Simulation: how will a no-deal Brexit impact queues at the port of Dover?

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With Brexit negotiations entering a critical phase, organizations across the UK and Europe are working hard on contingency plans for the different scenarios that could occur. A key aspect of these plans will be how the flow of goods will be impacted in the event of a no-deal exit.

The BBC reported on Dec 7 that “Dover and other Channel ports face disruption for up to six months if the UK leaves the EU without a deal”. This disruption could impact both exports and imports if additional time is needed to perform port custom checks in the event of a ‘no-deal’ exit on March 29 2019. 

Using simulation to determine the impact on vehicle queues at Dover

Here at SIMUL8 Corporation we believe in an analytical approach to understanding these types of challenges, using powerful simulation software to test scenarios and identify the possible outcomes.

Using publicly available information and data about the potential impact at the port of Dover, we have created a simulation that allows you to see the level of queues that could be experienced if freight vehicle border checks going to France are increased. You can use the simulation to try altering the number of open check-in areas and the time for customs processing to see how these changes could impact queues at the port.

Port of Dover SIMUL8 simulation showing levels of disruption

Try the simulation for yourself

  • See how the port currently functions: Processing each freight vehicle currently takes around one minute and there are usually three check-in desks open.
  • See the impact with minimal paperwork checks: Processing time is estimated to increase to two minutes with a suggested increase to five check-in desks.
  • See the impact with full checks on each vehicle: Processing time could be up to 30 minutes with a suggested increase to 10 check-in desks.
  • Try your own scenario using different numbers of check-in areas and processing times.

Embed the simulation

If you’d like to embed the simulation on your own website, please use the HTML code below:

<iframe width=’1750′ height=’984′ src=’’ frameborder=’0′ allowfullscreen></iframe>

How to use the simulation

To start the simulation using the default settings, click ‘run’ the button. To change the time for vehicle checks and number of checking stations, click the ‘Settings’ button, make your changes, then click the reset icon beside the run button.

How to run and edit the simulation

Why would queues occur?

In 2017 over 2.5 million freight vehicles passed through the port of Dover. This equates to over 3,500 per day or 148 per hour going in each direction. The majority of these vehicles carry goods from the EU to the UK cross the English Channel between Dover and Calais/Dunkirk. At present, these freight vehicles passing through these ports are not subject to customs or agri-food checks as the UK is part of the customs union. However, in the event of no-deal Brexit, EU member states are expected to impose full customs controls that would be carried out in the UK before vehicles leave the country.

Currently, a small percentage, around 2 to 3%, of freight vehicle traffic entering and leaving the port of Dover is non-EU and subject to full customs checks. The Port of Dover says EU lorries are currently processed in around one to two minutes, whereas it takes 20 minutes or more to clear non-EU vehicles. In a no-deal Brexit, all freight traffic would be subject to longer checks and as a result, delays are likely to happen.

As a result, we wanted to use simulation to understand what the result of these increased checks would be.

What’s the possible impact?

The UK government have a procedure in place in the event of disruption to Dover traffic flow, named “Operation Stack”. In the first instance, there is space at the port of Dover for 180 freight vehicles or around one ferry’s worth. Once this space becomes full, vehicles begin queuing on two entrance roads that have a capacity for another 1,150 vehicles. After this reaches capacity, vehicles begin queuing on the surrounding roads and motorways, including the A20 and M20 coast bound. Once the queue breaches 9,600 vehicles, they will then be diverted to the nearby unused Manston Airport, adding further capacity for up to 5,600 vehicles. As a final resort, vehicles will then be queued along the M20 London bound, with capacity for 4,100 vehicles.

With many freight vehicles carrying perishable items like fruits, vegetables, meat, fish and medicine, there is also a risk of substantial waste and cost implications for businesses if goods are trapped in queues beyond their shelf life. The problem could become further aggravated as many of the freight vehicles that take goods out of the UK also bring goods back when they return. If vehicles become stuck on one side, the flow of goods back to the other side will be impacted too.

Ensuring a smooth flow of freight vehicles will be vital to avoid waste, shortages of goods and roads being backed up with traffic.

Our simulation results

When we ran the simulation for 125 runs, taking place over a period of three weeks from March 29, it showed that under current check-in conditions, taking one minute per freight vehicle with three check-in stations, the backup of the queue was minimal. It reached a manageable maximum queue of 903 vehicles.

However, when we increased the check-in time to two minutes and the number of available check-in stations to five, the maximum freight vehicles in the queue jumped to 6,134. By further increasing the check-in time to 30 minutes (the time it currently takes to clear a non-EU vehicle), the queue reached a huge 65,429 vehicles, even with 10 check-in stations. This would far exceed the maximum number of freight vehicles, 16,979, that can be queued at any given time, leading to huge disruption at the port and on the surrounding roads.

By increasing the check-in time to 30 minutes, even with 10 check-in stations available, the queue reached 65,429 vehicles – far exceeding the
16,979 freight vehicles that can be queued at any given time, according to contingency plans.

When you ran the simulation what size was your queue? How many freight vehicles did you have backed up on the road? How did changing the number of check-in desks open and processing time affect the queue?

Prepare for any scenario with SIMUL8 simulation software

Until a final agreement or no-deal is agreed between the European Union and the UK, nobody can say for certain what the end outcome will be. 

In challenging circumstances like these, simulation offers organizations a powerful, evidence-based approach to decision-making. SIMUL8 Corporation’s flagship simulation software is used by leading Fortune 500 companies to test internal and external changes to their business processes. The insight from SIMUL8 enables them to prepare for different scenarios and make stronger, confident decisions about the future of their businesses.