Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Trains, and boats and…

Posted in Business, Europe, Great Britain, Infrastructure by Chairman Pip on 6 June 2013

It was announced today that the Competition Commission in the UK have ruled that Eurotunnel must stop their ferry service between Dover and Calais because of the fact that their already sizeable market share of traffic on the route (thanks to their rail operation) combined with a ferry service makes it likely that prices would start to go up. To explain, Eurotunnel procured three boats from the fleet of SeaFrance in June of last year when that company was liquidated. These boats are now leased by Eurotunnel to a new operator, MyFerryLink, to continue the service. The ruling of the Competition Commission stated that, in its opinion, Eurotunnel bought the boats in order to prevent rival operator DFDS obtaining them, which would have enabled them to offer more competitive prices. Eurotunnel’s current market share based on its rail business is estimated at 40%, so the addition of the MyFerryLink service to its portfolio would put this over half, while at the same time (again, according to the Commission) driving DFDS away from the Dover-Calais route. While the Commission has not explicitly stated that it must sell the three boats, owing to a ruling in France’s Commercial Court that blocks any sale until 2017. But, the Commission’s ban on them being permitted to use Dover, which comes into force in six months, means that Eurotunnel will be left with potentially unuseable assets on their hands.

I’ve often said that Eurotunnel are potentially missing a trick by not offering pure foot passenger shuttles through the Tunnel, as this would essentially allow them to match the product provided by ferry companies, which provide access for foot passengers as well as vehicles. The ruling by the Commission therefore could be an opportunity for them to begin this kind of provision, through the return of boat trains. Is there any reason why it would not be possible for passenger trains to be run from London to a Channel port (not Dover obviously) that would then connect with Eurotunnel’s boats? Of course, timetables would need to be dealt with, but timetables, even the one on one of the most intensively used parts of the British network, can be re-shaped. And, there is even an extant area that could be used – the Folkestone Harbour branch, which leads to Folkestone Harbour station is located on a jetty that used to connect with boats running from Folkestone. There are plans to redevelop the area around the harbour with new accomodation, but that this will not generate sufficient traffic to justify reopening the branch line. A heritage group called The Remembrance Line are attempting to prevent the removal of the route permanently, with one of their ideas being the operation of boats from the harbour station and boat trains to connect with them. Hey presto. Eurotunnel wouldn’t even need to go to Calais, as they could use one of the other ports, such as Boulogne or Zeebrugge further along the Channel coast of Europe. Rather than complain about the ruling (which naturally they’re doing), Eurotunnel could take this as an opportunity to develop their business into new markets, which frankly is the best way of making even more money.

“Eurotunnel blocked from Dover ferry service”

Folkestone Harbour once played host to regular boat trains. Is there any reason why Eurotunnel couldn’t get round their Dover difficulties by reintroducing them?


One Response

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  1. Al Storer (@Al__S) said, on 8 June 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Surely should be possible for Eurotunnel to run an Ashford (especially with its much reduced Eurostar service) to Calais “shuttle” service. If they could get 395s or similar certified, possibly with a bit of bike carrying space, they would be ideal. Running directly between the road shuttle terminals would be of little use- they’re even less accessible to non vehicle traffic than the ferry terminals.

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