Memorandum by Frank Worsford Esq, University
of Westminster (IW 04)
INQUIRY INTO THE POTENTIAL OF INLAND WATERWAYS
The fuel crisis earlier this month has jolted
many in the logistics industry to seriously focus on the consequences
of having too many eggs in one basket, ie road transport. As a
result there is a growing interest in the use of alternative freight
modes. This is something new and to be welcomed on both economic
and environmental grounds. Indeed, until relatively recent little
effort was made at an official level to implement either a coherent
or consistent transport policy aimed at utilising all available
transport modes, especially waterborne transport. In retrospect,
this would have been a sensible policy measure towards reducing
lorry road miles, switching freight to/from the regional ports
and major inland waterways. In the process removing road traffic
away from the heavily congested South-East road network. Instead,
market forces were more or less left to sort out freight transport
issues. The years of neglect and lack of vision have left a residue
of problems, which unfortunately we are now all too familiar.
The urgent need for action and solutions has become all the more
apparent with growing recognition that conventional fuels, petrol
and diesel, is a finite and expensive resource.
Following publication in 1998 of the integrated
transport White Paper, subsequent daughter documents and PPG13
it would appear there is stronger official recognition and encouragement
towards promoting the use of alternative transport modes, such
as waterborne transport wherever possible and appropriate. In
the context of Britain waterborne transport is usually defined
Coastal shipping, is taken to mean short sea
shipping and is usually regarded as involving those vessels trading
within a limited zone, such as in the waters around the British
Isles or west European waters. Coastal ships are capable of taking
reasonably large sized cargoes.
Inland waterways includes canals, navigable
rivers and tidal estuaries. It is recognised that a large element
of Britain's inland waterways consists of narrow gauge canals
which are principally suited to tourism and leisure activities.
Their cargo potential is very peripheral in the context of total
freight movements. However, Britain also boasts a number of strategically
located canals, rivers and estuaries, many of which are capable
of taking relatively large sized ships. Moreover, some can also
cater for ocean-going ships, such as the Manchester Ship Canal.
The important point, from a logistics perspective,
is that waterborne transport modes have the potential to play
a greater role in overall freight movements. Furthermore, provide
an environmentally acceptable and sustainable transport mode for
The case supporting waterborne freight transport
is strengthened by Britain's geographical position, maritime history
and natural coastal highway assets. Britain as an island nation
with a long maritime history is in a good position to gain maximum
environmental and economic benefits from waterborne transport.
Furthermore, as a nation with an island status and on the periphery
of Europe the idea of maintaining a strong maritime sector is
a prudent move. Britain's island status means there are many natural
and man-made advantages to be exploited and therefore potentially
gain the maximum benefits from waterborne transport. For example,
the British coastline is over 7,240 kilometres long; there are
1,548 kilometres of coastal waterways and the major estuaries
account for over 373 kilometres and tidal navigation 578 kilometres.
Additionally, there are over 638 kilometres
of canals and river navigation in commercial use. The Manchester
Ship Canal, the Severn, the River Thames, Ouse and Trent, the
Solent and Hull Estuaries and many other waterways allow ships
to penetrate deep into the inland markets. It may come as a surprise
to discover that there are over 300 ports in Britain of various
sizes. Most of Britain's major conurbations (Manchester, Bristol
and Yorkshire) could be served by waterway. Indeed, no industry
in Britain is more than 75 miles from the coast: in terms of major
inland waterways even less so in distance.
Many advantages are claimed for water. Water
is a major transport asset and a safe, economical, fuel efficient
and eco-friendly mode for conveying a wide variety of freight.
This is something that the Government is trying to get more industry
sectors to recognise. Since the 1990s there has been a flood of
publications praising waterborne freight transport (see selected
reading). For example, in 1992 NUMAST, the Merchant Navy Officers
Union, produced a report The Case for Coastal and Short Sea
Shipping, pointing out the advantages of waterborne transport.
Highlighted among these was the claim that ships are an extremely
energy efficient means of transporting goods, far outstripping
both air and road transport in the relation between energy consumption
and the volume of freight carried.
In total terms, the UK commercial road transport
industry consumes almost 10 times as much energy as domestic shipping
to carry about twice the amount of freight. According to the NUMAST
report switching more trade to water would make a major contribution
to energy conservation and would assist in curbing transport air
pollution. Furthermore, the transfer of freight to water could
also play an important role in easing traffic congestion and the
pressures to build yet more roads. In the new millennium the notion
of conservation and environmental protection will gain greater
significance in the light of Governmental international agreements
and following numerous eco-disasters.
Presently, coastal shipping accounts for 7 per
cent of Britain's domestic freight tonnage (goods lifted), or
around a quarter of domestic freight (goods moved). The coastal
shipping market has mainly been petroleum products and aggregates.
