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Travellers from UK to France face third day of delays

Passengers travelling to France are facing further delays on Sunday, but congestion at the port of Dover appeared to have eased as authorities worked overnight to reduce the backlog of cars and lorries on the roads.

Travellers from UK to France face third day of delays
Ferries docked in the Port of Dover on the south-east coast of England in April 2022 (Photo by Ben Stansall / AFP)

The traffic heading to the Eurotunnel terminal was the prime concern on Sunday, the AA told the BBC.

“Due to Operation Brock [a queuing system to manage freight traffic on the M20], stacking lanes of lorries, which need to be cleared and the subsequent diversion of passenger traffic onto the A20 merging at the terminal, we are still seeing lengthy delays here,” said AA head of roads policy Jack Cousens, adding that the Port of Dover seemed “reasonably quiet” by contrast.

Dover was busy, but Folkestone was “chaos”, BBC reporter Simon Jones said earlier from the scene.

“Drivers are struggling to get to the Eurotunnel terminal. Part of the M20 is shut to park 600 lorries – so the rest of the traffic is being diverted onto other roads, and those roads simply can’t cope”, he reported.

The Kent Resilience Forum, the body that coordinates emergency planning for the county, also distributed food and drink to passengers stuck in their cars overnight.

Fortunately, once people make it to the terminal, they should ‘only’ have a couple of hours to wait to get on to a train, as these are running normally.

READ ALSO: Are the French really to blame for Dover travel chaos?

Car numbers were also expected to be slightly lower on Sunday – 7,000 compared with 8,500 on Saturday, Eurotunnel said.

You can see Eurotunnel travel updates here.

P&O ferries said in a tweet that queues at the entrance had eased.

The time to clear passport control had reduced to 30 minutes from an hour earlier on Sunday.

And the port of Dover said in a statement: “The backlog of tourist passengers that was generated on Friday has also now been cleared, along with successfully getting Saturday’s holidaymakers on their way.”

Around 72,000 passengers had been processed by Sunday morning with over 6,000 cars expected to cross over the whole day.

Major incident
Authorities in the English port of Dover declared a major incident on Saturday and passengers were told to expect four-hour waits as British and French authorities trade blame for the post-Brexit travel problems.

On Saturday morning the BBC was reporting that authorities in Kent declared a major incident in and around Dover because of traffic problems, while P&O Ferries warned passengers to expect a three to four hour-wait to clear security checks.

Reporter Simon Jones said that at 8.44am there were already 3,000 lorries queuing on the M20 and traffic was building at the port.

P&0 Ferries said that anyone booked on a ferry from Dover should allow three to four hours of waiting time – people who miss their crossing will be transferred automatically onto the next available sailing.

While many people had to queue for six hours to get through border controls at Dover on Friday, Saturday could be even worse, according to Dover port chief executive Doug Bannister.

He told the BBC’s Today radio programme there could be further five to six-hour delays at the port again on Saturday.

“Yesterday, we processed about 8,500 cars going out. Today, we were predicted to be around 10,000, so it’s going to be a very busy day down here,” he said.

By 12.45pm on Saturday, the Port of Dover said more than 17,000 passengers had already gone through.

Queues for the port snaked through Dover and surrounding roads, stretching miles, with lorries backed up the M20 motorway leading to the town.

A traffic management system was rolled out on the M20 to manage the high volume of lorries backed up towards Dover.

That included closing parts of the motorway to non-freight traffic and diverting cars towards the port and the Eurotunnel by other routes.

Eurotunnel, meanwhile, said its train shuttle services for vehicles between nearby Folkestone and Coquelles in northern France were two hours behind schedule on Saturday.

However, the operator assured travellers they would be put on the next available service if they missed their scheduled departure.

The blame game
This weekend is the peak getaway for British holidaymakers since most English and Welsh schools broke up for the summer holidays last week.

On Friday, passengers faced waits of six hours to get into the port of Dover, a situation that port officials said was entirely the fault of French border officials.

