The role of inland waterway transport in the changing logistics environment
Inland waterways consist of navigable rivers, lakes and canals. Together with roads, railway lines, and pipelines, they represent the surface transport infrastructure and can be used for the transport of goods. In the European Union (EU-28), the inland waterway transport network comprises ca. 37,000 km of inland waterways. As for today, 21 member states have navigable inland waterways, and 13 member states are directly interconnected through inland waterways. In 2013, 535 million tons were carried by inland waterway transport (IWT). The transport performance accounted for 153 billion ton-kms. Consequently, the average transport distance was 286 km (Eurostat, 2016).1 While this forms only a smaller part of the total EU transport network and activity, it is worth considering that the amount of cargo transported by IWT is rather high in relation to the length of its infrastructure network. The network of inland waterways provides ample additional capacity and, unlike the road and railway network, can accommodate far more traffic. The spare capacities as well as the favourable environmental performance of IWT with regard to energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions are reasons why IWT is promoted by the European Commission (European Commission, 2012b, pp. 4-5). It has often been argued that, in order to gain a higher share in the freight transport market, this transport mode has to meet today’s logistical requirements and has to be integrated into logistical concepts. Changing market conditions result in the need for new or amended IWT logistics services. Hereby most important is that IWT is capable of being an integral part of multimodal transport chains, ideally supported by smart Intelligent Transport Systems of the waterway infrastructure and information technologies for its logistics operations. As the majority of the European IWT network is represented by interconnected waterway systems of different countries and as there is ever more cargo to be shipped across borders, IWT operations become transnational, too, demanding internationally available and harmonized infrastructure and logistics services. An efficient and reliable inland waterway transport infrastructure, complemented by smart electronic infrastructures and services (here: River Information Services), is a
prerequisite for modern IWT. Besides innovation in the field of technologies, market opportunities have to be taken. Mega trends coming from the European transport logistics sector itself (i.e. changing markets and types of goods, synchromodality) must be considered when planning and managing IWT today and in the future. Then, this mode of transport can be employed to a much larger extent.