PORTS and roads in south east England are being swamped by thousands of extra lorries a week because the refugee crisis at the French end of the Channel Tunnel has prompted operators to switch to cross-Channel shuttle trains and ferries.
Refugees trying to get on to trains at the Calais marshalling yard near the Channel Tunnel have caused massive disruption to rail freight. Kent claims that half of the long distance rail freight passing through the Channel Tunnel has switched to road.
In November 2001, the number of freight trains passing through the tunnel fell from 30 trains in each direction to five as French police were unable to provide round the clock patrols at the Calais freight terminal.
The Rail Freight Group (RFG) estimates that an extra 6,000 lorries a week are travelling on the M20 and that parts of the M25 London orbital motorway face gridlock.
Leader of Kent County Council Sandy Booth-Lockhart said the refugee problem has accelerated increases in traffic on the region's roads.
He added that road freight passing through Dover had doubled over the past six years and would double again in the next nine. He predicted that the M25 would be worst affected as a result.
Booth-Lockhart has contacted the French authorities and French rail operator SNCF about increasing security, but said promises to improve fencing around the freight yard at Calais had not been carried out.
Legal efforts by Eurotunnel to close the refugee centre at Sangate last month failed for a second time.
The rail freight industry is contracted to pay Eurotunnel US-86M a year for access, regardless of the number of trains passing through.
lEurotunnel has reported that normal service for freight traffic has been resumed following a US-7M outlay on security at its Calais depot.
Last year, an estimated 52,000 asylum seekers attempted to gain access to the tunnel through the depot, costing Eurotunnel around US-29M in lost revenue. Intrusions on to its site are now said to be minimal.
INFOPLUS www. rfg. org www. eurotunnel. co. uk