The European Commission tabled in June 2021 a 35-point action plan to boost the role of inland waterway transport in our mobility and logistics systems. The core objectives are to shift more cargo over Europe's rivers and canals, and facilitate the transition to zero-emission barges by 2050. This is in line with the European Green Deal and the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, which set the goal of increasing transport by inland waterways and short sea shipping by 25% by 2030, and by 50% by 2050.
Commissioner for Transport, Adina Vălean said: “As one of the most CO2-efficient transport modes available, inland waterways have the potential to play a central role in decarbonising our transport systems. Yet today, our canals and rivers carry just 6% of EU freight. With an inland waterway network of 41,000km spanning 25 Member States, there is scope to do a lot more; both along our TEN-T corridors and in inner cities, where inland waterways can help to green the last mile of city logistics.”
The new action plan will put in place the conditions for the inland waterway transport sector to better seize the opportunities linked to the shift towards a zero-emission and digital economy. Among the actions proposed is the revision of the Combined Transport Directive, which, along with support for investments towards transshipment capacity and inland multimodal terminals, will enable the greater integration of inland waterways into a modern, trans-European intermodal transport system. The action plan also includes measures to accelerate and stimulate investments towards the development and deployment of innovative, zero-emission and zero-waste technologies for vessels and inland ports, and helping the sector keep up with digital developments. This will be key to ensuring its long-term sustainability and competitiveness, while opening up attractive new job opportunities for a skilled workforce.
The Commission is proposing actions in the following areas:
Shifting more freight to inland waterways
The Commission will help inland waterway managers to ensure a high level of service (Good Navigation Status) along EU inland waterway corridors by 31 December 2030. The upcoming revision of the Combined Transport Directive will fully integrate inland waterways as an essential component of intermodal transport. The Commission will also establish an EU framework for measuring and report emissions from logistics and transport. This could increase demand for more sustainable options, including inland waterways where feasible.
Transition to zero-emission inland waterway transport
Compared to other land-based modes of transport, inland waterway transport is energy-efficient, safe, almost congestion-free and silent. The Commission will propose measures to encourage investment in zero-emission and zero-waste technologies for inland vessels and inland ports and will also support research and innovation.
Smart inland waterway transport
New measures to help the inland waterway transport sector to keep up with digital developments and improve competitiveness are included in the proposal. Both will help the sector become an active part of broader multimodal chains. Further digitalisation can play a significant role in improving the efficiency and reliability of navigation and traffic management, better integrating inland waterway transport in logistics processes and multimodal chains, and reducing the administrative burden and costs of complying with and enforcing legislation.
More attractive and sustainable jobs in inland waterway transport
The inland waterways sector relies on a skilled workforce. The proposed actions will ensure smart and flexible EU crewing rules and provide inland vessel crews with the right skills to deal with the green and digital transitions, cyber-security, synchromodality and the automation of vessels and infrastructure.
About 41,000 kilometres of inland waterways flow through 25 of the EU Member States, transporting around 150 billion tkm of cargo every year, in particular in densely populated and congested areas. Approximately 44,000 people work on inland vessels, of which 60% in goods transport and 40% in passenger transport.