Platform for the implementation of a future inland navigation action programme


Executive summary

Greater use of multimodal transportation can substantially improve the environmental performance of freight transportation. Despite big efforts taken by policy-makers to alter the freight modal split, most companies still rely heavily on road transportation, while modal shifts to rail and inland waterways are still modest.

The European transport and logistics sector is one of the key business sectors in Europe, performing billions of operations by millions of companies and people every day. Assuring the integration of these operations across national borders is a cornerstone of EU policy and a basis for the competitiveness of the economy. The insufficiency and partial absence of common processes, a common language and common standards for interoperability are key obstacles to achieving integration. Moreover, any supporting technology to be applied should be highly reliable, accessible, affordable and as generic as possible. Interactions between stakeholders must be easily established at a cost affordable to all. Supply chains need to be more efficient by providing state-of-the-art visibility and collaboration capabilities. Above and beyond the proper design of infrastructures and services, the operational control of the execution of transport processes should be optimised through, for example, improved synchronisation.[1]

Synchromodality is defined as an “evolution of inter- and co-modal transport concepts, where stakeholders of the transport chain actively interact within a cooperative network to flexibly plan transport processes and to be able to switch in real-time between transport modes tailored to available resources. The shipper determines in advance only basic requirements of the transport such as costs, duration and sustainability aspects. Thus, transport processes can be optimized and available resources sustainably and fully utilized[2].

According to PIANC, Guidelines and recommendations for river information services (2022), synchromodality provides the most efficient and appropriate transport solution in terms of sustainability, transport costs, duration, and their reliability, in which the configuration of the transport chain is not static during transport, but is flexible. It is thus able to adapt the mode of adequate transport according to the conditions in real time of infrastructure and capacity, through collaboration and the exchange of information in real time of all modes of transport, the terminal facilities and the actors involved in the transport logistics chain

Synchromodality developed and established in the Benelux region in the last decade provides a framework within which shippers can manage their multimodal supply chains more flexibly to further increase the potential for modal shift. Despite its importance, synchromodality is at an early stage both from research and practice perspectives. The existing contributions are sparse and treat only one or a few aspects of the matter.

The transport sector is fundamental to our economies and societies, but it is also responsible for a multitude of negative side effects including air emissions, noise and congestion. This calls for a modal shift toward a more efficient and effective reorganization of the whole transport system. To this end, synchromodality is a logistics concept which strives to increase the share of rail and inland waterway transport. Switching smoothly between these two modes and road transport takes place in near real-time, which is made possible since shippers book their transport service “mode-free”, i.e., without any need of specifying their transport mode in advance. The transport company is thus able to bundle the flows of goods from different customers and optimizes the cargo. Synchromodality requires close cooperation between all stakeholders along the transport chain and allows moving goods in a flexible and resource-efficient way.[3]

The concept of synchromodality is being presented in the present report from a supply chain[4] perspective. When supply chain impacts are considered, there is a high possibility to significantly increase the share of multimodal transportation, without increasing total logistics costs or reducing the service levels. For these purposes, synchromodality can contribute to significantly reduce the environmental impact of freight, allowing costs savings since the best and most efficient transport mode is selected.

Therefore, in a nutshell, synchromodality is the coordination between and within chains at the level of infrastructure, services and transport, such that, given the aggregated demand for transport, the right mode is used at any given time[5]. This coordination aims to provide efficient, reliable, flexible, and sustainable services. It is done  through the coordination and cooperation of stakeholders and the synchronization of operations driven by information and communication technologies (ICT) and intelligent transportation system (ITS) technologies.

The main purpose of synchromodality is reducing costs, emissions, and delivery times while maintaining the quality of supply chain service through the smart utilization of available resources and synchronization of transport flows. Implementation of the synchromodality concept and some research projects based on this practice have already shown how different kinds of logistics objectives can be achieved or significantly improved, including avoiding empty capacity, reacting to disruptions as well as reducing transportation by trucks in favour of trains, ships and barges.[6] Thus, synchromodality including the further greening of the IWT sector together with climate-resilient vessels and digitalised vessels, can be a tool to further support modal shift. However, the current deliverable does not focus on the greening initiatives, and it has to be noted that the road and rail transport sector are also engaged to a high extent in greening and digitalisation. Therefore, IWT must also make progress and increase connectivity and transparency to keep pace with the other modes.

The main element of synchromodality is to plan transport processes based on current capacities of the different transport modes in real-time. The shipper gives the logistics service provider the possibility to choose the appropriate combination between available modes of transport. Other parameters such as costs, pollution and time might also be considered when planning on the complete supply chain level.

Thus, a real time switch is possible and sustainable transport processes can be efficiently integrated in the transport chain. A core criterion for a working synchromodal chain is to generate a cooperation network between all stakeholders. To foster the successful implementation of synchromodal transport chains the status quo of synchromodal transport as well as potential key enablers such as the standardised exchange of data and the efficient use of ITS must be defined.

Based on a literature review[7] and various discussions in the research community, several categories of potential key enablers have been determined, such as:

