Belgium Truck Toll on Track Already (NOT)?

It seemed like the worst was over as protests over the new truck toll system calmed over the weekend. So, how much does it cost to drive across Belgium?

BELGIUM TRUCK TOLL ON TRACK ALREADY?

Calm weekend after chaotic first Friday.

Truck drivers block the E411 Namur-Arlon (Brussels-Luxembourg) on Friday.

Truck block the E411 Namur-Arlon (Brussels-Luxembourg) on Friday.

Trucks queued for so long on the E34 border between Eindhoven and Antwerp on Friday that authorities eventually towed them away.

It was typical of the chaos around Belgium on the first day of the new Via Pass electronic truck toll.

Operator Satellic was overwhelmed with complaints. Phone lines jammed and the service points ran out of the OBU On-Board Units.

The minister of transport suspended the €1000 fine for ‘those with good intentions’.

Only the German border was clear, apparently because 41,000 truckers had ordered their OBUs early*.

Meanwhile, Belgian hauliers blocked the E411 motorway between Brussels and Luxembourg for nearly twenty four hours plus a long list of national roads.

By Saturday morning however, the situation was much calmer – apart from a block on the E19 border between Valenciennes and Mons, and on the N97 at Dinant (there was also a suspiciously long queue on the A44 at Aachen in Germany).

British trucker @Geordie_driver crossed into southern Belgium from Longwy in France on Saturday morning and registered for an OBU within half an hour.

Attention now turns to how expensive the variable rate tolls are turning out to be in practice. The per kilometre charge ranges from 7c to nearly 30c depending on emissions, weight and region.

@Gromit1701 used his pre-ordered OBU on the way back from Scandinavia on Friday said it worked out roughly at €40 to transit Belgium.

This is borne out by @Geordie_driver who paid €43.69 for 304km cross-country, from Longwy to Zeebrugge – i.e just under 15c per kilometer on average.

Freightex said the extra cost would be significant for hauliers, especially as many had held off from charging it on to customers, in case – as seemed likely at one point – the system would be suspended.

By late Saturday afternoon one observer was moved to say, ‘Hooray! Belgium has succeeded where Denmark and France failed miserably,’ – in reference to France’s failed Ecotaxe truck toll, and Denmark’s similar scheme cancelled in 2013.

Whether that turns out to be premature we’ll see next week (it was premature).

* it turns out, according to the TLV union, that the 41,000 OBUs delivered to Germany were sent out by mistake. They were destined for Belgian hauliers.

.

Hold on to Winter Tyres a Little While Longer

There are some signs that spring has sprung but, in most places, full-on summer spec is a way off yet.

Also, a look ahead to Tour Auto. Another delay for Weymouth’s Dover Strait-rivalling high speed ferry service. It actually turns out Norway has the safest roads in Europe…

.

HOLD ON TO WINTER TYRES FOR A WHILE LONGER

Spring snow means it is probably too early to switch to summer tyres.

Finland moves to summer speed limits. Plus checking up when it's time to dump the winter tyres. More later.

Finland moves to summer speed limits but summer tyres have been fine for a few weeks now. Photo Liikennevirasto.fi.

Summer speed limits start in Finland this week.

The process involves physically switching the road signs so some areas may lag behind says Finland Times.

It is the only country where speed limits change between the seasons, from 80kmh on national roads back up to 100kmh, for instance.

Finland is also the only country where ‘winter tyres’ are compulsory whatever the weather conditions, from 1 December until the end of February (studded tyres can be used no later than the Monday after Easter Monday).

Meanwhile, drivers in Germany only need winter tyres – those marked ‘M&S’ – in wintry conditions.

Common practice is to switch from summer tyres between October and Easter (Oktober bis Ostern), though the rule actually applies throughout the year.

As last night’s snow dump in central Germany proved, changing too early could have dire consequences (not least a €40 fine).

Luxembourg is similar – though winter tyres don’t have to be used before 1 October, and mid-March is the advised end date – as is Sweden where summer tyres are OK from 31 March.

In Austria and Italy, the end date for winter tyres is 15 April (or, in Italy’s case, and/or the obligation to carry a set of snow chains on certain roads).

This is no general winter tyre requirement in France, Spain or Switzerland, but drivers should at least carry snow chains in the mountains, and winter tyres are often an alternative.

Northern Spain, the Pyrenees and the French Alps have all seen snow this week. 

Finally, it has been legal to drive on regular tyres in Slovenia since 15 March.

See more on Winter Tyre Rules around Europe.

.

tour auto2

Peter Auto is out in force at this weekend’s Jarama Classic in Spain as it looks ahead to Tour Auto later this month. This year’s 25th anniversary route heads south east from Paris to the Cote d’Azur and features the first ever night stage. Detailed route maps have been published this week at @TourAuto.

.

roundup: CROSSING THE CHANNEL. The proposed HighSpeedFerries.com service between Weymouth and Cherbourg will now no launch until next year reports the BBC. Using Condor Ferries’ former berth, the crossing is said to take less than two hours, rivalling France-bound journeys across the Dover Strait from the West Country. The service has been delayed several times now having originally been slated to start last autumn. HighSpeedFerries also tried unsuccessfully to launch a similar service at the turn of the decade. NORWAY. It is not an EU member hence why Norway’s 2015 accident statistics were not included in yesterday’s annual announcement. We’ve already heard road deaths were cut by 15 percent last year to the lowest number since 1950. What we didn’t realise was that this equates to a Malta-and-particularly-Sweden beating 24 deaths per million inhabitants (thanks to a gentle reminder from national roads agency Statens Vegvesen). Wow.

.

