Inland Waterways

Freight movement using navigable inland waterways.

Inland waterways can provide a competitive alternative to road and rail freight movement in many countries. Navigable inland waterways can be defined as stretches of water that are not part of the sea, but are suitable for navigation for vessels. Freight movement using inland waterways is not only cost-effective but is fuel-efficient. With increasing congestion and emissions from road freight movement, inland waterways can provide a major scope for increased utilization in the coming decades, offering a more environmentally-friendly alternative to roads and railways in terms of energy efficiency, noise pollution and emissions. Estimates suggest that the energy consumption of inland waterway transport is less than 20 percent of road transport and about 50 percent of rail transport, resulting in its external cost to be about seven times lower than that of road transport.

In many countries, freight mode share of waterways has decreased over the last two decades due to limited investments on waterway channelization, dredging, docking facilities, navigational aids, fleet capacity and efficiency. Awareness levels of inland waterways transport have been assessed as a key challenge in many developing countries which have limited budgets and support. Lack of interest from market partners such as shippers has been a major challenge in promoting the shift towards inland waterways freight transport.

However, efforts are being made to encourage the use of inland waterways as an alternative mode, one of which is the Lean and Green Barge project of the Dutch non-profit program Lean and Green. Solutions to improving efficiency in inland waterway freight include natural gas in shipping, improved vessel design, installation of equipment aimed at efficient loading and unloading of cargo, and technologies focusing on energy efficiencies, retrofitting old equipment in ships with emission reduction devices, hull cleaning and coating, and high performance propellers and nozzles. An option towards utilizing larger, more energy-efficient cargo vessels can also lead to fuel savings. Advanced propulsion systems such as fuel cell hybrid drive technologies are also now being tested. From a policy standpoint, plans and strategies towards the following elements are also essential in promoting inland waterway freight transport: barge standardization programs combined with scrapping schemes for innovating the fleet, incentives for reducing fees in inland terminals, development of information technology platforms for better vessel management, and effective inspection regimes to ensure compliance with standards.