AS WE HAVE reported, rail freight traffic through the Channel Tunnel has fallen sharply since the end of the Minimum Usage Charge agreement between Eurotunnel and the British and French governments on November 31 2006.

One shipper still using the route revealed last month that SNCF had announced an increase in its charges 'for the Channel Tunnel portion of our business from €5 080 to €12 832 per round trip effective July 1 2007.' This would be in addition to a €4 000 increase imposed on December 1 2006.

'Furthermore', the shipper reports, 'we are advised that if we are able to find an alternative to SNCF for the Channel Tunnel and French portions on our service (which we can) then we will be charged €22 000 per round trip for the use of the Fréthun terminal. We find ourselves in a position where not only do SNCF not want to do our business, they don't want any one else to do it either. Unless we find a quick solution we will be forced to cease operations.'

Industry sources suggest that such a policy would be 'a flagrant breach of competition rules and directives on open access', and are calling on the European Commission to intervene.