  • network/cooperation/trust – A new way of thinking is required to generate a synchromodal network which is concentrated on trust and the advantages of cooperation instead of competition.
  • sophisticated planning/simulation – Sophisticated dynamic planning and simulation of transport routes and transport patterns are essential to create a functioning synchromodal transport network. Customer preferences, busy routes and available resources of hubs and transport modes have to be evaluated and examined. Forecasts and simulations are essential to learn about repeated connections and to be able to optimize transport performances. Thus, a core freight network has to be identified using demand mapping and forecasting tools. A comprehensive supply framework to efficiently utilize available container capacity in intermodal transport services is needed for well-organized synchromodal processes. Following the Physical Internet paradigm and being induced by potential cost savings, transport operators and infrastructure managers will be motivated to collaborate and consequently more data will become available for analysis. As capacity data of transport operators is becoming increasingly available, it is getting easier to efficiently fill up of free capacity. Additionally, a better collaboration of fragmented transport flows, required to make them economically viable, can facilitate new transport solutions.
  • information/data -Providing high quality and standardized data as well as sharing and mutually exchanging information (open data) are key to creating new and innovative services.
  • ICT/ITS – It is essential to implement ITS and ICT systems in order to dynamically provide data and to be able to optimize transport planning. Long-term and automated planning need to consider the crucial role which data and information play in a synchromodal supply chain. Additionally, issues dealing with data security /data protection and relevant cybersecurity aspects must be solved. Cybersecurity aspects are described in Deliverable 4.3 of the PLATINA3 project.
  • physical infrastructure – Different aspects of terminal and port infrastructure were mentioned quite often within the reviewed literature. The basic prerequisite is that smart hubs must exist, and they must be connected by smart corridors. The location of the ports and production sites influences the infrastructure network configuration and its efficiency. The terminal design is relevant as well. The overall aim is to obtain an attractive utilization of this infrastructure which is realized by bundling transport flows to synchromodal transport streams.
  • legal/policy issues – Harmonized transport regulations applicable for all transport modes and geographical areas are indispensable for a functioning synchromodal network. Another important legal question is the one of liability for the transport, especially for any delay, loss or damage, which might not always be clear when the mode is switched spontaneously. Concluding unambiguous service level agreements topped up with proper insurance agreements is therefore highly recommended. Boundary conditions for data sharing are also vital with regard to the necessary collaboration between the stakeholders. Basically, legal security must be ensured for all involved parties.
  • awareness/mental shift – It is important to raise awareness on the advantages of synchromodal transport and to generate a mental shift among customers. If customers insist on booking specific modes on specific transport routes, the logistics service provider lacks the necessary freedom to optimize his transport flows in a synchromodal way. The mental shift also includes that all players must be aware that not the preparation of the transport itself is the primary feature of the service performance, but rather the capability to respond to certain incidents and choose the right alternative in this case.
  • cost/service/quality – Pricing, cost and service are important aspects within a synchromodal transport network. Synchromodal transports should be provided with at least the same level of benefits (price, carbon footprint) compared to traditional or unimodal transports. Quality and the offered service (such as on-time delivery, reliability and flexibility) must also fit customer’s needs, otherwise synchromodality is no suitable and competitive logistics concept. Unplanned waiting times for example must be penalized. Moreover, the pricing of synchromodal services is quite complex. Since the transport mode and the specific route are not determined in advance (rather on the spot), it is difficult to determine the actual occurring cost-price and to translate this into a market price. This conflicts with the need that customers require certainty to know the price well in advance. Similar complexities arise in terms of insuring the transport. Finally, prerequisites for high-quality services are reliable infrastructure and the availability of some first movers to invest in innovation and new technologies, which means taking risks as supplier of synchromodal transport services.

There are drivers which can accelerate the door-to-door supply chain towards connective networks within a synchromodal framework:

  • Technological advancements such as network computing, Big Data, artificial intelligence
  • The high and unstable price of fuel that triggers the necessity for cost-saving transport solutions,
  • The enormous rise in congestion road infrastructure and limited options to expand road capacity
  • The increased environment-consciousness and public awareness about road traffic side-effects on local communities,
  • The strict environmental regulations at EU and international level to reduce emissions by 2030/2040/2050
  • Similarly to the situation with passenger transport, regulatory advancements allowing for multi-modal ticketing of freight where minimum conditions are guaranteed irrespective of the mode.

However, there are still important challenges for applying the synchromodal transport framework. Firstly, itis a networking and collaboration with the core of trust and customer relationship concept. The establishment of such a network is based on mutual respect and trust, as the most important prerequisite for synchromodal processes. Due to the fact that many entities may not be willing to cooperate with competitors and/or do not yet see the benefits, a new way of thinking is required to generate a synchromodal network which is concentrated on trust and the advantages of cooperation and benefit sharing instead of competition. This requires a mind shift which poses a barrier.

The second limitation is complexity in planning. Planning and also the simulation of transport routes are vital to create an effective synchromodal transport network. Items such as new customer preferences, route traffics, and accessible resources of logistics nods should be assessed and examined prior to planning. Monitoring and forecasting are crucial factors for optimising transport performances. Accordingly, a freight transport network is to be set up based on the demand mapping and forecasting tools.

The third restriction is the connectivity of the existing different IT systems and data-sharing platforms. A high-quality data-sharing platform is a key to have a mutual exchange of data from different stakeholders such as shipping company, freight forwarders, and port terminal. GDPR and data-sharing is a key issue, indeed. Economic operators, customers and logistic companies, they all are very reluctant to share their data. It seems that there could be a way if the data-sharing platform could be able to share only very limited information to each actor, depending on the role with maximum respect to data protection and privacy For example, the transporter does not need to know what the content of the goods is (just a category, maybe) nor who is the (first) sender and the (ultimate) receiver. The transporter only needs to know that a certain amount of goods (volume, weight, packaging) needs to be taken from A to B.

The interview results (as described in chapter 8) suggest that the contacted experts representing the private sector agreed on the basic conditions which shall ensure the success of synchromodal transport chains. All statements that were received have been clustered and assigned to three categories (transport related, infrastructure related and framework related criteria) that have been developed based on the literature review.

Cooperation, efficiency, flexibility, service levels and sufficient volumes are five identified characteristics deemed by all involved experts as necessary for each functional transport system. Indeed, the shipped freight volumes must be high enough to ensure that real time switching and bundling of goods work within the synchromodal network.

Half of the respondents doubted that companies are willing to cooperate in such an intensive way that they are able to synchronize their transport flows as part of the network. Pricing strategies, legal and political framework as well as the mental shift are other important factors mentioned during the discussions. Accurate planning as well as ICT/ITS and other information systems have been rated as relevant, the experts partly mentioned that some of these systems already exist and are ready for being used to coordinate synchromodal transports on particular logistics legs.

