What are the true benefits of inland water transport?

Q&A with Antoon Van Coillie, Director at Blue Line Logistics nv

Antoon Van Coillie, Director at Blue Line Logistics explains how barging materials on the inland waterways in the Netherlands is currently a raging success and how this transport model can be replicated in the North West of the UK.

Tell us about Blue Line Logistics?

Blue Line Logistics was founded 6 years ago to develop the Pallet Shuttle Barge. The Pallet Shuttle Barge was developed to make waterway freight as simple as road freight; on board there is one crew member and all goods are stored on deck which can be loaded/unloaded safely and efficiently via the onboard crane.

In Belgium and the Netherlands, we have huge issues with congestion on our roads whilst there are many underused waterways. This particular transport model is achieving a real modal shift. A key benefit of this transport model is that along the canals the barge can also be loaded with hook lift-containers by truck, reducing time and costs whilst loading/unloading.

How does the inland barge service currently work in the Netherlands?

We have clients that are on a medium term contract with regular flows and we work on a ‘spot’ basis, i.e. clients call up at least 3 days before a shipment and we execute this within our planning, based on the longer term contracts.

What are the benefits of using this logistics model?

The key benefits of using this logistics model include:

  • Reduction of road congestion
  • It reduces emissions as the barges have engines comparable to trucks, but carry 10 to 12 times the amount of freight; we are working towards a further reduction of emissions by developing alternative propulsion methods (e.g. H2, batteries, ) in the near future.
  • ETA’s are known and achieved
  • The system is far more robust (less chance of an accident that blocks the flows); moreover, it can always be supplemented by road freight if demand is high
  • It is cost effective and competitive versus road freight
  • For the loads in excess of truck size the inbound/outbound procedures are simplified

Have you experienced any challenges since implementing this concept?

Our main challenge is influencing logistic managers to switch to our transport method after having used the traditional model of HGVs for many years.

Companies that are linked to waterways have quickly realised that this is a valuable alternative. With road congestion, driver shortages and sustainability issues, people are starting to realise that inland waterway transport is a successful alternative.

What types of products work best using this mode of transport?

All palletised goods, bagged goods as well as roll or hooklift-containers. In the past we have also moved cars and heavy or oversized transport goods. We are now starting to implement urban logistics where waterways go into the centre of towns by moving urban delivery bikes, urban containers and vans.

How do you see this service working in the North West of the UK?

We see the Manchester Ship Canal as the artery to moving goods between Liverpool and Manchester and from hubs along the M6 and M60.

It is a low carbon solution to deliver products directly into the North West and avoid road miles – helping businesses reduce on their transport costs and carbon emissions.

What does the future look like for inland barges?

In areas where there is congestion and where there are waterways, inland waterway logistics can be a viable alternative. The Manchester Ship Canal linking Liverpool to Manchester has all the attributes to be a very useful and successful alternative to road freight.