As anyone in the haulage industry knows, the Ports of Dover and Calais are a crucial part of the UK’s logistics industry, allowing the UK’s drivers to swiftly transition to mainland Europe and vice versa. However, due to external forces such as technical malfunction, excessive congestion, maintenance and weather conditions, the route is prone to experiencing congestion. |
When the Channel crossings are closed or heavily slowed down, the UK’s authorities have historically put Operation Stack into effect in order to prevent the congestion from slowing the rest of the southern UK’s major roads to a crawl.
What is Operation Stack?
Operation Stack is the protocol by which the M20 is closed, section by section, and used as parking space for lorries. HGVs are parked all along the road until they are able to cross the Channel - preventing them from backing up the entirety of the country’s roads. Operation stack has been put into effect 74 times in total, most recently and famously in the summer of 2015 where strikes at Calais and attempts to cross the Channel Tunnel on foot caused huge congestion among the large volumes of traffic that were attempting to make the crossing during peak holiday season, leaving Operation Stack in effect for a full 26 days.
During its last use, Operation Stack came at a cost of £150 million each day to the UK’s economy, and it cost the haulage industry £700,000 each day. As a result of this, as well as the widespread disruption that closure of the M20 can bring to road users and businesses, the British government has been under immense pressure to provide a less disruptive alternative to Operation Stack.
What’s It Being Replaced With?
After months of debate and speculation, the government has decided to build a lorry park. With some 10,000 lorries making the crossing every day, and with this number set to increase, an alternative to Operation Stack has been demanded by haulage industry professionals as well as road users and business owners affected by the congestion.
The government’s decision has come under fire for the park’s cost, but at a cost of £250 million, it’s a £50 million saving on two days of last year’s Operation Stack. If the park serves its intended purpose of easing much of the congestion incurred when Channel crossings are disrupted, it should pay for itself relatively quickly and, with any luck, the almost month-long closures of the M20 should rapidly become a thing of the past. If the government’s new venture is successful, the burden on the economy and the haulage industry should be eased.
Whereas in the past lorry drivers would be directed to park on the closed M20, when the new park has been developed they will instead be guided here and methodically parked in place. If well implemented, this should save drivers time as well as de-congesting the roads as there’ll be less of a bottleneck effect compared to parking thousands of lorries on the same road.
The success and cost-effectiveness of the government’s solution remains to be seen, but if it is implemented effectively, the benefits should be felt by everyone. With ever-increasing haulage volume and continuing unrest leading to displacement of people - many of whom seek refuge in the UK and attempt to cross the Channel - an alternative to Operation Stack is badly needed, by the haulage industry and the nation as a whole.
Norman Dulwich is a Correspondent for Haulage Exchange, the leading online trade network for the road transport industry. Connecting professionals across the UK and Europe through their website, Haulage Exchange provides a valuable service for the haulage industry, matching delivery work with available vehicles. Over 4,000 transport exchange businesses are networked together through their website, trading jobs and capacity in a safe 'wholesale' environment.
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