Since 2013 the European Union has been enjoying rather limited but steady economic growth and, in 2016, the GDP growth in the Eurozone indeed increased by 1.7%. These economic conditions, together with industrial production and trade growth, are expected to keep on evolving positively in the near future and will boost the transport industry activity as a whole and inland navigation activity in particular.

But 2016 also showed that inland navigation activity is not only dependent on the overall economic context. Sectorial conjectural evolution can have significant impact; French inland waterway transport was, for example, negatively impacted by the bad harvests during summer 2016. Navigation conditions also play an important role, and Rhine traffic was indeed impacted by low water conditions both at the end of 2015 and at the end of 2016.

On the other hand, inland navigation goods transport benefits from the dynamism of several transport segments. Container transport, waste transport and chemical transport on inland waterways are all segments that experienced growth of between 3% and 5% in 2016 compared to 2015 on the Rhine. Likewise, the dynamic steel industry activity in the Upper Danube area significantly boosted the transport of ores and metal products on the Danube.

Inland ports are of vital importance for the development of inland shipping, as they are, just like seaports, the places where inland shipping connects to other modes of transport. Good quality of the port infrastructure and the promotion of inland waterway traffic by the port can have an important positive influence on the development of this transport mode. A detailed focus on inland ports activity enables one to identify individual ports trends and specializations and to highlight ports initiatives to promote inland navigation.

As a matter of fact, this report does not only present an overview of the global situation of the inland navigation market in Europe; specific developments taking into account goods segments and geographical details are put into perspective in order to have a better understanding of the inland navigation market.
The inland navigation fleet structure is slowly evolving in Europe; the fleet size has decreased by 2.8% at the European level. While both tanker cargo fleet and dry cargo fleet saw their total number and their total tonnage decrease in 2016, the average tonnage per vessel is still increasing for these two types of vessels. But the overall fleet remains rather old; dry cargo and tanker cargo vessels have respectively an average age of 50 and 39 years. The utilization rate of the fleet remains between 55% and 85% depending on the vessel types, below levels that were experienced before the economic crisis. Sector turnover is therefore very much dependent on freight rate fluctuations.

Many innovative projects emerge locally and new buildings show that this sector is undergoing an upswing; this is particularly true in the passenger transport segment, where approximately one quarter of new vessels entering into service in 2016 were powered by diesel-electric engines. But even though innovation exists, one of the main challenges of inland navigation in the coming years will be to spread it at a larger scale in the market while it remains today limited to specific examples. This is, for example, the case for all innovative measures aiming at reducing emissions from inland navigation transport.

Inland waterways goods transport is maintaining a modal share of 6% of all transport goods (inland navigation, road, rail and pipeline) in the European Union and this modal share goes up to nearly 40% in countries with dense networks of waterways such as the Netherlands. Inland navigation transport belongs to a multimodal environment in which innovation enables one to be more efficiently connected to other modes of transport, more competitive and more environmental-friendly.

A project co-financed byEuropean Commission

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