The Watertruck Project

Stimulating sustainable transport on small waterways

The challenge

The inland waterways of North-West Europe are already some of the most developed in the world, and represent a cleaner, efficient alternative to road freight transport. However, their full potential has yet to be realised, and this sector requires a renewal to stay competitive.

The project in brief

To develop this potential, the Watertruck project introduced a new inland navigational concept for the transport of goods on smaller waterways. It aimed at tackling the biggest threats of the traditional system:

  • the rapid disappearance of small inland vessels, and
  • the diminishing interest in pursuing inland navigation as a career.

Partners also provided a universal standard design that can be modified to satisfy the operational requirements of specific cargo flows. This in turn allowed receivers to load and unload cargo on their timetable, using the barges as a temporary means of storage instead of being bound by tight schedules and the high costs of idling that restricts motorised vessels. Additionally, it removed the need for ship captains or skippers to live on board permanently, making this sector more attractive in the labour market. 

By replacing traditional large and motorised vessels with small barges pushed by smaller ‘pusher’ vessels, the system optimised transportation time and reduced GHG emissions.

6% of those ships leave the market every year, and with it of course disappearing a lot of opportunities for sustainable transport.

Karin De Schepper, Director Inland Navigation Europe (INE)

The impact

The Watertruck project concluded with several important results. Important advances permitted organisations to optimise road haulage, as the barges could remain in place for days at a time. This advantage was seen in city centres and seaports where road traffic often faced heavy congestion, which was now reduced due to using waterways for freight transport.

They also were able to successfully show that this new system optimises transportation time and reduces GHG emissions. In fact, it was found that a pusher combined with a 1000-tonne capacity barge replaces 50 to 60 trucks (standard truck/trailer).

Finally, after successfully demonstrating the economic feasibility of the Watertruck concept through pilots in France, the Netherlands, and Belgium, the project partners were able to successfully develop a business case for a large European fleet of vessels.

To bring this to fruition, they developed a follow-up project called ‘Watertruck+’, which is supported and financed by the TEN-T/Connecting Europe Facility. As a first step in Watertruck+, a small fleet of watertrucks made of pushers, push barges, and self-propelled barges, will be built between 2016 and 2018.

The shipping industry is ready to take up the Watertruck concept as a viable solution that can compete with road transportation.

Nicole Van Doninck, Manager Onderzoek & Ontwikkeling-Vlaams Instituut voor Mobiliteit


pilots that tested the Watertruck concept


Trucks that can be replaced by 1 pusher and barge


Timetable for new watertrucks to be built with WaterTruck+

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