1. Freight traffic on inland waterways

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• Transport performance on inland waterways in the European Union amounted to 111.2 billion tonne-kilometres (TKM) in the first three quarters of 2019.
• As a result, Rhine countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland) reached 91.3 billion TKM, which represents a share of 82%, compared to 84% in the same period of 2018.
• Transport in Danube countries (Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia) went up by 18.4% to reach a value of 19.8 billion TKM. Their share in EU transport performance increased from 16% to 18%.

 

TRANSPORT PERFORMANCE IN EUROPE

TRANSPORT PERFORMANCE IN IWT ON THE NATIONAL TERRITORY OF EACH COUNTRY IN EUROPE – COMPARISON BETWEEN Q3 2018 AND Q3 2019 (IN MILLION TKM)

Sources: Eurostat [iww_go_qnave], OECD, Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, De Vlaamse Waterweg, SPW Service Public de Wallonie

FIGURE 1: INLAND WATERWAY TRANSPORT (IWT) PERFORMANCE IN EUROPE BY REGION (IN MILLION TKM)


Sources: Eurostat [iww_go_qnave], OECD, Statistical Office of the Republic of Serbia, Destatis, Statbel, De Vlaamse Waterweg, SPW Service Public de Wallonie

  • Transport performance on the traditional Rhine was 3% higher in the first three quarters of 2019 than one year previously. The increase reflects the recovery from low water levels, but a closer look reveals that several dry cargo segments are in a difficult situation.
  • This is the case for coal, which will be phased out of the energy sector between 2022 and 2038 (see further text in this report). For iron ores, the situation is different. Iron ore transport even increased slightly on the Rhine between 2013 and 2017. However, in 2018, it came under pressure from low water levels, and from the slowdown of the steel and automobile industry. A volume of 16.3 mio. t of iron ores was transported in the first three quarters of 2019, compared to 17.8 mio. t in the same period of 2018, and 19.2 mio. t in 2017. The long- term outlook for steel production and iron ore transport points to a slightly decreasing trend in western Europe.
  • Another dry cargo segment with a difficult evolution on the Rhine is that of agricultural products and foodstuff. In the first three quarters of 2019, 7.16 mio. t of agricultural products were transported on the traditional Rhine, 9% less than in the same period of 2018. Food products amounted to 4.4 mio. tonnes (-1%). Since 2013, for the two segments taken together, annual figures (12 months) dropped from 19.6 mio. t in 2013 to 17.3 mio. t in 2017, and 15.1 mio. t in 2018. In the same period, harvest results in western Europe were more or less stable, with the exception of a bad harvest result in 2016.
  • The January 2020 forecast for the 2020 grain harvest (European grain trade association COCERAL) points to an increase of 4% for (all types of) grain in Germany, and a 5% decrease in France. For harvest volumes of oilseeds (rape, sunflower, soybeans), an increase of 4% for France and of 12% for Germany are expected.

 

FIGURES 2 AND 3: TRANSPORT VOLUME FOR DRY AND LIQUID MASS CARGO ON THE TRADITIONAL RHINE (IN MILLION TONNES)


