RogerBW's Blog

Channel Tunnel 31 October 2019

Just how much time does the Channel Tunnel save, compared with a ferry?

It makes sense to me to measure travel time between fixed points, so I'm working out total journey time from M20 J11 (Westenhanger and Folkestone Services) to A16 J54b (near the Auchan in Dunkerque) – choosing that because I normally take the ferry to Dunkerque.

I have data on two tunnel crossings (since they finally addressed my concerns over fire safety only quite recently). Eastbound (very early in the morning), it took five minutes from M20 J11 to the first barrier, which one may reach at a nominal 45 minutes before departure. (Obviously one could turn up later, but let's assume we're being polite.) So that's 50 minutes from the English datum; 35 minutes of crossing, plus waiting to unload; then 20 minutes from train to the French datum, for a total of 105 minutes.

In the other direction, it was 20 minutes from datum to check-in, 45 minutes to departure, 35 minutes of crossing, and 5 minutes to datum, so 105 minutes again.

Now, how about the ferry? The latest track I have for the M20 rather than the M2/A2 is from October 2017, which took 30 minutes from datum to check-in (not helped by the very long permanent 40mph section on the way into Dover, slowing down all traffic all the time in case of queues that happen a few times a year). 45 minutes' grace there, plus a two-hour crossing, then 20 minutes waiting to unload and 15 driving to the datum point; 230 minutes total.

In the other direction, 15 minutes from datum to check-in, 45 minutes' delay, two hours to cross, and 20 minutes' wait followed by 20 minutes' drive, 220 minutes.

Sometimes I turn off the M20 at Maidstone and take the A249 to join the M2/A2 into Dover (it's generally a more pleasant road); but looking at data for that suggests that it takes about ten minutes more. (I don't have data for going round the north side of the M25; being a shunpike by nature I prefer not to pay the Dartford Crossing toll, especially now that you have to register rather than just dropping cash in a basket. Route finders suggest that north/M2/A2 would only claw back about two minutes relative to south/A249/M2/A2.)

So I think it's fair to say that the time saving of a tunnel crossing is roughly 120 minutes - for something over £100 extra cost for a return trip, though more like £60 with the priority loading/unloading slots on the ferry that led to the times measured above. The really significant difference apart from travel speed is the long wait for disembarkation from the ferry, which the train simply doesn't have.

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