Europe’s rail motorway halts over Calais migrant crisis

A rail motorway that takes trailers from Spain through France to the UK has been halted because of the number of migrants trying to break into trailers.

Europe's rail motorway halts over Calais migrant crisis
Archive Photo: AFP

Calais port workers staged a go-slow Monday after Europe's longest rail motorway halted operations Monday over repeated efforts by migrants to break into trucks being transported to Britain.

The VIIA Britanica, a railway carrying unaccompanied trailers from Spain through France to Britain, decided to stop its services until September over a “resurgence in migrant intrusions in past weeks,” port authorities said in a statement.

The rail motorway — which only went into operation in March — allows road hauliers to cross France in 22 hours, avoiding 1,200 kilometres (745 miles) of roads.

However migrants living in the infamous camp known as the “Jungle” near the port of Calais try and break into the trailers as part of their desperate efforts to reach Britain.

Port workers and business owners launched the go-slow operation on a highway around Calais after the rail motorway stopped running.

“The situation keeps getting worse. We don't know what to do anymore to be heard,” said Antoine Ravisse, president of a citizens' movement protesting the migrant crisis in the northern port.

“The migrants, some of whom are armed, climb into the trailers, they rip the tarpaulins. Our clients lose confidence in us, sometimes their merchandise is destroyed. The cost is enormous,” he added.

Around 4,500 migrants, mainly from Afghanistan and Sudan, live in the Jungle camp, according to an official estimate.

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French union calls for national rail strike in July

The hardline CGT union has called for a national strike on the railways in July in a dispute over pay and working conditions.

French union calls for national rail strike in July
Photo: Denis Charlet/AFP

The union is calling on all members across the country to strike on Thursday, July 1st, saying: “For our salaries, our jobs, our rights, for a protected status for all railway workers – everyone on strike!”

However, the strike only involves a single union so is unlikely to cause widespread disruption of the type seen during the mass transport strikes of December 2019 and January 2020, in which all transport unions joined together to take action in protest over pension reforms.

Public sector workers in France are legally obliged to give 48 hours’ notice of their intention to strike, and SNCF usually publishes revised strike timetables 24 hours in advance of industrial action.

This strike targets SNCF, so could affect national train routes and the Paris RER suburban train service, but not the Paris Metro or bus routes, which are run by RATP.

Separately, airport workers are also calling for a strike in July in a dispute over contract renegotiatons.