Railweb Reports

Calais–Le Boulou rail motorway service resumes

Posted by George Raymond on February 7, 2017

The VIIA subsidiary of French National Railways (SNCF) says that better security in the port of Calais allowed resumption on February 7 of VIIA’s rail motorway service between Calais and a terminal at Le Boulou in southern France near the Spanish border.

Cradles on VIIA's Lohr wagons pivot 30 degrees to load semi-trailers non-reinforced for cranes
Cradles on VIIA’s Lohr wagons swing 30 degrees to load trailers not reinforced for cranes. The Calais terminal on April 14, 2016. Photo G. Martin, Boulogne Calais Port.

The service uses wagons from the French manufacturer Lohr. They carry standard, 4-metre-high semi-trailers in cradles that pivot 30 degrees so that a tractor can load or unload a semi-trailer. (See our Railweb Report of March 6, 2016.) Lohr says this design lets the wagons carry the 97% of European semi-trailers not reinforced for vertical loading by crane.

The cradles can only pivot in dedicated terminals built for Lohr wagons. Such terminals in Le Boulou and in Bettembourg (Luxembourg) have been the termini of a VIIA rail motorway service using Lohr wagons since 2007. VIIA says that in 2016, customers used 91% of the line’s capacity on up to 10 one-way trains a day. The Calais–Le Boulou service will start with one daily train pair.

When Boulogne Calais Port inaugurated a terminal for Lohr wagons in October 2015, VIIA planned to start rail motorway services between Calais and Le Boulou in January 2016. However, UK-bound semi-trailers were exposed to damage by migrants who tried to board them. VIIA spokeswoman Justine Basson says this delayed the service’s launch until March and then stopped it again in July 2016. Better security has now let the rail motorway resume.

Loaded VIIA Britanica train in the port of Calais
The first VIIA Britanica train in the Calais terminal bound for Le Boulou near the Spanish border on March 29, 2016. Photo M. Guilbert, VIIA.

VIIA calls its Calais–Le Boulou line VIIA Britanica and says it directly links Spain and the UK at a cost 10-15% lower than road transport. The longest rail motorway in Europe, VIIA Britanica lets trucking companies avoid 1,200 km of road while crossing France in about 22 hours. VIIA says this saves a full day compared to road. VIIA has signed an agreement with P&O Ferries, who make up to 58 daily return ferry trips between Calais and Dover, to offer through service between Dover and Le Boulou.

Alternatively, semi-trailers can transfer in the ports of Calais or Zeebrugge (Belgium) to or from ships to other points in the UK and northern Europe. Within five years, VIIA hopes its service will be moving 40,000 semi-trailers a year by rail instead of road.

George Raymond can be reached at graymond@railweb.ch.

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