Rail industry’s customs proposal tackle post-Brexit congestion concerns and provides new opportunities for businesses

Creation of new Railway Customs Areas (RCAs) at rail freight terminals would avoid the need for a single border checkpoint, removing the prospect of congestion on the rail network in Kent and securing the £1.7bn economic benefits every year delivered by rail freight.

  • Rail industry wants to work with government to ensure smooth and efficient rail freight movement after we leave the European Union and avoid disruption to the over 2,000 intermodal trains transporting 1.22 million tonnes of freight per year.
  • RCAs provide new opportunities for businesses that import from Europe and don’t currently use rail freight to export, potentially reducing congestion on the road network.

Uncertainty for businesses, worried about delays and lost revenue from customs checks after Brexit, could be relieved with new proposals from the rail industry published today.

Imports through the Channel Tunnel by rail would avoid congestion at a single border checkpoint through the introduction of new RCAs across the country, as laid out in a new report by the Rail Delivery Group.

At present, rail freight inside the European Union operates without the need for customs declarations, but there is a site at each side of the Channel Tunnel for safety and security inspections. Converting the site at Dollands Moor in Kent for customs use has the potential to create significant congestion and delays which would disrupt trading and business supply chains, particularly ‘just in time’ manufacturing which minimises inefficiency and lowers costs.

With investment from the public and private sectors to provide suitable customs security measures at existing freight terminals, RCAs can be created to ensure imports reach their destination without delay. This is crucial for manufacturing supply chains as well as drinks imports. For example, car assembly parts are moved by rail to terminals in Daventry in the Midlands and Ditton in the North West, while bottled water from France is imported to Daventry.

A recent survey of 835 exporting or importing businesses by the British Chambers of Commerce and the Port of Dover found that 29% of businesses felt the impact of delays at ports would affect them, while one in three businesses said they are unprepared for new customs arrangements.

Together, as part of our plan to change and improve, Britain’s rail companies are committed to continue supporting the UK's economy and are delivering investment to improve that will support future growth. The Rail Delivery Group will work with government to ensure smooth and efficient rail freight movement after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

Over 2,000 trains transported 1.22 million tonnes of freight last year, excluding containers from ships. In the first three months of this year, international rail freight across the channel increased to 100 million tonne kilometres, up by a quarter (23%) compared to the same period in 2017. There is currently spare capacity through the Channel Tunnel for rail freight imports and exports, creating opportunities for more freight to be imported by rail post-Brexit.

Paul Plummer, Chief Executive of the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the rail industry, said:

“As we leave the European Union, the rail industry is united in wanting to secure imports through the Channel Tunnel and provide new opportunities for British businesses. Our proposals to create customs facilities at freight terminals support and complement the work ongoing in Government for customs controls post-Brexit and will prevent unnecessary congestion on the railway and clear the way for smooth trade with our partners in Europe.”

The Rail Freight - Working for Britain report sets out how rail freight secures over £1.7billion of economic benefits for Britain, particularly in the North West of England, Yorkshire and the Humber and the Midlands.

Hans-Georg Werner, Chief Executive of DB Cargo UK and Chairman of the RDG Freight Board, said:

“Every day our trains move tonnes of produce, goods and materials which keep the shops full and businesses moving. We will work with government to find a solution which is financially sustainable and underpin the future of £1.7billion benefits of rail freight for Britain, providing opportunities for business across the country after we leave the European Union.”

Maggie Simpson, Executive Director at the Rail Freight Group, said:

“Moving freight by rail is good for the environment, reduces road congestion and is safer than by road. We’re committed to growing rail freight through the Channel for the long-term which is why we welcome the rail industry’s proposals and support their engagement with government.”


Notes to editors

  1. Release based on International rail freight post-Brexit - a report by Transport Advisory for RDG (August 2018).
  2. Last October, the partnership railway of the public and private sectors published a long-term plan for change – In Partnership for Britain’s Prosperity. As part of this plan, freight operators will enable investment and innovation focused on customer needs, keeping Britain open for business with the rest of the world, taking traffic off roads and supporting construction.
  3. In June, we published Rail Freight - Working for Britain which set out how the rail freight industry contributes £1.7billion economic benefit to Britain and that rail freight leaders are ready to contribute more. These include direct benefits for freight customers and indirect benefits to the wider economy, such as congestion reduction. Today’s report, International rail freight post-Brexit, sets out how the rail freight industry can offer further benefits and support businesses that rely on imports once the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.
  4. RCAs can be implemented as long as provisions are voted for in the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill.


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