In conclusion, existing shortcomings on the freight transport markets, e.g. the lack of reliability and punctuality of inland waterway transport services is a source of dissatisfaction among customers representing all market segments causing potential customers to consider IWT as incapable of meeting their logistical needs in a synchromodal environment.

Therefore, the IWT sector must prepare for a rapid and substantial evolution. It will have to think differently about its value propositions, continuously developing and improving products and services that evoke extreme responses, uncover missed customer segments, look, check and adopt services developed in other sectors that can be a source of inspiration of good practices.

This will require all stakeholders to question long established principles and practices and to develop more sustainable and promising market opportunities by thinking faster, by thinking differently, by thinking partnerships and open collaboration. The cooperation with actors from other modes will be key in order to apply innovations form other sectors and to develop high quality and seamless mobility solutions. This requires liaising with relevant stakeholders, most definitely including the logistics industry.

To this end, a Europe-wide Synchromodal Platform or a federation of platforms capable to interact with (a) local/national/regional logistics platforms to provide pan-European real-time solutions/offers and (b) individual carriers seeking alternative solutions/offers will be able to overcome the existing barriers by connecting the existing data sources and platforms. This platform should serve as the collection point of data from the providers and function as a decision-support tool. Such a European wide platform will be highly dependent on technological developments in automated data collection and exchange. EU projects FENIX 1.0 (further detailed later in this deliverable) and the ensuing FENIX 2.0 (still in its infancy) may contribute directly to that.

As a first step, a one-stop shop solution building upon the corridor approach and the concept of physical internet will be able to aggregate data across several platforms for capacity and transport demand and offer both protection of critical data and the possibility to connect to operative elements used in production to carry out transport tasks.

[1] Corridors, Hubs and Synchromodality, Research & Innovation Roadmap, ALICE,, p.16

[2] Historical Evolution of Synchromodality: A First Step Towards the Vision of Physical
Internet. Proceedings of the Second Physical Internet Conference, Haller, A., Pfoser, S., Putz, L.-M., Schauer, O. 2015, 6- 8 July, Paris, France.

[3] Critical success factors of synchromodality: results from a case study and literature review, Sarah Pfoser, Horst Treiblmaier, Oliver Schauer, University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, 2016

[4] A supply chain concerns the entire production and distribution chain from raw materials to final customer and finally “reverse logistics”.

[5] Final report Implementation Roadmap Synchromodal Transport Systeem, TNO, 2011

[6] Synchromodal logistics: An overview of critical success factors, enabling technologies, and open research issues, Riccardo Giustia , Daniele Manerbaa,b , Giorgio Brunoa , Roberto Tade, 2019

[7] Critical success factors of synchromodality: results from a case study and literature review, Sarah Pfoser, Horst Treiblmaier, Oliver Schauer, University of Applied Sciences Upper Austria, 2016

Executive summary

The PLATINA3 project

The Horizon 2020 PLATINA3 project provides a platform for the implementation of the NAIADES III Action Plan. PLATINA3 is structured around four fields (Market, Fleet, Jobs & Skills, Infrastructure) of which Work Package 1 (WP 1) deals with various aspects of the inland navigation market, such as 1) increased modal shift and decarbonisation; 2) R&D actions to promote optimal market uptake conditions; 3) synchromodal logistic chains; 4) reducing economic and financial barriers to modal shift; and 5) policy and regulatory actions encouraging the use of IWT.  

This report presents the conclusions from PLATINA3’s Task 1.1 which assesses the needs for further technological, logistical and marketing and communication innovations to support modal shift, in view of attracting higher volumes and supporting decarbonisation, on the basis of identified new and growing markets. This deliverable builds upon existing studies and analyses, as well as the outcomes of the 3rd PLATINA3 Stage Event (10-11 February 2022) where experts made presentations on this topic and a draft deliverable was showcased.

Scope of the report and definitions

The scope of the report is limited to analysing the obstacles and opportunities for modal shift to IWT overall but mainly in selected new and growing markets. Marketing and communication as additional tools to strengthen modal shift are also explored. Although an important sub-market for IWT, this report does not cover passenger transport and focuses on freight transport activities only. Given the scope of other tasks in PLATINA3 Work Package 1, this report does not address the economic and financial barriers to modal shift (covered by task 1.4 of the PLATINA3 project) nor the purely regulatory actions encouraging the use of IWT (covered by task 1.5 of the PLATINA3 project). Loading units and transhipment as well as synchromodal logistics are included to some extent in this report given the synergies between them in selected new and growing markets. That being said, these two aspects are covered more broadly by Tasks 1.2 and 1.3 respectively.

Modal shift refers to relative changes in the market shares of different modes of transportation in relation to each other for specific cargo flows. A modal shift usually occurs when one mode gains a comparative advantage in a similar market over another. These shifts respond both to macro- and microeconomic factors.

The term “new and growing markets” describes, on the one hand, market segments where IWT is either not yet present or in an early stage of development and could be considered in coming years as a suitable transport solution. On the other, it refers to existing markets with strong potential for further growth. New and growing markets can determine future products transported by inland vessels, but they often imply new types of logistics, vessels, and areas of operation.

Current state of play and policy context

In June 2021, the European Commission launched the NAIADES-III Action Plan[1], which sets an “Inland Navigation Action Plan 2021-2027” aligned with the Multi-Annual Financial Framework to meet the objectives of the EGD and SSMS. One of NAIADES-III’s two core objectives is shifting more freight to inland waterways from other transport modes (modal shift), thereby contributing to reducing GHG emissions and limit road congestion. Underpinning this ambition is one of eight NAIADES-III policy flagships dedicated to updating the EU’s legal framework for intermodal transport to stimulate IWT modal share growth in the short and medium term. This flagship aims to boost modal shift to more sustainable and low-carbon transport modes such as IWT by establishing a level-playing field across transport modes when it comes to environmental performance. In this context, the PLATINA3 project provides the knowledge base for the implementation of the NAIADES III Action Plan.

