Brittany Ferries confirms wagon order for ‘rail freight motorway’ service

Image: Lohr (

Brittany Ferries has confirmed an order of wagons from French manufacturer Lohr ahead of the launch of its ‘rail freight motorway’ service between Cherbourg and Bayonne in France.  The service is scheduled to be launched next year and will cover a distance of almost 1,000 kilometres from the French-Spanish border to the French North. 

The service also aims to facilitate access to freight markets in France, the UK, Ireland and the Iberian Peninsula. The contract, valued at 22 million euros, makes provision for the production of 47 wagons.

Public sector support

In a recent visit to the Lohr manufacturing site in eastern France, where he viewed the first wagon in the Modalohr New series, French transport minister Clément Beaune, remarked: “Brittany Ferries and Lohr have been committed since 2017 to the success of this ambitious project for the transfer of trucks to rail”.

“With the support of the (French) state, the European Union and the regional public authorities of Normandy and Nouvelle Aquitaine, the shipping company will set up a rail motorway between the port of Cherbourg and the European Freight Centre in Mouguerre, near Bayonne, in order to link Spain, Great Britain and Ireland via the French rail network.”

2024 launch

Brittany Ferries first unveiled the project back in February 2020, shortly before the COVID-19 health crisis hit and which subsequently led to a drastic reduction in ferry services for nearly two years. The launch of the new rail service, initially planned for 2022, is now earmarked for 2024.

It will offer direct connections to ferries operating to and from Poole, Portsmouth and Rosslare to Cherbourg for the transport of unaccompanied semi-trailers between the south of the UK and Ireland to Bayonne/Mouguerre with a return journey by road to the Iberian Peninsula.

Brittany Ferries has signed a framework agreement with France rail network manager, SNCF Réseau, to secure train slots for the first five years of the service’s operation.

Co-ordination with ferry schedules

The regular, year-round service, with one return trip, six to seven days per week, will be operated by two trains, each composed of 21 Modalohr wagons with double pockets, allowing 42 trailers to be transported and rolled on and off using specialised horizontal handling equipment.

Journeys will be timetabled to connect with ferry arrival and departure times, whilst also avoiding periods of peak road traffic in Cherbourg.

Double rail freight’s modal share

Commenting on the rail motorway wagon contract, Lohr Group chairman, François Lhomme, said: “This is excellent news in terms of environmental transition and also or jobs. We are proud and happy that our Modalohr technology has been chosen by Brittany Ferries and that the excellence of our industrial know-how, thus recognised, contributes to the government’s ambition to double the modal share of rail freight by 2030.”

“Intended for export, and in particular for the European market, this Modalohr New wagon benefits from a number of innovations and improvements to facilitate its marketing for export.”

CO2 reduction

Brittany Ferries’ supervisory board chairman, Jean-Marc Roué, added: “From 2024, this link between Mouguerre and Cherbourg will make it possible to avoid, thanks to rail, the emission of approximately one tonne of CO2 compared to the same journey by road of a single semi-trailer!”

With parts of the route not currently electrified, initially the trains will be hauled by diesel locomotives. However, in the future these could be replaced by dual-mode (thermal-electric) locomotives further reducing emissions.

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Author: Stuart Todd

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