Highlights of New EU Road Safety Statistics 2015

New EU road safety figures show Sweden finally has its Vision Zero back on track and that, despite fears, the UK improved its record last year. It was a good year for Ireland too.

Also, will Belgium be ready for the launch of its new electronic truck toll system tomorrow? And, a record Good Friday for Eurotunnel as it warns of another busy weekend. Passive stoner driver banned for three years in Denmark. More migrant trouble in Calais.

.

HIGHLIGHTS OF EU ROAD SAFETY STATISTICS 2015

Another mixed bag but Malta stays at the top.

The latest 'Shock wave' road safety ad from France's Prevention Routiere,. this time focusing on motorbike riders. Two wheelers,

The latest ‘Shock Wave‘ road safety ad from France’s Prevention Routiere, this time focusing on motorbikes. Accidents involving two wheelers accounted for 31 percent of fatalities in the EU last year.

For the second year running, Malta has the safest roads in the EU despite a 10% increase in road deaths last year.

That mixed picture is emblematic of the EU as a whole. It has the safest roads in the world but the figures are heading in the wrong direction, though not quite so dramatically as the little Mediterranean island.

Statistics published by the European Commission today show road deaths in the EU increased by 1 percent last year compared to 2014, to around 26,000.

This equates to 51.5 road deaths per million inhabitants, the ‘road safety measure’, up 0.5 on 2014, and compares to 106 per million in the United States and 174 per million worldwide.

After decreases of 8 percent in 2012 and 2013, last year is the second consecutive year of near stagnant results.

‘We have achieved impressive results in reducing road fatalities over the last decades but the current stagnation is alarming,’ said EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc.

‘If Europe is to reach its objective of halving road fatalities by 2020, much more needs to be done. I invite Member States to step up efforts in terms of enforcement and campaigning.’

Of the big countries, Sweden finally managed to reverse a long slide. It cut deaths by 2 percent to 27 per million to claim second place (1 per million behind Malta).

It puts the Scandinavian country’s Vision Zero campaign – which it markets very successfully around the world – back on track, though its road death rate shows no gain overall since 2010.

In third place is the Netherlands which has published its road safety stats alongside other EU countries for the first time this year. It too remains stagnant at 28 per million.

Meanwhile, despite a fall in road deaths of 1 percent, the UK stays at 29 per million and takes fourth place.

There were widespread fears the British figures would worsen after a well-publicised fall in the number of traffic police.

Moving up into the top group for the first time is Denmark with a significant 8 percent cut to 30 per million.

Spain, which has made significant gains in recent years, will be disappointed to stick at 36 per million, now alongside Ireland which cut road deaths by an impressive 15 percent in 2015.

France remains above the EU average at 54. Other outliers in Western Europe include Belgium at 67, after a 4% rise last year, and Luxembourg at 58 – though the Grand Duchy cut deaths by 9 percent. Its first fixed speed cameras which recently came on stream will see that drop further this year.

Germany bumbles along at 43 deaths per million after a 3% increase last year.

At the other end of the spectrum there are clearly issues in the Baltic States. Latvia (94) and Lithuania (82) came third and fourth from bottom – despite cuts in deaths of around 10% each – though Estonia (after a 15% cut) comes in at an almost respectable 50 deaths per million inhabitants.

Poland has made good strides in recent years. From a death rate of 102 in 2010, last year that came down to 77.

At the bottom of the pile are Romania and Bulgaria, tied at 95 deaths per million inhabitants, and both with 4 percent year-on-year increases.

Romania can blame the lack of a decent motorway network (fast roads claim just 7 percent of EU roads deaths according Commission figures). It’s not clear what Bulgaria’s excuse is yet.

.

satellic

Less than 24 hours before the Belgium truck toll does live, the excitement has reached fever pitch. The IRU International Road Transport Union says it has received an ‘increasing number of complaints’ about non-delivery of the OBU On-board Units, technical problems and unclear installation and user guidelines. It questions whether the system is really ready and says it will ‘not hesitate to intervene with authorities at the appropriate level, including with the European Commission, if necessary.’ Operator Satellic tells Flanders Today that 90% of problems have been fixed with an automatic over-the-air update and tells truck drivers to leave the unit switched on – or call in at one of the firm’s nearly 150 service points dotted around Belgium and its borders. For those still stuck, see Road Pricing’s complete guide. Photo IRU.

.

roundup: CROSSING THE CHANNEL. Eurotunnel enjoyed a record Good Friday on 25 March carrying nearly 12,000 vehicles from the UK to France and 3000 in the opposite direction. Freight traffic also set another record in January and February at 267,000 vehicles transported it says. The news comes as the Channel Tunnel operator warns of another busy weekend for vehicles returning to the UK. It says its pre-check in ‘Welcome Area’ is likely to be activated in France on Saturday and Sunday (2-3 April) – though Flexiplus passengers proceed directly to check-in. Border controls have seen customers waiting up to two hours to board trains recently with queues building steadily throughout the day. Meanwhile, as the school holidays kick off in France, traffic warnings have been issued for Burgundy in the north east and the Rhone-Alpes region in the south east for Saturday. ‘It will be advisable to avoid the A6 between Beaune and Lyon, A7 in the Rhone valley and the A71 southbound from Orleans between 10.00 am and 4:00 p.m,’ says Bison Fute. DENMARK. A driver has been banned for three years for driving under the influence of cannabis despite not smoking any reports The Copenhagen Post. The man argued it was a passenger in his car who smoked while he was only a passive bystander, so to speak, but the Supreme Court ruled against. Denmark has famously tight drug driving laws. Drivers face harsh penalties for having any amount in their system, despite the drug being detectable for up to eight weeks after last use. A committee of MPs asked the government to devise a ‘more sustainable solution’ last May but clearly it is not in sight yet. CALAIS MIGRANT CRISIS. A young Afghan migrant was killed in an apparent hit-and-run accident with a truck on the A16 early this morning. It comes after a group of up to 300 migrants blocked the A216 port access road yesterday afternoon. The road was closed for several hours into the early evening with passengers diverting through the town centre. A similar incident also occurred this afternoon, though much shorter lived. These are the first migrant incidents near the port since the Jungle camp was dismantled and moved further away last month. The RHA Road Haulage Association alleges yesterday’s incidents were bound up with France’s national strike day and asks why trucks were left unprotected. A Slovakian driver has since been taken into custody in connection with the alleged hit-and-run incident according to La Voix du Nord

.