On 17 October 2018, the Ministers of the five Member States of the CCNR (Belgium, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland) adopted the Mannheim declaration. Recalling the sector’s high potential for development and innovation, they vowed to reinforce the role of inland navigation by promoting faster and more efficient inland vessel cargo handling in seaports and tighter integration of IWT into digital and multimodal logistic chains.

Inland navigation is today at a crossroads, facing economic as well as environmental challenges that threaten to fundamentally alter its position in the European transportation market. On the one hand, unpredictable water levels and the energy transition imperative; on the other, a slowdown in global trade, the structural decline of fossil-based cargo, and the COVID-19 crisis. At the same time, inland waterway transport (IWT) is expected to play an important role on the path towards sustainable transport in 2050, as foreseen in the European Green Deal (EGD). In fact, the EGD aims to cut 90% of emissions from transport by 2050 to reach climate neutrality and shift a substantial portion of the freight transported by road (currently accounting for circa 76% of EU inland freight) to inland navigation (circa 6%) and rail (circa 18%), namely through measures to increase the handling capacity of inland waterways and better integrate IWT into multimodal logistics chains. More specifically, the European Commission’s (EC) Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy establishes the following milestones: “transport by inland waterways and short sea shipping will increase by 25% by 2030 and by 50% by 2050 compared to 2015”.

New and growing markets for IWT

The 3rd PLATINA3 Stage Event (10-11 February 2022) featured discussions on new and growing markets which might trigger modal shift towards IWT.[2] The following options were discussed: 

  • Urban logistics
  • Waste / biomass transport; 
  • Circular economy / new materials; 
  • New energies, including hydrogen and other alternative fuels; 
  • New trade routes, connections to TEN-T corridors, core and comprehensive networks; 
  • Container transport.

These new and growing markets are needed to respond to a decrease or saturation of existing markets (e.g. transportation of coal, ore, oil products). On the demand side, several commodity segments have reached saturation, the energy transition changes product composition, and world trade is experiencing structural slowdown. On the supply side, more difficult navigation conditions are expected to intensify due to climate change while low water events stress the need to diversify operations towards urban logistics where water levels fluctuations are much less severe.

Results of the analysis and recommendations

IWT offers clear opportunities for modal shift in urban settings and shows the viability of IWT under specific circumstances, despite the competitive pressure from road transport. An advantage of inland navigation is that it can transport such goods in different forms (pallets, barrels, containers, bulk, etc.), is able to scale easily while benefitting from alternative and renewable energy solutions. Demographic growth, in combination with saturated and sensitive road infrastructure, vibrations, accidents, noise emissions and other negative externalities provoked by road transport in cities, are all important factors which offer potential for IWT in modern urban environments. Therefore, the current increased focus on urban mobility, including via newly established expert groups, could be a crucial opportunity for IWT to seize.

New transport flows resulting from circular economy activities are certainly an opportunity for IWT, particularly in an urban setting. IWT could serve as an ideal transport solution to spearhead the development of circular economies while enabling more efficient waste management, valorisation, and storage in urban environments.

It is expected that new transport opportunities for inland navigation will also emerge in the wake of the energy transition (e.g. biofuels, hydrogen carriers, project cargo, such as wind turbine blades and components and other infrastructure and hardware needed for energy transition). In particular, inland waterway transport can be used to distribute alternative fuels and energy sources such as biofuels, other hydrogen carriers and e-fuels, albeit requiring possible adaptations depending on the fuel distributed. Should larger volumes of such fuels be imported overseas from other continents via seagoing vessels, IWT will appear as a logical follow-up to transport them to the hinterland of European seaports (e.g. Rotterdam, Antwerp, Amsterdam, Constanta, Hamburg, Le Havre, Marseille). 

For instance, there is growing interest at European level for hydrogen as a clean energy source. Its applications are manifold (industry, transport sector, power generation) and demand has been steadily growing since 1975. While it is today overwhelmingly produced from fossil fuels, hydrogen can be produced from renewables (i.e. electrolysis using green energy from wind, water or solar), meaning there is significant potential for emissions reduction from a life cycle point of view.

At European and national level, public policy is pushing for the development of hydrogen, with the adoption of hydrogen strategies. As hydrogen can be transported via maritime vessels, inland vessels, and pipelines, it is a promising cargo for IWT, especially if combined with new, innovative tanker designs, LOHC technology, and integrated into regional and global value chains through ports.

Biomass can be used to produce biofuels, heat, and electricity, and its use is on an upward trend. This versatility is undoubtedly an important factor boosting its attractiveness. The advantages of IWT for the transport of biomass are manifold: reliability, overall safety, and high carrying capacity. Transport of biomass via IWT has already been proven successful as shown by several examples for instance, in the Port of Mannheim or Straubing. In addition, unlike wind turbines, for which ports and waterways might need to adapt their infrastructure, biomass/biofuel cargo handling in inland ports does not need adaptations or special handling equipment. Furthermore, electricity and heat produced from biomass are unaffected by weather fluctuations, an important aspect compared to the fluctuations of wind and solar energy.

Uncertainty remains regarding the energy transition trajectory of our societies, an uncertainty that affects all renewable energies. Despite the need for clarity about the future shape of energy supply, technological development is characterised by uncertainties, path dependencies and by the interplay of technology and commercial successes and failures. This technological uncertainty can lead to a specific form of inertia: why invest in new production processes for alternative technologies when uncertainty is high regarding their future use and demand? This will inevitably impact the IWT sector and its micro-economic decisions to specialize or not in biomass/biofuel/e-fuel transport. Beyond these aspects, which are inherent to the energy transition and the development of new technologies, whether or not such expected new markets will develop is also strongly dependent on the regulatory and political sphere.

This report shows, firstly, that new markets exist, some with higher potential than others. Secondly, it is not a given that inland navigation will penetrate such new markets. In most cases, adaptations will be necessary in terms of logistics, vessel technology, vessel design and vessel size. Commercial, logistical and technological challenges will arise and will be affected, inter alia, by the degree of intermodal competition.

