Report says BR wrong on Channel route costs

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The Independent Online
LORRY trailers could be carried quite easily on key British Rail routes to serve the Channel tunnel, according to a report prepared for Eurotunnel.

The report contradicts the view put forward by British Rail and the Department of Transport, which have said it would cost between pounds 3bn and pounds 4bn to make the infrastructure improvements needed to allow trains to take lorry semi-trailers. The BR view has led it to concentrate on providing for containers and inter-modal 'swap bodies' on its freight routes to the tunnel. Lorry trailers allow hauliers slightly more room than standard deep sea containers, which makes them more suitable for short journeys. Swap bodies can be used on trains and road but few companies in Britain use them.

The report puts into question BR's strategy by arguing that the improvements would cost only about pounds 20m on three key routes, the East and West Coast main lines to Scotland and the InterCity line to East Anglia.

Alastair Dick, one of the authors of the report, said: 'There seems to have been a communication block. You do not need to widen the gap between the tracks to allow semi-trailers to be carried. I don't know why BR has got that impression.'

The clearance at bridges and tunnels needs to be higher to accommodate semi-trailers carried 'piggyback' on railways, but improvements carried out on BR's network since 1947 have allowed for this extra height.

BR is building nine terminals to take tunnel freight, but these are being designed to accommodate containers and swap bodies, which Mr Dick says represent only a small proportion of the market.

However, semi-trailers could not be carried through Kent until the high-speed rail link is completed early next century. The Network SouthEast system, which has not been upgraded since 1947, cannot accommodate the trains.

The report suggests that an investment of pounds 300m would allow the conversion of a line from Dover to Reading, avoiding London and feeding an alternative network of lines to Scotland, Wales, Bristol and Exeter. This would enable tunnel freight to avoid the busy main InterCity routes, which have few train paths available.

Mr Dick said this investment could be paid for by charging hauliers for use of the track.