I took my summer vacation in France this year, Berny Riviere, Picardy, to be precise. Regrettably it was not only in the local restaurants that escargot could be found. Our car did a remarkably good impression of one on a tortuous route from the Dartford crossing to the terminal; and then 10 days later through Calais heading towards a 4 hour wait at the terminal. Operation Stack has caused quite a stir in the last couple of months, as a humanitarian crisis and Industrial action in Calais have combined to exacerbate an already chronic situation.
Operation Stack was first introduced in 1988 following a strike on our side of the pond, and has been a continual irritation to the haulage industry since. The FTA released an estimated cost to the industry of £750k per day when the situation deteriorated recently. The FTA also suggested that hauliers should be compensated for costs incurred that are out of their control. This, although fanciful, does again illustrate the challenges that road hauliers face in the course of their business from factors outside of their control. In this specific example though you can only be sympathetic; if you want to take a truck to mainland Europe, the options are so limited that there is little choice than join the back of the queue.
As can be seen from the chart below, the tunnel accounts for a fairly high proportion of overall freight movements out of the UK. Freight volumes through the tunnel have risen from 6.4m tonnes in 1995 to 20.3m tonnes in 2014. Of course the proximity of the terminal at Folkestone and Dover also makes traffic congestion in the locality a problem, even before you start getting miles of parked lorries on the M20. Added to freight movements, 10.4m passengers used the tunnel in 2014, a figure that was predicted to rise this year. So irate passengers trying to follow diversion routes around the locality adds another layer of chaos for the stretched Police to manage.
There are numerous ideas mooted to improve the situation from using abandoned airfields near Ramsgate (only the 30 miles from the terminal), to 450 space lorry parks, to 5,000 space lorry parks, to brand new fences in Calais. It would be charitable to characterise the long term approach as in any way strategic. Looking further back the high speed rail link in Kent was designed to take traffic off the roads and onto rail. Whenever I have used that line it has appeared not to be that widely used except for commuters into London. So not too sure how many people that would have taken off the roads. Given that Stack has been in operation on average 12 days a year since 2007 you would perhaps expect a more serious and considered response to a consistent problem.
Given the importance of the export market to the UK economy, an effective solution needs to be established. This must take into account the commercial environment within which hauliers must operate whilst taking into account volumes of traffic on our roads and the people living and working in the area.