Increasing the usage of all communication and marketing possibilities will enable IWT operators to influence and inform other economic actors on the importance and advantages of IWT, namely reliability, economic efficiency, efficient use of available infrastructure capacity and sustainability. In other words, electronic communications and marketing inform and demonstrate to the wider economic operators the benefits of using IWT as a permanent business option. Efforts in favour of such communication and marketing innovations should be promoted.

Despite these promising avenues for growth, several obstacles remain to be overcome in order to enhance modal shift to inland navigation. These include tackling congestion at seaports and seaport-hinterland transport inefficiencies, combating low/high water events to ensure IWT’s reliability over the long term, developing additional financing opportunities and improving communication about them as well as about the pertinent regulatory framework, and build awareness of IWT’s potential as a promising modal choice for any European shipper.

Furthermore, the expected rapid development of battery electric trucks, as estimated by TNO[3] in October 2022, puts pressure on the speed of the energy transition in IWT. There is a risk that the inland fleet does not adapt to climate neutrality and low air pollutant emission performance as swiftly as the road or rail fleet if the regulatory framework remains the same and if the financial supports is not increased. The competition from road and rail might prove difficult to counteract. Consequently, without strong and rapid interventions in the IWT sector, inland navigation’s environmental advantage will be quickly eroded compared thus deteriorating the rationale for a modal shift from road to IWT as envisaged in the European Green Deal.

[1] European Commission, “NAIADES III action plan”, June 2021, NAIADES III action plan (

[2] Presentations made by: Daan Schalk “New market opportunities and strategies”; Geer van Overloop “River Drones: innovation as a driving force for modal shift”; Heinrich Kerstgens “Decarbonisation of logistics and modal shift towards inland waterway transport”; Norbert Kriedel “New market opportunities in inland navigation transport”; and Thierry Vanelslander “How to increase IWT market share?”.

[3] New Mobility News, “TNO study: Battery-electric truck most cost-effective option from 2030”,

Juha Schweighofer on climate resilient vessels

Executive summary


According to NAIADES III, the use of the EU’s inland waterway network is currently not optimised due to the lack of coherent infrastructure and fairway quality assurance. Droughts and floods can severely disrupt transport activities by: temporarily blocking waterway sections, imposing restrictions on the amounts of loads transported, and requiring additional vessels to compensate for reduced load factors, or even a shift to other modes of transport. In consequence, under such circumstances, the supply of raw materials and manufactured goods can become insufficient or even interrupted, the transportation costs will increase and the impact on the economy can be dramatic. For example, in the third and fourth quarters of the year 2018, the production losses of the German industry due to persistent low water levels on Rhine river amounted to approximately 4.7 billion EUR. This corresponds to 0.63 % of the entire German industrial production. Several companies had to cope with substantial production losses, like BASF in the order of 250 million EUR and ThyssenKrupp in the order of 100 million EUR.

In general, in the past 200 years, such low water events occurred regularly, although in the last 50 years these events have become less and shorter lasting. However, also in the light of no climate change such events will happen in the coming decades. Accounting for climate change impacts on the hydrology, it is expected that such events will occur more often in the future. For example, in the Rhine area (Lobith) the low water event of 2018 is projected to take place every 10 to 20 years instead of once every 60 years till 2050, according to research findings of Deltares. The impact of the past longer lasting low-water events on inland waterway transport was not that strong as in 2018. The reason is that in those times the vessels were smaller and less vulnerable to water-level changes compared to the much larger new ones which entered operation in the past 20 years. This holds also for a part of the pusher and tug fleet on the Danube which displayed initial design draughts between 1.1 m and 1.5 m in the 1960s and 1970s, while the draughts of most later designed and today’s pushers vary between approximately 1.5 m and 2.2 m, allowing for higher propulsive power, larger convoys and, thereby, for greater energy and cost efficiency of the transport at normal water-level conditions.

Considering these severe impacts on the economy and the inland waterway transport as result of low water, which is being increased by climate change impacts, it is necessary to re-evaluate the logistical concepts in place today, including the size and design of inland vessels. New concepts shall contribute to the reduction of the vulnerability of inland waterway transport to low-water events, and they shall be implemented relatively fast, e.g. within a few years, in dedicated single cases e.g. where severe economic losses due to low water shall be avoided.

However, it is stressed that in order to reduce the vulnerability of the entire EU fleet, comprising more than 12 000 operational vessels (PROMINENT (2015)) of which approximately 40 % are assumed to be vulnerable to low water dedicated infrastructure measures, starting with proper maintenance and management of waterways on short term, have to be considered for improving the climate resilience of inland waterway transport on the long term. The argument is also that such a great number of vessels cannot be replaced within a reasonable time frame, considering the associated costs and available ship-yard capacities. In addition, if infrastructure measures are neglected, the navigation conditions will become worse as a consequence. This would result in newly built shallow-water vessels becoming also vulnerable again to climate change effects, reducing thereby the service quality of inland waterway transport.

Impacts on vessel performance and economy

This report gives a comprehensive overview of the impacts of severe low water on the performance of inland waterway transport and the economy. The impacts can be summarised as described in the following:

  • The cargo carrying capacity will be reduced. The reduction is depending on the ship size: larger vessels are more vulnerable to low water than smaller ones if the load factor is considered.
  • The power demand and fuel consumption increase due to increased resistance and reduced propulsive efficiency and therefore the emissions increase.
  • The vessel speed decreases and the sailing time increases.
  • More vessel movements will be necessary for the transportation of the same amount of cargo.
  • The manoeuvrability becomes worse, which is depending on the ship type. In certain cases, also positive effects can occur.
  • The stopping duration and distance increase due to higher risk of ventilation, reduced thrust and a greater added mass.
  • Starting the movement and operation of a vessel may be prevented by ventilation of the propeller, resulting in a reduction of the thrust.
  • Common pushers with a draught of approximately 1.8 m are more vulnerable to low water than common motor cargo vessels with a minimum draught of approximately 1.3 m as they have to stop operation at around 2.2 m water depth if for squat and safety allowance 0.4 m are assumed.
  • The safety of navigation is reduced due to greater risk of grounding and more vessel movements.
  • The transportation costs per tkm and freight rates increase.
  • The supply of raw materials and transportation of manufactured products can become insufficient or even interrupted.
  • Significant losses in production amounting even to several billion EUR in Western Europe can occur.
  • Finally, goods will be shifted to other modes of transport, which will be difficult to revert, as well as which can cause capacity limitations of climate-mitigation relevant infrastructure like railways. A loss transport demand may therefore also occur as result of relocation of production and distribution facilities.

