EUROPE – The European Commission this week announced new measures to get more freight onto Europe's rivers and canals. Barges are amongst the most climate-friendly and energy efficient forms of transport but currently they only carry about 6% of European cargo each year. The new proposals intend to realise the unused potential of Europe's 37,000 kilometres of inland waterways. They will enable freight to move more easily and lead to further greening of the sector by reducing the dependence on road haulage, as well as encouraging innovation and improving job opportunities in the sector. European Commission Vice President Siim Kallas responsible for Transport said:
"We already send 500 million tonnes of freight along our rivers and canals each year. That's the equivalent of 25 million trucks. But it's not enough. We need to help the waterway transport industry develop over the longer term into a high quality sector. We need to remove the bottlenecks holding it back, and to invest in the skills of its workforce. In order to help achieve that we at the Commission have today adopted a programme of measures called Naiades II. Naiades is a seven year programme covering four main areas of activity."
The areas the Commission is proposing to target for action are:
Removing bottlenecks. Significant bottlenecks in the form of inadequately dimensioned locks, bridges or fairways and missing links such as the connection between the Seine and the Scheldt river systems are hampering the sector’s full development potential. The Commission is proposing to improve transport of waterborne freight by upgrading locks, bridges and navigation channels. The new Connecting Europe Facility and TEN-T guidelines give priority to new funding opportunities for inland waterways – inland waterways are moreover an important component of six out of nine TEN-T core network corridors.
Greening and innovation. Compared to other land-based modes of transport, inland waterway transport is energy-efficient, safe, almost congestion-free and silent. The Commission will propose measures including new standards for engines to encourage investment in low emission technologies as well as support for research and innovation.
Better connections to other forms of transport. Priority will be given to improving links between inland waterways, road and rail – with particular attention paid to connections at sea and river ports. Based on its ongoing review of River Information Services, the Commission will make proposals to improve cargo handling facilities and reduce paperwork.
Investing in a skilled workforce. The waterways sector relies on a skilled workforce. The new proposals are expected to bring broader recognition of qualifications and careers, to improve labour access, and mobility.
In many ways the Commission’s proposals are a retrograde step, as our photograph of the Pool of London shows, but the image harks back to an age when environmental concerns simply didn’t exist in many people’s minds. As efforts to reduce the carriage of goods by road increases the inland waterways are seen as an obvious, and currently under used, solution.