How Much Would it Cost?
In some cases existing waterway capacity is grossly underused and traffic could be increased greatly at minimal cost by minor improvements such as dredging. Under the present administrative system, this is not addressed as a matter of routine, as it would be for a road or railway. On some waterways, modest investment is required in improved or new wharves and inland port facilities to allow intermodal transfer. It would also cost very little to implement organisational changes within Government departments and the planning system and to take steps to raise awareness in the business community. These steps alone could go some way to meeting the Royal Commission targets for increases in water freight use in the UK.
Capital costs of new waterways and roads vary widely depending on terrain and land-use but are of a similar order of magnitude.
Annual costs of vehicles per unit of carrying capacity are also similar, taking account of the longer life of waterway vessels, compared with the smaller capacity and shorter life of heavy goods vehicles used for road transport.
Crew costs for each unit of transport depend on the relative capacities and speeds of the vehicle used. For water transport to compete with road in this respect, vessels must typically have cargo capacities exceeding 1000 tonnes, compared with a maximum lorry payload of about 25 tonnes. Energy use (and therefore cost) is lower for water transport than for any other freight transport mode except pipeline.
Investment in new transport infrastructure should be assessed using common criteria, taking account of all costs and benefits. Waterway investment is long term, and benefits may not be assessed correctly using short-term methods of financial appraisal and cost benefit analysis. Similarly, operational expenditure needs to be compared on an equitable basis, taking account of environmental and social costs and benefits (pollution, disturbance, loss of biodiversity, visual impacts, accident victim care, policing and so on). These are more difficult to assess but methods are currently being developed. Estimates in Germany of total external environmental costs of the different freight transport modes arrive at the conclusion that water transport has much lower environmental costs than competing modes.