While several measures for coping with low water are already known from past research, e.g. VBD (2004), this report is focussed on recent findings, being clustered in options for shallow water vessels, most recent developments and dedicated subsidy programmes.

Technical options for shallow-water vessels

Suitable propulsion systems of shallow-water vessels aim at preventing possible propeller ventilation, as well as loss of propulsive efficiency at low water while displaying in the best case no increase in energy demand at normal water conditions compared with similar standard vessels. A very effective measure fulfilling this criterion is the application of a flex tunnel with a ducted propeller, which is a further development of the standard propeller tunnel allowing for optimum performance at normal water conditions without a fixed tunnel, which increases the power demand, e.g. a 10 % reduction of fuel consumption is reported by Damen. At small draught the flex tunnel is activated and prevents ventilation. This product is commercially available from Damen Marine Components. Further measures in addition to propeller tunnel and flex tunnel comprise the application of multiple propellers (e.g. three or four instead of two), reducing the propeller load, however, demanding careful investigations with respect to the proper inflow of the water. In cases with very high propeller loads, the application of ducted propellers is very effective as a part of the thrust demanded will be created by the duct.

A bow thruster improves the manoeuvring behaviour of a vessel, which usually becomes worse with decreasing water depth. The stopping distance and time, increasing with decreasing water depths, will be reduced due to the additional thrust of the bow thruster acting in opposite direction of the movement of the vessel and braking it. It supports also the vessel movement from standstill as it provides additional thrust reducing thereby the high load of the main propulsion device and the risk of cavitation and ventilation.

The draught of a vessel can be reduced by several solutions for weight reduction comprising the application of high tensile steel, other material than steel like aluminium alloys, composites and even wood in combination with steel, Sandwich Panel Systems, adhesive bonding, optimised framing, and weight optimisation by direct strength calculations. The impact of light weight solutions on the draught of a cargo vessel is very limited. According to the ECCONET project, for larger vessels, a draught compensation of around 10 cm was obtained (ECCONET (2012)). However, lightweight solutions can be combined with other measures, e.g. the increase of the width (beam) of the vessel, for minimisation of the draught. Lightweight solutions are expected to increase the construction costs, and one has to make a case-by-case decision is the minor reduction of draught worth this cost increase.

Shallow-water hulls and concepts for new buildings to be operated on the Danube have been developed in the recent years:

A pusher with superior shallow-water performance compared with common standard pushers with a draught of approximately 1.8 m was developed featuring the following characteristics: LOA = 30 m, BOA = 11.00 m, H = 2.5 m, T = 1.4 m, three diesel powered drive trains with 700 kW each, three ducted propellers in tunnels, bow thruster 250 up to 300 kW. Taking into account the benefits of the application of the latest technological achievements increasing efficiency, safety, environmental performance and comfort, a new pusher design will be most probably superior to a conventional elder design created according to the standards 30 or more years ago. This report contains a set of guidelines for the design of a Danube shallow water pusher taken from Radojčić et al. (2021).

Starting with the Innovative Danube Vessel project (IDV (2014)), several developments with respect to shallow-water motor cargo vessels were carried out, finally resulting in a wide-body self-propelled X-type vessel for the Danube, displaying a design draught of 2.3 m and a respectable deadweight of 2248 t. The low draught was achieved by increasing the width and reducing the height of the vessel, combined with direct strength calculations and goal-based design of its structure resulting in a light weight not exceeding the one of a standard design, although partially strengthening of the structure had to be foreseen. The propulsion system is diesel powered with twin ducted propellers (propeller diameter = 1.55 m).

In the Horizon 2020 EU project NOVIMAR, two shallow draught versions of the NOVIMAR Class Va container roro vessel have been designed with the purpose to enable navigation in shallow waters such as parts of the river Danube and the Rhine: one “stern access version” concept and one “double end access version” concept. The shallow draught design comes unavoidably with a number of draw-backs. With no cargo below the main deck, the space utilisation and cargo space capacity are reduced as well as the stability due to a higher centre of gravity. However, the concepts have the potential to provide attractive waterborne services, where available water depth is a significant limitation. The maim dimensions are: LOA = 104 m, BOA = 11.45 m, H = 3.0 m, T = 2.0 m, TEU = 104 (a’ 11.3 t, deadweight = 1317 t, first version) and 100 (a’ 11.8 t, deadweight = 1298 t, second version), up to three tiers of containers are possible, PB =2 x 550 kW (2 x 750 hp). 

Also for operation in the Rhine area, several tanker concepts have been developed which are already now in operation or which will enter operation in 2022 and in the coming years, see below: “most recent vessels concepts under construction and in operation”.

The creation of additional buoyancy was initially investigated in the FP7 EU project ECCONET. The basic idea is based on devices creating additional buoyancy when needed for coping with low water. Under favourable conditions, close to those for which the ship is actually optimised, the devices would be put away and the ship would continue the service with optimal performance. Based on the first results, further development is being carried out in the Horizon 2020 project NOVIMOVE, including more detailed performance calculations and comprehensive design activities. Solutions for the creation of additional buoyancy are moveable side blisters made of steel of different shapes or inflatable devices like membrane air pads. Further solutions comprise foldable buoyancy elements integrated into the ship’s body which can be laterally extracted. At present, practical experiences of side blisters in use, be it cylindrical or laterally foldable solutions are not known yet. Finally, the usage of a dock ship taking a vessel onboard at a reduced final draught of the transportation system has been considered in NOVIMOVE. The conceptual design of a dock ship is oriented towards a selected bottleneck, e.g. a distinct shallow water area. To pass short sections of the fairway with insufficient water depth, two different attempts are conceivable to help loaded vessels; on the one hand a powered dock ship and on the other hand a similar module without own propulsion system.