In contrast the actual amount of traffic on Britain's inland waterways
network has been in decline for many years. This traffic is tiny,
accounting for less than 1 per cent of domestic freight moved.
Unfortunately, much of Britain's inland waterways are unsuitable
for carrying significant volumes of freight, being more suitable
for narrow barges and leisure activities.
As recent DETR figures reveal road transport
still remains the dominant mode, with virtual stagnation in the
other modes. The figures below illustrate the situation over the
10 year period between 1987 and 1997.
DOMESTIC FREIGHT TRANSPORT BY MODE: 1987-98
Goods Liftedmillion tonnes/percentage
DOMESTIC FREIGHT TRANSPORT BY MODE: 1987-97
Goods movedbillion tonne kilometres/percentage
Source: Transport Statistics Great Britain, 1999, DETR.
Britain's use of waterborne transport for domestic freight
movements sharply contrasts with the European network of inland
waterways, where much more financial investment, imaginative,
visionary and innovatory approach is very much evident. As a result
there has been a continuing expansion of waterborne transport
in Europe. For example, Europe Combined Terminal (ECT) have recently
established a point to point barge service from Rotterdam to the
inland port or Duisburg in Germany.
The concept of barges and small ships penetrating far into
the European hinterland is assisted by a comprehensive network
of inland waterways and canals. The European inland shipping group
Deutsche Binnenreederei operate a large fleet of barges and small
ships serving ports from the Dutch coast throughout continental
Europe to Russia travelling on the Maas, the Rhine, the Danube
Canal, the Elbe Havel Canal and the Oder.
During the last decade, and in response to concern over worsening
road congestion, an increasing amount of thought has been given
to the question of waterborne transport. In the early 1990s the
then Department of Transport (DoT) commissioned a study into UK
coastal shipping, Roads to Water. The objectives of the
study was to identify:
where water could be competitive for internal
UK freight movements; and
where there could be scope for reducing or eliminating
the road transport element for external freight movements by encouraging
greater use of regional port facilities.
The DoT study was undertaken by Jonathan Packer, a maritime
specialist and consultant, and completed in 1994 (see references).
From a shipping perspective this made depressing reading. According
to the study the growth of the UK's internal road freight market
has been particularly marked, increasing from about 100 billion
tonne kilometres in 1979 to just over 130 billion tonne kilometres
in 1991. Improved road freight efficiency was responsible, bringing
about changes to distribution systems and heightened expectations
about cost competitiveness and quality of services, such as flexibility,
speed and reliability.
The study pointed out that there were limited new markets
to be gained by water from existing road routes. Available statistics
indicated that a high proportion of total inland freight movements
were concentrated within a central geographical triangle of London-Middlesbrough-Liverpool.
In other words, involving distances no greater than 250 miles.
These are distances and trip times which shipping cannot normally
compete other than for non-time sensitive freight and low value
bulk cargoes. For example, the Scotland to London trip can be
achieved in 8 hours by road (or rail), giving an overnight delivery
The study maintained that the only significant true coastal
freight movements remaining were for petroleum products, stone
and coal where large movements are matched with coastal sources
and coastal delivery. Interviews conducted with senior management
in various industry sectors indicated there was little optimism
about the potential for switching to coastal shipping. There was
a deeply held perception that ships were slow, involved double-handling,
risk of delay and disruption.
However, within the short space of a few years the scene
was changing. In 1997 Jonathan Packer in a follow-up study Roads
To Water Revisited, was much more optimistic about coastal
shipping's future. A number of factors has helped in bringing
about change and there kick-start waterborne transport.
First, the focus in the UK and the wider European Community
was increasingly turning towards the use of rail and the encouragement
of combined transport (intermodalism) as the best way of accommodating
road traffic growth without new road building. For example, a
great deal of thought and effort has been given to creating a
system Trans-European Rail Freight Freeways. During recent years
the idea of also including waterborne transport in the overall
framework of combined transport has become more accepted.
Second, there was now general acceptance that something had
to be done to protect the environment and tackle head on issues
like poor air quality and worsening road congestion. The old solutions
no longer worked (if they ever did); new solutions had to be found.
Shipping is a relatively environmentally friendly transport mode,
even more so than rail, and does not require the construction
of major new infrastructure, highways and freight corridors.
Third, in 1997 a new Government came into office which put
transport (and the environment) higher up the agenda, including
shipping, as an integral part of its integrated transport policy.
