INLAND WATERWAY. Stronger Inland Shipping Needs Investments, Innovations and Transnational Co-operation


Stefan Breitenbach, Head of Project Department, Port of Hamburg

Enhancing inland navigation is essential to cope with constantly growing transport volumes within the Baltic Sea Region and Europe in a sustainable way. Inland navigation must be further developed as an integral part of a multimodal and sustainable transport system which takes advantage of digitalization and automation. This requires investments, innovations and intensive transnational co-operation, since 75 % of inland navigation operations are cross-border.

2nd annual EMMA Conference in Berlin

The will for co-operation seemed to be strong among the 130 participants, who had gathered at the Annual Joint Conference of the Interreg BSR Programme Project EMMA and the Chamber Union Elbe-Oder. The conference, held at the Nordic Embassies in Berlin, was opened by Per Thöresson, Ambassador of the Swedish Embassy in Berlin.

Conference speeches and panels elaborated the perspectives for inland navigation and river-sea-shipping markets. In his keynote speech, Kurt Bodewig, European Coordinator for the Baltic-Adriatic Core Network Corridor TEN-T and Mandate Innovative Financing Instruments at DG MOVE, emphasized the importance of inland navigation for a sustainable transport system in the Baltic Sea Region and Europe.

The functional hinterland system requires inland waterways, because the growing transport volumes cannot be covered by road and rail facilities alone. Ingo Egloff, CEO at Port of Hamburg Marketing, a lead partner of Project EMMA, reminded that rail and road transport operate in their capacity limits. Increasing the modal share of inland navigation reduces congestion on roads and rails: as an example, a convoy of four barges equals the capacity of 440 trucks on the road.

In the reports and speeches the conference participants emphasized that decarbonizing Europe’s transport sector is indispensable, since it is currently responsible for one quarter of the total emissions in the EU. The role of sustainable modes of transport must be increased, as the European Union aims for carbon-free city logistics and shifting 30 % of road freight to more sustainable rail and inland waterborne transport by 2030. Making the most of inland navigation also provides economic opportunities and creates jobs in the region.

Infrastructural investments and innovations are crucial for enhancing inland navigation. 40 000 kilometers of navigable waterways and over 200 inland ports connect major cities and towns across the European Union, and investments must be made both in waterways and in ports. Inland shipping and ports have a chance to be at the forefront of digitalization and automation. Digitalization increases safety and optimizes transport chains, which makes inland shipping an even more efficient mode of transport. Furthermore, autonomous sailing is also an area where a lot can be achieved in the future.

The implementation of new innovations in the market requires financial support. The EMMA partners are investigating, for instance, how an inland motor barge based on European standards can be modified for navigation in Sweden under winter conditions. The study and development of ice navigation for inland barges, accomplished together with the EMMA partner Avatar Logistics and the Royal Institute of Technology, was published at the annual conference and is an important step to establish inland navigation in Sweden and in the BSR Region.

EMMA pilot activities

Finland – Lake Saimaa, located in the south-eastern Finland, stretches over four different regions and is the largest lake in Finland. At approximately 4,400 square kilometres Lake Saimaa is also the fourth largest natural freshwater lake in Europe. The Saimaa Canal, 43 kilometres in length, connects Lake Saimaa with the Gulf of Finland.

This pilot case aims to demonstrate an “Intelligent Saimaa” piloting environment by analysing what kind of information a river information system based on VTS or RIS (River Information Services) must provide to develop an intelligent water transport means. Further, ongoing projects in the Saimaa Canal and planned improvements to icebreaking operations can lengthen the annual activity of inland waterway transport up to 330 days in the next three years. Future plans for the vessel traffic in Saimaa in the near future include increasing the maximum vessel length by 10 meters, increasing the maximum draught to 4.45 meters and construction of a new ice-breaking bow designed to break a 12.6 meters wide fairway for vessels during the winter season. The benefits of Saimaa vessel traffic include short first and last mile connections, very competitive price of warehousing and congestion free waterways and ports. These factors together with professional workforce in the area ensure that schedules are adhered to and costs are kept reasonable in the supply chains. Saimaa has 770 km of 4.35 meter deep waterways for vessels and travel time of vessels from northern Saimaa to sea ports in Central Europe is 4–5 days.

