Published: 07:50, 08 August 2018
| Updated: 08:44, 08 August 2018
New customs areas for railways would stop Kent's rail network coming to a standstill post Brexit, according to a report by rail chiefs.
It is claimed the UK would secure £1.7 billion of economic benefits each year under proposals outlined by the Rail Delivery Group, a body which includes leaders from all the country's passenger and freight train companies, as well as Network Rail and HS2.
It wants to see the creation of new Railway Customs Areas (RCAs) at rail freight terminals like the Channel Tunnel in Folkestone, which it claims will avoid the need for a single border checkpoint.
These RCAs would be positioned at rail freight terminals nationally, to reduce the impact on one single area, suggests the Rail Freight - Working for Britain report.
Rail freight inside the European Union currently operates without the need for customs declarations, but there is a site at each side of the Channel Tunnel for safety and security inspections.
The group says converting the site at Dollands Moor, the international freight terminal near Folkestone serving the tunnel, for customs use has the potential to create significant congestion and delays.
This would disrupt trading and business supply chains, the report claims, particularly for ‘just in time’ manufacturing businesses.
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.
One in three businesses said they are unprepared for new customs arrangements.
Over 2,000 trains transported 1.22 million tonnes of freight last year, excluding containers from ships.
"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..." - Paul Plummer, Rail Delivery Group
In the first three months of this year, international rail freight across the English Channel increased by nearly a quarter 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."
Hans-Georg Werner, chief executive of DB Cargo UK and chairman of the Rail Delivery Group 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."