Regional and national media: “Commercial barges should be part of PM’s green industrial revolution”

The news that commercial barge deliveries from the Humber to Leeds have been restored was also published in a sporting magazine and the Yahoo! News aggregator.

The government should invest in inland waterways if it is serious about a green industrial revolution

Forward thinking Dave Higgens of the Belfast Telegraph reports that the green credentials of waterborne transport have been acknowledged for some time – and if the government wants to go green, it needs to improve our waterways so they can take bigger barges.


John Dodwell, of the Commercial Boat Operators Association, was speaking as  commercial barge deliveries from the Humber to Leeds have been made for the first time in 20 years and plans for a new inland port in the West Yorkshire city are being welcomed.

He pointed out that moving cargo by barge is more environmentally friendly even than using electric lorries – each barge takes the same load as 18 big trucks:

“Barges produce far less noxious emissions than lorries. There have been some figures saying they produce only 25% of the CO2 which vehicles do. But, even if all lorries had electric engines, there would still be wear and tear from tyres, from brake pads and from brake surfaces, putting particulates into the atmosphere, which we breathe in . . .

“Barges don’t have to overcome friction in the same way that a lorry does, they just glide along the water. It’s a more efficient use of fuel and a more efficient use of people. One barge carrying 500 tonnes has a two-man crew. They can carry that cargo from Hull to Leeds more quickly than if they each drove an HGV up and down the M62. So, although it may appear to be slow, it actually gets the cargo there sooner.”

The Aire and Calder Navigation, the conduit for the recently reinstated Goole to Leeds building aggregate deliveries, is big enough for the barges currently available. But Mr Dodwell said that an expansion of the industry could soon see a demand for bigger vessels and the Government –  which funds road improvements – should also look at improving waterways in order to transport containers by canal.

“There is talk of even bigger lorries. There’s talk of one lorry pulling another. And that increases the productivity of the lorry driver. Why can’t we have similar improvements paid for by the Government for the waterways?”

He spoke of the potential for the expansion of traffic on the Aire and Calder as well as a number of other waterways around the UK where commercial barge operations are growing.  Barges on the River Thames are playing central role in the many tunnelling projects ongoing in London, from the Super Sewer to Tube line extensions, adding: “All this goes past the Houses of Parliament but it goes so quietly most MPs don’t realise what’s happening.”

Barge owner John Branford said the new inland port at Stourton in Leeds, located close to the motorway and rail networks, is expected to receive 200,000 tonnes of freight a year but he predicted that the capacity would be 825,000 tonnes – a figure which would take 60,000 lorries off the road.

The slogan: “Go barge”!





Businessmen rediscover the potential of moving raw materials and manufactured goods by waterway

Planners, architects, the Canal & River Trust and the Commercial Boat Owners Association are aware of the potential to bring the waterways back to their original use which is offered by the Icknield Port Loop. Construction materials are often transported by water, provision has been made in the plans for a water-bus service and Professor Harris has advised on hydrogen-fuelled transportation from Icknield Port to the City Centre.  

Urban Splash and its partner Places for People were awarded the contract to develop the site in 2015 by Birmingham City Council and the Canal & River Trust. In April last year architect Adam Willetts, Associate Director Development at Urban Splash, wrote about bringing Birmingham’s waterways back to life:

Delivering plants and materials for the Port Loop park: centre, Adam Willetts, right, the barge’s skipper, Richard Horne, a member of the CBOA

“We’re bringing the waterways back into their original use, taking delivery of plants and materials which will be used in the new Port Loop park – which will open early this summer”.

He said that the Icknield Port Loop canal – the waterway which surrounds our Port Loop development in Birmingham, is an interesting stretch of water. It was engineered by James Brindley and opened to traffic on 6th November 1769. Birmingham businessmen believed that raw materials and manufactured goods could be better moved by canal – with records showing that the first ever boat-load of coal to arrive via the Icknield Port Loop waterway reduced costs by 50% – with coal coming in at 7 shillings per tonne. He continued:

“It’s a realisation of our dream to use the site’s surrounding canals in the ways they were originally intended; big thanks go to the Commercial Boat Owners Association (CBOA) and our landscape consultants Talbots made it happen”.

