Posts Tagged ‘Eurotunnel’

Channel Tunnel, Thatcher’s muddle

Friday, 12 September 2008

Suspension of services notice on the Eurostar website

(click on image to go to the Eurostar website)

If one was superstitiously minded, one might think the BTWT editorial team clairvoyant. On Thursday 4 September, we announced that our services would be temporarily suspended and we carried an illustration of a train stopped by water on the track. A week later, Eurostar announced that the UK’s most famous train service, which normally goes under water, is suspended by a fire in a lorry on the Euroshuttle freight service. Of course, this is only a coincidence.

For 130 years, from 1856 to 1986, the idea of a railway link under the channel was promoted. It met with official hostility and indifference. There were actually two attempts to build the tunnel in 1881 and 1974. The 1881 attempt was linked to Sir Edward Watkin’s plan for a high speed railway route from Manchester to the continent. The 1974 attempt was a government funded project which was still primarily a link between the railways of Britain and France.

BTWT is apolitical and does not care a toss about party politics. However, we do not hesitate to name politicians who play an important role in shaping transport policy. When the idea of building the Channel Tunnel was revived again in 1981, it was Mrs Thatcher who insisted that it’s main purpose was to be a shuttle for road vehicles. The extra size of the tunnel’s main bores, to accommodate road lorries carried on special rail vehicles, added considerable to the project’s cost and complexity. While the tunnel itself received no public funds, two massive motorways, the M20 and M2, were cut through the South Downs to funnel road traffic to the tunnel’s shuttle terminals.

These political decisions left Eurotunnel with a large bank debt and a preference for running its own shuttle services for lorries rather than providing paths for freight trains. An Anglo-French safety commission only allows a limited number of certified railway vehicles to run through the tunnel. The result of all of these constraints, and the withdrawal of UK-French government subsidies, is that the Channel Tunnel’s full potential to carry rail freight has never been realised, and that only a handful of freight trains work through the tunnel.

The total cost of yesterday’s fire in the Channel Tunnel will run into hundreds of millions of pounds. It’s ironic that the three fires that closed the Channel Tunnel (on 18 November 1996, 21 August 2006 and 11 September 2008) all took place in road vehicles, or more specifically the HGV lorries, whose carriage by the tunnel shuttle Mrs T had insisted upon. It’s also unfortunate that Eurostar, the high speed train operator between England and France that has been doing so well, will be taking a hit from a disaster on an operation – the Eurotunnel Shuttle – over which it has no control or influence.

A Ride on the Dark Track – Finale

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Dartford River Crossing, Tunnel and Bridge

Wojtek turned right, then second left, and we were out of the labyrinth. The sat-nav picked up our route, another 25 kilometres and we were back on the motorway. Now the struggle was to keep awake for as long as it took to get to Calais. (I took it as a matter of honour, and self-preservation, that I would try to keep Wojtek company and awake.) We nearly turned off the motorway one exit too early, but finally we were on the spur road to the car ferry terminal. The time was 4.30 am exactly 24 hours after we were at the start of our ‘by-pass route’ around the centre of Wroclaw.

We passed miles of rusty railway sidings. The unwillingness of SNCF to provide competitively priced stabling facilities for trans Europe freight trains is one of the reasons why so little rail freight passes through the channel tunnel. The other reason is the charging policy of Eurotunnel. Perhaps we should look at railfreight through the Channel Tunnel – or rather the lack of it – in a future post?

We arrived at the lorry check-in for the Dover ferry. Wojtek had planned a kip in the lorry holding area. He was out of luck, the next ferry sailed in less than an hour. By the time the French had checked our lorry for stowaways, the Brits had done the same, but much more thoroughly, and the Brits had checked our passports, there was less than 20 minutes to rest. Nethertheless we both slept.

On board the ferry we decided to try the driver’s restaurant. £4 bought a traditional English breakfast, but the standard was not as good as a traditional UK HGV drivers cafe. We snatched another quick nap and then we were rolling through the Dover ferry terminal – no security check this time – and onto the A2. We crossed under the River Thames at the Dartford crossing and soon the sat-nav was guiding us through the narrow streets of East London to our final destination. Wojtek had been on the road for 30 hours, of which a total of 6 hours had been spent resting.

My journey by lorry from Poland to England by lorry was quite an education, and I will return to some of the things that I learnt in future posts. Meanwhile there have been happenings in the Polish rail arena, particularly as regards the campaign to save the Krosniewice Railway. There have also been developments in Pyskowice and elsewhere. WATCH THIS SPACE !