Facts & Figures


Overall situation

In 2019, overall macroeconomic framework conditions put a brake on inland navigation’s growth. World trade was slowing down because of protectionist measures such as tariffs on grain, steel and cars, and industrial production decreased in several branches. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has come on top of the slowing economic trends.

In 2018, inland waterways shipped in total more than 540 million tonnes and transport performance amounted to nearly 135 million tonne-km.

Shipped commodities in 2019

Sands, stones, gravel
The construction materials segment experienced a growth of 15% in Germany, 14% in France and 21% on the Rhine. Sands, stones, and gravel volumes fell by 13% on Dutch and by 3% on Belgian inland waterways, as national emission policies reduced this activity.

Iron ore
A slowdown in the European steel production led to a 9% decrease of iron ore volumes in the Netherlands and 7% in Germany and on the Rhine. On the Danube, due to better navigating conditions and increased steel production, volumes grew (+17.5% on the Middle Danube and +1% on the Lower Danube).

Agribulk and food products 
The lower Danube region and France saw rapid growth in agribulk transport, +21 % in Romania, +11% in France and +4% in Germany. The Netherlands saw a decrease of 3%, Flanders 13%, and Wallonia 14%. Food products and foodstuffs grew strongly on the Upper Danube. In the future, regionalisation of production and changing consumer habits will influence long-distance transport.

Chemical transports grew in almost all countries and regions: the Netherlands (+16%), Germany (+5%), on the Rhine (+9%), Flanders (+4%), France (+6%) and Romania (+34%). Liquid mineral oil products will gradually decline in the next decade, while for chemicals the outlook is positive.

Coal transport is on a structural downward path in western Europe due to the phasing out of coal fired power plants. On the Rhine it fell by 5%, the Moselle 25% and the Neckar 33%, overall 9% in Germany, and in the Netherlands 10%, Flanders 6% and Wallonia 18%. On the Lower Danube, it fell by 9%, but grew by 29% on the Middle Danube.

Container transport on the Rhine reached 2 million TEU, down by 4% compared to 2018, but total weight of goods grew by 2.9% to 15 million tonnes. A mostly upward trend was observed on the Albert Canal with an increase of 9.5%, and in Flanders 1.8%. Mainly due to strikes of seaport workers, TEU traffic fell by 1% on the Seine. The Elbe and the Mittelland Canal saw an upward trend (+13% and +12%).

Passenger transport

The European river cruise sector continued to grow in 2019, transporting 1.79 million cruise passengers (+9.9%). 19 new river cruise vessels entered the market to sail on the Rhine, Danube and Douro.

Outlook for 2020
The Covid-19 crisis brought the activity in passenger transport (cruise and day trip excursions) to an almost complete standstill in the first half year 2020. For cargo transport, the reduction was less severe, depending on cargo segment and region. Nevertheless,  first estimates point to a possible reduction of around 20-25% of cargo transport in 2020 if severe lockdown measures continue throughout the year. 

European inland waterways by numbers:

  • A 40,000km congestion-free network 
  • 20,000km accessible to 1,000 tonne  vessels
  • 75% of EU waterway traffic crosses borders
  • 550 million tonnes are shipped by waterways every year

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