British legislation railblocks international rail freight market 10/01/24

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Author: Simon Walton



British legislation railblocks international rail freight market


Whatever ambitions are harboured by the sector, the UK’s eagerness for international rail freight faces formidable challenges. Tapping into the export and import market is a hurdle race, with the bar seemingly rising higher at every step. The obstacles are largely attributed to intricate legislation. The years since leaving the EU have not made life any easier.


Navigating the complex web of legal requirements outlined in the UK government’s guidance on international rail freight is tough. Border processes make slotting an intermodal formation through the Castlefield Corridor seem like a piece of cake – as long as that cake isn’t arriving from overseas. Meeting a raft of requirements and administration poses a significant hurdle for rail freight operators seeking to handle Channel Tunnel traffic.

Challenging to offer cost-effective and efficient services

First, you’ll, of course, have obtained a GB Economic Operators Registration and Identification number. Don’t forget to check for an EU EORI, too. Do all that before obtaining a duty deferment account. If all that reads like a passing loop you’d rather not be shunted through, then you are far from alone. The current legislative landscape, detailed in the latest UK government guidelines, highlights the stringent measures placed on rail terminal operators receiving Channel Tunnel traffic. These requirements, while designed to ensure security and compliance, are becoming a stumbling block for the growth and competitiveness of UK international rail freight.

The intricacies of these legal obligations involve a myriad of steps. The weight of paperwork needs a train to haul it through the legislative landscape, including meticulous documentation, adherence to safety standards, and compliance with customs procedures. This bureaucratic maze takes time to navigate and incurs operational costs for rail terminal operators. There is no denying it makes it challenging to offer cost-effective and efficient services to those involved in exporting and importing goods via rail.

Need for robust systems and processes

One of the primary concerns is the potential deterrent effect on international businesses. Where time is money, and delay is deficit, any hold-up is a deterrent to considering rail freight as a viable option for international shipments. The cumbersome legislative framework not only hinders the competitiveness of UK rail freight but also raises questions about its attractiveness compared to other modes of transportation. Not that crossing the Channel is a mill pond paddle for anyone else, either.

The forest of UK legislation could be a hindrance to international rail freight. Image: © Getlink.

However, the guidance for rail freight operators, in particular, does set a modal gap. It leaves the sector grappling with a process driven by political agendas. There’s an absolute need for robust systems and processes to ensure compliance with the stringent requirements outlined in the government’s guidance “International rail freight: UK border requirements and processes”.

Is anyone listening to pleas for change

Rail transport, of course, has well-documented advantages and is well-suited for bulk cargo shipments over long distances. However, the limitations of transporting continental gauge loads and rolling stock around the UK are also well documented. The last thing needed to derail ambitions for the modal shift is a complex regulatory and administrative framework. The intricate nature of these regulations demands a significant investment of time and resources, affecting the overall operational efficiency of international rail freight services.

A streamlined and more straightforward legislative framework could be instrumental in unlocking the full potential of UK international rail freight. So far, there doesn’t appear to be any call for a collaborative effort between the industry’s stakeholders and the policymakers. If there is a mutual desire to review and revise existing legislation, taking into account the practical challenges faced by rail terminal operators, it has been brushed aside so far.


Author: Simon Walton