The new VIIA Britanica rail highway entered service on 29 March 2016, with the inaugural train of unaccompanied semi-trailers departing the port of Calais at 2am. It was due into Le Boulou in the Eastern Pyrenees late evening the same day.
Europe’s longest rail highway
VIIA Britanica is Europe’s longest rail highway, avoiding a 1200 km journey by road, and enables road hauliers to cross France in approximately 22 hours.
The trains operating on VIIA Britanica carry unaccompanied semi-trailers from the port of Calais to Le Boulou on the Franco-Spanish border six days a week. There will be one trip in either direction each day to start with, increasing to two in the near future.
Each 20-wagon train is 680 metres long and can carry up to 40 semi-trailers. Operated by VIIA, a subsidiary of SNCF Logistics, this service will enable modal shift of 40 000 semi-trailers per year over the next five years, representing an annual saving of 50 000 tonnes of CO² and the equivalent of 50 million truck-km.
Integrated rail-sea service from Great Britain ("RoRo Rail")
Situated for the first time in a seaport, the rail highway terminal in Calais is a trimodal (rail/sea/road) hub for unaccompanied semi-trailers travelling between Spain and Great Britain or Spain and northern France & Belgium.
This strategic location gives carriers the option of an integrated rail-sea service between Dover and Le Boulou, whereby semi-trailers arriving by train in the port of Calais can be loaded (still unaccompanied) onto ferries for the Channel crossing.
So far, VIIA has signed an initial agreement with maritime operator P&O Ferries, which wishes to grow its business carrying unaccompanied semi-trailers. P&O Ferries currently runs up to 58 crossings daily between the ports of Calais and Dover. This multimodal freight corridor from Great Britain to the Franco-Spanish border is a first. For Port Boulogne Calais, currently France’s fourth-biggest freight port, the refit with next-generation facilities - representing investment of 7 million euros - will attract more business and usher in the growth expected from the “Calais Port 2015” project, which aims to double port capacity.
Security stepped up for new service
In order to ensure that the new service can operate safely and securely, controls have been intensified in and around the port of Calais.
These come on top of the normal checks carried out by Port Boulogne Calais, which are the same as the pre-boarding checks undergone by trucks arriving by road.
VIIA Chairman Thierry Le Guilloux said: “This new service will add to the network of rail highways, offering our road haulier customers ever-more efficient and competitive services. We are already working on adding new connections to link Calais to other terminals across Europe.”
Port Boulogne Calais Chairman and CEO Jean-Marc Puissesseau said: “We are delighted by the opening of the VIIA Britanica rail highway, and are proud to be the first port in Europe with such innovative infrastructure. Besides our wish to make our port an eco-friendly and highly sustainable one, the new infrastructure will create additional handling activity on the port, thereby helping to create new jobs.”
VIIA is the operator in charge of marketing rail highways within SNCF Logistics’ “Rail and multimodal freight haulage” branch. VIIA sees rail adopt road-like practices, creating a mode of transport which offers high standards of performance door-to-door on a European scale.
VIIA already operates two rail highways: one has run between Aiton (Chambéry) and Orbassano (Turin) since 2003, and the other between Bettembourg (Luxembourg) and Le Boulou (Eastern Pyrenees) since 2007. Up to eight trains per day run on each of these lines.
About Port Boulogne Calais:
Port Boulogne Calais is run by the Strait Ports Operating Company (SEPD), headquartered in Calais. Under the terms of its public service delegation, SEPD was entrusted with execution of the “Calais Port 2015” project to double port capacity in Calais, delivery of which is expected for 2021. SEPD commissioned the Strait Ports Company to execute the work.
Calais Port 2015 is one this decade’s major infrastructure projects in France, and is the biggest maritime project in the EU’s “Juncker plan” for priority infrastructure.
(Source: VIIA and Port Boulogne Calais)