Review: Passenger on DFDS Freight Ferry UK-Norway

There is a viable way to take your car direct to Scandinavia – and it is easy to arrange, comfortable and not that expensive says a man who has used it.

Also, update on the A9 at Montpellier, France’s biggest motorway project. Germany’s €260 billion roads plan could result in a ‘nightmarish permanent building site’. ‘Hilarious’ strange driving rules from Italy and, particularly, Spain. 

.

REVIEW: PASSENGER ON DFDS FREIGHT FERRY UK-NORWAY

Easy to arrange, comfortable and not that expensive.

DFDS primula Seaways, one of the ships use don the Immingham-Brevik route. Photo DFDS Seaways

DFDS Primula Seaways, one of the ships used on the Immingham-Brevik route. Photo DFDS Seaways

Amid the long-running saga over reinstating a UK-Scandinavia ferry, a reader gets in touch to recommend DFDS freight ferry between Immingham and Norway.

We’ve heard lots about these services – principally that they are difficult to book because passenger places are limited, and that they are expensive and uncomfortable – but none of this is borne out by Kevin Horsburgh who used the service in January.

He tells us, ‘There’s no bar and little access around the vessel other than the TV room, cabin and canteen area, but the crew and food were nice.

The journey took around 28 hour which is a long trip but I used this service to return my English car back from Norway to the UK and it therefore saved me the drive.’

It didn’t even cost that much, just €313.72 for the car and one person one-way. That compares well with regular ferries fares of similar duration.

However, the passenger portion of the fare makes up the bulk of the total at €209 per person.

Latest check-in was three hours before the 04:00 sailing.

Meanwhile, bookings are not accepted more than 30 days in advance, no children under five are allowed, or pets, and lashing motorbikes is the owner’s responsibility.

DFDS runs similar freight services between Immingham, Gent, Brevik and Gothenburg. See more information for each route at DFDS.com.

Finally, operations director of British-Scandinavian Paul Woodbury said recently there would be more news on his firm’s attempts to reinstate a regular UK-Norway ferry service at the end of May.

.

An update on A9 at Montpellier - France's biggest and dustiest motorway project. More later.

The A9 redevelopment at Montpellier in south west France is a similar project to the just-announced refurb of the R0 Brussels ring road. Both roads carry around 100,000 vehicles each day, making them among the busiest in Europe – though A9, the main route between Avignon and Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast, rises to 160,000 per day during the summer. Like R0, A9 is being split for local and through traffic. The existing road will be A9a, for locals, while a new 25km stretch, just to the east, will be A9b, for through traffic, with no toll booths or minor junctions. The project started in 2013. Despite being France’s largest motorway project – and the dustiest – it is still on course to open in late 2017 said Vinci Autoroutes last week.

.

roundup: GERMANY. Motoring club ACE Auto Club Europa welcomes the recently announced €260 billion road, rail and waterways overhaul plan but worries the result will be a nationwide ‘nightmarish permanent building site’. It is also concerned there are not enough engineers to properly staff all the projects. ‘Site management must be put on whole new legs with appropriate communication in every step of the project,’ says ACE chairman Stefan Heimlich. He wants clear information for road users, minimum works only during busy holiday periods and for projects to be tailored to the staffing situation. The German transport ministry published its Federal Infrastructure Plan (German only) last month – listing projects up until 2030 – confirming details published in Handelsblatt‘s scoop in mid-February. Twitter follower Michael Woof adds, ‘Germany needs to properly manage its infrastructure plans, or risk another blunder similar to Berlin airport..’ Good point. ODD RULES. A man was fined €3000 for peeing in a bush beside the S42 Bolzano-Bergamo in northern Italy reports TheLocal.it. That might sound draconian but until earlier this year might have been punished with a prison sentence. Also, the man is likely to be able to successfully appeal. Meanwhile, displaying a For Sale sign in a car window in Spain can land a driver with a €200 fine says ABC.es – for obscuring the driver’s vision, and for selling on the street. Driving shirtless, barefoot or with inappropriate footwear – flip-flops, flimsy sandals of high heels – or applying make-up, or shaving, at traffic lights is subject to the same penalty. Hanging an arm out of the window, or not keeping both hands on the wheel – while picking your nose or biting your nails – costs €100. Playing music while refuelling comes in at €91. Arguing or kissing is €80 but full sex will set you back €150.

.

Total Overhaul for ‘Chaotic’ Brussels Ring Road

From in 2019, the notorious R0 Brussels ring road will be completely redeveloped in a controversial move to separate local and through traffic.

Also, big fine for Portugal truck breaking double-manning rest rules in France. The first vehicles on the European Truck Platooning Challenge leave Sweden. Soon illegal to smoke in cars with kids in Gibraltar.

.

TOTAL OVERHAUL FOR ‘CHAOTIC’ BRUSSELS RING ROAD

Local and through traffic separated to reduce accidents and delays.

