Week in Review: Rock Falls, Border Stress + Liberation

The Week in Review: border delays bother passengers on both sides of the Channel as a spate of rock falls trouble roads around the Continent, and watchers wonder if Condor will ever get it right with its new Liberation.

Plus, a look at the week ahead, to TISPOL’s ‘Speed Marathon’, DFDS’ new ship and the EU Transport Committee mulling the Commission’s White Paper.

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 Melting snow has seen a spate of road-blocking rock falls this week. The well-trod N90 down into Moutiers in the French Alps was blocked twice, on Wednesday and Saturday, though both were quickly cleared away, without injury. Worse was Serbia where heavy rain exacerbated the situation. Many roads in the west and south were cut off including the main Nis-Pirot road to the Bulgaria border in the south. None have seen quite as close a call as the CV-428 road at Corte de Pallas in the hills above Valencia last Monday. The regional forestry brigade passed through moments before a huge landslide engulfed the road entirely. More than a hundred locals were subsequently evacuated via forest tracks. Photo Diputacio de Valencia.

Melting snow has seen a spate of road-blocking rock falls this week. The well-trod N90 into Moutiers in the French Alps was blocked twice, on Wednesday and Saturday, though both were quickly cleared away, without injury. Worse was Serbia where many roads in the west and south were cut off including the main Nis-Pirot road to the Bulgaria border. None saw quite as close a call as the CV-428 road at Corte de Pallas in the hills above Valencia last Monday, above. The regional forestry brigade passed through moments before a huge landslide engulfed the road entirely. More than a hundred locals were subsequently evacuated via forest tracks. Photo Diputacio de Valencia.

Anything less than queues back to the Houses of Parliament would have been an anti-climax, and so it was on Wednesday that the introduction of Exit Checks at UK ports passed without notable incident.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be a problem in the future. Thanks to some hard ball lobbying from the operators, the government agreed to phase in the new identity checks. Their full force won’t become apparent until all passports are not only scanned but verified too and that won’t happen until mid-June, just in time for the summer holidays.

Meanwhile, the bigger headache for passengers this week has been border controls on the other side of the Channel, specifically for Flexiplus passengers at Eurotunnel in France.

Along with everybody else on the homeward Easter rush, these premium paying priority passengers waited for forty five minutes to get through UK Border Force yesterday with many expressing their displeasure on twitter.

Clearly, what happens at border control is out of the control of the operator. Eurotunnel’s advice has always been to use any check-in lane and any border booth then re-join Flexiplus afterwards, but that got lost in the melee yesterday.

The service does fall down rather when drivers who pay extra to avoid the hoi-polloi find themselves mixed back in at various points, not least the final filtering in to the boarding queue (which also tremendously irritates basic fare payers).

The company later said it was referring all the complaints to the ‘relevant team’ in such a way as to suggest the prospect of dedicated, full-fat extra staffed border controls for Flexiplus passengers in the future. We shall see.

The Channel claimed more than its fair share of headlines this week what with the one-thing-after-another issue strewn introduction of Condor’s new £50m ship, the Liberation.

Liberation was meant to liberate the Channel Islands operator from the weather vulnerability, harsh ride and unreliability of its ageing predecessors, but it hasn’t.

The quay crash, immediate weather cancellations, ridiculed safety video and engine problems during its first week of service were followed this week by more half-power, go-slow engine problems. Events culminated yesterday in a malfunctioning ‘hoistable vehicle deck’ which, according to ITV, left 60 passengers and 24 cars stranded in Jersey.

It leaves watchers wondering whether there’s a monumental cock up in progress.

A ferry industry insider told us this week it was all normal teething problems and should all be sorted out within a month. But he did add that Condor didn’t have the best contingency plans in place.

Meanwhile, @Pist0lpierre, on board Liberation yesterday, told us, ‘Obviously it’s a good vessel but the ride wasn’t great based on fairly average sea. The Guernsey to Jersey leg was quick and comfy.’ Ominously he adds, ‘Will try fly/hire next.’

Sympathy for Condor may be edging away at this end but it remains sky-high for the poor customer facing staff – at Eurotunnel too – who have to explain all the problems away, day after day.

Update Friday 17 April: it may still be too early to say, but Condor seems to have finally got a grip on its new ship. Not delays or technical hitches this week at all, Liberation even left early on a couple of occasions.

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These are just three of the stories on Drive Europe this week. Others include the UK’s shock topping of the most-expensive diesel in Europe chart, date announced for new tighter France road rules – and no motorway toll rises this year – the road works season starts in the Netherlands, and Germany and the Romanian government reacts pretty sharpish to Dacia’s plea to build a motorway across the Carpathians.

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The week ahead: traffic police forces across Europe engage in a Speed Blitz this week, with all resources concentrated on speeding drivers. Watch out. The really big operation will be in Germany on Thursday. The EU’s Transport and Tourism committee holds its monthly sessions on Monday and Tuesday. Items on the agenda include transport’s share of the massive €315bn Strategic Investment Fund, the on-going review of the Commission’s 2011 Transport White Paper and, on tourism, ‘keeping Europe at Number One’. At the same time, Malta debates why – despite having Europe’s safest roads in 2014 – it also seems to have the pothole-strewn worst. Maybe the two things are connected? Finally, so far, DFDS’ new Dover-Calais ship debuts on Wednesday.

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