In 1971, concerned that IWA did not adequately embrace the freight carrying function for which the canals had been created, a four person group, chaired by Charles Hadfield, met and formed the Commercial Carrying Group with the aim of shaping a policy 'towards a future for inland shipping.' The group expanded in number and expertise (engineers, barge operators, academics) and became the Inland Shipping Group, a committee of IWA's Council. The Group's first major publication, Barges or Juggernauts? (1974) was followed a year later by Report on Continental Waterways (1975), a comprehensive study of the administration of waterways in Europe, which drew attention to the potential for increased use of the waterways for freight in Britain.
As a result of an ISG proposal at the Freightwaves '75 conference, a National Waterways Transport Association was created to bring together the wide range of parties concerned with waterborne freight - navigation authorities, operators, engineers, unions etc. The ISG engaged in activities concerned with protecting, promoting and publicising waterborne freight, ensuring the proper recognition of inland waterway transport in local and regional planning and increasing general awareness of inland shipping both within IWA and also more widely. The ISG produced a series of fact sheets and contributed to media presentations on water transport. The arguments for freight movement by water were brought together in British Freight Waterways - Today and Tomorrow (1980) and this provided a framework for campaigning and attracted considerable media attention.
Some main areas in which the ISG has been actively involved include :-
1. Ensuring the publication of meaningful statistics on domestic waterborne freight (there were none before 1982 but government now publishes them annually).
2. Obtaining funding for waterway freight operations - Freight Facility Grants, (originally only for rail transport were extended to water transport and have been enhanced in recent years), seeking equity in appraisal and funding of competing modes with water transport still at a severe disadvantage.
3. Encouraging greater government attention to water freight and more effective integration of the government departments involved.
4. Arguing the case for safeguarding the wharf facilities without which there can be no water transport. Since 1997, London has provided a model which could with benefit be extended to other freight waterways.
5. Pressing for the creation of a national, umbrella organisation to take the place of the National Waterways Treansport Association. ISG was represented on the government's freight study group which recommended the creation of a water freight forum and resulted in 2003 in the creation of Sea & Water, a government funded water freight promotion group embracing, inland, coastal and short -sea shipping interests.
Sea & Water has effectively taken over a number of ISG's campaigns and developed others and with professional staffing is able to produce newsletters, fact sheets and comprehensive data bases and organise seminars in a way which for ISG was impossible. An IWA response has been for the ISG to be renamed as the Inland Waterways Freight Group and to continue as a sub-group of the IWA's Navigation Committee. There is still much for the IWFG to do and it works closely with Sea & Water, the International Navigation Association and the European River Sea Transport Union. IWFG is still very much concerned with working to overcome lack of awareness of the potential, and an all too frequent negative approach to the development of waterborne freight.