Work underway at Port Loop

Adam Willetts adds: “Now, we want to make even more use of the water and have asked other contractors like Talbots to share their ideas at tender stage; we’re especially keen for ideas which efficiently use the water. I hope it’s the first example of many uses of the water – the perfect nod to the canal’s industrial heritage.”

Two months later, the environmental advantages of carrying freight accident-free on the country’s inland waterways, reducing road congestion and air pollution, were set out in the 2019 Gosling report.







UK inland water transport 1: from 25 tonne water buses, to larger barges, tugs and a vessel carrying 1350 tonnes  

Williams Shipping (Southampton and Milford Haven) has a fleet list which includes vessels ranging from 20 -1750 tonnes. Smaller inland waterway commercial vessels carry passenger freight – water taxis, water buses or ferries – in twenty-two British towns or cities.

Above, water buses in innovative Leeds

A report by the Department for Transport points out that our extensive network of inland waterways is an underused resource with great potential for greening the last mile of distribution. It sees changing the way in which goods travel to their final destination – often in the heart of city centres – as being the most significant freight issue for urban areas.

The DfT report advocates greater use of rail and water infrastructure for city centre deliveries, including loading and unloading waterborne freight in cities that have rivers or canals passing through them, citing the example of the two multipurpose cargo boats (below) to the centre of Utrecht.

The DfT sees a wider role: goods including retail stock, stationery supplies, documents, food, drink, parcels, medicines and construction materials have to find their way to shops, offices, bars, restaurants, homes, hospitals and building sites.

It stresses that the choice of transport has wide ranging implications for the economy and employment growth and also for congestion, safety, emissions, road maintenance, noise, vibration, and quality of life, adding: 

“Support is needed for the ongoing maintenance of waterways and the removal of barriers (such as low bridges or narrow locks) to ensure that they can accommodate more freight traffic if required”. 

The Commercial Boat Operators (CBOA) point out that the traditionally sized narrow canal network is able to take smaller vessels and describes various services offered, including deliveries to canal side properties reliant upon solid fuel for heating and – in some cases – cooking. Many of the people living on boats also use solid fuels and need diesel deliveries. CBOA members’ services are listed here.

On larger waterways, they stress, one 500 tonne barge can reduce the carbon emissions and road congestion caused by the 25 lorries needed to carry such a load.

The Troon Tug Company owns and operates landing craft, tugs (below) and barges (700-750 tonnes) which service forests other haulage cannot reach. They can access the shoreline of remote coasts and sea lochs where there is no road infrastructure and the jobs are not big enough to warrant the installation of a floating pier.

Edie’s website, an ‘integral part of the workflow of more than 100,000 sustainability, energy and environmental professionals’, reports trials have indicated that a 1,000-tonne barge produces an average of 90% less carbon dioxide than a standard HGV equivalent.

Many larger barges operate on London’s waterways. Last October this site recorded news from Tideway that lining segments for the Thames Tideway Tunnel were brought in by barge to the Kirtling Street site from a the Isle of Grain in the Thames estuary and a million tonnes of the excavated tunnel material was transported from the Isle of Grain by 710 barge movements, saving more than 115,000 HGV journeys. The transport pillar of the project won edie’s Mission Possible: Mobility award at the 2019 Sustainability Leaders Awards.

Apex Insight reports that the Thames already carries 7 million tonnes of freight per year, making it the busiest inland waterway in the UK and saving 265,000 lorry movements a year.

In the next post we move on to hear about a larger vessel, operating along the coast and on the larger inland waterways.





UK inland water transport 2: large and heavy abnormal loads

An earlier post touched on the work of water buses, larger barges and tugs. Today news of the Terra Marique – which can carry loads of up to 1350 tonnes – is included. 

