFA director general Robert Keen said: “Over the years, we have become accustomed to seeing chaotic pictures in the media, but the recent scenes are the worst we have ever witnessed. Our members’ cross channel trailer services are being directly targeted by the migrants, putting the security of drivers, vehicles and customers’ loads at risk.

“This can cause long delays to the scheduled arrival times of trucks in our members’ depots, jeopardise the delivery of freight for their customers and cause huge inefficiencies in their transport planning.”

If the French and British authorities do not take action, there is a good chance that international transport subcontractors could refuse to operate on this strategic freight route, because of the personal and financial risks, said Mr Keen.

All of this seems rather unfair on the Port of Calais, which seems to get scarcely a headline that does not involve illegal immigrants, strikes or bad weather in the Channel.

In fact, the port is reporting healthy growth in its ro-ro freight units, preparing to handle an ambitious new “rail motorway” project, and embarking on a massive investment project to build a new ferry terminal with at least three deepwater ro-ro berths.

“We are now handling 1.85m freight units a year and seeing a very impressive 10% annual growth,” says Franck-Edouard Tiberghien, of Calais’ port development and strategy department. “While we don’t expect 10% growth every year, in the long-term it should be 2.5-3% every year.”

This year work will start on the construction of a new breakwater and basin, within which the new ferry terminal will be built. At present Calais has five ro-ro berths – the first phase of this new development will provide three more, to accommodate vessels up to 240 metres in length and with double-lane linkspans, backed up by a 30-hectare marshalling area.

“The growth of traffic through Calais is very significant – we have already gone past the record set in 2007,” says Tiberghien.

The port expansion represents a total investment of EUR800m and the first berths are due to be ready in 2021-22.

Later this year, meanwhile, rail operator VIIA will launch its “VIIA Britanica” ro-ro rail service, connecting Calais with the Le Boulou terminal in Perpignan, 1,400 kms south. The service will launch with two departures per day in each direction – carrying 40 trailers each, the trains will cover the distance in 22 hours.

VIIA has invested EUR40m in bespoke wagons which will carry all types of trailers, loaded on trains though a ‘smart’ loading system; the port is investing EUr8m in a new rail terminal, supported by 20% European TEN-T funding. The service will have integrated shunting to/from the main ferry lines to the UK.

“This service will offer a real modal shift solution,” says Mr Tiberghien. “We know there is demand from clients to serve the UK – probably 80-90% of the units loaded in Le Boulou will be destined for the UK.”

The carbon figures are impressive; VIIA says that the journey between Le Boulou and Calais by road generates emissions of 1.2 tons of CO2 – the same journey on the VIIA Britanica service will produce 0.28 tons.

Meanwhile, a new rail-connected logistics park is being developed on a site next to the A16; this would be within five minutes’ drive of the port, and linked to major roads heading east, west and south. The plan is to build two 50,000 sq m warehouse buildings, with rail track between them.

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