P&O Ferries announced on 28 March 2016 that it had reached agreement with the French rail operator VIIA, a subsidiary of SNCF, to provide transport across the English Channel for unaccompanied freight arriving on a new train service between the Franco-Spanish border and Calais, named VIIA Britanica.

The new intermodal service, which will provide a direct link to the UK for exporters in the Mediterranean, carried its first unaccompanied road trailers that morning. The potential of the rail service between Le Boulou, on the Franco-Spanish border, and Calais is estimated to be 40,000 units per year.

The port of Calais last year installed a new €7 million intermodal rail terminal specifically designed to transfer freight units from the trains onto cross-Channel ferries.

Janette Bell, Chief Commercial Officer at P&O Ferries, said: “This initiative is a prime example of the need for seamless rail and sea solutions to ensure that goods can access the United Kingdom from all corners of the continent.”

VIIA Britanica will initially run one round-trip six days per week between Le Boulou and Calais, using trains that will traverse the length of France to connect the two intermodal terminals in 22 hours. The trains have the capacity to carry 40 units each and frequency is expected to increase to two round-trips per day later in the spring.

P&O Ferries announced in January that it had carried more freight between Dover and Calais in 2015 than in any previous year in its modern history. The ferry company also operates intermodal continental hubs at Zeebrugge and Europoort and has its own logistics division, P&O Ferrymasters.

P&O Ferries is a leading pan-European ferry operator, sailing on eight major routes between Britain, France, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Holland and Belgium. The company operates 20 vessels which carry more than 10 million passengers, 1.6 million cars and 2.2 million freight units every year.

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