Freight trains currently operate through the Channel Tunnel without the need for customs declarations, but this is set to end when Britain leaves the European Union (EU) in March 2019. Yards at Fréthun near the French portal of the tunnel and Dollands Moor at the British end already have facilities for safety and security inspections, but the RDG says adapting the site at Dollands Moor for customs use “has the potential to create significant congestion and delays, which would disrupt business supply chains, particularly just-in-time manufacturing.”

The RDG is therefore proposing the creation of Railway Customs Areas (RCAs) at rail freight terminals, obviating the need for a single border checkpoint and reducing the potential for congestion on the rail network in Kent.

“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,” the RDG says.

According to Channel Tunnel operator Getlink, 1060 freight trains operated through the Channel Tunnel in the first half of this year carrying 670,853 tonnes of freight, a 12% increase in volumes compared with the corresponding period in 2017.

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