UK FREIGHT operator EWS announced last month that it would order ’at least 360’ wagons during 2005 to be used ’in Britain and mainland Europe’. At present EWS operates solely within Britain, although it shares with SNCF exclusive rights to haul rail freight through the Channel Tunnel.

Last year EWS Chief Executive Keith Heller revealed his ambition to win an extra 33 million tonnes of business in the UK on top of the 100 million now hauled (RG 11.04 p757). This year’s wagon orders will principally underpin ’major long-term contracts’ secured for oil products and crushed stone for construction.

But EWS is talking about building 1000 wagons over three years. These will include a new ’multi-user’ wagon that ’will show how a clever design will enable EWS to win more traditional road-based traffic to rail throughout Europe’, according to Heller.

He said last year that EWS would ’expand this out of Calais’, but serious obstacles remain. Channel Tunnel tolls are rigidly fixed at uncompetitive levels by a 1987 contract with Eurotunnel, and the UK government stopped paying those charges for EWS from May 1, rendering its international traffic unviable at a stroke. Open access rights in France have also proved difficult to obtain. EWS may opt to start with free-standing operations elsewhere in Europe, which could then be linked back to the UK after these problems are sorted out.