Advantages of Waterways Freight

What Traffic Can go by Water?


Road    207-280
Rail   39-48
Inland Waterway 40-66
Air 1160-2150

CO2 emission estimates for freight transport (g/tonne-km) (source Eurpoean Commission (CEC), DG XI

It is true that loading and unloading waterway vessels for some cargoes is time consuming and expensive, although modern techniques and the move to containerisation are changing this. Nor would anyone suggest that waterways have a widespread role in local distribution. However, water transport is ideal for bulk, non-perishable cargoes and unitised loads. Examples include:

 - Unitised cargoes (containers and swap bodies)
 - Steel and other metal
 - Forest products
 - Heavy-lift and out-of-gauge project cargoes
 - Bulk cargoes, e.g.:
                  Petroleum products (to distribution depots & large users)
                  Chemicals (to depots and large users)

Traffics using inland waterways may be inland, coastal (domestic), one-port (eg to offshore installations or for sea dredged aggregates), international or a combination of these categories.

What are some of the advantages of water transport?

Waterways are Multifunctional

Well designed waterway track may be multifunctional, providing opportunities for landscape enhancement, wildlife conservation, recreation, pedestrian access, land drainage, flood protection, water transfer, and hydropower generation, some of which may contribute towards offsetting or sharing the costs involved.

Water Transport Means Less CO2

The greater fuel economy of waterborne freight transport means scarce resources are conserved and pollution is reduced. In the EU, transport accounts for about a quarter of all carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, about 40% of volatile organic carbons emissions and up to 90% of carbon monoxide (CO) emissions in some countries.  Road transport alone contributes 45% of emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx). Wider use of waterbome freight transport would contribute to reducing air pollution. For example, CO2 emissions can be reduced by at least 75% compared with road transport.

Water Transport Means Less Noise

About 65% of the European population is now exposed to average noise levels exceeding 55dB(A) and the greatest single contribution to this is road traffic - dominated by tyre/road noise (OECD & world Heath Organisation data). Waterway transport emits negligible noise by comparison.

Waterways Use Less Land

In terms of land-take in relation to carrying capacity, waterways are more efficient than rail or road.

Waterways Are More Cost-effective

Costs of providing infrastructure and vehicles are broadly similar between transport modes. Using large modem vessels, waterways can be more economical in terms of crew costs, with significantly lower environmental costs.