Train stopped in Channel Tunnel, ferry problems at Dover

Freight and passenger traffic came to a halt in the Channel Tunnel and the busiest cross-Channel port of Dover on Monday. A train stopped under the waves and a lack of ferry services over the waves left freight and passengers stranded.

A Eurotunnel Le Shuttle Channel train failure temporarily blocked the Channel Tunnel in the early hours of Monday morning. Although the train was restarted and cleared relatively quickly, the resulting backlog caused delays of five hours or more for all services. The problems have been made more intense by the decommissioning of several ferries from Dover. P&O and DFDS were affected, leaving trucks with limited alternatives and many passengers heavily delayed.

Ships refused by the authorities

The problems started in Dover more than a week ago, when ferry operator P&O was forced to withdraw its services. The company had recently made highly controversial staffing changes – cutting existing teams and replacing them with cheaper agency staff. The move sparked outrage in the UK, but the case reached new depths when shipping agencies withdrew the vessels’ permission to sail, due to safety regulation concerns.

Le Shuttle Freight services run several times an hour through the Channel Tunnel (Getlink)

Rival ferry operator DFDS, which also operates out of Dover, has suffered technical issues with its own fleet, which is putting severe pressure on the Port of Dover. Customers, particularly freight truckers, would normally seek diversion via the freight shuttle service operated by Eurotunnel. However, this service abruptly stopped on Monday morning.

Expressed frustration

Potential customers were greeted with a terse tweet from Eurotunnel. “Due to a train temporarily stopped in the tunnel, our service is currently experiencing delays. Please check in as scheduled. My apologies,” they said. Meanwhile, many of those customers have taken to social media to express their frustration, but also to help inform fellow travelers of the situation.

The British government has responded by revamping the arrangements for documenting the transit of goods, in force since Brexit and recently updated. “Due to ongoing issues with the freight vehicle traffic service, we have put in place interim measures until noon, Thursday, April 7, 2022,” their statement read. Government sources also said they would provide an update by then.

Stack of operations

When traffic in Dover exceeds port capacity, local police coordinate a familiar and tried-and-true procedure called “Operation Stack”. To relieve traffic jams, commercial vehicles are moved back to the motorway approaches to the coast. It is unusual that the same system is required at Folkestone, the UK end of the Channel Tunnel. Nevertheless, there were considerable delays – up to five hours, it seems – at the height of the congestion.

Toyota recently started moving finished vehicles through the tunnel, between centers in the UK and France (Getlink)

Although still underutilized in terms of capacity, the Tunnel has been attracting new flows lately. Silk Road intermodal traffic has been more frequent of late, and Toyota has recently become a regular customer with finished cars traveling between French and UK distribution sites.

Monday at midnight, Eurotunnel Le Shuttle Freight reported normal activity and four departures in each direction per hour.

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