EU action plan seeks to shift freight to rivers

The new NAIADES programme will try to foster inland waterway transport as an environmentally-friendly alternative to road freight. The action plan will tackle the sector’s poor image and infrastructure problems.

The vice-president of the European Commission in charge of transport, Jacques Barrot, presented on 17 January a new action programme aimed at promoting inland waterway transport. The action programme, called NAIADES (Navigation And Inland Waterway Action and Development in Europe), will run from 2006 to 2013.

NAIADES will seek to “re-balance the freight transport system”, which the Commission believes is currently too focused on the road sector. “With a fleet of 11,000 vessels and a capacity equivalent to 10,000 trains or 440,000 trucks, inland waterways can make transport in Europe more efficient, reliable and environmentally friendly,” said Barrot.

The programme focuses on five areas: (1) increasing market share, (2) modernising the fleet, (3) attracting skilled labour, (4) improving the sector’s image and (5) building new infrastructure. New state aid guidelines will be issued to “facilitate investment […] and support programmes for fleet modernisation and innovation”.

The Commission says inland waterways are especially at risk in Central and Eastern European countries, where road captures most of the market share for freight. “At present only 7 to 10% of the Danube’s maximum capacity is actually used,” the Commission points out. By comparison, the sector has “conquered a significant modal share” in the Benelux countries and France thanks to pro-active policies over the past 10 to 15 years. Market share for inland waterways is now at 40% in the Netherlands, the Commission indicated.

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