Eurotunnel queues: AA says holiday gridlock easing

By Dulcie Lee & Marie Jackson

BBC News

Media caption,

A family waiting to board a Eurotunnel train had to wait almost 24 hours in queues

There are signs of an easing in the gridlock that has frustrated holidaymakers and hauliers trying to cross the Channel in recent days.

The AA motoring group says the time to reach the check-in desk at the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone, Kent, is now under two hours.

It suggests that if congestion continues to ease, traffic could be back to normal by mid to late evening.

It follows three days of tailbacks at the Port of Dover and Folkestone.

Overnight, people reported sleeping in cars on the road as the approach to the Eurotunnel remained gridlocked, leading the AA to brand it the “hotspot of holiday hell”.

One tired family said the last three miles of their journey took 21 hours.

Traffic built up on the roads leading to the Eurotunnel terminal after the M20 motorway through Kent to the south coast was closed to cars from Maidstone to Folkestone because of Operation Brock, where lorries are diverted to park on the motorway.

With the motorway shut, car drivers were diverted to smaller roads which got jammed and caused miles of tailbacks.

Shortly before 18:00 BST on Sunday, the National Highways agency tweeted that the coastbound stretch of the M20 between junctions 11 and 12 had reopened to non-freight traffic but it remains closed between junctions 8 and 11.

The Kent Resilience Forum, which co-ordinates the county’s emergency planning, sent food and drink to people stuck in long traffic queues around Folkestone.

Andrew Dyer-Smith and his family, who have travelled to France for their summer holiday, spent 21 hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic on roads around Folkestone.

“We arrived at Folkestone at 9am yesterday morning for a train at 10.30 and then have been slowly crawling along for the last 21-plus hours,” he told the BBC.

He said his children were dishevelled but had managed some sleep, while he and his wife had taken the wheel in shifts to snatch some rest.

While speaking live to the BBC, the family erupted in cheers as they were finally able to board the train.

‘Worse than cattle’

John Keefe, Eurotunnel’s director of public affairs, said he was confident the “bit we manage” – from check-in to departure – was working.

“The roads outside are beyond our remit. We’re responsible for managing the service – it’s the only place we have any responsibility, any authority,” he said.

He said passengers were always told to turn up 30 minutes to two hours before departure to ensure they got on.

But one frustrated listener said it took four hours to get on a train, on top of 15 hours trying to move five miles outside Folkestone.

“They left us on those roads – elderly, those with disabilities, families, children,” she said.

“The children were getting into their pyjamas at the side of the road and brushing their teeth where every man, woman and child had been using the bathroom.”

She added that the queues on the A20 coming into the terminal were all Eurotunnel’s passengers with no water, no facilities, nothing. “We were treated worse than cattle,” she said.

Media caption,

Watch: Aerial footage of thousands of lorries stacked on M20 outside Dover

Problems began on Friday, and a major incident was declared as routes to the port and Eurotunnel became gridlocked.

The Dover delays led to a war of words between French and UK officials, with both sides blaming the other.

The UK government said French authorities failed to provide enough border staff to check passports at Dover over the weekend.

But French Transport Minister Clement Beaune rejected this and highlighted additional border checks brought on by Brexit.

By mid-morning on Sunday, the port said it had cleared the backlog of tourist passengers and was running as normal.

On the M20, many of the lorries have been released but 600 still remain, according to the Kent Resilience Forum.

Operation Brock involves EU-bound lorries parking on an M20 carriageway until space becomes available for a Channel crossing on the ferry from Dover or on the Eurotunnel.

Steve Gooding, of the RAC Foundation, blamed the operation for “massive disruption” and called for government investment for extra lorry parking.

Natalie Chapman, from haulier group Logistics UK, said some lorry drivers had waited for “well over 18 hours” in queues over the weekend with no toilet facilities.

Kent County Council and the Road Haulage Association also want the government to build more lorry parks. The Department for Transport said it was investing more than £30m to improve facilities in England.

‘Huge queues to Eurotunnel broke us’

Image source, Manesh Luthra

Father-of-three Manesh Luthra left Essex with his family for their summer holiday at 4am on Saturday.

Within two hours, they were just outside the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone, and were hopeful they would make their 7.50am shuttle.

But, as he tells the BBC: “We joined the back of the queue for what was the worst 21 hours experienced.

“We moved metres in hours.”

His family wanted to give up at times because there was no information, support or supplies, he said.

Other drivers were cutting into the queue, he adds. “It was savage, I was worried there would be an accident.”

The family eventually got to France at 10pm and travelled two more hours, but were so exhausted they stopped overnight at a hotel in Rouen, northern France.

On Sunday morning, they set off again. “I’m calm now but at various points we all broke down,” says Manesh.

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