Source: Destatis

  • For the future of the agricultural and foodstuff segment, there are threats of a delocalization of livestock activities from western Europe (especially from the Netherlands) to Poland, Hungary and Romania. The reasons behind this are increasing problems with emissions related to the livestock activity in densely populated areas (See the study of Royal Haskoning DHV (December 2019), Gevolgen grote Transities en wereldhandel voor de binnenvaart – 2020-2040).
  • In contrast to dry bulk, the transport of liquid bulk is on an upward trend on the Rhine, in Belgium and in the Netherlands. In the first three quarters of 2019, liquid bulk volume increased by 5.8% on the traditional Rhine and by 9.4% in the Netherlands. Liquid bulk transport volume amounted to 34.3 million t on the traditional Rhine and to 91.8 million tonnes in the Netherlands. Within liquid bulk on the Rhine, mineral oil products (20.5 million tonnes) had a plus of 10 %.
  • Danube transport performance (TKM in all Danube countries added together) was 18.4% higher in the first three quarters of 2019 than one year previously. The Danube recovered not only from low waters but also in economic terms. The steel industry in the Danube region has increased its production level significantly in recent years: Serbia’s steel production has more than tripled between 2014 and 2018, thanks to foreign investment of a large Chinese steel company (Data from the World Steel Association show an increase of Serbian steel production from 0.58 mio. t in 2014 to 1.97 mio. t in 2018. For the Chinese steel investment, see the article in the New York Times “As China Moves In, Serbia Reaps Benefits, With Strings Attached” published on 9 September, 2017).
  • Growth in Danube navigation in 2019 is to be seen in the light of these trends but reflects also the recovery from low waters. According to the market observation report of the Danube Commission, 4.3 million tonnes of goods passed the border point of Mohacs in southern Hungary in the first three quarters of 2019 (+16% compared to one year earlier). Iron ore (transported upstream) went up by 18%, and grain (downstream) by 6.1%.
  • At the border point between Hungary and Slovakia (lock of Gabčikovo), 4.6 million tonnes were counted (+22.7%). The increase was mainly driven by more upstream transport of iron ores (+21.8%) and food products (+69%). Downstream traffic of mineral oil products had a plus of 74% and fertilizers +58%.
  • On the Danube-Black Sea Canal (link between the Danube and the seaport of Constanza), goods traffic reached 12.75 million tonnes in (Q1+Q2+Q3) 2019, representing an increase of 20.5%.
  • The January 2020 forecast for the 2020 grain harvest (European grain trade association COCERAL) points to an increase of 5% for all types of grain in Romania, and a 5% decrease in Hungary. Oilseeds production is expected to remain stable in both countries.

 

TRANSPORT VOLUME IN MAIN EUROPEAN IWT COUNTRIES

FIGURE 4: INLAND SHIPPING TRANSPORT VOLUME IN MAIN EUROPEAN IWT COUNTRIES (QUARTERLY DATA – IN MILLION TONNES)


Source: Eurostat [iww_go_qnave]
For Belgium, Statbel figures for the 2019 quarters were corrected in light of the data available from the waterway administrations in Belgium (De Vlaamse Waterweg and SPW Service Public de Wallonie).

DRY BULK, LIQUID BULK AND CONTAINER TRANSPORT

FIGURE 5: DRY CARGO TRANSPORT (IN MILLION TONNES)

FIGURE 6: LIQUID CARGO TRANSPORT (IN MILLION TONNES)

FIGURE 7: CONTAINER TRANSPORT (IN MILLION TONNES)


Sources: Centraal Bureau voor de Statistiek, Destatis, De Vlaamse Waterweg, SPW Service Public de Wallonie, Voies Navigables de France, Romanian Institute of Statistics
Note: for Wallonia, no infra-annual container statistics are available. Hence, the product group “other goods / marchandises diverses” was assumed to consist mainly of container transport.

  • In the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium and on the Rhine, energy transition from coal to renewables and the reduction of coal transport on inland waterways is a major challenge. According to figures from the German Working Group on Energy Balances, electricity generation from hard coal decreased in Germany from 117.7 TWh in 2015, to 92.9 TWh in 2017, 82.6 TWh in 2018, and 56.9 TWh in 2019 (Source: Arbeitsgemeinschaft Energiebilanzen (https://www.ag-energiebilanzen.de/)).
  • The mid-term forecasts for inland waterways in Germany point to a further decrease of coal transport (See: Ministerium für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur (2019), Gleitende Mittelfristprognose für den Güter- und Personenverkehr, Februar 2019). According to the national energy transition programme, coal fired power plants (often located in the Rhine and Ruhr area along waterways) will be gradually closed from 2022 onwards, until the closure of all plants by 2038 (See: Bundesverband deutsche Binnenschifffahrt (2020), Pläne zum Ausstieg aus der Kohleverstromung belasten Schifffahrt und Häfen (press release 24 January 2020)).

 

TABLE 1: IWT FOR THE THREE LARGEST GOODS SEGMENTS IN GERMANY (IN THE FIRST NINE MONTHS OF EACH YEAR, IN MILLION TONNES)

Goods segment2016201720182019
Sands, stones, gravel, building materials23.425.023.326.2
Liquid mineral oil products21.922.220.624.3
Hard coal and coke coal30.027.322.721.0

Source: Destatis
Sands, stones, gravel, building material = NST-2007 codes 035, 092, 093; liquid mineral oil products = NST-2007 code 072; hard coal and coking coal = NST-2007 codes 021, 071

