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Wednesday, 2 January, 2002, 12:43 GMT
Rail freight hit by asylum seeker influx
EWS train
Services will be suspended from 7 January
Scotland's only direct rail freight link with Europe is to be suspended because of safety fears caused by asylum seeker stowaways.

English, Welsh and Scottish Railways (EWS), which hires out wagons for the trip through the Channel Tunnel, said the service would be halted on 7 January.

EWS operates the Euroterminal at Mossend, Lanarkshire and has lost its biggest customer, Company Nouvelle Cadre (CNC).

How you deal with the refugee issue is nothing to do with the freight business

EWS spokesman
Just before Christmas, CNC announced that it no longer required the trains, which it hired from EWS and offered to businesses moving goods from Scotland.

That announcement came after the decision in November by the French rail operator, SNCF, to cut the total number of trains heading into Britain every day by two thirds.

SNCF said it was acting amid safety concerns linked to the number of asylum seekers trying to board moving trains heading for Britain through the Channel Tunnel.

Many of the asylum seekers were thought to have come from the Sangatte Red Cross Centre near Calais, which has faced calls for its closure on both sides of the Channel.

SNCF and EWS have faced fines from the British Government for each illegal immigrant found on EWS trains.

The British train firm was responsible for the trains and the fines once the vehicles reached Folkstone but on the other side of the Channel Tunnel SNCF was deemed responsible.

A narrow shuttle bringing back refugees from the Channel Tunnel
Asylum seeker concerns have been raised
Before the crisis arose, EWS was sending two trains from Mossend to Europe twice a week, on Wednesday and Saturday, and receiving two inbound trains back.

But CNC withdrew after SNCF cut the total number of inbound trains from 15 a day to five, a move which CNC claimed had affected the reliability of the service on the direct line to Mossend, which opened in 1994.

A spokesman for EWS said services were now running between 0900 GMT and 1500 GMT because those were the only times SNCF could police the route.

'French authorities'

He said: "That has decimated the Channel Tunnel Service and as a result customer confidence has been severely dented because you are never sure what you will get out or when you will get your wagons back, so a number of companies are looking for alternatives.

"We are concerned that we cannot operate a service and we have been in discussions with the British and French authorities at all different levels."

The spokesman said it was up to ministers on both sides of the Channel to resolve the situation.

"How you deal with the refugee issue is nothing to do with the freight business, we just want to go back to running trains and the way to do that is to make sure everything is secure," he said.

Companies wanting to move goods through the Channel Tunnel from Scotland by train will now have to change to another service at depots in Daventry or Willesden in north London.

See also:

22 Nov 01 | England
Call for troops to stop stowaways
15 Nov 01 | UK Politics
UK could join refugee quota scheme
29 Oct 01 | UK Politics
Asylum seekers to get ID cards
13 Sep 01 | Europe
France denies second refugee camp
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