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End to Chunnel freight chaos still in doubt

UK HOME Office and transport ministers have confused freight operators with conflicting accounts about the timescale for ending disruption to Channel Tunnel rail freight services by illegal immigrants.

Transport minister John Spellar refused to back promises from home secretary David Blunkett that services would return to normal by September during a Commons transport select committee meeting.

But Blunkett later reaffirmed the government's commitment to the September deadline.

Spellar told the select committee that three government departments - the Home Office, the Department for Transport and the Cabinet Office, were all trying to resolve the issue - but that they had little or no contact with each other.

Continued disruption has led to a European Commission threat of legal action against France .

Only about seven services a day pass through the tunnel instead of the 15 to 18 timetabled.

Over 3,600 freight services through the tunnel have been cancelled since November 2001, and operator EWS estimates this has cost it US$15.4M in lost revenue.

In a joint statement last month Blunkett and French interior minister Nikolas Sarkozy stated that increased security at the Frethun depot near Calais would mean services were back to normal by September.

Last week the European commission internal market commissioner Frits Bolkestein stated that legal action is likely against France if there is no improvement in the service by the end of July.

It follows a complaint by EWS that France was in breach of the Treaty of Rome for preventing the free movement of goods.

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