  • The port of Duisburg is adapting its activities to this energy transition and is currently constructing the largest trimodal container terminal in the European hinterland, on a former coal storage terrain. This new “Duisburg Gateway Terminal” will have a capacity of 850,000 TEU and will serve as destination or starting point for up to 100 trains per week from and to China (New Silk Road), and from and to eastern Europe. The terminal will be operative by 2022. Transports from and to this terminal foresee both rail and barge transport as preferred transport modes. Currently, there are already 30 to 40 trains per week running between China and the port of Duisburg, representing 30% of all trade by rail between China and Europe (Source: Schifffahrt, Hafen, Bahn und Technik (8/2019), Logistik folgt auf Kohle).
  • In the Netherlands, the phasing out of coal as an energy resource is particularly relevant as most of the coal used in power plants in the hinterland comes from ARA seaports. Likewise, on an industrial level, the Dutch barging industry is heavily involved in the transport of coal between the Dutch seaports and the Rhine and Ruhr area in Germany (See: Weekblad Schuttevaer (2020): Wegvallen kolen is rampscenario, 29 January 2020).
    In 2019, according to CBS figures, 69.7 million tonnes of sands, stones, gravel, and building materials were transported on Dutch inland waterways, compared to 80.6 million tonnes in 2018. The aim of the Dutch government to reduce different kinds of emissions (nitrogen, CO2, chemical substances such as PFAS) has a negative influence on construction activity for roads and houses, and impacts are also seen for IWW transport.
  • In Belgium, sands, stones and building materials are also the largest goods segment. They reached a volume of 12.2 million tonnes in (Q1+Q2+Q3) 2019 in Wallonia and 20.7 million tonnes in Flanders. This meant a small decrease for these materials (-2.0% in Wallonia and -1.6% in Flanders) compared to the same period in 2018. Coal transport in Belgium declined far more acutely. In Wallonia it amounted to 1.2 million tonnes (-19%), and in Flanders to 1.4 million tonnes (-5.2%).
  • In France, dry cargo increased by 6% in (Q1+Q2+Q3) 2019. The building segment currently benefits from a positive business cycle in France, driven by construction works in Paris and in the Ile-de-France region. For the whole year 2019, the transport of these materials increased by 13.9% up to a level of 25.2 million tonnes (19.1 million tonnes after the first three quarters). Hereby, 15.6 million tonnes (annual value) were allotted to the Seine basin (+14%). Agricultural products in the Seine and the Rhône basin were also on the rise, in the wake of good harvest results.
  • In Romania, dry cargo transport recorded a strong increase, and the largest product group, metal ores, sands, stones and building materials (metal ores have the majority within this segment in Romania) reached a level of 12.4 million tonnes in (Q1+Q2+Q3) 2019, an increase of 13.7% compared to the same period in 2018. The agricultural segment attained 7.1 million tonnes, an increase of 21%.
  • Liquid cargo transport increased in all five countries, especially in the Netherlands (+9.4%), France (+13.4%) and Romania (+18.4%). In Germany, refinery production was 3.0% lower than one year previously (see figure), but barge transport of liquid mineral oil products was 18.0% higher (see table above). An explanation for this is the refilling of strategic storage volumes for oil and oil products. Furthermore, oil prices decreased in 2019. Special effects (temporary maintenance works on refineries in the German and Swiss Rhine hinterland) increased further the transport of oil products in the Rhine hinterland (see part on freight rates).

 

FIGURE 8: REFINERY PRODUCTION IN GERMANY (Q1+Q2+Q3) PER PRODUCT (IN MILLION TONNES)


Source: German Association of the Mineral Oil Industry (Mineralölwirtschaftsverband)

CONTAINER TRANSPORT

  • Measured in tonnes, container transport was 3.1% higher in Belgium-Flanders, 1.8% lower in the Netherlands, 4.8% lower in Belgium-Wallonia, 6.9% lower in Germany, 7.1% lower on the traditional Rhine, and 8.4% lower in France.
  • The result for France hides some regional differences. Indeed, there was a decrease in the French Rhine basin (-8.2% based on TEU; 77.3 thousand TEU), but an increase in the Seine basin (+15.6% based on TEU; 200.0 thousand TEU) and in the Rhône basin (+12.7% based on TEU; 68.1 thousand TEU). In the Nord-Pas-de-Calais basin, the TEU result was quite stable (+0.6%; 81.0 thousand TEU). These comparisons also show that the volume in tonnes, per container, are higher in the French Rhine basin than in other French river basins.
  • In the following figures, container transport on the most important waterway for each of the above-mentioned countries (The only exception is the Netherlands, for which there are currently no quarterly inland waterway data for selected rivers available.) is shown, on a quarterly basis and in the unit TEU. In addition, three German river basins (Elbe, Mittelland Canal, West German Canals) are also integrated in this analysis.