Stakeholder interviews

A comprehensive set of stakeholder interviews is available in Scholten and Rothstein (2012). 417 persons representing shipowners were asked for an interview, 55 complete questionnaires were returned.  According to the shipowners interviewed the following adaptation measures relating to ship technology can be thought of as feasible: modified aft-ship form, additional usage of (smaller) vessels, construction and provision of smaller vessels, 24-hours operation of vessels, usage of light-weight materials, better adaptation of the amount of cargo to be loaded to available fairway depths, as well as improved manoeuvrability. Arguments against the measures listed are mainly the associated costs and minimum draught of vessels being not reduced, as well as shortage of staff if vessels are to be operated 24 hours per day. Here some potential for improvement was observed: only about one third of vessels involved in the interviews were operated 24 hours a day, although 75 % of the vessels had two or more persons with a boat-master certificate on board, allowing for 24-hours operation. Finally, the importance of financing smaller vessels by banks was highlighted.

Most recent research

FlaBi: The overall objective of the joint project “FlaBi” is to increase the resilience of inland vessels during pronounced periods of drought by extending their operational limits. To achieve this goal, innovative ship designs with suitable propulsion systems in combination with lightweight structures are developed for the requirements of the Rhine and Elbe river at extreme low water levels. In addition, a retrofit concept for propulsion and steering devices are developed for the existing fleet, which will improve suitability for extreme low-water conditions. In the sub-project “FlaBiTec”, DST is investigating three different propulsion concepts, a 2nd generation blade-chain drive, a modified paddle wheel drive and the conventional ducted propeller with regard to their operational limits. The appropriate integration of the propulsors into the ship’s hull represents a major challenge. In addition to different propulsors, design measures to reduce the lightweight are also being investigated. The technical developments will be suitably combined in dedicated ship designs. Subsequent model tests serve to identify the operational limits of the designed ships and enable a comparison with existing ships.

Duration: December 2020 – November 2023.

DüPro, based on the outcomes of the project “Determination of the effective propeller inflow for inland navigation” of DST focussed on systematic investigations of the complex interactions between ship, propulsor and waterway. For this purpose, numerous propulsion and open water tests with different arrangements were carried out. Building upon the results of the propeller inflow project, two of the hull forms tested there were built on a larger scale, so that additional information on scale effects could be obtained. In addition, one aft ship each with rudder propellers and the modern flex-tunnel concept was designed, built on a model scale and tested. The investigations were supplemented by CFD simulations and PIV measurements.

Duration: November 2018 – May 2022

NOVIMOVENovel inland waterway transport concepts for moving freight effectively is a Horizon 2020 EU project which focusses amongst others on smart river navigation by merging satellite (Galileo) and real time river water depths data; smooth passage through bridges/locks by a dynamic scheduling system for better corridor management along the TEN-T Rhine-Alpine (RALP) route; and concepts for innovative vessels that can adapt to low water condition while maintaining a full payload. Some of the measures mentioned above with respect to additional buoyancy were already preliminarily considered in previous projects like the FP7-ECCONET (steel side blisters, inflatable blisters and foldable buoyancy elements as theoretical concepts). Building upon the preliminary results, in NOVIMOVE further developments are carried out aiming at raising the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of these concepts. The corresponding work includes iterative detailing of hydrodynamic characteristics, regulatory and operational aspects, determination of related investment costs (CAPEX) and operating cost (OPEX) as well as structural design. For the latest developments, the reader is advised to visit the website below.

Duration: June 2020 – May 2024

Practical implementations: most recent vessels concepts under construction and in operation

The BASF shallow-water tanker is a highly innovative vessel currently under construction to enter operation end of 2022. Following the experience with the low water levels of the Rhine in 2018 when a suitable ship and sufficient alternative transport capacity was not available, BASF decided to acquire a dedicated tanker in order to secure its production at Ludwigshafen. The vessel features the following characteristics improving its performance at low and normal water conditions: increased main dimensions: L = 135 m, B = 17.5 m instead of L = 110 m, B = 11.4 m; improved cargo carrying capacity at low water: 650 t at T = 1.2 m, and 2500 t at T = 2.05 m; diesel-electric propulsion system with stage V engines for very low emissions; three electric drivetrains with three propellers optimised for shallow water operation and normal water conditions; the outer propellers have a smaller diameter than the centre propeller which ensures additional thrust at normal water conditions; three rudder blades behind the outer propellers for sufficient rudder force, one rudder blade at the centre propeller; one integrated Van der Velden® FLEX Tunnel left and right of the outer drive trains; hydrodynamic optimisation using model tests; lightweight construction ensuring high structural stability by transferring methods from seagoing shipbuilding to inland waterway vessels.

The HGK gas tanker “Gas 94” entered operation in September 2021 as answer to the low-water event of 2018. A contract for the construction of second tanker to be delivered in 2023 has been signed in 2022, and five additional vessels are to follow in the coming years. The improved shallow-water performance has been achieved by proper design and engineering and not by usage of alternative materials. The vessel displays the following features: L = 110 m, B = 12.5 m (slightly increased breadth instead of 11.45 m) , depth = 5.6 m; voluminous foreship; diffusor-like aft ship preventing ventilation at low water depths; small propeller diameters; reduced draught by 30 to 40 cm; Power Management System and diesel-electric propulsion: three ducted rudder propellers, each driven by a 405 kWe electric motor: 30 % less CO2 emissions; optimisation of design of cargo tanks for weight reduction; higher construction costs in comparison with standard vessels.