Heavy Lift News reports on Wynn’s Terra Marique transporting the historic Rescue Motor Launch (RML) 497 from Southampton to the National Museum of the Royal Navy Hartlepool

Since the 1960s the Government has had a stated policy of using coastal shipping for moving the largest and heaviest abnormal loads from the nearest convenient port

In response to the findings of the 2002 ‘Freight on the Water’ (Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions), government announced its intention to adopt a water preferred policy, extending the existing policy of using coastal ports to include the use of inland waterways to take slow-moving abnormal loads off the road network offering real benefits in terms of reducing disruption and congestion.

Tim West of Robert Wynn & Sons, based in Staffordshire, reports on the company’s expertise in transporting difficult and heavy loads, including one off cargo: from dock cranes to decommissioned lifeboats and aircraft. It often devises innovative solutions to problems.

In the power generation sector its experience has included the movement of transformers, turbines, generators, rotors weighing up to 400 tonnes. The oil and gas sectors require the movement of large indivisible components to sites. The movement of large component parts for the heavy engineering sector provides many challenges particularly where the use of cranes is impossible or prohibitively expensive. The renewable energy sector requires the movement of large component parts often to remote locations.

Robert Wynn’s Inland Navigator has been strengthened to carry large single pieces or multiple loads up to 300 tonnes. It can carry abnormal loads on the inland waterway network to places such as Leeds, Nottingham, Rotherham and Worcester. In 2014, the CBOA website reported that Wynn’s Inland Navigator shipped an abnormal load’ shipment of six electricity transformers direct via the River Ouse to Drax Power station.

Robert Wynn’s largest vessel is the Terra Marique. It is designed to serve UK and European ports, rivers and inland waterways carrying heavy and abnormal loads.

A number of attributes make the Terra Marique (shown above arriving in Guernsey) unique in the European shipping market:

  • Its hydraulic roadway and ballast system will allow the vessel to offload on varying quay heights and riverbanks, using water to give more or less weight which maintains an appropriate level to load/offload when the tides are coming and going out.
  • Its specially strengthened hull allows the craft to beach land with minimal need for on site preparation, facilitating direct delivery to coastal and waterway sites.
  • Its ability to semi-submerge will allow it to transport smaller vessels, including the Inland Navigator, enabling access to the UK inland waterway network without transhipping from sea passage.
  • It can act as a mobile dry dock or ship lift for smaller vessels, including the Inland Navigator, when there is a need to carry out routine maintenance.

In UK the Terra Marique has sailed on the River Thames to Isleworth, the River Humber to Goole, the River Trent to Cottam Power Station, the Manchester Ship Canal to Carrington, the River Ribble to Preston and the River Parrett to Combwich.

Wynn’s latest press release (29.09.20) announces that a few weeks ago she was beached on Black Rock Sands in North Wales (above) A  330-metre aluminium trackway was laid,  A 128 tonnes electricity transformer, loaded in Rotterdam and destined for National Grid’s substation at Trawsfynydd,  on to a 10-axle trailer was driven off the barge along the trackway and up the beach; with the Terra Marique refloating and departing on the next high tide.

Local stakeholders, including the National Grid, were keen to avoid the disruption that would have been caused through the use of Porthmadog Harbour, the traditional port for access to Trawsfynydd power station and substation.






What are the true benefits of inland water transport? Antoon Van Coillie replies

On the Peel Ports website, Antoon Van Coillie (below), the Director at Blue Line Logistics NV and a member of Britain’s Commercial Boat Operators Association (CBOA) explains how barging materials on the inland waterways in the Netherlands is currently a raging success and how this transport model can be replicated in the North West of the UK.

Tell us about Blue Line Logistics?

Blue Line Logistics was founded 6 years ago to develop the Pallet Shuttle Barge. The Pallet Shuttle Barge was developed to make waterway freight as simple as road freight; on board there is one crew member and all goods are stored on deck which can be loaded/unloaded safely and efficiently via the onboard crane.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, we have huge issues with congestion on our roads whilst there are many underused waterways. This particular transport model is achieving a real modal shift. A key benefit of this transport model is that along the canals the barge can also be loaded with hook lift containers by truck, reducing time and costs whilst loading/unloading.

How does the inland barge service currently work in the Netherlands?

