Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Channel Tunnel Fits New Tech and Threatens to Sue Government After Rail Freight Promise Derailed

Company Says UK Welching on Cargo Deal but Investing in Big Brother Face ID Software
Shipping News Feature
FRANCE – UK – A busy week for Getlink aka Eurotunnel which came out all guns blazing against the UK government over alleged broken pre-Brexit promises whilst taking a giant step for Big Brother as it agrees to fit face recognition technology. First that row, according to the boss of the cash strapped cross Channel undersea outfit Jacques Gounon, the UK Department for Transport (DfT) inherited an agreement made with the British Rail board to develop rail freight options through the tunnel. This is a separate issue to the freight currently carried as a RoRo basis using the cargo shuttle system.

Gouron insists that the subsidy promised to support freight carried by rail, and quoted as being in the region of £50 million per year, was intended to ensure a viable cargo rail link, something now jeopardised by the subsidising of RoRo ferry services as authorised by Secretary of Transport Chris Grayling. Even with the collapse of the Seaborne Freight Ramsgate – Ostend service the subsidies for Brittany Ferries (£46.6 million) and DFDS (£47.3 million) are still in place and the Getlink boss clearly feels this was the opportunity to expand the rail freight option.

As he sees it the deal struck in 1994, when services started, was a 65 year, long term plan which has now been, almost literally, derailed. The lack of initiative shown by European rail groups to link the tunnel with the continental infrastructure is blamed by many in Britain. A properly functioning freight corridor would assure Getlink of the traffic it craves, although this might well be at the expense of shuttle volumes. In January 2019 Le Shuttle Freight set a new record for the first month of the year, carrying 145,960 trucks, +1% more than in January 2018.

Gouron has openly blamed the lack of investment from both British and French governments as the major factor in the group’s burgeoning debt load, said to be over €7 billion, and the reason Eurotunnel recently had to seek protection from creditors. The UK government has set aside £800,000 for potential legal fees for lawyers Slaughter and May to defend any action.

In other tunnel news Eurotunnel and  IN Groupe are entering into partnership to equip Eurotunnel’s terminals with SAS PARAFE (E-Gate) technology, as used at airports. Eurotunnel, which transports more than eleven million passengers each year between Coquelles and Folkestone, says this is all part of its Brexit preparations and the deal was signed in the presence of Xavier Bertrand, President of the Hauts-de-France region, a figure who has petitioned British companies to set up shop in his neighbourhood.

The partners say the technology will speed up border crossings, increasing passenger flow and an increase the quality of border checks, providing greater certainty on travellers’ identities and ‘the rights associated with these’.

For the first phase of this project, the 51,000 passengers travelling by coach every year, mostly tourists, will be the first to use the facial recognition PARAFE gates from the beginning of April. In addition, two sets of 9 PARAFE gates (5 for departures, 4 for arrivals) with new generation facial recognition will be installed in France and the UK and be available for the relevant authorities to speed up and secure the border crossing.

Later phases will focus on equipment for Eurotunnel’s Flexiplus services and then a broader roll out. Backed by a high-tech solution that has already proved its worth in French and international airports, IN Groupe, a global specialist in corporate identity, has partnered with Gunnebo, the world leader in security solutions and services, to deploy its latest generation E-Gates to equip the land border. By reinforcing security while improving the flow of travellers at borders, both on board as well as on arrival, they intend to contribute to improving passenger satisfaction.

Jacques Gounon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Getlink, said that by being the first terminal on the ‘Short Strait’ to be equipped with facial biometric recognition technology Eurotunnel demonstrated its mission to improve travel for passengers, whilst Didier Trutt, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of IN Groupe, added:

”With our innovative border control solutions, we provide a powerful and immediately operational response to the security challenges of each state. Today, we are proud to equip the first non-airport border crossing point in Europe”

Photo: Similar facial recognition technology in action in Australia.