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Inland Waterways Europe: Maps and Fleet (inlandnavigation.eu)
43 points by brudgers 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 35 comments

The history behind inland shipping is quite interesting. When the first container barges started to appear in the 70s, the minimum distance to make it viable against trucking was predicted to be 200km+. Nowadays, distances are short as 50km are barged, or even shorter sometimes when doing in-port transshipment within bigger ports like Rotterdam or Antwerp. (Keep in mind that the Rotterdam port area is about 45km long, stretching from Maasvlakte to the city centre)

Classically the Rhine region has seen a lot of container transport, but over time other canals and rivers have seen container terminals pop up. In addition, smaller sea ports have essentially become inland ports with the rise of main ports like Rotterdam and Antwerp. The bigger ships (20 000+ containers) are received there, and then distributed onto smaller feeders or barges that will then hop to the various smaller ports in the region. If you look at a map of inland terminals in the Netherlands, you can get to virtually anywhere within a range of 50km over water. In Belgium they are trying to alleviate the heavy truck traffic in the Antwerp region by offloading this traffic onto trains and barges. Even in places where only narrow or shallow canals are available, smaller barges will take 12 to 24 trucks of the road at a time.

It's incredible how much potential there still is to take trucks off the road and use water transportation instead. It's much better in terms of CO2 emitted, and it's also a lot cheaper. It's just harder to plan, since there is inflexibility in destinations, you need last-mile trucking, and the total transport will usually be a lot slower. All in all difficult, but solvable problems. Most of these are information problems and that's what my employer is trying to solve in software :)

Another amazing thing is how early the Chinese (with significant inland natural waterways) were building mega-scale artificial waterways for this purpose. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_Canal_(China) (~6th century) and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_canals_in_China .. also how different (and in some ways superior) their sail plans were https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Junk_rig

It still amazes me how dense the European waterways are. For example, it is possible to travel from Switzerland to Budapest by boat fairly directly via Rhine, Main and Danube, without going through the Mediterranean. Somehow, this seems completely counter-intuitive.

Some of the waterways even feature grade-separated junctions. The largest one is near Magdeburg: see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdeburg_Water_Bridge, and for the pictures https://duckduckgo.com/?q=Kanalbr%C3%BCcke+Magdeburg&t=ffcm&...

or the fact you can go from Amsterdam to the black sea fairly directly and from there to st. petersburg is even more mind boggling

The fact that Amsterdam has a harbour in the first place is pretty amazing, it's not exactly a coastal city.

It isn't?


The third largest port of Europe, Hamburg, is 110 kilometers away from the coast.


My favorite one of these is Iquitos in Peru, which is an Atlantic port, reachable by ocean going vessels, 2,200 miles away from the ocean

I suppose my definition of coastal city is somewhat skewed since I live in a country that's only about 200 kilometers wide :P

There's a (fairly rudimentary) OpenStreetMap-based rendering of European waterways here: https://maps.grade.de/mobile.htm

Somewhere on my todo list is a more detailed one with North American coverage. (But the list is long.)

The Dutch (and most busy) part is hardly readable. Check https://vaarweginformatie.nl/frp/main/#/geo/map?layers=FAIRW... for much more details.

In case you're looking for something like flightradar:


(Off-topic) That link is localized "nl", and I'm in the US, but for some reason it's trying to access google.cn. ಠ_ಠ


The destination field of some of those is pretty amusing. Some I came across in the netherlands (translated):

- A better future - The other side (this was on a ferry, so fair enough.) - Underway - Tomorrow - Oh hi

Seems like it's more or less a free-form text field.

This Wikipedia article has a similar map for the United State: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inland_waterways_of_the_United...

Incidentally, the inland waterways of the US would probably have much more freight traffic if the Jones Act didn't make it illegal to use foreign-built vessels for traffic between US ports: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merchant_Marine_Act_of_1920#Ca...

You can download free charts for many of Europe's inland waterways. One great method is to use OpenCPN [0,1] and its "Chart Downloader".

[0] https://opencpn.org/

[1] https://opencpn.org/OpenCPN/info/chartsource.html

Can I put a shipping container house on a barge and live on the inland waterways?


Interesting idea. Probably could, but it wouldn't pass inspection for registration as quarters on a vessel itself, so you'd have to have it as cargo. Then I guess if/when declaring cargo crossing borders you'd have to say a couple of humans in this box thing, which is odd and sure to raise eyebrows, smuggle you or list you as crew. So basically you'd be paying for the barge anyway, and living in worse conditions in a largely uninsulated (and probably power hungry) box on board.

What's the point? Just get a boat. There are many cheap boats, many people live on them. Check https://www.yachtworld.com/ http://www.cruisersforum.com/ https://sailinganarchy.com/ for a start. Roughly <=USD$20K will get you something that floats and 1-2 people can live in cramped but OK.

