Channel tunnel freight link launched as 'new era for rail'

TWO trains yesterday marked the inauguration of commercial freight services through the Channel tunnel which will directly link towns throughout Britain with Europe, writes Christian Wolmar.

The new service will dramatically reduce freight journey times compared with both existing rail services or lorry trips. Examples of new transit times include linking the new Channel freight depot at Willesden, north-west London, to Milan in 30 hours, Birmingham to Basle in 26 hours, Manchester to Paris in 16 hours, and Mossend, near Glasgow, to Duisburg in Germany in 38 hours. These faster times are expected to lead to a sharp increase in rail traffic with the Continent.

However, according to Railfreight Distribution, the BR subsidiary which has spent pounds 800m with its European counterparts on developing the service, two-thirds of the traffic is bringing in imports, with many wagons returning empty to Europe.

A number of test trains have being running over the past three weeks and now a service of about six trains a day will expand to around 25 per day by the middle of next year. Roger Freeman, the transport minister, described the start of the BR through- freight services as a new dawn in the history of rail freight.

The start of the service, which was marked by a celebration at the new Willesden freight depot, means both types of freight services are running through the tunnel. Le Shuttle services for lorries linking Folkestone with Calais started running last month. BR had hoped to start running passenger services on its Eurostar trains linking London with Paris and Brussels early next month but this has now been delayed until late July at the earliest.

(Photograph omitted)

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