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VIIA intermodal rail Calais-Torino

A second intermodal rail service using the Modalohr horizontal transfer system for road trailers has been inaugurated by VIIA over Calais, this time linking the port with the Italian market, at Turin

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Officials inaugurated the new rail motorway linking the Port of Calais in northern France with Orbassano in the suburbs of Turin. Ultimately the link will transfer 31,000 trucks a year from the roads and on to rail, according to VIIA, part of SNCF.


Present at the ceremony were Élisabeth Borne, French Minister for Transport; Natacha Bouchart, Mayor of Calais; Jean-Marc Puissesseau, Chairman and CEO of Port Boulogne Calais; Guillaume Pepy, Chairman of the Executive Board, SNCF; and Thierry Le Guillaux, Chairman of VIIA, the SNCF company formerly known as Lorry-Rail.


The line is operated from existing terminals with Modalohr technique at the Port of Calais and Orbassano, using Fret SNCF on the French side and Mercitalia on the Italian side.

VIIA transported 6,500 trailers between Calais and Le Boulou last year. (Photo: M.Guilbert)
VIIA transported 6,500 trailers between Calais and Le Boulou last year. (Photo: M.Guilbert)

It will connect to ferry services calling Calais from the UK, allowing semi-trailers to be transported unaccompanied across France to Italy. The first VIIA service over Calais connects the port with Le Boulou (for Spain). It opened in 2016 and last year transported 6,500 trailers. There are two departures each way per day and journey time for the 1,470 km rail haul is 23h.


The new service will, when fully operational, provide three weekly round trips connecting Calais to Orbassano, a distance of 1,150 km, in 18 hours.


Thierry Le Guilloux, Chairman of VIIA, said: “This new rail motorway line between Calais and Turin Orbassano is an addition to our existing Spain service. It results from work conducted by teams at VIIA as well as the Port of Calais and Fret SNCF, and it is excellent news for the development of unaccompanied semi-trailer transport in Europe.”


The service, open to all types of trailers, could save some 1.2 tonnes of CO2 per trailer per trip, for a total saving of 37,200 tonnes of CO2 full year.


VIIA is specifically charged with developing and then exploiting rail motorways (autoroutes ferroviaires) in France. A video link to yesterday’s (6th November) inauguration of the Italy service can be found here.


The original Lorry-Rail service connecting Lyon with Turin (Aiton-Orbassano) opened in 2002 and transit time for the 175 km rail haul via the Fréjus (Mont Cenis) tunnel is 3h. There are now four train pairs/day and, following structure gauge enhancements, traffic last year topped 35,500 trailers. This is more like a traditional RoLa service and the Modalohr technique allows driver-accompanied, which is suited to short rail legs.


The second service opened in 2007 and connects Bettembourg with Le Boulou. There are three train pairs/day and journey time for the 1,045 kms rail haul is 15h. More than 35,500 trailers were transported last year. VIIA calls the loads it carries "intermodal transport units" or UTI, but they are mostly highway trailers and in any event a UTI is equivalent to 2 TEU.


The forthcoming CargoBeamer technique terminal in Calais is located outside the port zone, but its position makes it suitable for Getlink as well as ferry freight. However, probably in the case of Getlink traffic, the truck driver will have to continue to make the crossing. If drivers dropped or picked up their load at the Getlink terminal in Folkestone, terminal tractors with their drivers would have to make the crossing to Calais Fréthun, which would be a nonsense. Looking ahead, if terminal tractors are used to take trailers between the ferry port and the CargoBeamer terminal in the La Turquerie IZ, they will have to be road-homologated.


The latest service further underscores Calais’s position as an emerging UK railhead, although as yet on nothing like the scale of, say, Zeebrugge, Rotterdam or Cuxhaven. It competes with Channel tunnel intermodal rail and rail-ro services over ARAZ ports.


There is no possibility of complentary rail on the UK side. Dover has no freight rail link and the only access for P400 freight from Folkestone is HS1, with limited access and destination point.

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