Inland Waterway Transport Report

Eurofer exchange of view on the situation of inland waterway transport with representatives of the European steel industry as well as from Zeekanal and Etopia.

On 7th November 2005, Mrs Hacksteiner, Secretary General of EBU accepted Eurofer’s invitation to an exchange of view on the situation of inland waterway transport with representatives of the European steel industry as well as from Zeekanal and Etopia. The present report reflects the outcome of this exchange of views.

You will find attache a brief presentation of EBU.

It was noted that:

  • In 2002, freight transport by inland waterways only represented 6% of total freight transported in the EU, while road freight represented 72%, rail freight 16,4%, and pipeline 5,6%. Steel share of inland waterway transport was no more than 1,6%. However the high quality of service of this mode of transport is widely recognised, as well as the fact that it is the more environmentally friendly.
  • The European Commission’s transport policy intending to re-balance the relative use of the different modes of transport should re-dynamize inland waterway transport to tap its growth potential

In this context, the meeting brought out two main issues:

  • Structural problems in the barge business
  • Lack of investment in infrastructures

1. Structural Problems in the barge Business

a. Lack of qualified workers

Operating barges has traditionally been a family business. This has made for a very fragmented structure.

Due to the evolution of society and the constraints connected with school attendance, the new generation does not continue with the family businesses, the number of workers is regularly decreasing and its average age is getting older. This situation should be addressed from various complementary angles:

  • Promoting the profession of barge operator
  • Supplying quality training to form qualified new entrants to the profession
  • Evolving the structure of the profession together with the other stakeholders of inland navigation.

b. Obstacles to investments in new boats

Another consequence of the business fragmentation is that family businesses are meeting with increased difficulties to finance investments in new boats. Indeed, bank guarantees are very difficult for them to obtain and, presently, such investments can be supported with 25 years loans, which is too short for these small businesses.

The resulting lack of sufficient investment is not only hindering inland navigation’s potential to contribute to a larger extent to freight transport in Europe but also slowing down its modernisation with new motors to meet environmental challenges and the implementation of modern communication technologies.

Two complementary approaches might contribute to ease that situation:

  • In the short run, an adapted financing mechanism should take care of the bank guarantee, allow for longer loans and give some incentives.
  • In the longer run, some form of consolidation of the profession would give operators a stronger financial structure allowing an easier financing of investments.

2. Lack of investment in infrastructures, and institutional issues

a. Lack of investment in infrastructures

This is observed as well in the field of maintenance of existing infrastructure as with regards to their enhancement or the creation of new infrastructure. As a consequence inland waterway traffic is limited in various ways:

  • Insufficient dredging
  • Low waters (in particular on the Danube but also on the Rhine) in part due to an insufficient number of locks allowing a better management of water levels. This is a recurrent problem affecting a number of steel companies.
  • Bottlenecks
  • Waterway size compatibility: existing differences in depth and width may make it necessary on certain routes to change barge with the accompanying delays and costs related to the unloading/reloading involved in the process.

Progress in this domain lies in the hands of the Member States who are the main financial actors, even if the EU intervenes through co-financing programs. Up till now, they have not shown sufficient determination to address the deteriorating situation of inland waterways

b. Insufficient harmonisation throughout Europe

  • Access to the locks should be 7 days a week, and 24 hours a day throughout Europe, in particular at the main ones.
  • Taxation
  • Fragmentation of regulations between international treaties like the Mannheim convention for navigation on the Rhine or the treaty regulating navigation on the Danube, and EU regulations create potential conflicts of jurisdiction. EBU supports the creation of an EU Agency to address them.
  • In the same way as barge operators should improve their connection rate to the internet (only one third of them is equipped) access to the internet along the inland waterways should be improved. Furthermore, a pan European information system should be set up to permanently deliver to the barge operators information critical to navigation.

c. Environmental problems

On the one hand, the fleet needs to be modernized to reduce CO2 emissions. On the other hand dialogue with environmental organisations should be enhanced in order to find mutually acceptable solutions to problems that limit the development of traffic (for example when an inland waterway is part of a wildlife refuge territory). The environmental credentials of inland waterway transport should help in this matter


Inland waterways have a strong development potential that could be tapped to significantly increase their share of European freight transport. However, both internal structural problems in the profession, and insufficient public support, in particular for infrastructures, have put this possibility in jeopardy. Further the difficulties in financing new barges and the decreasing number of barge operators imply a real risk of creating a situation of scarcity that would artificially increase costs for the shippers. This situation is compounded by the insufficient commitment of public authorities to maintain and develop the waterways, and to promote their use.

With time the consolidation of the profession will ease the financing issues, but in the meantime, a targeted aid scheme would be necessary to support the development of the fleet and its modernisation.

mportant efforts shall be made to attract new workers to the business and train them. These efforts would benefit from a harmonized European framework and a coordinated promotion of the profession.A strong commitment of public authorities to the much needed infrastructure investments in inland waterways would enhance the quality of the network and allow the development of transport by inland waterways. Further, this would give a clear signal that this mode of transport has a future, and would help the profession efforts to attract new entrants.

In this respect, EBU expressed satisfaction that the European Commission has included two inland waterways projects in the TEN T priority list:

- the elimination of several bottlenecks on the Rhine-Main-Danube axis, in priority list 1

- the Seine-Scheldt waterway, in priority list 2

EBU is also working with the European Commission on a list of 10 priorities for the period 2004-2010. The list includes the extension of infrastructures, the removal of bottlenecks, standardisation of training and certification, revision of the working time directive to adapt it to the specific character of barge operation, as well as the harmonisation of technical regulations.

Promotion of intermodality is key to the better integration of inland waterway transport in the whole transport chain. This requires investments, in particular, to achieve cost efficient transhipments. It is an issue where some steel producers have much at stake as they have already made significant investments in this field (Voest, Riva at Montereau) or intend to do so (Mittal). Clearly they need more visibility concerning the future of such investments.The European Commission shall be praised for bringing a European dimension and some sense of urgency to these topics. However much remains to be done to ensure the desired growth of inland waterway freight transport and realise its potential contribution to the re-balancing of transport modes.

Eurofer will positively answer to the invitation to attend the Inland Navigation Congress in Vienna on 13-15 February 2006.

Participants List

Mrs Hacksteiner (EBU)

MM. Di Lallo (FFA) - Chairman

Abbing (TKS)

Ammermann (Mittal)

Braet (GSV)

Buelens (Zeekanal)

Hordies (Etopia)

Jouker (Corus)

Sanna (Arcelor)

Sunnen (Arcelor)

Cassou Mounat (Eurofer)

Mari (Eurofer)

The European Steel Association (EUROFER AISBL)

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