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European Alternative Fuels Observatory

Inland waterways

Overview of Inland Waterway shipping in Europe

Inland waterway transport plays an important role for the transport of goods in Europe. More than 37,000 kilometres of waterways connect hundreds of cities and industrial regions. 13 Member States have an interconnected waterway network. The potential for increasing the modal share of inland waterway transport is significant. Compared to other modes of transport which are often confronted with congestion and capacity problems, inland waterway transport is characterised by its reliability, energy efficiency and major capacity for increased exploitation. The European Commission aims to promote and strengthen the competitive position of inland waterways in the transport system, and to facilitate its integration into the intermodal logistics chain.

Inland waterway transport is a competitive alternative to road and rail transport. In particular, it offers an environment-friendly alternative in terms of both energy consumption and noise emissions. Its energy consumption per km/ton of transported goods is approximately 17 % of that of road transport and 50 % of rail transport. In addition, inland waterway transport ensures a high degree of safety, in particular when it comes to the transportation of dangerous goods. Finally, it contributes to decongesting overloaded road networks in densely populated regions.


Market insights

  • Transport performance on inland waterways in the EU increased by 4.3% in the first half year of 2021, compared to the same period one year earlier. The recovery was mainly driven by the dry cargo sector.
  • Passenger transport started to recover only in the second half of 2021. However, the number of passengers, and therefore the capacity utilisation of the cruise vessels, remained rather low.

Regular observation and analysis of the inland waterway transport sector is carried out, on behalf of the European Commission, by the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR), in collaboration with European inland navigation organisations. This market observatory supports further promotion of the sector and allows analysis of its development. Learn more at CCNR