Security measures hit tunnel freight

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Over-stringent security measures and inefficient procedures at terminals are deterring hauliers from using Channel tunnel freight trains, says the freight industry's association, writes Christian Wolmar.

Rail-freight through the tunnel could triple from the present level of around 20 trains per day if security procedures were brought in line with those used in the air industry, argues the report by the British International Freight Association.

Currently, anyone without security approval wanting to send freight through the tunnel has to give 20 hours' notice. Installing the equipment to obtain security clearance can cost pounds 250,000, says BIFA, and even then freight has to wait eight hours before being sent: "It can be half way to its destination in Europe by then," said Jim White, BIFA's director general.

Chris Nicholls, of the Alliance for Channel Tunnel Railfreight, said: "These rules mean that it is impossible for small amounts of freight to be sent through the tunnel."

Mr Nicholls said the Government's reluctance to relax the security rules flies in the face of its commitment to encourage more freight from road onto rail: "We have been negotiating with the Department of Transport for the past 18 months but they are not interested in relaxing the rules."

BIFA has even had difficulty in obtaining the rules on security from the DoT. One consultation paper said freight below a certain weight was exempt from security measures but, said Mr White, "they refused to reveal what that weight was for `security reasons' ". BIFA wants a system of approved customers who would be allowed to send freight unchecked, similar to the one in use by the air business.

Eurotunnel, which operates the tunnel, accepts that people worry about it being targeted by terrorists but stresses that a bomb would not hole the structure:"It's made of concrete and was cut through rock. Some experts suggest it would take a nuclear bomb to blow a hole in it," said Lord Berkeley, a spokesman for Eurotunnel.


Transport Correspondent