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World's first fully electric barges part of Port of Antwerp's sustainable modal shift

The Port of Antwerp, Belgium is to invest EUR 1.4 million over the next three years in projects aimed at making port-generated freight traffic smoother and more efficient while transferring freight from road to rail and barge. Seven projects have been selected for financial support that will together reduce the number of truck trips by up to 250 000 annually. Amongst them are the world’s first fully electric barges that are expected to begin operations in the latter half of 2018.

The Port of Antwerp is Europe’s second largest port and one of the world’s largest for handling containers. The port of is a major intermodal hub for barge traffic, a major form of inland waterway transportation of bulk and container goods in Europe.

Barge traffic such as container barges is important for the Antwerp port community as a whole and for sustainable transport of freight to and from the hinterland. Around 7 000 barges operate on Europe’s inland waterways and the Port of Antwerp handles around 150 barges per day (photo courtesy ShipPhoto).

However, container handling in Antwerp has come under heavy pressure in some shipping terminals over the past few months. The rapidly growing volumes and the ever-larger sizes of seagoing ships calling at the port in combination with labour shortages have led to peak loads on the terminals, with long waiting times for container barges as a result.

A modal shift towards more sustainable methods of transport that place less burden on our roads or even avoid them altogether is crucial for more efficient mobility, not only at present but also in the future. That’s why the Port Authority will be supporting private-sector projects over the next few years that contribute to a more efficient truck and other transport in and around the port, said Marc Van Peel, Port Alderman.

Barge Action Plan

To address this the Antwerp Port Authority unveiled a Barge Action Plan in November 2017. The plan which has received the backing of the shipping terminals involved, together with the barge operators, shipping lines, shippers, forwarders, the Flemish government, Vlaamse Waterweg (waterway operator), Alfaport-Voka (Chamber of Commerce) and Antwerp Port Authority aims to make structural improvements in the short term.

These include full digitisation of real-time information on a port-wide platform, access to a barge system planning tool, bundling of volumes, workforce availability and more dedicated berths for barges.

More sustainable transport

At the beginning of 2017, the Port Authority issued a Call for Proposals (CfP) for projects to stimulate the market “to come up with new, more sustainable mobility solutions, or improvements to existing mobility solutions for handling the flow of maritime trade.”

In December 2017, seven projects were selected by the Port Authority that will provide a total of EUR 1.4 million in financial support, EUR 200 000 per project over three years, to get them started. The seven projects selected by the Port Authority are:

  • DP World: shift to rail. The terminal operator DP World aims to make improvements to existing rail products and to attract new rail services, such as a new service to Stuttgart that will offer a sustainable transport alternative for the German car industry. DP World has set itself the target of raising the proportion of rail transport in its operations to 10 percent by the year 2020. The project will reduce the number of car transporter trips by 50 000 annually.
  • Delcatrans: shift to barge. The multimodal logistics service provider Delcatrans is developing a reefer platform for barge transport at its River Terminal in Wielsbeke. West Flanders is an important European hub for the deep freeze industry, including among others deep-frozen vegetables and potato products from Flanders that are sent via Antwerp to destinations all over the world. By using barges for transport to and from Antwerp the project will help to avoid as many as 5,400 truck trips annually.
  • Hakka NV: avoiding empty truck trips. Hakka NV operates a digital platform for the truck industry. The company has submitted a proposal that uses its platform for an application that finds return loads for trucks, thus avoiding empty trips and making truck transport more efficient. Over the space of a year, it will save 120 000 truck trips.
  • Danser: innovation in barge transport. Danser, one of the largest intermodal operators in Europe, has submitted not one but two innovative barge concepts. It aims to save 26 000 truck trips per year by setting up a “hub-and-spoke” concept along the Brussels-Scheldt canal, and by introducing a corridor system between northern France and Antwerp. The “hub-and-spoke” concept is derived from the aviation transport industry, referring to a transport and distribution system in which goods are gathered at a hub from where they are sent to their final destinations via the “spokes”.
  • Euroports Inland Terminals: a direct rail link to Liège. Euroports Inland Terminals, a member of the Euroports Group, is to introduce a new rail connection between Liège (Ile Mosin) and the Port of Antwerp. By offering a direct rail connection twice per week as of January 2018, the region around Liège which is already very well served by barge will become more accessible also for customers who are in search of rail products. Over the space of a year, this will lead to 16 200 fewer truck trips.
  • Slovak Shipping and Ports: a direct rail link to Bratislava. Slovak Shipping and Ports is a container terminal operator from Bratislava in Slovakia. In the second half of 2018, the company will start operating combined trains with a mixture of intermodal and conventional wagons that will travel two times per week between the terminal in Bratislava and the port of Antwerp. The frequency will later be raised to four per week. By connecting the port of Antwerp more efficiently by rail with the eastern European hinterland, this project will save 6 000 truck trips on average per year.
  • Port-Liner Holding CV: construction of hybrid barges. The Dutch company Port-Liner specialises in building “zero emission” barges. The company submitted a project under which it will build five hybrid barges that will ply between De Kempen intermodal terminal in the Netherlands and Antwerp. Thanks to these hybrid barges there will be 23 000 fewer trucks on the roads annually.

An artist’s rendering of a Port-Liner battery powered container barge (image courtesy Omega Architects).

It is estimated that between them, the projects will see 250 000 trucks removed from the road to rail and barge annually. The projects that were submitted were assessed on the basis of various criteria, including among others whether they offered a reliable and price-competitive alternative to existing, less sustainable solutions, and whether also they were based on a profitable business plan.

Mobility on the Flemish roads concerns all of us. Many people live with the idea that the port is the main source of congestion on our roads, but in reality the port is only one of the many users of the road network. The fact is that our region is a major economic crossroads between the Netherlands, northern France and the German Ruhr area. In the next few years work will start on various projects aimed at improving mobility in and around Antwerp, but additional infrastructure alone will not be enough,explained Jacques Vandermeiren, CEO, Antwerp Port Authority.

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