Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cross Channel Services Battle For Freight Traffic As Truck Numbers Fall

Reductions in Traffic Levels See Continuing War in Road versus Rail
Shipping News Feature

FRANCE – ENGLAND – The news this week that freight traffic travelling via the rail borne truck shuttle operation under the Channel was down 36% between July and September compared to the equivalent period in 2008 came as no surprise to European hauliers. Eurotunnel SA announced the figures in Paris yesterday and seemed to indicate the problem was, at least in part, caused by the fire last September, a little hard to credit as they announced as long ago as February that services were again fully operational.

Meanwhile our report last week in which NorfolkLine indicate their increased share of traffic on the Dover – Dunkerque route only illustrates the usual confusion about the true state of throughput on the various cross channel links.

To analyse properly the overall traffic numbers transiting between the UK and Europe is a near impossibility. The plethora of marine routes and companies and the variety of traffic types will always be a maze of confusion to the casual observer. Freight via the rail link is easy to calculate hence this weeks precise figures, for the ferry companies however, we are reliant on the firms own press releases and the precise details of truck to passenger vehicles can be subject to different interpretations, confused as it is by non commercial van traffic (as evidenced by the queues of private vans en route to holiday homes in Northern France any weekend), coaches and the like.

As one company folds, Speed Ferries demise in January, so another, Euroferries proposed Ramsgate – Boulogne service due from 14th November may rise phoenix style. The strike by Sea France workers last week after the company proposed layoffs is probably the best indicator of the past few months. As Kent Police implemented their “Operation Stack” and lorries built up along the M20 the French company referred to a “sharp fall” in freight traffic, mirroring the comments of their rail oriented countrymen.

It seems certain then that freight traffic has been severely down for what is effectively a microcosm of overall pan European trade. No doubt haulage companies will have this in mind as they shop around for rates before committing to their next contracts with the Channel carriers. The general opinion amongst the truckers we spoke with is that things have bottomed out and the hope is for a return to more normal traffic levels in the coming months.

With the pound having slumped against the Euro it is unlikely that passenger numbers will continue to rise, certainly for trips originating in the UK, so the channel carriers will need to protect their freight interests for the near future.