We have clients that are on a medium term contract with regular flows and we work on a ‘spot’ basis, i.e. clients call up at least 3 days before a shipment and we execute this within our planning, based on the longer-term contracts.

What are the benefits of using this logistics model?

The key benefits of using this logistics model include:

  • Reduction of road congestion
  • It reduces emissions as the barges have engines comparable to trucks, but carry 10 to 12 times the amount of freight; we are working towards a further reduction of emissions by developing alternative propulsion methods (e.g. H2, batteries, ) in the near future.
  • ETA’s are known and achieved
  • The system is far more robust (less chance of an accident that blocks the flows); moreover, it can always be supplemented by road freight if demand is high
  • It is cost effective and competitive versus road freight
  • For the loads in excess of truck size the inbound/outbound procedures are simplified

Have you experienced any challenges since implementing this concept?

Our main challenge is influencing logistic managers to switch to our transport method after having used the traditional model of HGVs for many years.

Companies that are linked to waterways have quickly realised that this is a valuable alternative. With road congestion, driver shortages and sustainability issues, people are starting to realise that inland waterway transport is a successful alternative.

What types of products work best using this mode of transport?

All palletised goods, bagged goods as well as roll or hook lift containers. In the past we have also moved cars and heavy or oversized transport goods. We are now starting to implement urban logistics where waterways go into the centre of towns by moving urban delivery bikes, urban containers and vans.

How do you see this service working in the North West of the UK?

We see the Manchester Ship Canal as the artery to moving goods between Liverpool and Manchester and from hubs along the M6 and M60. It is a low carbon solution to deliver products directly into the North West and avoid road miles – helping businesses reduce on their transport costs and carbon emissions.

What does the future look like for inland barges?

In areas where there is congestion and where there are waterways, inland waterway logistics can be a viable alternative. The Manchester Ship Canal linking Liverpool to Manchester has all the attributes to be a very useful and successful alternative to road freight.






Port of London Authority discusses Ramsgate – Thames freight route proposal

 In March, Kathy Bailes, writing in the Isle of Thanet News, reported that the Port of London Authority (PLA) has confirmed talks are underway with RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) over potentially moving freight landed at Manston airport on a route from Ramsgate Port and up the River Thames.

RSP director Tony Freudmann (below, right) said: “Freight would arrive at Manston, be trucked to the Port of Ramsgate and transferred by electric powered vessels. They will sail from the Port of Ramsgate, round the Thames and up to London. We have discovered there are up to 50 wharves in London available for this type of thing. It would all be totally carbon neutral; the potential is huge and it could potentially bring the port of Ramsgate back to life.”

“The PLA say the Thames is currently primarily used for construction sites in London, such as Fulham Football Club which is having a new stand built, all arriving by water. It is also used for carrying waste materials down the Thames and out of London but they are keen to see it used for different kinds of freight, and for perishables the possibilities are quite significant.”

The River Thames is the busiest inland waterway in the United Kingdom, carrying 60% of all goods lifted on the UK’s inland waterway network. There are some 50 ‘safeguarded’ wharves within Greater London that are available for cargo-handling uses.

Initiative to get lorries and vans off the busy roads and motorways of London and the southeast

The discussion looked at transporting items such as perishable goods as waterborne freight rather than going to the capital via road. The PLA always welcomes constructive approaches to make more use of the Thames for waterborne freight – not least as part of other successful initiatives to get lorries and vans off the busy roads and motorways of London and the southeast.. If the plans went ahead, RSP also believes it could ease the flow of trucks transporting goods on the county’s roads – such as the M20 and M2.

A PLA spokesman said that the River Thames might be used in future to move certain types of freight and packages that have landed at Manston Airport. The discussions are at a very early stage – scoping out the types of cargo that might be moved into London from Thanet in this way.

No discussions have yet taken place with port owner Thanet council and an approach will be made after assessing the feasibility of the proposals.

In July, the Department of Transport approved the development consent order for the Manston airport site.






