With only seven per cent of goods transported on inland waterways in the European Union (EU), “considerable efforts” are still required by the region’s governments and the transport industry to increase this number and relieve congested road and rail networks, according to a UN report.
Produced by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the latest report on the issue – the Inventory of Main Standards and Parameters of the pan-European Inland Waterway Network, also known as the Blue Book – finds that roads account for 78 per cent of all goods transported in the EU, with rail lines accounting for another 16 per cent.
The Blue Book adds that some 14,700 kilometres of the more than 29,000 kilometres of Europe’s navigable inland waterways can be used for containerized transport, the fastest growing segment in inland navigation.
“Some of the biggest hurdles are insufficient inland water networks and locks as well as inadequate maintenance of infrastructure and fleet. Other issues, such as uncertain hydrological conditions, a fragmented industry and the shortage of skilled personnel further aggravate the situation,” UNECE said in a news release on the report’s release.
The Commission noted that inland waterways are an environmentally friendly, reliable, safe and cost-efficient mode of transport, which are able to carry large volumes of bulky and containerized cargo at very low noise levels, day and night, seven days a week.
“Moreover, transport capacity on the region’s two main waterways, the Rhine and the Danube, could be increased by 50 per cent and more than 80 per cent, respectively, without major investments, according to estimates from the transport industry,” UNECE added.
The findings were also discussed at the annual session of the UNECE Working Party on Inland Water Transport, held in Geneva between 10-12 October, during which the Commission launched the Blue Book. The report updates data of an earlier pan-European survey on the status of inland navigation of 2006.
The pan-European Inland Waterway Network – also known as the E Waterway network – covers all European navigable rivers, canals and ports and makes up a coordinated plan for the coordinated development and construction of inland waterways.
The network is based on a multilateral treaty, the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN), that was negotiated by UNECE in 1996 and which it currently administers and monitors.
So far, 17 UNECE member States have ratified the AGN Agreement: Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland and Ukraine.
Set up in 1947, UNECE is one of five regional commissions of the United Nations. Its major aim is to promote pan-European economic integration through measures such as the facilitation of greater economic integration and cooperation among its member countries, and the promotion of sustainable development and economic prosperity.