Threat to local commuter services if more rail freight capacity is needed after Brexit.

The Guardian is reporting that Kent commuter services to London may be cut in order to provide more train paths to London for freight trains after Brexit if there are major hold ups for road freight behicles at Customs in Dover and at Eurotunnel. Most cross Channel freight trains already use the Hollingbourne to Maidstone East line where trains are already over crowded with demand likely to increase because of the large amount of housebuilding in the Maidstone area and the lack of jobs in Mid Kent. Over the last few years ticket prices have risen every year.

The Channel Tunnel Rail Link or HS1 which passes through Hollingbourne has spare capacity but was never designed for freight. The route was announced on 8th March 1989 and local protest groups including North Downs Rail Concern, who were supported by Hollingbourne Parish Council, campaigned for the rival passenger and freight Talis route through the north of the county with a possible link to Manston Airport which would have created thousands of jobs in East Kent. EU funding might have been available because North and East Kent were areas eligible for funding but the Government chose the present route which even today is only running at a third of the capacity predicted by BR at a public meeting in Hollingbourne Village Hall in late 1989. Their forecast of around 35 million passengers a day was based on a 1988 BR/SETEC research project and was used to justify the need for HS1 which cost around £6 billion or three times the original forecast.

The text of The Guardian report is as follows:-

No-deal Brexit ‘could disrupt London commuter trains’
Buildup of freight at Channel tunnel might affect services into capital, operator warns
Gwyn Topham
@GwynTopham
Thu 21 Feb 2019 20.19 GMT
First published on Thu 21 Feb 2019 17.02 GMT

Passengers could have to give way to freight in the event of no deal. 

Rail passengers commuting into London could have services disrupted by freight trains if a no-deal Brexit causes logjams at the Channel tunnel, it has emerged.
Go-Ahead, the company behind the rail operator Southeastern, said it was working with the government to try to ensure commuters were not affected.
But David Brown, the chief executive of Go-Ahead, which runs some of the biggest rail and bus networks in Britain, said there was a risk some passenger services could give way to goods. He also warned of a potential future shortage of bus drivers, revealing that job applications from Europe had dried up since the UK’s EU referendum in 2016.

Eurotunnel chief hits out at UK over no-deal shipping contracts

With Britain’s departure from the EU just over five weeks away, Brown said Southeastern was “on the front line of some of these issues”.
Southeastern runs trains from Dover and Kent to the capital, including high-speed services from the Channel tunnel. Eurotunnel is seeking to double the number of freight trains coming into Britain from 2,500 to 5,000 over the next three years.
Brown said: “There maybe issues over freight stacking – we don’t really know what’s going to happen. The paths they might want could affect passenger services – it’s hypothetical at the moment but we are working with government and freight operators to make sure it doesn’t affect commuters.”

The Go-Ahead boss criticised the government’s treatment of EU nationals who have faced uncertainty and were left “feeling unwanted”, saying: “The thing that causes me most concern is our [European] employees … We’re giving them some TLC because they’re not getting it from anywhere else. And because we need them to run the services in the UK.”
He said Go-Ahead could “lose good talent”, adding: “We attract people from all over Europe … It’s just not appreciated and it should be.”
The firm had offered to pay the planned £65 fee for its employees to apply for settled status in the UK, before the charge was dropped. Now, Brown said: “We’re trying to make ourselves experts on visas … people are getting really confused.”
Go-Ahead is the biggest operator of London buses and has expanded into Manchester this week. Brown said the firm was no longer getting job applications from Europe, especially for posts such as bus drivers. He said there was not yet a shortage of drivers, but added “you could envisage it being a problem in the future”.
A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said the claims were misleading: “As part of sensible contingency planning, we are continuing to explore all options to secure additional freight capacity to alleviate disruption in the event of a no deal Brexit.

“Potential options that have been explored would not disrupt passenger services and do not involve any changes to existing passenger services.”
Tony Berkeley, former chair of the Rail Freight Group, said he did not think commuter trains would be affected by more freight, although industry colleagues had signed non-disclosure agreements over no-deal planning.
“Train paths are the least of the problems,” said Lord Berkeley. “Freight operators would have to find extra drivers, extra wagons and extra locomotives to deliver more services. Unless the government is going to directly pay rail freight operators to have standby equipment, they cannot rely on rail to help with road logjams at the Channel.”
Eurotunnel, meanwhile, said it was braced for some disruption immediately after the UK exits the bloc on 29 March and was budgeting for extra Brexit-related costs of about €20m-€25m.
The firm is hiring agency staff and building a pre-customs facility, and expects a slight loss of revenue in April as less time-sensitive customers opt to wait and see if there is disruption.

A new traffic-light system will either clear or turn away lorries depending on their customs clearance, with a facility to house up to 90 “orange-lighted” lorries that have failed to fill in post-Brexit paperwork correctly.
Jacques Gounon, chief executive of Eurotunnel’s owner, Getlink, said he was confident major tailbacks of lorries would not occur, with government having heeded warnings to ensure customs systems were in place.
He said: “If you are not tackling this matter, you will have chaos and queues. But now I am very confident that the risks of congestion have been deleted.”

The full text of The Guardian report including pictures is at https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/feb/21/no-deal-brexit-could-cause-staff-shortages-and-passenger-delays-warns-train-operator

Pictured below is the station sign at Hollingbourne which is used by dozens of commuters every day. Passengers from Bearsted and Maidstone East generally fill up all available seating with the result that commuters joining trains at or after Maidstone have to stand.

The sign at Hollingbourne Station which is used by over 40,000 commuters and other passengers each year. It is also the nearest Station to Leeds Castle.