The first part, in the west, opened in 1958 with the rest opening in stages until complete road in the north finished by 1977

The first section of the R0 Brussels ring road opened in 1958 in the west with the rest opening in stages until 1977. Photo WerkenAanDeRing.be. See more photos.

Separating local and through traffic will reduce accidents and delays on the Brussels ring road according to new redevelopment plans published this week.

With 102,000 vehicle crossings each day, R0 is one of the busiest roads in Belgium (and Europe).

It is also one of the most accident prone with 1100 separate incidents in 2014, an average of more than three per day.

Currently there is a junction approximately every five hundred meters resulting in frequent lane changes. In the future this will be reduced to five ‘choice zones’ where drivers have 2km to switch between local and through lanes.

According to the Flemish government, ‘Not only the hard infrastructure of the Ring but also the way traffic is organized is outdated. In some places there are five or six lanes next to each other without any separation. The result is a chaotic road layout of cars and trucks crisscrossing each other and thus there is an increased risk of accidents. 

With the redesign, the Ring gets more than 20 kilometers of parallel lanes for local traffic. The separation of through and local traffic will do away with dangerous weaving manoeuvers on the Ring.’

Not everyone is a fan. In its 2016 Country Report on Belgium, the European Commission said, ‘Upgrading the northern section of the Brussels ring road would involve creating special lanes for local and transit traffic. There are concerns that an initial reduction in congestion could attract new traffic, ultimately leaving congestion unchanged and actually increasing pollution.’

However, the government points to a similar scheme on the A2 Eindhoven bypass in 2009 which apparently saw a sharp drop in accidents and congestion.

Work on R0 starts in 2019 and is estimated to cost €1.2 billion. An end date will be announced after tenders are issued but the refurb should take less than ten years. Final plans should be published at the end of this year or in early 2017.

In addition there will also be 40km of new cycle lanes, an ‘ecobridge’ for wild life (and people) at Laarbeekbos in the west and three new tram lines.

The major interchanges, with the E40 west and east and the E19 and A12 to Antwerp will also be overhauled.

Whether the speed limit will be lowered from its current 120kmh remains an open issue. New enforcement technology is integral to the plans and likely to take the form of average speed detectors.

.

scania23

The first vehicles competing on the European Truck Platooning Challenge left Stockholm this lunchtime. Three Scania R 410s departed the factory in Sodertalje heading for Rotterdam for next Wednesday (6 April). For the first leg to Malmo they will be in full 32m guise before dropping the second trailer for the rest of the 1500km trip. Scania is one of six European manufacturers taking part. The idea is to test semi-autonomous ‘platooning’ technology in real-life conditions. Positioned around 10 meters apart, reduced drag can save 10 percent of fuel says the firm. The following drivers take their lead from the vehicle in front but remain in control at all times and can leave the platoon at any time. The Platooning Challenge is organised under the current Dutch EU Presidency – see more. Photo @ScaniaGroup

.

roundup: FRANCE. Interesting that a story about the abuse of double-manning driving time should emerge as France’s apparent new rules on the practice are under fire from the EU. A Portuguese-registered truck was detained last Saturday with the drivers found to have driven for 49 hours almost non-stop according to AutrouteInfo.fr. Total breaks in that time mounted to 45 minutes. The vehicle was picked up at the A83-A10 interchange in Deux-Sevres near Niort. It was allowed to proceed the next day after the drivers were rested and a €9000 deposit was paid. ‘This is extremely dangerous in terms of road safety and this is, moreover, unfair competition vis-à-vis other carriers,’ the local police chief told Le Parisien – incidentally picking up on the other major issue in French haulage at the moment – unfair competition – the subject of a nationwide protest on Saturday 9 April. Needless to say, unions were upset to hear the minister of Transport say this weekend he was opposed to any change in competition or cabotage rules – though he did say a report was due on 15 April which could point the way to increased controls on vehicles. GIBRALTAR. Smoking in enclosed vehicles with children present is an offence as of Thursday (31 March). A child is defined as someone under the age of 18 says the release from Government of Gibraltar – though it doesn’t mention the penalty. An enclosed vehicle is one covered ‘wholly or partly by a roof’. It is already an offence to smoke in enclosed public spaces and public service vehicles in Gibraltar. Similar rules exist in the UK, France and Italy.

.

Nightmare Easter Travel in Wake of Brussels Attacks

Dover and Eurotunnel bear the brunt of increased security checks during the Easter getaway, but drivers in Belgium and the Netherlands fare hardly any better.

Also, facts and figures on the Gotthard Tunnel-jam dodging via A13 San Bernardino. Accelerated redevelopment for France’s notorious N79 after minibus tragedy. EU brigs France to book over double-manned rest fines.

.

NIGHTMARE EASTER TRAVEL IN WAKE OF BRUSSELS ATTACKS

Long border delays due to increased security, and Easter traffic.

Maunday Thursday was supposed to be the busiest day of the year on German roads. Instead it seems drivers paced themselves and spread the misery over three solid days instead. Roads are expected to quieten now until the big return on Monday.

Maunday Thursday was supposed to be the busiest day of the year on German roads. Instead it seems drivers paced themselves and spread the misery over three solid days instead. Roads are expected to quieten now until the big return on Monday.

No-one can say they weren’t warned but the reality of enhanced border checks in the wake of the Brussels Attacks is surely worse than anyone anticipated.

Home Secretary Theresa May said in the House of Commons on Wednesday that Easter travellers should expect extra delays this weekend, especially at the Channel ports, on what is one of the busiest getaways of the year.

Drivers typically waited two hours to check in at Dover today. That was due to 100% passport checks, increased security and high volumes of traffic said DFDS.

