A New Scotland-Europe Flight-Free Link - Rosyth to Zeebrugge

Published on 20 November 2023 at 21:20

This is not a new route, but it faltered on and off throughout the 2000s and 2010s, a victim of subsidised air travel. The route was actually very well-used, with around 250,000 passengers each year. Shows how lopsided things are in favour of air travel when a service that popular is cancelled as unprofitable!


Blue Star 1 under the Forth Bridge in the Firth of Forth, Scotland

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosyth_%E2%80%93_Zeebrugge_ferry_service#/media/File:Blue_Star_1_Firth_of_Forth.JPG CC BY-SA 3.0

Superfast ran a ferry which made the crossing in 17 hours. When Norfolkline ran this service in the late 00s, it ran three times a week and took 20 hours. The news of the line’s revival comes with the caveat that the service will initially be cargo-only, supposedly adding passengers in later. Also, the crossing time appears to have reverted to 20 hours.

It's just such a shame to see no thought go into foot traffic / public transport links. This is a cargo route with the option for passengers, not a passenger-focused service. DFDS and Ptarmigan (the organisers of this new route) are allowing passengers onto a service, rather than creating one for them.

King Seaways in Copenhagen
CC BY-SA 2.0

Any new options for flight-free travel are welcome, but if people have to drive either side of the crossing, then it doesn’t mitigate anywhere near as many emissions or save so much time. The ships being used will supposedly have room for 100 passenger cars and up to 100 travel trailers, with three round-trips per week. 


Don’t get me wrong - this route will likely be a good option for those wanting to take a car to the continent. If the prices resemble current DFDS offerings like Newcastle-Ijmuiden (see below), then cabins might well be fairly affordable. Also, you do at least get access to the Belgian Coast Tram, which is a unique way to travel. 


A tram line running the full length of the Belgian coast - the longest such line in the world!


The Belgian Coast Tram near Ostend

CC BY-SA 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coast_Tram_(Belgium)#/media/File:Kusttram2.jpg

The best way I could see this working for anyone without a car is for a coach service to run from Edinburgh/Glasgow bus stations onto the ferry and then carry on over to Bruges and Brussels on the other side. That might be difficult to plan - at least if DFDS can run a dedicated bus to/from each port, that will smooth things over. They currently do so for the Newcastle-Ijmuiden ferry, connecting Newcastle Central to the port in North Shields (though they ask you to pay a separate fare, which seems unfair). It's one thing to not have a dedicated bus on the Belgian side, but Rosyth port has no bus links at all!


To sum up, I’m glad this service is materialising, but don’t be surprised if the Newcastle-Netherlands ferry remains a better DFDS option for many - or simply going by train! 


For comparison: Edinburgh, Aberdeen, or Glasgow to Bruges (via London and Brussels) can be done overland with two changes, taking approx. 10-12 hours. Use the sleeper, and the travel time awake can fall to roughly 4 hours. And of course, you’re more likely to use this ferry to reach the wider continent, so getting to Brussels on the Eurostar is still more practical.

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