Dedicated subsidy programmes

In Germany the importance of coping with climate change impacts on inland waterway transport has been acknowledged in the national funding programme for the sustainable modernisation of inland vessels (Richtlinie zur Förderung der nachhaltigen Modernisierung von Binnenschiffen vom 24. Juni 2021). It supports amongst others dedicated measures for optimisation of cargo vessels for improved operation at low water. This can comprise for example: exchange of the aft ship by another one; optimisation of the aft ship by different constructive implementations, optimisation of the foreship by constructive modifications for reduction of resistance; installation of assistance solutions for improved manoeuvring, e.g. bow thrusters.

Following the same reasoning, In Austria, a subsidy programme containing similar items as the one of Germany has been initiated by the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, being currently under evaluation.

Needs for further development

In general, it is necessary to re-evaluate the logistical concepts in place today, including the size and design of vessels. According to the CCNR, the consideration of smaller vessels being able to be operated together with a lighter will gain more significance. In addition, research and development activities targeting existing vessels, as well as new buildings will be required. Such new concepts will contribute to the reduction of the vulnerability of inland waterway transport to low-water events, but they will not solve the problem what for additional measures with respect to climate resilient infrastructure, provision of reliable information with respect to navigation conditions, as well as logistics and vessel operation are required. While measures for adaptation of existing vessels are relatively limited (exchange of the aft ship could be viable solution), aiming largely at increasing the cargo capacity at low water, new buildings show a greater potential for implementation of a number of measures, e.g. lightweight solutions, multiple propulsion devices, hull-form optimisation, variation of main parameters, etc., resulting in improved shallow-water performance and competitive performance at normal water levels.

More research is needed with respect to the provision of reliable data on and forecasting of environmental framework conditions as a precondition for the proper retrofitting and design of inland waterway vessels. The adaptation measures shall not negatively affect the operation of vessels at normal navigation conditions, e.g. increasing the energy demand.

Better understanding of the real sailing profiles allows the vessels to be designed more in line with the real conditions, which is also required for the energy transition. The ship design has to be optimised for the real operating conditions, taking into account rising OPEX with sustainable energy carriers, new ship main dimensions, structures, drivetrains, hull forms and the associated hydrodynamics. Showing still a lot of room for improvement, manoeuvring models for automatic navigation shall be developed, leading possibly to a business case for smaller units, e.g. due to lower personnel costs as a part of the ship operation may be carried out automatically with less personnel. In general, measures relating to the improvement of the competitiveness of smaller, less vulnerable vessels in comparison to bigger ones shall be elaborated, including the creation of regulations for proper implementation. Investigations of extreme shallow water conditions request further research with respect to interaction with river beds and squat effects in combination with small under-keel clearance.

Reliable and efficient prediction of ship operation with ventilating propellers is to be further investigated. In general, model tests and numerical methods can be used for this purpose. Challenges of model tests relate to the assessment of scaling effects, correct propeller loading and application of proper friction deduction force. Numerical simulations are associated with high computational costs for large-Reynolds-number simulations and propeller modelling. Further challenges relate to turbulence modelling and free-surface capturing. The objectives to be achieved are save accelerations, save stopping and save manoeuvres.

Finally, the impact of the introduction of new low-emission or zero-emission solutions for coping with the climate objectives of the EU, increasing eventually the weight and size of vessels, e.g., by full-electric sailing or usage of hydrogen and fuel cells, has to be considered with respect to proper operation during low-water events.

With respect to the adaptation of the fleet, a dialogue between industry, logistics, politics, and environmental organisations, as well as regulations and funding for modernisation on European level will be necessary. Proper cooperation between the different stakeholders and an integrated approach for coping with climate change is necessary, what for also the European institutions are needed.

Welcome to the download section of PLATINA3 report D2.4 – Towards accurate European fleet data

The PLATINA3 Deliverable 2.4 “Towards accurate European fleet data” was prepared under the lead of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine. The work concludes regarding greening of the fleet that too limited quantity of data is available today to follow the evolution of the greening of the fleet. Reliable data on the evolution of engine types (from vessel certificates) or on the type and volume of fuel consumption (for propulsion and auxiliary uses) is necessary.

Although there is fragmented data available in some countries, there is a clear lack of such data on European level. It is therefore recommended to improve the accuracy of the European Hull Database and to adapt and expand the structure and to add attributes to include data for monitoring the greening of the fleet. It is also advised to enable efficient exchange with other databases. This can be taken into account in the revision of the European Hull Database by the European Commission.

1. Document download

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Welcome to the download section of PLATINA3 report D2.6 – Towards implementation of a label system for EU inland vessels.

The report is introduced by Martin Quispel, sr. expert project manager at Expertise- and Innovation Centre Barging and coordinator of the PLATINA3 project.

In order to promote low/zero emission vessels, an instrument is needed to recognise and reward such vessels. A task in PLATINA3 therefore developed options for an EU label or indexing method to express the energy and emission performance of vessels. It concludes that a big step can be made by implementing a system addressing the type of energy consumed by the vessel and the emission performance per kWh (greenhouse gasses and air pollutants). This provides a solid base of data and information.

Further synergies and functions can be added via inclusion of vessel design indicators and the productivity of the vessel (e.g. tonkilometres). It is now up to policy makers to make choices and to start implementation. All information is available in the PLATINA3 report and a brief overview is provided in a short video.

1. Video introduction

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Welcome to the download section of PLATINA3 report D2.5 – Funding and financing the energy transition of the European IWT fleet.

The report is introduced by Laure Roux, co-author of the deliverable and working as Market and Economic Affairs Administrator at Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) in Strasbourg.

In the video below, Roux presents 3 main conclusions on the topic of funding and financing the energy transition of the European Inland Waterway Transportation fleet. Furthermore, she provides recommendations for policy makers and stakeholders to make the transition a reality.

1. Video introduction

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