“Despite the Port of Dover… preparing over several months for the busy summer period, we are deeply frustrated that the resource at the French border overnight and early this morning has been woefully inadequate,” the port said in a statement.

French officials, however, strongly refuted the British statement, saying that reports in the UK press “must be corrected”.

Georges-François Leclerc, Préfet of the Nord area of France, said that high demand due to the start of the UK school holidays had been anticipated with extra staffing levels, but that a technical incident in the Channel Tunnel meant that border agents travelling from France to work in Dover were one hour late on Friday morning.

He added that all agents were at their posts by 9.45 am, saying: “At this time, the traffic difficulties in the Channel Tunnel have been resolved, but very congested road traffic was still observed in British territory, with slowdowns spread over several kilometres.”

He said that “the fluidity of flows at the port of Dover is the joint responsibility of a set of actors, including shipping companies, the port of Dover and the British authorities.”

This summer represents the first time that normal passenger numbers have been recorded since the end of the Brexit transition period in January 2021, which heralded a host of new regulations for travellers between France and the UK.

Travel to France: What has changed since Brexit 

The Le Touquet agreement means that both French and British border checks are carried out before boarding in Dover.

To add to the problems, travel hubs around Europe have been reporting delays over the summer due to staff shortages.

Passengers on the Eurostar reported long queues at the London and Paris terminals, with the problems especially bad in London.

On Friday, motorist Stephen Hutchinson told The Local: “We got to Folkestone at about 9am and then it took us six-and-a-half hours just to get to the port at Dover, the traffic was almost totally solid.

“We were also diverted off the motorway and through Dover, which was completely congested.

“Once we arrived at the port in the afternoon, all the lanes for checks seemed to be open; there were six lanes for French passport control checks and all of them were open and staffed – but after that, all the cars and vans were filtered into a single lane for check-in, so obviously that caused traffic to back up.”

A frequent traveller for work reasons, Stephen had returned to the UK the previous week with work gear and had to wait for four hours at Dover for an official to stamp his carnet – the post-Brexit paperwork requirement for people travelling with certain types of equipment.

Member comments

  1. The Conservative Brexit plans never ever took the British travelling public into consideration, when laying out Brexit it was all about profit and not sovereignty trade or immigration.
    The French border force employees live in France and travel everyday to the UK, the same only in reverse happens to UK border force employees working in France. The Eurostar trains are the quickest connection and use by many to all of these officials, a delay on trains at peak times always has a knock on effect.
    Brexit took us back to before we joined the EU and these regulations need many extra staff to perform all the border checks as we are now foreigners where in the EU we used to be partners.
    How many times are we hearing about staff shortages throughout the UK, the EU is suffering this as well, The UK answer is to enforce certain staff work longer hours now not restricted by the EU working conditions policy, the EU staff are still protected by this and cannot be enforced to work longer hours.
    This holiday period is going to show us that delays are going to be a way of life, as we got very use to the quick and free movement being a member of the EU.

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STRIKES

Trains, ferries and schools: What to expect from Thursday’s strike in France

Unions are calling for a 'general strike' in France this week, demanding wage increases to cope with the cost of living. Here's how the strike action will affect services.

Trains, ferries and schools: What to expect from Thursday's strike in France

What are the demands?

The inter-union group that is organising the strike is calling for salaries to be indexed at a rate of at least 10 percent for civil servants. The government previously increased the rate by 3.5 percent, but unions say that this “falls short of the urgent need to raise all salaries” and “preserve living conditions of all.” 

As the mobilisation is across several sectors, there are more specific demands within each field, but most return to the question of the cost of living crisis.

When and where will mobilisation take place?

Industrial action will take place across the country on Thursday, September 29th.

How widespread will the mobilisation be?

The impact of French strikes all depends on one thing – union solidarity. 

There are many different unions in France and even within a single profession – for example train drivers – there are often five or six different unions representing staff. It’s only when all or most of the unions agree to strike on the same day that we usually see major disruption of the kind that brought transport in the country to a standstill in late 2019.