French police performed additional security checks at the port entrance said Port of Dover.

Traffic in Dover only returned to normal around midnight according to P&O.

The situation was barely any better at Eurotunnel Folkestone. Drivers waited up to 2h30 to catch their trains as jams backed onto the M20.

The queue before check-in finally cleared at 20:00 according to @LeShuttle.

Ominously, a statement issued after a meeting of EU Ministers for Justice and Home Affairs in Brussels on Friday said, among other things, the block will ‘pursue ongoing work in a resolute manner’ including, ‘on systematic checks at external borders of the Schengen area’.

The UK lies outside the EU’s borderless, passport-free Schengen area.

Elsewhere it was almost as bad, especially on the border between Belgium and the Netherlands.

As is becoming the habit, queues were slow to establish but, as the Easter getaway got into full swing, a two hour delay built up on the A12-A4 across the Dutch border from Antwerp, by far the worst affected.

The E34 towards Eindhoven, and A2 past Hasselt, saw significant delays too but less so than previously. However, a 60 minute queue built up for the first time on the A4 crossing into Luxembourg.

Meanwhile, Dutch drivers heading into Germany on the A67 at Venlo waited up to 90 minutes.

There were also persistent queues on the major roads across the French border around Lille but not major delays.

Traffic should lessen tomorrow (Saturday) and, hopefully, the pressure on border crossings too – though Dover and Eurotunnel are set for another busy day.

.

Dodging the Gotthard Tunnel - more later.

With delays of more than an hour at the Gotthard Tunnel, the official advice is to detour via the A3-A13 San Bernardino Tunnel. This route has been no stranger to stonking delays either, with its share of single lane tunnels too, but TCS Touring Club Suisse says last year’s frequent road works have been reduced to just two sites now, plus the bottlenecks are nowhere near as bad as Gotthard. Meanwhile, this road is less prone to stationary jams. Drivers might be delayed but they tend to keep moving. The 224km direct route between Basel and Bellinzona (at the junction of A2 and A13 in southern Switzerland) via Gotthard takes 2h20 according to Google Maps. Via the A13-A3 San Bernardino (and past Zurich) it takes 45 minutes longer over an extra 80km. The Bernardino way is better for those who don’t like tunnels much either: it’s a mere 6.6km long compared to Gotthard’s 17km.

.

roundup: FRANCE. The state is to accelerate the redevelopment of N79 in response to a terrible minibus crash this morning near Moulins in which twelve people died. The nineteen year old driver survived as did the two occupants of an Italian-registered truck also involved. All those killed were Portuguese nationals on the way home for Easter from Switzerland according to AFP. Known as RCEA Route Centre-Europe Atlantique, N79 is the central section of a set of east-west routes between Bordeaux and Nantes in the west and Mulhouse and Geneva/Mont Blanc Tunnel in the east. It is popular with drivers thanks to the lack of road tolls – up to 10,000 vehicles each day, 40 percent of them HGVs. Much of RCEA is dual-carriageway except for N79 which is now dubbed ‘the most dangerous road in France’ after a succession of fatal accidents in the past five years. @TrafficBasher tells us, ‘I know that exact location very well and have to say I’m not that surprised. It’s a pretty dangerous with frustration and monotony the main problems I think, in general – though not necessarily in this case.’ N79 has been undergoing redevelopment for some years with an end date of 2025 and beyond. That is now brought forward to 2021 said @AVidalies, Minister for Transport, today at cost of €1 billion, split evenly between the Saône-et-Loire region and Allier, scene of today’s crash. TRUCKS. The European Commission is bringing ‘pre-infraction proceedings’ against France for its apparent new double-manning rest period fines reports Dutch website BigTruck.nl. Reports last week said drivers on double-manned trips were being fined huge amounts – €17,000 in one case – for not taking 45 minute breaks in a stationary vehicle. The Freight Transport Association said it was investigating. France has six weeks to reply to the Commission’s request.

.

Driving Through Molenbeek

A drive through Brussels’ notorious Molenbeek, struggling to believe it is Europe’s most deadly suburb.

Also, Norway plans world’s longest floating bridge on its 1250 mile ‘ferry-free’ coastal highway. And, French hauliers to protest at unfair foreign competition. Huge number of migrants discovered in Kent. UK Border Force to step up Belgian border controls. Via Aurelia shut until late May.

.

DRIVING THROUGH MOLENBEEK

An innocent drive between Brussels and the English Channel.

Driving through the notorious Brussels suburb of Molenbeek. More later.

N8 on the border of Molenbeek and Anderlecht with Eglise Saint-Vincent de Paul in the distance.

Since we drove past Srebrenica without stopping, and Auschwitz too, hopefully no-one can accuse us of gore tourism for driving through Molenbeek.

The truth is, Molenbeek is on the direct, cross-country route between Brussels and the English Channel.

The first time we went there, in December 2014, we had no idea of the place’s significance.

By the second time however, a few weeks ago, we had a much better idea.

Molenbeek – or more accurately, Sint Jans Molenbeek – is due west of Brussels city centre.

It starts on the other side of the R20 Pentagon ‘little ring’ road. Grand Place is only a fifteen minute walk away.

N8 curls off from R20 across the wide Brussel-Charleroi Canal, one of the few kinks in what is otherwise a dead straight highway for 30km to Ninove.

It varies only by width – from four, unmarked lanes to two, with or without tram tracks – and is lined almost all of the way with wall to wall buildings.

Knowing something about Molenbeek the first thing that strikes you is how many regular Caucasian faces there are. Not just a few, but lots. Hardly then the homogenous, hardline Islamist ghetto it is painted out to be.