Fourth, as a policy objective the Government sees integrating
road transport with major transport freight interchange points,
such as the new concept multimodal freight villages, as essential
towards making better use of all modes. During recent years the
private sector has increasingly injected massive sums of money
into building and developing these new freight facilities, a number
of which can be serviced by water transport in addition to road
and rail. For example, Liverpool, Thamesport, Tilbury Docks, Southampton,
Felixstowe, and Cabot Park at Avonmouth. In February this year
the owners of Cabot Park and Bristol Port announced a multi-million
pound joint venture, thereby fully integrating both the port and
Earlier in the year Burford Holdings and Shell announced
proposals for the development of a major new freight multimodal
freight village planned for a site south-east of Manchester and
adjacent to the Manchester Ship Canal to be known as Trafford
Interchange. In the new millennium developments such as these
will assist in providing the essential infrastructure required
to interface between road, rail and water, thereby producing the
synergistics effects for long term sustainabilityoffering
greater customer choice, cost reduction, high quality and added-value
The application of financial inducements is one of the Government's
methods to encourage more freight movement by water (and rail).
In recognition of the environmental and wider benefits derived
from freight waterborne movement (in preference to road) there
is a Freight Facility Grant (FFG) scheme. The scheme has been
available for rail since the 1980s and was extended to inland
waterways in the 1990s. There is a strong possibility that later
during 2000 the Government will extend the FFG scheme to also
include coastal shipping. As Lord Widdy the Waterways Minister
Tidal rivers and estuaries commonly used by sea-going vessels,
the waters around our coasts and the short sea waters between
Britain and the continent, probably have a greater part to play
in taking more freight from our roads, thus relieving congestion
and pollution. It is therefore our intention to bring forward
legislation to extend the application of the freight grant regime
to include coastal and short sea shipping. Source: Britain's
Water HighwaysA New Agenda for Freight, Birmingham 19 October
1999, Conference organised by Central Conference Consultants Ltd.
As an incentive for getting freight onto water the Government's
FFG scheme assists companies with:
the capital costs of new freight handling facilities;
the improvement of existing facilities or investment
which will reopen; and
investment that will reopen dormant facilities.
Recent example of FFGs to companies to restructure their
logistics planning and simultaneously provide real environmental
benefits include a £1.5 million award to Baldwins Industrial
Services PLC. The grant was used to develop the company's wharf
on the River Tees for the transport of heavy cranes by inland
waterways. Rix petroleum Ltd also received a grant of £884,000
in order to consolidate their Humber North Bank activities in
Hull. Without the upgrading of the company's Fountain Road facility,
barge operations for primary distribution would have ceased and
there would have been an avoidable annual increase of 24,000 lorry
journeys in the Hull area. A more recent example of FFG funding
involves the movement of grain from Liverpool Docks up the Manchester
Ship Canal and an integrated rail/ship operation involving Blue
Circle on the upper reaches of the same canal.
However, it has not all being sunshine. The FFG scheme has
came in for severe criticism resulting in low up take up companies
and complaints about bureaucracy, long delays and the complicated
formulas used to work out the grants. In response to this criticism
and to encourage more companies to apply for FGG's the Government
has cut the amount of red tape surrounding the scheme and increased
the budget to £50 million for 1999-2000. Furthermore, in
an effort to encourage applications for inland waterways projects
the Government is presently looking again at the rules of the
Encouraging waterborne transport dovetails neatly into the
Government's environmental policy, especially on the issues of
global warming and CO2 emissions. Under the 1997 Kyoto
Protocol, Japan, the Government committed the UK to a 20 per cent
reduction in CO2 emissions by the year 2010. Transport
plays a major role in contributing to CO2 emissions
and is therefore a target for Government amelioration action.
Shipping is responsible for about 1 per cent of CO2
emissions. In contrast road transport is responsible for almost
20 per cent of CO2 emissions. This trend was further
strengthened in 1999 following the UK's Government signing in
Gothenburg of a new international Protocol to cut levels of transboundary
air pollution across Europe and North America.
The Government's 1998 intergraded transport White Paper referred
to research that indicated that there may be scope to divert up
to 3.5 per cent of the UK's road traffic to water, split roughly
equally between ships re-routing to ports nearer their origin
and destination of loads, and the potential for bulk and unit
loads to shift to the coastal highways. However, to survive, expand
and prosper in the freight market of the new millennium, waterborne
transport needs to consolidate existing markets and diversify
into new markets. In seeking a modal shift the waterborne freight
industry is confronted with a number of obstacles. These include:
overcoming the resistance against waterborne transport
from many operators and customers who have only experienced road
transport; this means positive action in encouraging a cultural
change in attitudes towards waterborne transport;
undertaking research to identify end-users motives
for choice of transport, favourite routes, frequency, quantities
and types of goods being moved around the country;
ascertain which market sectors may or may not
be suitable for waterborne transport expansion, eg foods (especially
chilled or frozen), fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), parcels
or other time-sensitive goods;
acknowledgment that there is a limited domestic
market for waterborne transport as over 60 per cent of road freight
movements in Britain are short-distanced (50 miles);
acknowledging that many British markets can only
be served by road, therefore water (or rail) is not a viable option
in many cases;
acknowledging that modern logistics requirements
means that customers demand small and regular deliveries of goodsthe
just-in-time conceptan important limiting factor for the
growth of waterborne transport;
accepting that a large number of coastal ships
have been designed to carry dedicated cargoes, such as petroleum
or aggregates, and this limits their potential for greater cargo
that investment will be required to build and
equip a fleet of modern sophisticated coastal shipswho
that many of Britain's ports require upgrading
in terms of infrastructure, handling equipment and accessability
for road and rail.
