Since 1990, world IWT traffic reduces. Why? The sole answer lies in the disappearance of the soviet empire, and the parallel moves in Eastern Europe. A new statistical series support this conclusion.

    This new series has become necessary due to various events:

    - In some countries, following the split of the earlier state, only part of the previously reported traffic is known, for instance in Yugoslavia.

    - Embargoes or obstructions block traffic, for instance on the Danube, downstream of Budapest (Austrian traffic, Hungarian traffic), or upstream for Romanian and Bulgarian ports, which practically suppress traffic for these two countries.

    - In some other countries, traffic has drastically reduced, due to economic and political changes, especially in former USSR, witnessing a halving of its tonnage between 1990 and 1992.

    Nevertheless, the "European Traffic without France" series is well oriented, especially in tonnes-kilometres. But this series includes presently nine countries in the midst of the turmoil of political changes or war. Therefore, it cannot be termed a stable series.


  • In order to cope with these constraints, a new series has been devised, more or less protected from these vagaries, "World Traffic without Ex-Socialist countries".

    It is not fully exempt from erratic phenomena, since it includes Austria, impacted by embargo of Ex-Yugoslavia, and East Germany (pre-1990), while traffic of this country has dissolved in West German traffic without noticeable increase of the later.

    But this series "World Traffic without Ex-Socialist countries" remains growth-oriented, especially in tonnes-kilometres, as can be seen on the graphs.


  • As regards Ex-Socialist traffic, it decreased from 756 millions tonnes in 1988 to ...284 millions in 1993, a 63 % decrease!

    This collapse was caused by various phenomena:

  • - To start with, the end of anti-economic practices which these hyper-planned economies could magnify. This was common to all modes of transport, and generated long trips to bring from distant Siberia or Ural goods available, under a slightly different form, right next door. An increase in the statistics was witnessed when the same craft was loaded with the same type of goods on both legs of the route. This could be seen with coal and oil, some barges being loaded with crude on one leg and refined products on the other.

    - Earlier barter practice between countries of the socialist bloc led to some being forced to receive coal or iron ore against oil, trucks or buses, for instance. Part of the some 15 million tonnes of river-sea traffic was made of this astonishing exchange.

    Besides, part of the USSR fleet or port cranes had been built in Eastern Europe, which creates problems for spare parts and has reduced local expertise. A number of craft had to be "cannibalised" and this reduced the ratio of availability of the fleet.

    - Finally, the general economy has collapsed, huge sectors generators of most of river traffic, such as building and housing, being totally disorganised. In Ukraine, for instance, 86 % of traffic was building materials, and this has vanished.

    Without any doubt, in these newly liberal countries, more rational flows of traffic shall emerge, but this will take time, until capitalism has generated its own economic fabric.

    - In Danubian Europe, war and embargoes encouraged occult transports. A craft running the blockade, by nature, will not be included in the statistics. Besides, a river blockade being easier to maintain than a land blockade, most of occult transport is over land, putting river transport at a disadvantage.

    - In the same area, countries have split, entailing non-declarations, as is the case for Serbia since 1992, or double declarations, as in the case of Tchekia and Slovakia. We tried to restore logical time series.

  • As can be seen, traffic attrition in ex-socialist countries is linked to economic and political problems of these countries, and in no way to the structural decline of IWT.


  • In the rest of the world, IWT is on a healthy track, mainly thanks to US traffic. However, 1993 has been in recession in most countries, and even United States traffic has reduced.

    In order to improve the knowledge of river transport, we shall try, at a later stage, to include statistics of emerging countries, for instance in Latin America.

  • The picture shows a 38 empty barges tow (6.500 tonnes of light weight), upstream on the Orinoco in Venezuela.

    ACBL de Venezuela

  • The usual tow, downstream loaded, is made of 20 or 25 barges at 11 ft (3.35 m) draught, that is 32,000 or 40,000 tonnes of cargo.

    ACBL de Venezuela

  • This country shall soon generate more t.km than Belgium, with practically this only route.

    Rio de la Plata and Parana witness huge tows as well, with 30 to 35,000 tonnes capacity.

    Orinoco and Parana are thus with the same gauge as Yangtse, in China, and are bettered only by Lower-Mississippi, which saw a few years ago a record tow of 81 barges upstream (tow of 580x96m).



  • River transport, whatever its problems, is therefore still a mode with a future, especially since it has developed in Europe a good container traffic. The 1995 figure on the Rhine may have been above 800,000 TEU, which means for the whole of Europe some 1.5 million TEU on rivers, of which 100,000 TEU in France.

    Pity no precise figure can be given, by want of comprehensive statistics: But there is already 5% of European river traffic carried in containers, some 30 million tonnes (in average, 1 TEU equates 10 tonnes). This leads to some 5 to 6 Billion t.km generated by containers on European waterways. What a dynamism!

  • [This was written 4 years before AFTM attempted the first comprehensive review in 2000, see http://www.eia-ngo.com/Stat%20West%20EU%20%20IWT.doc]


  • With 5 % of its traffic in sea-containers, IWT seems to be the most multimodal mode of inland transport (in Europe), none of its competitors being close to this percentage. IWT is, therefore, moving away from the "Chaland Qui Passe" image and from identification "IWT=bulk".

    IWT is thus [in 1993] at the eve of a qualitative revolution, fed by the continuing changes in world economic structure.

    [The "Chaland Qui Passe" refers to a famous French song & film, displaying the melancolic, romantic and "without-future" life of the bargemen in the 1930's. A bit as if American IWT was known only through Mark Twain!]