Okay, N8 traces just the southern border of Molenbeek, more or less. But the flat where Paris Attacks terrorist Salah Abdeslam was arrested last week is only a few hundred yards from the peculiar Place de la Duchesse de Brabant square, the first landmark on N8 driving out of the city.

The square is set at an angle to the road in a diamond shape, each side about 100m long, with a spired church at the west corner, next door to a finely proportioned, stucco school building with a columned grand entrance.

Dotted with healthy birch trees, it would be quite attractive except for the tram tracks and road running right through the centre. If ever there was a place for one of Brussels’ famous tunnels it is right here.

Saying all this, there are obvious signs of dilapidation a little further up. On the right is a patch of scrubland and behind that the magnificently decrepit old Vandenheuvel Brewery building.

There are high arched doorways on the ground floor, an elaborate portico out onto the park and smashed windows on the upper floors.

It was tentatively sold for housing a few years ago for €1.7 million to a slum landlord with previous convictions for involuntary manslaughter, according to Brussels Nieuws, though the deal apparently fell through.

Meanwhile, on a side street behind Brussels-West train station a little further up is an interesting row of stone-clad, twelve storey apartment blocks, all overlooking Marie-Jose Park.

The one nearest the road has a curved end and characteristic Art Deco metal window frames.

The really stand out building however is the Eglise Saint-Vincent de Paul, another Art Deco, though with a distinct flavour of overbearing, totalitarian Brick Expressionism.

Opened in 1937 and designed by Joseph ‘Josse’ Smolderen – who also had a hand in the Boerentoren tower in Antwerp, Europe’s first skyscraper (and still the city’s highest building) – it features a sinister, almost featureless, square bell tower set away from the church, right on the road.

Actually, Saint-Vincent de Paul is just over the border of neighbouring Anderlecht though Molenbeek kicks in again after another kilometre, just before N8 crosses the R0 Brussels ring road.

Apparently, one of the features that makes Molenbeek such an attractive operational centre for terrorists is how well connected it is.

Perhaps another one is that it just doesn’t look like what it is.

.

f bridge m

Norway is planning the world’s longest floating bridge to cross the 5km wide Bjørnafjord in the south west. A depth of up to 550m makes conventional crossings impossible. The bridge is part of a ‘mega-project’ to establish a ferry-free coastal motorway between Kristiansand and Trondheim – dubbed Ferjefri E39 – over a distance of around 1250km. The Norway National Transport Plan 2014-2023 says E39 needs to be realised within the next 20 years according to national roads manager Vegvesen. Picture via COWI

.

roundup: FRANCE. Hauliers concerned about unfair competition from abroad are planning a national day of action for Saturday 9 April. Organised by the OTRE union, they want stricter and better resourced controls on light and heavy vehicles, and a change in regulations to allow authorities to cross-check waybills and vehicle loads according to an open letter. Most particularly they want EU Regulation 93/3118 Article 7 invoked which allows EU countries to suspend cabotage regulations for a renewable six months – the rules which govern the amount of work foreign trucks can do in other EU countries. Saturday 9 April is not expected to be an exceptionally busy day on the roads in France but, like all Saturdays in April, there will be some school holiday traffic according to Bison Fute. CALAIS MIGRANT CRISIS. An extraordinary number of migrants were discovered in the back of trucks in Kent today, 52 in total according to Kent Online. Half were found in the back of a Romanian-registered vehicle in Canterbury after arriving from Spain (driver later released without charge), and the rest in an unidentified truck of undisclosed origin in Dartford. By our reckoning that’s by far the most migrants discovered in one day since the dark days of summer, and it’s not clear why. Meanwhile, Labour Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham called for Calais-style juxtaposed border controls in Belgium following the Brussels Attacks. In response, Home Secretary Theresa May said discussions have already been held with Belgian ministers, before the attacks, about ‘how Border Force operates at certain ports and how to enhance and increase the ability to act’. She also warned travellers to expect delays this weekend due to increased security, particularly at the Channel ports. ITALY. A terrific landslide at the weekend – which seriously injured one motorist – will see Via Aurelia closed for at least the next two months reports Bradt Guide author Rosie Whitehouse. The ancient Roman route, which starts in Rome and is now numbered SS1, was shortly to host a bike race on the stretch between Genoa and Savona at Arenzano on Saturday before the incident. The race was rerouted via the nearby A10 autostrada. Locals will get a 70% discount on A10 tolls in the meantime.

.

Belgium: Borders Open but Checks Enhanced

Updates on the travel situation in the wake of the Brussels terror attacks – roads, borders and the Channel.

.

border

Photo @Gendarmerie

As in the aftermath of the Paris Attacks, misleading reports this morning said the French and/or Belgian frontiers have been closed.

There is no evidence to say that they have – so far – but controls have certainly been tightened and drivers should expect delays.

France has deployed 1600 police at 220 frontier points and to transport infrastructure according to the Interior Ministry.

Belgium has also reinforced checks and controls on borders and public transport says the Belgian PM via Euronews.

German police have ‘intensified prevention measures in the border region, including in the border area to the Benelux countries (Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands)’ says a statement.

There is also increased surveillance on the Dutch border with Belgium. Earlier there was said to be ‘little nuisance’ according to ViD but since then queues have grown to a maximum 30mins with the exception of the A12/A4 north from Antwerp while the 10km queue on the A2 from Hasselt is exacerbated by an accident.

In Brussels itself, the airport access road A201 remains closed though traffic has continued to circulate on the nearby R0 ring road, albeit at levels described as a ‘typical Sunday’ for most of the day but busier since.

