Inland waterway transport remains a cost-effective and sustainable mode of transport but in 2015, only 6.7 per cent of total goods transport in the 28 European Union countries was carried on inland waterways. Road and rail transport eclipsed this, carrying 74.9% and 18.4% respectively.

Moving freight off roads and on to greener modes of transport has therefore been a longstanding aim of the EU. Inland waterways can do exactly this, and transport freight loads safety and reliably, reduce congestion, and offer lower energy consumption and better environmental performance.

Scaling up of vessel sizes in recent years saw the total gross tonnage of fleets navigating on inland waterways increase – but this meant that inland fleets with smaller loading capacity and smaller waterways – many with with ‘bottlenecks’ – struggle to accommodate these new vessels. Projects like IWTS2.0 (which features De Vlaamse Waterweg nv and Canal & River Trust as partners), Watertruck+, and several others are instrumental in tackling a range of issues from greener propulsion to freight flows, supply chains, training solutions and infrastructure improvements.

The information below sets out some findings from previous and current EU funded projects NIWE members have participated in or are keeping a keen eye on. We also provide some key documents from other sources that support the importance of this theme and waterway sector.


An Interreg North Sea Region (NSR) project running from August 2017 to June 2021.

10 partners from 5 countries the region are involved in IWTS2.0: public infrastructure managers and private barge operators and training institutions. They all seek to enhance smaller waterway transport potentials in a transnational context. New waterway barges, freight flow mapping, innovative marketing methods, and training solutions are all trialled with the aim of enabling green modal shifts from road to water.

The project develops and demonstrates innovative and/or improved transport and logistics solutions with the potential to move large volumes of freight off roads and on to smaller inland waterways – which offer an environmentally friendly way to serve transport needs in a growing, and increasingly digital logistics industry across Central Europe.

IWTS2.0 looks at adapting existing waterways, creating tailor made transport solutions and creating awareness of IWT possibilities in the logistics chain.

The project is helping Canal & River Trust develop freight capabilities in the Yorkshire region, on the Aire & Calder Waterway Navigation which at one time carried up to 8m tonnes of bulk cargo. Work on the ‘Freight Flow Mapping’ module entails gathering data on what cargoes are currently coming into the Humber Ports (Hull, Goole, Immingham, Grimsby, and Immingham). A secondary piece of work assesses which cargoes can feasibly continue their journey by water into Leeds or any other wharf facilities on the Aire and Calder.

The IWTS2.0 Freight Conference in Leeds, October 2018 was very successful and resulted in a business based in Maltby, AC Marine Aggregates using the Aire & Calder to transport sand dredged from the sea bed in the Humber Estuary to a Trust wharf site in Knostrop, Leeds, where it is then forwarded on to support the local construction industry. A local barge operator, Branford Barges is transporting the sand. Once dredging issues are resolved, the plan is to complete two loads per week, up to 1,000t in total (i.e. 50,000t per annum). New business enquiries are steadily increasing, so there is confidence this demand will increase over time. The equivalent journey by road is 40km, so the tonnes/kilometre calculation will be significant.

‘Bottlenecks’ on the navigation, are impacting on the financial viability of the waterborne freight in the area and dissuading freight carriers from using water. IWTS2.0 part funds a design solution for one of these at Bulholme Lock, close to Castleford so that the site that increases the capability of the Lock to accommodate the larger Euro Class II vessels. The Trust dewatered the lock to undertake a full topographic and laser survey of and accurate current measurements which will inform any future design works to increase its capacity.

In October 2020, project coordinator Jörn Josef Boll of the Maritime Academy in Harlingen was invited to present IWTS2.0 to the 64th session of the Working Party on Inland Water Transport of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE).

IWT experts and policy makers from across Europe were given an overview of the project and its most recent achievement – the first freight barges on the Aire and Calder Navigation in decades were highlighted, and the christening of the zero emission barge for inner city transport ‘GreenWave’ by project partners TESCO and De Grote Houtboerke.

Key outputs and project related evidence:

Freight flow mapping
Bullholme Lock Options Report
Bulholme Lock – GI Report
AIS data analysis (SSPA)
Modal Shift Process in NL
Modal shift to inland waterways 2
Industrial estates with water-dependent activities
Potential for freight transport
A competitive port network in (Drachten)
Goods flow analysis (SSPA)
Waterway development from a managing authority perspective (WEZ)



Smart Track 4 Waterway (ST4W)

An Interreg North West Europe (NWE) project which runs from September 2017 to March 2021.