Germany – The North-East German pilot focusses on improving transport management by a software prototype that provides information relevant to the planning and operation of IWT. EMMA uses available data sources such as RIS and combines them with necessary information for planning into one map-based web application. Thus, the public section of the web application will provide a real-time overview of the status of inland waterways in the region including the status of infrastructure, as well as general traffic information. Many sources of information such as the European RIS Reference Data (RIS Index), water levels and Notices to Skippers (NtS) have been integrated successfully. The web application provides benefits especially for shippers, transport organisers, vessel owners, and skippers. The pilot will greatly enhance the transparency and thus the predictability of IWT. This will make IWT more reliable and ultimately help to increase its competitiveness. Cooperation with the Finish partners to contribute to their digitalisation strategies of Saimaa region is on-going.

Lithuania – The development of oversize cargo transportation from the Port of Klaipėda to the eastern and southern regions of Lithuania, the north-eastern region of Poland, as well the western region of Belarus is in the focus of the pilot activity. Data collection and analysing data related to, for instance, cargo flows and water levels is the first step to develop current supply chains further.

Forecasts of the oversize cargo transportation in Lithuania until 2026 have been finalised and potential shares for inland navigations derived. According to the forecast, about 1,000 oversize cargo units are expected to be shipped by barge in the Lithuanian inland waterways in 2026. The next step is to find optimal locations for loading and unloading oversize cargo at the port of Klaipėda and in inland waterways. Further, a draft design of the IWT means for the oversize cargo transportation in Lithuania is under development.

EMMA offers a good basis for discussions with business, as well as for practical actions to use Lithuanian inland waterways for the oversize and heavy cargo transportation.

Poland – The Kujawsko-Pomorskie Voivodeship and the City of Bydgoszcz are responsible for the implementation of the Polish pilot. The pilot includes a promotion and research cruise and a location study for the construction of a multimodal platform in the region of Bydgoszcz-Solec Kujawski. The first stage of the pilot was the promotion and research cruise of a container barge. It took place in April 2017 and featured 9 days of sailing up the Vistula River from Gdańsk through Bydgoszcz and Toruń to Warsaw. Every day of the cruise the river vessels (towboat + barge with about 40 containers) stopped by a different city by the Vistula River, where events for the promotion of sailing were held. The cruise demonstrated the transport potential of the river and the Vistula region, drew decision-makers’ attention to main infrastructure bottlenecks and proved that it is possible to use water transport in current unfavourable navigating conditions. The location study for the construction of a multimodal platform (a river port with a logistics centre) presents an analysis of environmental, hydrological, technical and infrastructural determinants in the area between Bydgoszcz and Solec Kujawski, where its construction is planned.

Sweden – From a commercial point of view, Swedish inland waterway transport is in the very early phase. Even though the technical framework for inland waterway-vessels is in place since the end of the 2014, only a few initiatives for commercial pilots have been launched.

The Swedish pilot for inland waterway transport is divided into two parts. The first part identifies the logistics concept, which has the greatest chance of being implemented. Related to this, EMMA has been studying transportation of liquid fuel, soil, rocks, building materials and containers in the Mälaren region, transportation of construction and building materials from Stockholm to Bålsta, recycling transport from Stockholm to Bålsta, in the Mälaren region, as well as container transport on the Göta River.

Initially, the Swedish pilot was expected to reach a concept description with identified logistical transport hypothesis, potential customers and institutional and technical barriers, as well as a viable business model for such a setup. However, the work has proceeded well and a real commercial pilot on the Göta River is expected to reach a test phase during the course of the EMMA-project. Such a pilot will also validate the hypotheses developed during the early phases of the project. In addition, the Lake Mälaren pilot is still running under full development to possibly materialise during the EMMA project.

EMMA is funded by the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme

EMMA is funded by the Interreg Baltic Sea Region Programme 2014–2020, which supports integrated territorial development and cooperation for a more innovative, better accessible and sustainable Baltic Sea Region.

The project is led by Port of Hamburg Marketing Reg. Assoc. and executed together with twenty project partners from Germany, Finland, Lithuania, Poland ant Sweden.

The total budget available amounts to EUR 4.42 million of which EUR 3.45 million are co-financed by the Baltic Sea Region Programme (ERDF). The EMMA project’s duration is from March 2016 to February 2019.

EMMA is appointed as the flagship project by the European Commission

The European Union Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region (EUSBSR) is the first macro-regional strategy in Europe. It aims at bringing together initiatives in different sectors (growth, sustainable development, transport etc.), as well as promoting cooperation between stakeholders in the Baltic Sea Region.


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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
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