The unions participating in Thursday’s action are; CGT, Solidaries and FSU.

There will also be notable absences, including the union FO (Force Ouvrière) who said they are not interested in marching alongside political parties. The union Unsa will also not take place in industrial action this Thursday. 

France’s largest union the CFDT will also be absent, with the head of the union, Laurent Berger, telling AFP: “Who is going to believe that it is because you are all going to demonstrate together in Paris that this is going to settle the question (of wages)? It is company by company, professional branch by professional branch that we must act.”

This suggests that disruption will be more limited, although it’s likely that some services will be worse-hit than others.

Which sectors will be impacted?

The industrial action will primarily impact a few sectors, such as transport, education, and civil servants. 

Transport

SNCF – Railway unions are calling on SNCF employees to take part in the strike, which is likely to mean that some services will be cancelled. Train traffic forecasts (TGV, Ouigo, TER, Intercité, Transilien and international lines) will be available 24 hours before the strike. 

Urban transport – City transport networks (buses, streetcars, metros) could be impacted both by striking drivers and by route detours linked to demonstrations. To know the traffic forecasts, check the website of your transport service.

Paris – As for Paris public transport operator RATP, workers represented by the CGT union will take part in the strike, although workers represented by other unions will not. On September 19th, CGT RATP published a strike notice that “covers all staff in all categories and in all services from Wednesday, September 28, 2022 at 10 pm until Friday, September 30th 2022 at 7 am.” RATP will publish a revised strike timetable 24 hours before the strike.

Truck drivers –  Some truck drivers will stop work. The road transport federation of SUD Solidaires is calling on its members and truck drivers to join Thursday’s actions. However, it should be noted that the SUD Solidaires union does not have a majority in the “road haulage collective agreement” and is not part of the mandatory annual negotiations.

Maritime traffic – The CGT national federation of ports and docks is calling for a four-hour work stoppage. The hours will vary from port to port. In Marseille, for example, workers will walk out from 9 am to 1 pm, thus maritime traffic could be impacted. Ferry passengers should check with their operator.

Education

Several teachers’ unions (SNES FSU, SNUipp-FSU, SUD Education) have published strike notices on their websites.

For pre-schools (maternelles) and primary schools, teachers must declare themselves as strikers ahead of time, so parents should be aware prior to Thursday. In each case, parents will be contacted by the school if classes are going to be closed. 

Extracurricular activities, cafeterias and crèches – Services managed by the cities such as school cafeterias, extracurricular activities and day care centres could also be impacted, as civil servants represented by the three unions listed above were called to mobilise. To know the disruptions that will impact you or your child specifically, you can contact your local mairie (city hall).

Public servants

Civil servants (fonctionnaires) were called to participate in the strike, which could have an impact on some public services. Healthcare workers are also staging industrial action, although in their case this will involve demonstrations rather than walking out of work. 

Refinery workers 

Finally, some refinery workers employed by TotalEnergies will walk out on Thursday, as they seek salary increases, as well as the “unfreezing of hiring” and “a massive investment plan” in France. 

They will also be staging a blockade at certain refineries to prevent fuel leaving – the main sites to be affected will be the La Mède biorefinery (Bouches-du-Rhône), the Normandy refinery in Le Havre, Donges (Loire-Atlantique), Carling (Moselle), Feyzin (Rhône) and Oudalle (Seine-Maritime), as well as the fuel depots in Grandpuits (Seine-et-Marne) and Flandres (Nord).

Demonstrations

On Thursday there will also be marches and demos held in around 200 towns and cities in France.

The largest is likely to be in Paris, where between 3,000 and 6,000 demonstrators are expected in the march which sets off at 2pm from Denfert-Rochereau in the direction of Bastille. 

Other strike days coming up 

On October 16th, the leftist party La France Insoumise has called on all political and trade union forces on the left to mobilise. However, as of September 27th, CGT said it would not participate in such action.

Additionally, there have been calls for industrial action in the early childhood (nurseries) sector scheduled for October 6th.

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