Kuper (FinancialTimes) ‘waterways need to regain their original purpose as transport hubs’

Journalist Simon Kuper (left) points out that in recent decades, urban rivers have been neglected. There is, as coronavirus prompts a ‘remake’ of cities for the age of working from home and Amazon Prime, a need to return the waterways to service.

Many canal and riverside warehouses have become waterfront apartments some with ‘hipster’ restaurants  – urban waterways are now‘ natural play spaces’.

Climate change targets are prompting city administrations to reclaim the streets from cars and lorries.

Kuper insists that to do that, they’ll have to shift more traffic back to the waterways — but this time cleanly and silently, using the coming generation of electric ferries, barges and short-haul cargo ships.

He admits that ferries go slowly, but adds: ‘so do cars stuck in traffic’.

Ferries already transport 2.1 billion passengers a year (including 108 million a year in Istanbul alone) and London plans to double its annual total of riders to 20 million by 2035.

Though passenger traffic may diminish as an urban issue if working from home gets entrenched, one form of urban traffic keeps growing: deliveries.

To this call should be added the role of waterways in moving industrial freight – see the current contribution to building the Thames Tideway super sewer .

Amongst the comments on the FT article:






Tideway: keeping lorries off London roads & producing 90% less CO2 by using water transport

Construction of the Thames Tideway Tunnel – often described as London’s ‘super sewer’, started in 2010, is expected to be completed in 2024.

Tideway, the company delivering the project, is building a 16-mile-long tunnel from Acton in West London to Abbey Mills in the east, which will intercept the existing sewers to prevent millions of tonnes of raw sewage spilling, untreated, into the river every year

With many of the sites being on or close to the river, one of Tideway’s key construction commitments was to use river transport for material delivery and spoil removal wherever possible, reducing lorry movements considerably. 

Two jack-up barges are central to the contractor’s fleet on this site. One remains on site, servicing the smaller cofferdam with cranage to free up operational space within it. There are also two floating crane barges, two delivery barges and a dedicated safety boat with three tugs, called Multicats, shared between all the sites on this contract.

Last October Tideway reported that tunnel lining segments were brought in by barge to the Kirtling Street site from a precasting site on the Isle of Grain in the Thames  estuary and a million tonnes of excavated tunnel material had been transported from its Kirtling Street site by 710 barge movements, saving more than 115,000 HGV movements. Trials indicated that a 1,000-tonne barge produces an average of 90% less carbon dioxide than a standard HGV equivalent. The transport pillar of the project won edie’s Mission Possible: Mobility award at the 2019 Sustainability Leaders Awards.

Darren White, Head of Sustainability at Tideway said “This milestone is a testament to the hard work and commitment of our supply chain partners and stakeholders to deliver a more sustainable mass haul of materials. Not only is the use of river resulting in less congestion and air pollution for the communities that we work in and reducing the risk to other road users, but the material coming our tunnels is being beneficially used to restore landfill sites, such as Rainham, into Nature Reserves that will help encourage biodiversity for future generations.”

Workers at the Blackfriars Bridge Foreshore site for the super sewer have removed a 40 metre section from the base of the existing river wall to make way for part of a giant culvert floating structure that will connect the Victorian sewer to the new tunnel. Each block was broken up into football size blocks then lifted onto a barge using inflatable air bags before being removed by river.

In March this year, dredging the river bed at Deptford Creek began as preparation for the start of tunnelling work in nearby Greenwich. Excavators were positioned on jack-up barges on the creek and as much of the excavated material as possible was moved away from site by river, using Deptford Creek.

Transporting Selina over the water, instead of by road, prevented around 100,000km of road transport.

In July, the last of six giant tunnel boring machines (TBM), used to create the final 5.5km stretch of London’s new super sewer, arrived in the capital. TBM Selina was delivered to Tideway’s Chambers Wharf site in Bermondsey from the port of Kehl in Germany. Selina is the last TBM and will carry out the deepest drive, beginning her journey more than 60m below the ground tunnelling at a slight decline toward the pumping station in east London.

Tideway says that by transporting at least 90% of its tunnelling material by river instead of on the road, it is reducing its carbon footprint, as well as reducing road safety risks in London – two key issues for the capital.

