The Spreading Ecological Appeal of River Freight Transport

April 9th, 2018

With environmental and safety objectives taking greater priority within supply chains, leaner, greener river transport services are poised to spread across Europe.

As exporters and their supply chain partners achieve ever-greater environmental and social responsibility, making maximum use of Europe’s myriad rivers is looming larger within their multimodal transport choices. Indeed, though barges require longer travel time without necessarily cutting costs over wider-used options, the appeal of cleaner, safety-enhancing and highly adaptable river transportation is rising fast. As a result, freight forwarding specialists are responding with inland waterway services.

The advantages of those cargo options are numerous. For starters, river craft are far less polluting than prevailing road alternatives, producing nearly 50% less CO2 than trucks. Quieter-running barges similarly allow major reductions in transport generated noise pollution. Those are major pluses in an era when environmentally focused policies are being applied throughout supply chains.

Safety is another advantage in hauling cargo on Europe’s waterways. Use of more river barges cuts the number of trucks on roads. That, in turn, reduces traffic congestion, as well as the risk of accidents – which are often particularly severe when loaded big rig trucks are involved.

With inland ports often located in or very close to the cities they serve, meanwhile, water transport brings merchandize near final destinations with minimal last mile road activity. That’s of particular benefit to retailing groups with multiple points of sales in the same urban zones.

Another allure of river transport is its suitability for a wide range of cargo. Barges are used to haul such diverse merchandize as construction materials to automobiles; white and brown goods to minerals; and agricultural produce to over-sized freight, such as manufactured metal beams or airplane wings. In fact, about the only commonly hauled products that aren’t natural candidates for waterways are perishable foodstuffs, whose cold chain sensitivity and limited consumption dates make them too sensitive for river transport.

Increasingly, those environmental, safety and proximity gains are offsetting the longer time and similar costs of river over road transport when exporters make their choices -- especially as additional considerations are factored in.

For example, road-associated expenses like parking charges for containers waiting to be hauled from ports can be eliminated or vastly reduced, meaning customers pay only for productive services rather than dead-time fees. At the same time, storage space offered free by many river ports can be accumulated as cargo advances towards final destinations, allowing freight – when desired – to be temporarily held without charge for slightly delayed delivery.

“The river service lets us sit down with customers and say, ‘Tell us when you need delivery, and we’ll have it to you at the specified time with limited risk of surcharges,” says Laurent Foloppe, director of the Normandy region for global freight forwarding expert Bolloré Logistics, which in late February launched a weekly round-trip Seine river shuttle operation between the port of Le Havre and Paris.

That new river service will haul up to 108 TEUs of merchandize between Le Havre and the Bonneuil-sur-Marne terminal just east of the capital. The ports of Rouen and Paris suburb Gennevilliers may also be served. In another nod to environmental objectives of the waterway option, Bolloré Logistics makes last mile delivery to Paris region clients using natural gas-powered trucks.

“The Seine river service responds to environmental priorities that clients and Bolloré Logistics share,” says Mr. Foloppe, noting the mutually beneficial attraction of river hauling makes its spread across France and Europe probable. “It also fits into our environmentally-committed, green end-to-end mix of Bolloré Logistics solutions.”

Quicker transfers of containers to river barges, Mr. Foloppe adds, will also help reduce expected freight congestion at Le Havre, especially with the continued arrival of big vessels with 20,000 to 22,000 TEUs capacities. That will be a boon to the port – France’s largest – which has experienced annual volume rises.

Key Figures
  • 20%

    More fuel-efficient for the Boeing 787 and the Airbus A350

  • 70%

    of Urbanisation is expected by 2050

  • 27

    mega-cities are expected by 2050, with at least 10 million people, compared to 1...

  • +18,4%

    of growth for E-commerce retail market in Europe in 2015

  • 82%

    of goods are moved by road

  • 1 billion

    Population in Africa

  • 60%

    of Africa’s population will be urbanized by 2050

  • 7,5%

    of growth for Indian GDP in 2014

  • 4,9%

    of growth for African GDP in 2016

  • 6,1%

    of growth for East Asian GDP in 2015, the world’s fastest-growing region

  • 19 224 teus

    transported by the MSC Oscar, the largest container ship in the world

  • 396 m

    is the size of the MSC Oscar ship

  • 120 h

    is the Non-Stop Flight Record done by Solar Impulse

  • 4,5%

    of growth in 2015 for Global Airfreight demand