Thames freight – a viable alternative to the city’s gridlocked roads

At the Intermodal Europe trade fair in Rotterdam in November, freight and fleet project manager at Transport for London (TFL), Peter Binham, said “More than 7m tonnes of cargo are being moved by barge in the development of the Tideway sewerage system. This presents the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the Thames’s capacity for use as a freight route.”

Tideway reports that it has pledged to transport over 90% of materials by barge, using barges for some 11 peak movements per day, which will reduce the number of road vehicle journeys needed to build the tunnel by more than 300,000.

On Monday 27 November the first of its six tunnel boring machines – which when fully assembled will weigh a total of 1,350 tonnes and will be as long as 12 and a half double decker buses – sailed through central London along the River Thames. Andy Mitchell, Tideway’s Chief Executive Officer, said:

“The arrival of our first TBM marks a major milestone for the construction of London’s super sewer and it also demonstrates our commitment to use the river to transport materials and reduce the number of vehicles on London’s roads”.

Offices for the Tideway project arriving by river

The UK has more than 4,000 miles of inland waterways, and London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, wants to see a move towards their use in the city and would like to see some 55% of all project materials carried by river, as well as an overall increase in the amount of freight carried this way. As freight takes up almost one-third of all morning rush hour traffic in the capital and HGVs are involved in more than 70% of deaths involving cyclists, safety is one of the main issues for improving London’s freight transport.

Jon Horsfall of the Canal & River Trust (CRT) points out to Canal Boat, that the Aire & Calder Main Line runs for something like 40 miles parallel to the congested M62 (above) and overloaded railway lines. There is sea freight from the Humber in both directions. Sea dredged aggregates are a likely traffic, with a waterside concrete mixing plant – and there’s a 2m tonnes per year demand for aggregates for construction and road work in Leeds. The article continues:

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority has secured a commitment for funding an inland port at Stourton, on the outskirts of Leeds, which could take more than 200,000 tonnes a year off the roads – and a planning application will follow soon, with a decision expected early in 2019.

CRT is working with the Freight Transport Association, the Leeds South Bank Strategy, a European Interreg (inter-regional) project with the Netherlands, Sweden and Belgium, and is an observer on the Liverpool-Humber Optimisation of Freight Transport partnership, which is looking at making better use of the Humber ports as a European gateway. 

Once an initial traffic can be secured, CRT can look at investing in modification to maximise cargo capacity on these waterways. By enlarging a small number of bridges, and improvement works to a few locks (Bulholme Lock in particular has revetments at the bottom of the chamber walls which limit its usable size) the gauge can be pushed up to the European Class 2 (1300 tonne) size – or to container barges carry eight standard shipping containers (correction received – see comments).

In addition to the report that the UK’s haulage sector is facing an estimated deficit of between 45,000 – 50,000 HGV drivers (WP Group 2018), Peter Binham points out that changes in road charging will impact trucking costs and cycle super highways will cut back more on available space.  Asked about the potential for traffic congestion on the Thames itself, he said that while volumes would grow, increases in barge sizes would mean fewer vessels on the water.





1 thought on “Thames freight – a viable alternative to the city’s gridlocked roads

  1. Comment from expert source: “Euro II class barges carry 600-700 tonnes not 1300. And the container barge will be designed to carry 32 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) not 8”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.