On a positive note many of the UK's ports in the 1990's began
a process of enhancing and upgrading the services and facilities
they provide and have penetrated other markets, such as containers.
Coastal container ships provide a regular "feeder" service
between Thamesport and Scotland. In the early 1990s the Dutch
proposed a Port Hopper scheme for coastal ships doing a milk-run
from the continent and serving a number of ports throughout Britain
and Ireland within a set number of days.
Another important factor helping to boost and promote waterborne
transport is the application of new technology and investment
in modern sophisticated and more versatile ships. The new generation
of coastal ships, such as low profile ships allow greater inland
market penetration. Ships with portable bulkheads assist towards
accommodating different sizes and types thereby allowing for greater
flexible cargo capacity. This technology helps create the potential
for waterborne transport to capture a greater market share.
A good example of the latest generation of coastal ships
is that provided by the family firm F. T. Everard & Sons Ltd
shipping company's new tankers ASPERITY and her sister AUDACITY.
These ships set new standards in coastal tanker operations, their
deep well cargo pumps and segregated ballast tanks providing safe
and speedy cargo operations with greatly reduced turnround times.
The heart of a tanker is the cargo system. Great pains have been
taken to combine past experience and new technology to produce
a system which will create new standards in coastal tanker performance.
There are five cargo tanks in the new ships, all with different
capacities to facilitate the carriage of differing quantities
of multi-grade cargoes. Given the right conditions ashore it will
be possible to turn the ship around in about three hours. To reduce
workload in port, the moorings are monitored on the bridge using
a closed circuit television system. The moorings themselves can
be adjusted using bridge wing consoles.
In order to maintain a high degree of flexibility and efficiency
the road transport industry have equipped their vehicles with
a wide range of independent on/off loading handling technology.
This technology provides for greater economics, added value and
increases the attractiveness of road transport. However, the concept
of independent on/off loading equipment can also be successfully
applied to water transport. For example, the PortHopper technology
developed by Kantor BV in Holland has been designed for this purpose.
As a special loading facility it can be installed on any type
of inland water vessel. The system enables independent on/off
loading an any location/time and allows transport services by
waterways which were previously not attainable. There is no shortage
of innovation and imagination so far as maritime technology is
concerned. A further technological development is the Split Ship.
This is a seagoing canal vessel which splits into two canal barges
capable of penetrating far deeper in to UK and Continental waterways
than conventional vessels.
Today, it is now possible to identify a host of factors which
could assist towards boosting the future demand for waterborne
transport services in the logistics industry. As detailed, among
the key factors are the Government's integrated transport policy,
growing environmental concerns, the growth of multimodal freight
villages, new ship technology and of course Britain's natural
water advantages. However, most people see the key driving force
for change as being worsening levels of road congestion.
Indeed, in January 2000 the Government admitted that over
the next ten years road congestion levels would become worse unless
radical measures are introduced. In July 2000 the Government announced
a £1.2 billion package for roads technology measures in an
attempt to keep down congestion levels over the next decade, but
doubts have already been cast on this policy. As Britain's road
network becomes increasingly subjected to road congestion the
inland waterways and coastal highways are the major single natural
asset which could provide almost unlimited spare capacity for
Therefore, inland waterways should be viewed presently as
an under-utilised transport resource, but one that has great potential
and is recognised as being fuel efficient, economical and eco-friendly.
Also, that it should not be viewed a competitor but as a means
of complementing other transport modes. In an age of sustainability
this is an important consideration, assuming one can overcome
inertia and bring about a culture and mindset change throughout
industry towards the advantages and benefits to be gained from
the use of alternative freight modes. The reality of the situation
is clearly recognised. That is a modal shift towards water (or
indeed rail) cannot be expected to offer an overnight solution
or panacea to Britain's many transport problems. What is required
is the issue being viewed in a long term context and addressing
numerous issues involved. This approach may assist towards speeding
up the revival of waterborne transport. For example, allowing
44 tonne lorries to move goods to/from ports, developing better
railheads at ports, extending freight facilities grants to coastal
shipping, capital grants for inland port development and new equipment
and encouraging industry location to multimodal freight villages.
To end on an optimistic note while waterborne transport has always
played a role in the logistics industry there is every reason
now to believe it may have an even bigger role to play in the
Transport Studies Group at the University of Westminster
18 September 2000