 

FIGURES 9, 10, 11, 12: CONTAINER TRANSPORT ON THE TRADITIONAL RHINE, THE ALBERT CANAL, THE SEINE, THE ELBE, THE MITTELLAND CANAL AND THE WEST GERMAN CANAL NETWORK (IN 1,000 TEU)

  • On the traditional Rhine in Germany, container transport suffered under a weaker evolution of German exports and imports in 2018 and 2019, and under lost market shares after the 2018 low water period.
    It reached 1.57 million TEU in (Q1+Q2+Q3) 2019, i.e. -10.5% compared to the same period in 2018. The volume of goods transported in containers was 14.68 million tonnes (-7.2%).
  • On the Albert Canal, container transport followed a growing trend in 2019.
    It reached 433.3 thousand TEU in (Q1+Q2+Q3) 2019, i.e. + 9.2% compared to the same period in 2018.
    Works to increase the height of the bridges on the canal up to 9.1 meters started in 2017 and are scheduled to finish in 2022. The height of 21 bridges is to be increased and will enable barges with four layers of containers to sail on the canal.
  • In the Seine basin, container transport reached 200.0 thousand TEU in (Q1+Q2+Q3) 2019, an increase of 15.6%.
    The ports of Paris report a river container traffic of 138.5 thousand TEU after 10 months in 2019, an increase of 21%.
    The evolution was driven by all segments of waterside container transport in Paris: fluvio-maritime container transport (+16.5%), urban distribution logistics (+48.6%), and waste (+12.5%).
  • Inland waterway container transport on the Elbe and in the port of Hamburg increased in 2018 and 2019, both in terms of TEU but also in terms of volumes (tonnes).
    In (Q1+Q2+Q3) 2019, 107.0 thousand TEU were transported in the whole Elbe basin (+3.4%).
    The statistical office of Hamburg reports an increase of barge container traffic in volumes (tonnes) by 14.2% in the first half of 2019 for the port of Hamburg, up to 0.69 million tonnes.


Sources: Destatis, De Vlaamse Waterweg, VNF, Statistical Office for Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein

IMPACTS OF THE COVID-19 CRISIS ON EUROPEAN INLAND NAVIGATION

  • The spread of the Coronavirus in Europe has strong impacts on the economy overall, and also on inland navigation. Inland waterway transport is first and foremost helping to maintain the provision of the economy and society with important raw materials and products, such as agricultural products, food products, iron ore, mineral oil products, chemicals and consumer goods.
  • On the other hand, transport of goods and passengers on inland waterways is hit from the demand side: many economic sectors, whose functioning depends on inland navigation, are strongly reducing their activity, with negative effects on IWT.
  • The sectors of the economy that are particularly affected include hotels and restaurants, retail trade, aviation, and leisure industries (travel, sport, entertainment). The crisis will therefore have strong negative effects on passenger transport (both river cruises and day trips). In mid-March 2020, river cruises suffered from a wave of cancellations and had to postpone the start of the season, at least until early May 2020.
  • Not only passenger transport, but also goods transport, is affected by travel restrictions and quarantine regulations: the strict entry and quarantine regulations for nautical personnel in many European countries are causing increasing problems in staffing vessels.
  • In mid-March, the German automobile industry decided to temporarily suspend production in its plants for several weeks. A long interruption of car production would affect demand for steel, and therefore also transport demand for iron ore, scrap metal, coke coal and metal products. These materials account for around 25% of all volumes transported on the Rhine.
  • For container transport, the full effects of the crisis will probably be felt from April and May onwards, when the imports from the Far East (normally produced and loaded in the first quarter of 2020) will not be arriving in the same volumes in different European seaports (Source: Zentralverband der deutschen Seehafenbetriebe (Central Federation of German Seaport Operators)).
  • The Central Federation of German Seaport Operators estimated in mid-March that the declines in maritime cargo traffic are in the double-digit percentage range, depending on the type of cargo and location. The precise effects will only be known when port figures become available for the months of April, May and June.
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