Letter: High-speed freight through the tunnel

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Sir: Christian Wolmar's article 'Tunnel of gloom for rail freight' (18 December) verges on the despondent. The Channel tunnel is no damp squib, but is forging ahead, on target and on budget.

Spending of almost half a billion pounds on new terminals, rolling stock and infrastructure is now bearing fruit. New cranes and equipment enter service this winter, and contractual work at various international terminals nears completion.

Plans to load international freight trains are maturing as Railfreight Distribution (RfD) negotiates prices with the purchasers of whole train capacity and the various participating European railways. Pricing is determined by what it costs to run an international freight train and what the market thinks it is worth in terms of speed, reliability and security of goods. RfD will be able to move freight from Manchester to Milan in 32 hours - half the time it takes a lorry.

Clearly it is incumbent upon the market to take forward the potential procured by our initial investment. RfD will run as many trains as the market demands and the infrastructure permits. Traditionally, rail freight in Britain has suffered from short, unprofitable hauls. Running hundreds of miles across Europe means profitability, success and expansion.

A word of reassurance about gauge. By knocking out 96 bridges in Kent, dropping the floor in tunnels and investing in new wagon technology, we can carry almost any load that can be accommodated on a standard trailer. Swapbodies - where the lorry body is lifted off the chassis on to the train - are growing fast in Europe. Lifting the whole vehicle on - wheels and all - makes less sense commercially, tying up road running gear for long distances when it could be out making money. Piggyback traffic in Europe is

declining.

Initial projections show that RfD will take 400,000 lorry movements off Britain's roads. These are lorries that would otherwise be thundering down through Kent to the tunnel ports.

Yours sincerely,

IAN BROWN

Managing Director

Railfreight Distribution

London, W2

18 December

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