Thursday, May 30, 2013

Calais Aims High With the Environment, Rail Freight, Ferry and Eurotunnel Cargo in Multimodal Plans

A Combination of Factors Make a Possible Game Changer for the Future of Trailer and Container Haulage and the Cross Channel Trade
Shipping News Feature

FRANCE – UK – EUROPE – The Nord-Pas-de-Calais region has had a significance in British and French affairs which far exceeds its size for almost as long as historical records have been written. With developments in multimodal logistics and the growing importance of environmental factors and the Dover Straits Port Group, including the Channel Tunnel, currently handling 66% of all freight vehicles (including 88% of accompanied trailers) heading for mainland Europe from the UK, the region is about to further increase its predominance as the main cargo link between the two countries.

The number of HGV’s passing through the Port of Calais dropped in 2012 to around 1.3 million from 2011’s 1.5+ million, principally due to the demise of SeaFrance in late 2011 and with the only other operator (P & O Ferries) unable to take up all the slack immediately. This situation has now turned around with the introduction of Dover/Calais services by the LD Lines/DFDS consortium from mid-February and MyFerryLink at the end of August last year.

The involvement of MyFerryLink has proved, to say the least, a little contentious. The company was born after the Channel Tunnel executive, Groupe Eurotunnel SA acquired former SeaFrance assets including three of four available RoRo ferries. The deal has resulted into an enquiry by the EU Competition Commission which has delayed its decision on the legality of the arrangement from April until 9 June. When the matter was first put before the Commission, Chairman of the Eurotunnel/SeaFrance Inquiry Group and CC Deputy Chairman, Alasdair Smith, said:

“It would seem that Eurotunnel moved into the ferry business because it was concerned at the increased competition it would face if another operator bought the assets. Given that the company already holds a market share of over 40%, we’re concerned that customers could lose out from Eurotunnel increasing its share even further and being able to raise prices on the tunnel services.

“In view of the current excess capacity on the Dover–Calais route, it also seems likely that one of the current ferry operators is likely to exit in the short to medium term. We think that customers will be better off if there are two independent ferry companies competing with the tunnel than if one of the two is owned by Eurotunnel. We will now look at how we can protect competition in this market. Whilst our focus is primarily on customers’ interests, we will also consider carefully the interests of the ferry employees.”

The opinions of the UK and French authorities on the matter are, unsurprisingly, at variance, with the British seeing a French owned domination of a key route and therefore a reduction in competition whilst MyFerryLink and union lobbying, particularly from the French ex SeaFrance workers organisation SCOP, saying Eurotunnel’s promise to keep the vessels for five years and run them as an independent operation made the matter legal.

No matter the outcome of this particular drama what is certain that developments proposed for this part of Northern France are likely to have the most profound effect on the freight traffic heading throughout Europe. In January, Eurotunnel proposed a bid to take over the management of the Calais-Boulogne ports concession to run the ports for 50 years but this proved a monopoly too far and when formal tenders were lodged only the existing management company for both ports, Cote d’Opale Chamber of Commerce, proved to be the sole candidate.

This latest move has enabled the continuation of a scheme first proposed in September 2011 to create a logistics development called Calais Premier designed to construct the largest such facility in Northern France. A partnership between the port managers, the city of Calais and developers DCB International, it is expected to cost €200 million to create on the 160 hectare site.

Undoubtedly however the scheme most likely to impact on not only the future of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais as part of a freight corridor is the plan to make the region a truly multi modal switching point using technology which, when witnessed, makes one consider why it hasn’t been thought of before. In January we told how the Leipzig based CargoBeamer AG group was rolling out its road to rail transport system and was already running test trains into Calais.

For those unfamiliar with the system this video will explain it in detail but suffice it to say the ability to take any accompanied trailer, detach the truck and load the trailer to what is effectively a giant pallet for onward, unaccompanied transfer throughout Europe by a suitably low rail wagon, no matter the rail gauge or whether a train is present or not, has the potential to revolutionise the cargo market. This concept effectively does what has been done by drayage operators with containers at ports and by unaccompanied trailers using ferries for decades and broadens the availability of such a service to any rail route, anywhere on the continent and beyond.

The main benefits of the system are costs reductions for suitable operations, the reduction of environmental impact by reducing road miles considerably, potential time savings and faster transit times. The operators say they can load or unload a 500 metre train of twenty five trucks in just ten minutes. CargoBeamer is funded in part by the EU’s Marco Polo scheme which provided the blueprint for the non public funding of Eurotunnel’s own ETICA project, details of which were released today.

ETICA (Eurotunnel Incentive for Capacity Additions) is a system of financial support for railway operators launching new intermodal rail freight services through the Channel Tunnel. The ETICA mechanism, which will be available to all railway operators, will provide one-off financial support for start-up investments, for 1 year and is designed particularly to assist with the marketing and service start-up costs and the controls at Frethun. It is these costs, not access charges of around €100 per 40 foot container on a weeknight fully freighted 750 metre/1,800 tonne train, which Eurotunnel says is what has prevented more uptake of rail freight through the tunnel.

So an overall picture of what is envisaged for the region means that rail cargo development is key to the plans with Eurotunnel actively encouraging the method whilst CargoBeamer ambitiously pronounces it intends to assist in the removal of 60% of European semi trailer traffic from road onto the tracks using Calais as an important hub. The first phase of Calais Premier should complete by next year and is aiming at 220,000m2 of logistics warehouses, 50,000m2 of industrial parks, and 11,000m2 of commercial property.

Cap Calaisis is planning to invest €2 million to create a railway junction on the site and to modernise the railway link with Dunkirk whilst the 2015 Calais Port Project will double the port’s size. With so many options open if investment can be found, the future for cross Channel trade could look very different with the need for accompanied trailers diminishing whilst unaccompanied semi trailers load and unload to rail wagons further inland thus reducing road miles, and pollution, on both sides of La Manche.

Photo: Plan showing how such close proximity links the tunnel entrance, the port and the new Calais Premier development.