Letter: New strategies for freight transport

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The Independent Online
Sir: Christian Wolmar's article, 'Tunnel of gloom for rail freight' (18 December), blames a lack of planning by British Rail and uncertainty over rail privatisation for the fact that rail freight through the Channel tunnel is unlikely to approach the forecast amount.

It is only fair to point out that Eurotunnel's forecasts of this traffic were never realistic. The charges for the rail journey between container terminals were calculated by methods which took insufficient account of the engineering works required. The estimates of time and cost of the initial and final journey stages, by road to and from the container terminals, were inadequate. The many ways in which roll-on/roll-off is more convenient for shippers than rail freight were ignored.

The failure of this service, though serious for Eurotunnel, might matter less to Britain than you suggest. It is not desirable for freight from all parts of the country to travel down to the south- east corner of England on its way to the Continent, even if it were to move by rail rather than road.

A better strategy would be to minimise land travel by building up services from ports all round the coast and encouraging shippers to use the nearest convenient port. This is best environmentally and with respect to regional planning; it would also help the sorely pressed and strategically important British shipping industry.

Even with this strategy, there might still be room for a rail link for freight across the straits of Dover. But the existing train-on-boat service between Dover and Dunkirk, which could be expanded in line with the growth of demand, fills this need perfectly well. It is also less at risk than the tunnel from disruption by terrorism.

Yours faithfully,

STEPHEN PLOWDEN

London, NW1

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