Channel Tunnel freight traffic shows subtle recovery

Freight traffic through the Channel Tunnel between the UK and France is recovering; gradually, but faster than passenger traffic. Le Shuttle Freight, the truck-on-rail service of operator Getlink, says its May figures show improvement of 25 per cent on the corresponding month last year. Nearly 113,000 trucks were carried on the back of the dedicated shuttle train. That contrasts with figures for passenger vehicles, which remain down by almost a half, compared with last May.

Figures for the longer period, comparing January-May 2021 with the same period last year, show a slightly less impressive five per cent drop. However, the overall impression is that cross-channel commerce via the tunnel is performing well, despite considerable pandemic-related challenges. This was stated by Getlink, which operates the Channel Tunnel.

Travel restrictions

While welcoming the good news from the freight sector, Getlink is clear that the passenger market has been unable to respond to the pandemic restrictions in the way that freight has. “During the same period, Le Shuttle transported 45,841 passenger vehicles”, says their statement. “Despite the positive comparison with the traffic levels observed during the first lockdowns in Spring 2020, the passenger market continues to be severely impacted by the UK and French government travel restrictions imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Yann Leriche, CEO of Getlink

Freight better placed for recovery

Several factors have helped the freight sector recover better than passenger traffic. The outright bans imposed on leisure travel has, of course, severely restricted opportunities, and affected consumer confidence, particularly of concern to Eurostar, the passenger operator. In contrast, the freight sector has been considered vital to national security in every country. While goods vehicle drivers have had to deal with complex pandemic protocols, they have rarely been banned from carrying out their duties. Performance has held up well despite that factor.

Getlink is seeking to make a greater contribution to the environmental targets set out in the Paris Agreement

A more complex, and long lasting issue has been the adaptation to Britain’s departure from the EU. Revised and unfamiliar customs requirements have made administration more onerous, and persuaded some companies to withdraw from the international market. Whether or not that has been a factor in shuttle traffic figures is not stated, but it is almost certainly a factor. However, the feared delays in South East England, where provisions including a whole airfield were made for parking trucks while clearing customs, have failed to materialise.

Green route ahead for environment

Freight by rail has of course made its environmental case many times. Despite the current challenges faced by the business, Getlink has also announced plans to forge ahead with greening its operations further. In a slight mix of metaphors, Yann Leriche, the chief executive officer of Getlink, confirmed their ambitions. “Getlink is developing an ambitious roadmap that will allow it to make more of a difference and performance in terms of the environment”, he said.

The company has set out its new 2025 action plan to meet environmental challenges, which include a 30 per cent reduction in direct CO2 emissions by by that date. That target is in line with international environmental strategy, defined by the so-called Paris Agreement. “With already strong green credentials, it is performance that guides us, for the environment as with everything else”, added Leriche.


Int his video, a freight train carrying trucks can be seen moving through the Channel Tunnel. The video is from Getlink, operator of the tunnel.

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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