P&O Ferries is to launch a ro-ro service between Calais and the London port of Tilbury, effective later this month, to add a new option for unaccompanied freight to and from Greater London and the Midlands and to help maintain customers’ supply chains in the event of a disorderly Brexit.

The company said the new route was designed to give freight that is not accompanied by a driver a direct route to a port located just 25 miles from Central London, “further broadening P&O Ferries’ comprehensive service for importers to and exporters from the South East of England”.

CEO Janette Bell commented: “We are delighted to be able to increase the choice we offer our customers by introducing a reliable, efficient and timely route for goods bound for markets in London and the South East.

“The route saves up to 75 road miles each day compared with the traditional Calais-Dover crossing, meaning that our customers save on fuel and land on the doorstep of London. By prioritizing the fast discharge of the ship, the freight can be on the M25 from 5.30am, thereby enabling time-sensitive loads to continue their journey before the rush hour starts.”

In a public announcement, P&O Ferries made no mention of Brexit and the possible risk of traffic congestion at Calais and Dover as a motivating factor in the launch of the service. However, in an update to customers, it said the new route “supports both your traffic flows and safeguarding your customers’ supply chains with improved Brexit options.”

Xavier Bertrand, the president of Hauts-de-France regional authority, which encompasses the French Channel port, noted that the opening of a regular shipping line between Tilbury and Calais was an event to celebrate for many reasons. “On the one hand, it meets the expectations of the European market and will help developing trade with Greater London, the Midlands and Greater Manchester.”

Charles Hammond, CEO of the Forth Ports Group (owner of the Port of Tilbury), said the new service added another string to Tilbury's market offering at a crucial time for the UK economy. 

“Our £250m investment in an expanded ferry terminal at Tilbury2 will add further scope to grow our P&O routes to-and-from northern Europe in 2020."

P&O Ferries has chartered the Caroline Russ to service the new route, with two sailings every weekday and one each on Saturday and Sunday. The eight-hour sailing will have capacity for 100 units of freight, with a total of 50,000 unit expected to be carried in the first 12 months. It is expected that time-sensitive supermarket goods including fresh fruit and vegetables will be transported on the route.

The new river berth at the Port of Tilbury is scheduled to open in April next year and will enable P&O Ferries to treble volumes on its existing Zeebrugge-Tilbury services to 600,000 loads of freight a year. 

An onward rail connection to Daventry is also expected to be operational in 2020, mirroring the rail connections linking the Port of Calais with Le Boulou, Turin and Orbassano on the Continent, the company added.