In the city centre, the area around the Maelbeek metro station remains sealed off, as do all inbound road tunnels (though some have now started to reopen).

Belarus, possibly in reaction to rumours two of its nationals were involved in the attacks, has also strengthened border controls.

Meanwhile, Dover Port says it has been conducting heightened security checks since the Paris Attacks last November – but advises passengers to leave plenty of time for the journey, have passports ready for inspection, and be prepared to exit their vehicles if requested.

Eurotunnel freight said its service was operating normally but that it had implemented ‘capacity protection measures’ to prioritise its regular customers. It also warned about reinforced security checks.

PM David Cameron said after a meeting of security committee COBRA today that police presence would be increased at ports and at other transport infrastructure, including international railway stations.

However, the British government is now advising against all but essential travel to Brussels.

.

Update Thursday 24 March: drivers waited a consistent 90 minutes yesterday to cross the Dutch border at near Hasselt yesterday, and about half that on E34 towards Eindhoven. Delays haven’t been nearly so bad today, but drivers leaving Belgium should expect delays of up to 30 minutes at any border crossing, particularly with the Netherlands. With getaway traffic expected to intensify throughout the day, delays will only get worse (and have already started to).

There have also been persistent queues on the E40 crossing to Aachen in Germany and, notably, on the Atlantic border between Spain and France, yesterday afternoon and again this morning. Finally, some good news. According to @ANWBEuropa, an extra lane has been opened on the A12>A93 Kufstein border between Austria and Germany which should help reduce delays on this busy weekend.

.

Spain Flexes Muscles at Gibraltar Frontier

Gibraltar border queues returned with a vengeance last week in a move linked to the Brexit referendum.

330km of new expressways for Poland. Putin wants someone to hang if the Crimea Kerch Link opens late. The proposed M20 Operation Stack truck park will be absolutely massive. Super-high Stelvio stays open surprisingly late.

.

SPAIN FLEXES MUSCLES AT GIBRALTAR BORDER

Wildcat delays linked to UK Brexit debate.

gib2

Gibraltar border queue. Keep up to date via @GibraltarFrontier but watch over a period of time, snapshot individual delays can be misleading. 

Border queues are now back to normal but long delays last week are said to be linked to the British Brexit debate.

Last Tuesday (15 March), drivers waited for two hours to cross into Spain with the delays causing long tailbacks right across Gibraltar according to GBC News.

There have been other similar instances recently after a long period of relative normality.

GBC News editor Stephen Neish tells @DriveEurope the timing makes him think Spain is ‘flexing its muscles’ over the Brexit debate.

Gibraltar First Minister Fabian Picardo last week quoted Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo saying he would ‘come down to Algeciras and drink champagne’ if the UK voted to leave on 23 June.

Margallo is on record earlier this month saying he would bring up the question of Gibraltar ‘the very next day’ if the UK left the EU.

Spain’s political parties have until 2 May to come up with a new government after an inconclusive general election in December.

Margallo’s conservative People’s Party won the election but lost its majority.

A left-leaning coalition would likely be more favourable for Gibraltar.

.

A major new expressway-building programme announced for Poland. More later.

Poland: ten major road projects worth €3.3 billion will go ahead with a €1.7 billion contribution from the EU it has been announced. The bulk of the cash – €776 million – goes to the Szczecin-Katowice branch of the Gdansk-Ravenna Baltic-Adriatic TEN-T Corridor in the south west. Nearly €500 million goes to finish the upgrade of S7 in the north east to link Gdansk with Warsaw (and on to Budapest in Hungary) while €450 million goes on roads down through the east of the country to link better link Katowice and Warsaw with Via Baltica through the Baltic States. Around 330km of ‘expressways’ should be built in total. Expessways are (mostly) dual carriageway roads with lower speed ratings – 120kmh – than full motorways (140kmh). No timeframe is mentioned but the EU money comes from the Cohesion Fund and European Regional Development Fund allocated 2014-2020. Photo S79 expressway, Warsaw Chopin Airport via @GDDKiA

.

roundup: RUSSIA. President Vladimir Putin wants someone to hang if the Kerch Link to Crimea is not finished on time, or to standard. During a visit on Friday he called for one person to take responsibility for the entire project, particularly the onward road and rail links to Sevastopol without which, he said, ‘all our work would be rather senseless’ according to The Kremlin. Work on the 19km Kerch Bridge section, via Tuzla Island, is apparently progressing well. Several previous attempts to cross the Kerch Strait have floundered due to shifting sands in the Azov Sea and winter ice floes. It will be the only fixed link between Crimea and the Russian mainland. Putin wants it to open on 18 December 2018. OPERATION STACK. The sheer scale of the proposed Operation Stack truck park on the M20 became starkly apparent today. Factsheets prepared for MPs on the Transport Select Committee show the Stanford Lorry Park at 65 hectares would be only 2 hectares smaller than Disneyland California, and fifty percent larger than the Vatican City. Its capacity for 4000 trucks is only 200 less than the world’s current largest at Al Baraha Barwa in Qatar, and more than four times bigger than the biggest in the US. By comparison, the nearby Stop 24 in Kent can hold 250 vehicles and Ashford International Truckstop 390 – both of them have apparently put expansion plans on hold while the new M20 site is debated. Chancellor George Osborne allocated £250 million to the project last year. ITALY. It may be under snow at the moment, but Italy’s premier mountain road Stelvio opens for the summer on Saturday 28 May according to Valtellina Turismo. That’s early by super-high mountain pass standards (though bang on its usual schedule). At 2757m (9045ft), Stelvio is considerably higher than Swiss passes like Nufenen 2478m and Susten 2224m which throw off winter locks in mid-June. For comparison, similarly high Col Agnel 2746m in the French Alps opens at the end of June. The mild winter saw many roads close much later than normal (Stelvio also closes quite late too, at the start of November). Keep an eye on Stelvio via the webcam, or see more on mountain passes at PassFinder.