I wonder if there are any costs to use the waterways. Even if the boats are slower than trains, couldn't it be the case that with all the layovers a train takes as much or more time than a boat? It would be cool to have a boat service similar to Flixbus.

Yeah, there is: speed. I work on software for inland cargo shipping, and the major factor there is speed and inflexibility of destinations. Trains, at least for cargo, are easily faster by a factor of two, if not faster. Going from the port of Rotterdam to Groningen (north of NL) takes about 24 hours by barge, but will take only around 8 hours by cargo train. By passenger train similar distances will take around 4 to 5 hours.

Usually this is not too big of an issue when transporting cheap bulk goods, but especially food and other perishables (flowers!) are difficult when it comes to transportation over water.

It's quite curious how the Europe is the only place with real inland shipping networks over water, other regions do not even come close in terms of amount of cargo transported, even though the natural resources are often there. The rest of the world pretty much relies on trains and trucks to transport cargo. There is quite some room for disruption here, but it's a hard an capital intensive market to break into.

EDIT: To come back to your point about people, they often value time quite highly. Not very many people take a ship to travel the world anymore, even though there is a lot of the earth reachable by the sea. Natural resources is only one part of the equation, and usually the trade-off is between time and money.

Actually most other continents have far less rivers which lend themselves to easy shipping. Also development in Europe was ahead of the curve in the last couple hundred years (and before we did not have the technology for locks and easy travel upriver). Now that everyone has catched up (or is in the process) there are fare quicker/easier/cheaper/flexible options like trains, trucks, planes available. So the pressure to build good waterways is way less.

Indeed. You couldn't offer the same level of services that a cruise ship does because of height restrictions and it's too slow for fast-paced youngsters. Price-wise it's hard to compete with interrail so I guess it would be a very niche thing. Which leads me to wonder if there is anyone hitchhiking barges.

Passing through a lock usually needs a fee (by the ship for passenger ships, by the ton for transport ships).

But other than that, ships (with speeds of up to 100 km/h for fast hydrofoils but rarely for the whole trip) are always going to be slower than trains (usually much faster than 100 km/h).

As an example, Vienna-Budapest used to be served by hydrofoil for a 6-hour trip, which takes 2 and a half hours by train. Calais-Dover is also a good example of how train is faster than ship (30 minutes vs 1h30), even in this instance of a very straight route for the ships.

I like taking a boat when I have the option, but it's rarely actually a more practical option than the train. It can be better than a bus though.

> Calais-Dover is also a good example of how train is faster than ship (30 minutes vs 1h30), even in this instance of a very straight route for the ships.

Do Calais-Dover ferries sell things on board? I imagine that the ferries in the Baltic Sea have no incentive to cut journey times, because so much of their profits come from getting people to eat, drink, and buy booze on board. Passengers need time to wander through the onboard shops and restaurants.

Yes they've got restaurants and shops and stuff.

And soon, possibly the return of duty free.

> As an example, Vienna-Budapest used to be served by hydrofoil for a 6-hour trip, which takes 2 and a half hours by train.

That sounds cool, but yes, not competitive unless you are looking for the enjoyment of being on a boat.

More practically, Vienna-Bratislava is 59 or 66 minutes by train, 75 minutes by boat. Depending on your exact departure and destination points, that might actually save a few minutes.

Much of that hydrofoil 6 hours is probably spent at the 5 locks in the Danube along that stretch. And not even in the locks, but waiting your turn for the lock.

So, unless you are looking for a tour of the steel-and-concrete locks of the Danube, the hydrofoil trip may not be for you.

It's a lot slower than trains.

Having done a few Barge Holidays in the UK on a 72 foot narrow boat the slow speed is relaxing, though doing the Tardebigge Flight (30 locks) is hard work.

Also being able to park the barge in front of the RSC and get tickets to see Kenneth Branagh was a highlight of one holiday

Generally the navigation authority will levy a toll (based on tonnage or vessel size), or annual licence charge.

This seems to be missing an awful lot of canals in the UK. Leeds Liverpool canal, all the canals around Birmingham. Norfolk Broads. Manchester shipping canal seems to have been cut short.

And I'm fairly certain you can sail from Bordeaux to Marseille, inland.

I think that as well, though the map seems mostly concerned with canals available to big vessels.

I think you are thinking about the "Canal du Midi", which is still a quite famous construction work form the 17th century: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_du_Midi

Big vessels perhaps.

I've seen some big ships in parts of the broads, and the Manchester shipping canal is for, well, ships.

And yes I was thinking of the Canal du Midi.

I'm fascinated by the vikings so I've always wondered if these waterways (especially the eastern one) were as easy to use 1000 years ago.

Also they forgot the modern waterway Göta Kanal in Sweden.

1000 years ago European waterways didn't have pound locks, so no, certainly not as easy to use.

The linked waterway map is completely fantastic. It explains a lot about European history and economic significance of certain cities as trade hubs.

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