How to kick-start and accelerate the modal shift

Inland shipping is one of the modalities that should be considered

Inland shipping is seen as one of the solutions to reduce CO2 in freight transport. “However, the various modalities should not end up competing with each other. It’s about realizing the greenest possible transport with the smallest possible footprint. Inland shipping is one of the modalities that should be considered,” says Marius Hakkesteegt of iBarge.

The European Union is encouraging companies to make more use of inland shipping, but many of them struggle to develop an attractive business case around it and often think that it means making major changes to their transport chain. That’s why iBarge’s Marius Hakkesteegt and Arno Treur, who spoke on a personal note, took attendees of the Lean & Green Summit on a journey into the world of inland shipping in a joint presentation on 22 November 2023.

Hakkesteegt started by reflecting on the emergence of professional inland navigation around 1800, based on the tow-barge systems: “That led to the creation of the first real infrastructure for inland shipping.” He showed attendees an image of the Blue Road Map – a kind of ‘Google Maps for the waterways’. As the first freely accessible online route planner, it calculates the options for both container transport and bulk transport. The tool answers questions such as ‘Can I get from A to B by water?’, ‘How long does the journey take on a certain route?’, and ‘What is the nearest terminal or port?’. Hakkesteegt: “Everyone knows of the Port of Rotterdam, but the Netherlands actually has more than 30 ports.”

Next, Arno Treur – speaking from the perspective of inland shipping companies – talked about the various types of vessels that currently sail on inland waterways. A total of 6,500 barges sail under the Dutch flag, making up approximately 65% of the European fleet. “Inland shipping is a hidden cog in the Dutch economy. Without inland shipping, the Netherlands would soon grind to a halt,” said Treur.

In view of the introduction of European reporting requirements and carbon taxes, it is time for companies – both inland shipping enterprises and users of inland shipping – to start ensuring they have the necessary data available for auditor’s reports. In other words, the sector not only has intentions, but also objectives. ‘To measure is to know’, as the saying goes, and data is key.

The iBarge app enables the progress of a vessel’s status to be recorded in a structured manner, from ready to load to ready to unload. This releases information that shippers can use to adjust their planning. Hakkesteegt: “Over the past ten years, we have collected data that provides insight into transport performance. This provides optimization opportunities – including in terms of reducing carbon emissions, thanks to the integration with BigMile.”

Above all, Hakkesteegt and Treur were keen to convey that the path to sustainability lies primarily in optimal supply chain planning, using all modalities. “It’s not an either/or competition,” Hakkesteegt said. “Each modality has its own challenges. A million more truck drivers are required for road transport, the railways are full, and air freight is expensive. For its part, inland shipping has to contend with low water levels. But that’s nothing new; low water levels were an issue a hundred years ago too. And if you look at the problems this has actually caused for cargo transport, we really think it’s not too bad,” Hakkesteegt noted.

He mentioned the Cosun Beet Company’s sugar beet project as a good example of a modal shift. To investigate the possibility for shipping more beets to its factories by barge, the producer started a pilot in 2020. The success of the pilot led to a growing number of beets being transported to Cosun Beet Company by inland shipping in 2021 and 2022. This prevented 15,000 truck movements in 2021, reducing CO2 emissions by 20%.

Inland shipping is only beneficial for shipments across relatively long distances. Beets that are grown closer to the factory will continue to be transported by truck, so it will always remain a mix of road freight and inland shipping for Cosun. “Inland shipping never stands alone; it is always one link in the chain. Thanks to the availability of ever-more data, choices can be made not only on the basis of money, but also on the basis of sustainability,” stated Hakkesteegt.

Visit BigMile at Multimodaal Transport Expo

Join BigMile and Lean & Green on Multimodaal Transport Expo on 14 March. You will find our booth across Joint Corridors Off Road and across the main theatre.  The event is Dutch and presentations are Dutch spoken.

Date: 14 March 2024
Location: Breda (Netherlands)

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