Tunnel freight trains only 20% full

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The Independent Online
LORRIES are beginning to use the Channel Tunnel in substantial numbers, but Le Shuttle freight trains are still running only 20 per cent full, according to figures released yesterday by Eurotunnel.

The company says it is operating 34 trains in each direction five days a week. At the end of last month these were carrying an average 350 lorries a day. This compares with around 100 in August.

Christian Zbylut, director of Le Shuttle freight, said: 'We have new customers joining us every day and we are confident of meeting our end of 1995 market-share target.' That is eight million tonnes, or 22 per cent of the total sea freight market south of Hull.

Mr Zbylut claimed that Eurotunnel had achieved a 12 per cent market share, but this figure was disputed by Stena Sealink, which has been counting the number of lorries using the tunnel.

A Stena spokesman said: 'We reckon Eurotunnel carried 4,000 lorries in September, which would give them around a 6 per cent share of the Dover market.'

Mr Zbylut admitted that many operators were still reluctant to use the tunnel because of various constraints, which would be removed in time. He said: 'We are still not running at weekends and many freight operators have a disproportionate amount of lorries operating at weekends.

'Secondly, we are still not allowed to carry any form of hazardous goods, and thirdly we cannot yet carry lorries going to non-EC countries because we do not have the customs clearance facilities.'

Eurotunnel accepted that weekend reports about lorry drivers complaining about the food on Le Shuttle freight trains were partly accurate. Mr Zbylut said: 'We will try to make our breakfasts more greasy. We realise the food is a bit too Continental and we will take steps to rectify this.'

The problem is that Eurotunnel is unable to provide chips or steak, which must be cooked on site, because it is not allowed a kitchen on board the train for safety reasons. Surveys show that lorry drivers' favourite food on Le Shuttle is lasagne and Eurotunnel will try to provide this more frequently.

Le Shuttle Freight hopes to run 24 hours a day from 22 October. It expects to operate three shuttles an hour at peak times from December compared with two at present and also hopes to have a car shuttle service running in the third week of November.

The average price for a lorry using the tunnel is around pounds 500 return, which is higher than the ferries. Mr Zbylut ruled out any price war with the ferry companies.

'We are just not doing battle like this,' he said. 'We will always have a tariff which is marginally higher than our competitors because we simply provide a better service and our customers are prepared to pay more.'

He said 90 per cent of Eurotunnel customers got from motorway to motorway in an hour and a half while only 11 per cent of ferry customers managed the trip in less than two and a half hours.

Mr Zbylut claimed that several companies were able to use Le Shuttle instead of air freight because of the time saving.

(Photograph omitted)