It is confident that, in future, its work will influence the way in which businesses consider sustainable options for transporting goods and materials.







CLdN CARGO: a shift from road to rail or water to ‘green the UK economy’

As CLdN’s website says, our roads are becoming more congested and decreasing our CO² emissions  is one of the biggest challenges for our future wellbeing. They point out that multimodal transport is growing in popularity and a shift from road to rail or water would have a very positive impact on the environment.

Ipswich-based CLdN CARGO is a European door-to-door operator, providing transport solutions by combining road, sea, rail and river transport modalities.

Peel Ports container barge travels between the Port of Liverpool and Irlam Container Terminal near Trafford Park in Manchester

The Department for Transport has given a coronavirus financial support package for ferry operators to ensure that vital routes are protected and there is enough freight capacity to keep food, medicines and essential goods flowing into the country

Railfreight points out that ports receiving the package of support, such as Portsmouth, Dover, Tilbury, Teesport, Hull, Heysham, Harwich, and Killingholme (Immingham) are rail connected, but government documents are focussing only on ferry-road haulage. Though Railfreight realises it is unlikely that operators will make plans for new rail freight flows in the short term, it stresses that – with the over-arching government pledges to green the UK economy – ship to rail transport will become more attractive.

The Canal and River Trust, which has been responsible for the development of freight activity on most rivers and canals in England and Wales since 2012, would add that ship to barge transport should also be promoted where geographically possible – and that would be an even greener alternative.






In the pipeline: an emission-free pusher boat, zero-emission barges & hydrogen-fuelled ferries

Peter Hugman has drawn attention to a report in The Engineer that the Technical University (TU) in Berlin is developing a zero-emission electric pusher. Batteries and a hydrogen-fuelled fuel cell provide the energy. There will be no combustion engine. Technical details given in the report may be read by following the Engineer link.

A pusher, pusher craft, pusher boat, pusher tug or towboat, is a boat designed for pushing car floats, multiple barges lashed together, or a boat and any barges lashed to it. These boats usually operate on rivers and inland waterways.

The research project RiverCell – ELEKTRA will provide those operating regionally with the required energy via rechargeable batteries. In supraregional operations fully electric driven pushers are also supplied with fuel cell technology to increase range.

This project will show that innovative energy supply concepts will be economically viable and will also have great ecological advantages.


In June the Dutch technology group Wärtsilä announced that it has joined Zero Emission Services B.V. (ZES), an enterprise aimed at making inland waterway shipping more sustainable.

In the Netherlands transport sector inland navigation accounts for 5% of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. By switching from diesel fuelled propulsion to fully electrically powered transport, an important step can be taken towards realising the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

Replaceable battery containers, to be known as ‘ZES Packs’, will be used on vessels equipped with an electric propulsion line and  charged using energy from renewable sources.

A network of open access charging points will be set up to exchange depleted battery containers for ready-charged replacements, keeping waiting time to a minimum. Should hydrogen become a viable alternative at some point, containers equipped with hydrogen technology could supply power in the same way.

A ‘pay-per-use’ financing model has been developed; ZES charges only for the cost of renewable energy consumed plus a rental fee for the battery container, so the skipper’s operating costs remain competitive.

An English language video may be accessed from the website of New Mobility News

The HEINEKEN beer company has entered into an agreement with ZES to use the service for transporting beer from its brewery to international ports. Heineken has signed a 10-year commitment with ZES, becoming the first customer for the enterprise.

Scotland is also innovating:

A team awarded funding by the Scottish Government carried out a successful feasibility study into developing a hydrogen-powered ferry service to some of Scotland’s remotest Hebridean island communities. Ultimately, the hydrogen for the ferry would be manufactured using local community-owned wind power. The ferry was to be in operation this year but has, presumably, been delayed by the COVID epidemic.

An Orkney venture using hydrogen generated from local renewable energy sources, is developing HySeas III to operate on a route between Kirkwall and Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands. It will be one of the first vessels to attempt to accommodate compressed hydrogen below deck and is at the testing stage – completion 2021.