EUROPE: Two of the regular streams of freight traffic through the Channel Tunnel ceased at the beginning of February because the cost of using the Tunnel has increased substantially.

Unilog based in Belgium has been forced out of business altogether, while GTS Trasporti in Italy stopped dispatching intermodal trains from Bari and Piacenza to Daventry and Manchester in the UK pending a decision on how this traffic is to be handled in future.

The problem arises from the ending of the Minimum Usage Charge, which British Rail and SNCF agreed in 1987 to pay Eurotunnel until November 30 2006. The freight element of the MUC amounted to £52m/year, but since BR's international freight business was sold to EWS the government had been paying the ?26m due from the UK side.

After the state payments ended EWS faced charges amounting to £18m/year, based on the dismally low 1.57 million net tonnes carried through in 2006. This is equivalent to around £7 000 for each one-way transit. The government agreed on December 6 that it would contribute £6.5m/year that it would be obliged to pay anyway if EWS had ended international freight altogether. That cut the average to £4 500 per train, but this is still more than the market can bear.

A substantial traffic flow going back to the opening of the Tunnel to rail freight in June 1994 is the daily movement of car components between Ford's Valencia (Spain) and Dagenham (East London) plants. Transfesa's contract expires on March 31 and a new one is being negotiated, but the company says 'the overall increase from the Spanish frontier to Dagenham is looking like 10%, and we are not happy'.