KENT'S PORTS and roads are being swamped by thousands of extra lorries a week because the refugee crisis at the French end of the Channel Tunnel is disrupting rail freight services, Kent County Council said this week.
It added that disruption is causing a mass switch of freight from rail to road which could lead to gridlock on parts of the M25.
More than 180 extra lorries a day are using Kent's roads as a result of the drastic fall off in rail freight using the Channel Tunnel, said the council.
Kent claims that half of the long distance rail freight passing through the Channel Tunnel has switched to road as a result of disruption caused by refugees at the Calais rail freight yard on France's north coast.
Refugees have been disrupting cross Channel rail freight by trying to get onto trains at the Calais marshalling yard near the Channel Tunnel. As a result, freight has been switching to lorries using cross Channel shuttle trains and ferries.
The Rail Freight Group (RFG) estimates that an extra 6,000 lorries a week are travelling on the M20 as a result of the refugee crisis In November, the number of freight trains passing through the tunnel fell from 30 trains in each direction to five as a result of refugees trying to get onto trains. This was because French police were unable to provide round the clock patrols at the Calais freight terminal.
Kent and rail freight operators fear that freight which has switched to road to avoid the tunnel will not go back to rail even after the refugee crisis is resolved, putting increasing pressure on the road network.
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 this week failed for a second time.
The rail freight industry is contracted to pay Eurotunnel £60M a year for access, regardless of the number of trains passing through.
INFOPLUS www. rfg. org www. eurotunnel.co.uk