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Coronavirus: Government to bail out key EU freight routes and UK tram networks

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Freight lorries queue to leave the Port of Dover in Kent after arriving by ferry to deliver goods across the UK as the country continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (PA)

The UK government has offered to bail out dozens of freight operators to “ensure the ongoing supply of critical goods” from across Europe.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps announced in Downing Street’s daily coronavirus briefing that UK officials had reached an agreement with French and Irish counterparts to maintain key goods flows throughout the crisis. He also announced a funding package for tram operators across the UK.

Shapps said freight operators were under “rising pressure” as demand has slumped.

The government will offer funding to operators of 26 freight and passenger routes between Britain and France, Belgium, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Germany and Sweden, including the Eurotunnel link across the Channel.

Read more: Transport for London furloughs 7,000 staff, saving £15.8m a month

Seven ferry and air routes between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and ferry routes between the mainland and the Isle of Wight and Scilly Isles will also be protected.

The transport minister called the announcement a “far-reaching package to safeguard flow of essential goods into and across our country,” including food, raw materials and chemicals.

The bailout for Northern Ireland routes will cost up to £17m ($21m), but discussions are ongoing with operators of EU routes, with no costs given in a government press release timed alongside the announcement on Friday.

Read more: UK economy suffers record shock and ‘unprecedented’ job losses

Shapps also announced unspecified funding “to keep England’s trams operating,” compensating for lower revenue for operators. Tram networks in Greater Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, the West Midlands and Tyne and Wear will receive support, “allowing essential local routes to remain open and key workers to get to work during the crisis.”

He also confirmed all British holidaymakers stranded on cruise ships had finally been repatriated.

Shapps added: “From hauliers to train drivers to those keeping our ports and airports open, each and everyone of us depends on the transport lifeline they provide.”

A similar rescue effort has already been announced for Britain’s national rail and bus networks.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has warned Transport for London needs its own emergency grant, and furloughed thousands of workers on Friday as it struggles with lower Tube and bus revenue.