It has an impressive line-up of 12 full and 5 sub partners from a range of disciplines (shippers, logistics operators, ship owners, ports and terminals, waterway administrations) across Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Germany, and the UK. Canal & River Trust are an ‘Observer’ partner, and this has been very useful to increase knowledge of the freight sector – even though palletised traffic is less prevalent than bulk load transportation on the Trust waterways in the UK.

ST4W recognises that transport by barge is predominantly used for big-volume loads. Palletized freight is generally carried in small volumes directly from point A to point B and ST4W aims to convince shippers that reducing load sizes is ‘easy’ and to consider more shipping of palletized freight to ship road freight by water.

These flows are often small and highly diversified volumes, loaded, transported, and delivered mainly by SMEs, with complex distribution schemes. Pallet flows, loaded directly in barges or bundled in containers, need to be consolidated for shipment by water. Effective logistics engineering is essential to ensure cargo consolidation and continued close co-operation between operators needs organisational and behavioural change from logistics professionals.

Efficient, simple, and low-cost communications tools, using worldwide standards are indispensable but currently, there are few dedicated tools for waterway transportation, and maritime systems are too expensive for SMEs.

To address these issues, ST4W proposes a management solution for shipment by inland waterway transport, providing small stakeholders with a simpler and cheaper access to secure data, that enables them to share a hierarchical track & trace service of shipment, complementing the River Information Services, which ‘localises’ vessels. These include;

  • Automatic update of logistics unit status (pallet, container…)
  • Real-time update of ETA (Estimated Time of Arrival) of each logistics unit, throughout the multimodal supply chain.
  • Automatic alert in the case of delay or loading the wrong logistics unit.
  • Electronic proof of delivery at each step.

These tools are being tested, validated, and rolled out during the project with the support of various partners. Take up of the solutions proposed, by waterway actors and their supply chain partners will enable more clients to make use of waterway transportation and consequently to reduce CO2 emissions of their logistics operations.




A recently approved Interreg North Sea Region (NSR) project. The Lead Partner is POM Oost-Vlaanderen

The massive under-exploitation of inland waterways (IWW) in the North Sea Region, especially in and around urban environments, provides opportunities for technological innovations. This project aims to deploy zero-emission automated vessels that can do hourly traffic between the Urban Consolidation Centers outside the city and inner city hubs, focusing on the distribution of palletized goods and waste return.

The average external cost (congestion, accidents, air pollution, climate, noise,…) for inland waterway transport (IWT) accounts for 3.9 €cent/tkm, whereas for road transport this is 70% higher (TU Delft, 2018). However, w.r.t urban freight transport (UFT), vessels (< 300T) are currently not economically viable, already resulting in the demolishment of over 12% of small vessels (CEMT I-II) in the last decade. Crew costs for these vessels account for up to 60% of the total shipping costs. Increased automation will be critically important to ensure a sustainable and economically viable future on this scale.

The AVATAR project aims to tackle those challenges by developing, testing and assessing adequate technologies and business models for urban autonomous zero-emission IWT. Through this, the project unlocks the economic potential of urban vessels and corresponding waterways, increases available solutions for full-cycle automation and sets up a sustainable supply chain model for urban goods distribution and waste return.



An Interreg North Sea Region (NSR) project from the 2014-2020 programme.

The core challenge of the project is to achieve a more efficient cargo distribution in urban areas, and thereby maintain efficiency in long distance transport. To promote efficient logistics sustainably, the focus is on optimising the interaction between hubs and urban logistics system in smaller and medium-sized cities and city networks.

SURFLOGH is innovative in that it introduces a ‘system and supply chain approach’ in developing these hubs, as opposed to past projects that focussed on location – making them really ‘smart’.  By establishing city labs a transnational platform is created, bringing various actors together to exchange knowledge, work on new pilot projects and implement the results within policy strategies and urban logistic systems.

There are six partners from four countries in the North Sea Region sharing knowledge and exchanging experiences regarding smart hubs and sustainable logistics in smaller and medium-sized cities. 1 The Province of Drenthe, the Netherlands, 2 City of Groningen, The Netherlands, 3 South East Scotland Transport Partnership, Scotland, 4 Napier Transport Research Institute, Scotland, 5 City of Mechelen, Belgium and 6 City of Boras, Sweden.

SURFLOGH stimulates and facilitates sustainable ‘green’ logistics solutions in an urban context. The cities of Mechelen, Groningen, Boras and Edinburgh, and the regional hub in Drenthe are the main testing grounds for the project pilots.