Some sources1 had already shown that Inland Waterways container Transport was starting a dramatic growth.

More precise sources confirmed this fact, but the data had remained fragmentary and unconsolidated. Thus, the general public could not feel the eminent role played by IWT in the container transport as a whole.

A graphic vision of the evolution was lacking, which will be attempted in the present paper.


One of the most interesting items to observe is the passage at the German-Dutch border (Emmerich-Lobith). An estimate in TEU is available since 1994.

To observe the evolution over a longer period, another series2 gives the tonnage and output of “Manufactured Products” over the Rhine basin, since 1986, with a sub-item “Special Transactions” since the early 90’s. Both series differ slightly in coverage, but evolve in a similar fashion.


The longer series (source Commission Centrale pour la Navigation du Rhin, CCNR) indicates somewhat stagnating tonnages from 1987 to 1992, followed by a regular growth since.

In the second series, expressed in TEUs, stagnation is found around 1994 and 1995, followed by a strong growth to arrive presently at 1,285,000 TEUs at this tally point.

Over the same period, the German Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis) provides the German container traffic in TEUs, subdivided in national (domestic), international and in transit. This very accurate series lacks however a sufficient duration.

Nevertheless, it is very similar to that provided by BÖB, the German Public Ports Association, available since 1985. Thus, the later will be retained, as it provides a longer time span. Adding Basle and the French ports over the Rhine, a «New Rhine Traffic» Series is thus obtained. It is shown in the recap at the end of this paper.


The dramatic increase of container transport in the Mouths of the Rhine, be it domestic Dutch transport or exchange with Belgium and France, is one of the key elements of the evolution. Against all odds, the short distance domestic transport in the Netherlands has bloomed, and now goes towards every corner of the country. There are even exchanges from terminal to terminal, without touching any seaport, for domestic waste for instance. But the most striking has been the emergence of the traffic in and out of Antwerp, most of it being interchange traffic between the two major container ports. The traffic over the Scheldt-Rhine Canal is now of the same order as the cross-border traffic on the Rhine. Thanks to the cooperation of the Dutch AVV Research Centre and of the Port of Antwerp, an updated calculation reconciling various sources has been possible.

The well documented Antwerp series comprises on the one hand the part of Antwerp activity to and fro the Rhine, and on the other the traffic exchanged with Rotterdam, which is not part of Rhine statistics. There is also some intraport activity, and transport from Antwerp towards the rest of Belgium and the Northern part of France.



The curve is extremely dynamic, as can be seen below, and the port of Antwerp anticipates that it will remain so for the years to come, hoping that IWT might eventually displace Road transport as its main hinterland carrier. Their prognosis is for IWT to achieve this by the year 2010, with some 3.6 million TEUs.

It could be observed that the strength of the IWT container traffic between Antwerp and Rotterdam cast a different light on the respective roles of the two as transit ports for containerized goods: Antwerp attracts containers from its hinterland, even in Germany, while Rotterdam sends it overseas. This might be due to the famed « FOB Antwerp » conditions. Anyway, both ports benefit from it, one through its commercial activity, the other through its maritime statistics. The « hub » phenomenon loses in this way part of its negative effects on « secondary » ports.

Domestic Dutch transport has also grown rapidly, although the figures may still be tentative. The number of terminals has sprouted, the older, Nijmegen, being joined by some 20 other sites.

Taking into account intraport traffic at Antwerp and Rotterdam, the final Delta figures are:


Figures for this are less documented. It refers to the Weser, Elbe, Ems and Danube basins, once the traffic related to the Mouths of the Rhine is taken out.

Before 1996, it was taken as 12% of Rhine traffic. For recent years, more precise estimates are available.


Traffic on the Rhone started long ago, at the end of the 70’s, but seldom surpassed 6.000 TEUs. Besides, services were suspended two or three times. It will be shown only since the reopening of the Deltabox line, in 1994.

On the Seine, traffic really started only with Logiseine, end of 1994, even if attempts were made in the 80’s.

In the Nord-Pas de Calais region, a service linking Dunkirk with its hinterland started in 1999. On the same year, a domestic container service, carrying urban waste to a disposal ground, started on a strong footing. The other services are counted as Rhine Delta traffic, since they connect with the two main seaports there.

The non-Rhine French traffic series thus appears as :

Average haul : 300km 350km 120km 65km



Non-German Danube traffic represents some thousands TEUs. No reliable series is yet available. Figures of 100,000 TEUS in 1990 and 160,000 TEUs in 1993 are proposed, but seem to include all modes of transport. For want of more precise indications, Danube traffic will not be included in the West European total.


It can be seen that IWT container traffic crossed the 1 million mark around 1991, the 2 million mark in 1996, and the 3 million mark in the year 2000.

The corresponding curve is even more striking, and demonstrate the ability of IWT to adjust to the New Economy, specially since this growth took place during the recession of the 90’s.

The corresponding t.km traffic is less easily obtainable.

The average haul on the Rhine is known, and shall be estimated for other flows :

French non-Rhine traffic can be calculated at 230km.

German non-Rhine traffic should be some 150km.

Delta traffic can be calculated at 119km.

Then, the average haul of a « NST99 » tonne on the Rhine was some 528km in 2000.

The tentative figure is 935 million TEU.km, corresponding to3 some 9 billion t.km, or 8% of global Western European traffic. This starts to be a very noticeable figure, and the CCNR in its 2000 report mentions that containers on the Rhine represent as much tonnes, and more t.km, as chemical products, and are not too far behind ores and coal in t.km ! And all that with only Manufactured goods!

The motto “IWT = Bulk” is thus once more at fault.

Similarly, on the Scheldt-Rhine canal, which has a traffic of 40 to 44Mt in 2000, container transport represents up to 1/3 of the tonnage carried ! Some 14Mt !

Thus, out of the 318Mt of Rhine traffic, Mouths of the Rhine included (source CCNR Statistics 2000), container tonnage reached at least 30Mt in 2000, that is some 9%. The t.km figure is not available, but its share should be close to 11%.

At such a pace, it is most likely that the 7 million TEUs figure shall be reached round the year 2010, ten years before the most favourable estimates.

What a heartening piece of news, and what a proof of IWT dynamism, as well as of the part it can play as a substitute for Road Transport !