.

‘Unacceptable’ Austrian Sectoral Truck Ban

Austria’s Tyrol region has a third attempt at its highly controversial progressive truck ban.

Also, deadline passes to apply for Belgium electronic truck toll OBU before system starts on Friday 1 April. And, questions on new double-manning break fines in France. French haulier faces severe penalty for ‘social dumping’. Foreign firms fight Calais clandestine fines.

.

‘UNACCEPTABLE’ AUSTRIAN SECTORAL TRUCK BAN

Tyrol bid to improve air quality branded a kerb on free trade.

The A12 near Innsbruck. Photo ASFINAG

The A12 near Innsbruck. Photo ASFINAG

The upcoming ‘sectoral traffic ban’ on the A12 Inntal motorway in Tyrol, west Austria, is an ‘unacceptable’ restriction on free trade says the IRU International Road Transport Union.

It was announced earlier this week that, from October 2016 until July 2018, 7.5t+ trucks will be progressively banned based on Euro class with exemptions made for certain industries – hence ‘sectoral ban’.

The idea is to shift freight from road to rail in a bid to improve air quality.

However, the IRU says, ‘Tyrol’s decision to introduce the sectoral traffic ban defies the opinion of the European Commission and European Court of Justice, as well as some very basic principles of the European Treaty. It is a totally unacceptable restriction on the free movement of goods.’

But in a statement, Tyrol authorities say, ‘The sectoral traffic ban was already in place from 2008 to 2011 and presented no obstacle to the flow of goods.’

The plan will see pollution decline by three quarters by 2017 it says and take 200,000 trucks off the road by 2019.

In addition, the ‘Air-100’ 100kmh speed limit on parts of the A12 imposed in November 2014 has seen pollution decline faster than predicted.

Meanwhile, the Austrian government said this week it wants ‘to find a jointly appropriate solution’.

In reply, the European Commission, which wanted an 80kmh speed limit for all vehicles on the stretch, said it, ‘Supports Austria in improving air quality in the Inntal in line with European legislation.’

Tyrol has tried twice before to introduce a sectoral ban on the A12 but both times the European Court of Justice said the measure would not comply with EU law.

The A12 Inntal autobahn east of Innsbruck is on the  busy route between south east Germany and Italy.

.

Sunday 20 March is the final date to apply for the On-Board Unit for Belgium's truck toll before it goes live on 1 April. More later.

It will put 15% of Belgian hauliers at risk of bankruptcy some claim. The European Commission says it will do nothing to tackle country’s congestion problem. But the Belgium electronic truck toll system still goes ahead as planned from Friday 1 April. Operator Satellic says Sunday 20 March is the last day hauliers can apply for the On Board Unit to be sure of having it in place when the tolls start (deposit €135). Eurotunnel Freight has just published a comprehensive roundup of the scheme. Read even more in-depth at Road Pricing. It applies to all HGVs of more than 3.5t with charges ranging from €0.074/km to €0.292 depending on vehicle weight and Euro class, and applies to motorways and national roads. See more maps and tariffs on the website of scheme manager ViaPass.be.

.

roundup: FRANCE. A new interpretation of the driving and rest rules for double-manned trips has seen drivers fined thousands of euros. Police have apparently recently decided the 45 minute break period after two 4.5hr driving sessions must be taken in a stationary vehicle. One man was reportedly fined €17,000. Chris Yarsley from the FTA Freight Transport Association told @DriveEurope today he was informed of the situation by the IRU International Road Transport Union this week. They have been working to establish whether it is being applied locally by misinformed police, perhaps, or throughout the entire country. He points out the new rule is in clear contravention of the European Commission’s Guidance Note 2 on Driver’s Hours – it says that 45mins of the POA period of availability of a second crew member in a moving vehicle can be regarded as a ‘break’. SOCIAL DUMPING. French prosecutors want fines of €45,000 and suspended three year prison sentences for six Norbert Dentressangle managers accused of ‘social dumping’. The firm, now owned by XPO Logistics, insists its labour practices follow EU regulations but faces charges of ‘unlawful loan of labour’ and ‘illegal sub-contracting’ reports Lloyd’s Loading List. It is alleged to a have bussed in cheaper drivers from Eastern Europe as it laid off locals. Judgement is expected on 26 May. ‘Social dumping’ by employing foreign workers on the terms and conditions of their home country, thereby under-cutting domestic labour, is an increasingly hot topic in the EU – it was the subject of a recent report in the European Parliament Transport Committee, and on the agenda of the upcoming Road Transport Conference in Brussels next month. Update Saturday 19 March: 100 trucks blocked the ring road in Rennes today in protest at ‘social dumping’, including unfair competition and illegal cabotage from foreign companies reports Les Echos. Organised by the OTRE union, similar demonstrations are expected to be announced in coming days. CALAIS MIGRANT CRISIS. Two hauliers from the Continent are taking the UK Home Office to court over clandestine fines according to the BBC. Drivers and operators face fines of up to £2000 per migrant. One of the firms, from Romania, says it took all the security steps recommended by the British authorities but still landed a £900 fine – plus £600 for the driver – after three migrants gained access to the trailer from a motorway bridge in Calais. The other firm, from the Netherlands, is challenging a £7200 fine after six migrants were found inside a sealed container picked up from Frankfurt airport. The Home Office is currently consulting on changes to clandestine fines in an effort to ‘better incentivise operators to improve security’.

.