Updated version of a 15/6/1995 article
1993 World IWT Traffic:
Still growing, provided there is a network and interbasin links.
Since there are people (in France especially) who think IWT is not modern, and doubt of its capability to adapt and discover new markets, I feel usefull to bring to the knowledge of the Internet community two kind of graphs.
The first depicts the world's IWT traffic, as calculated by AFTM for some years now, which will be commented upon only at the end of this article.
Then one graph comparing the history of traffic on the Tennessee River in the States and on the Rhone River in France.
The interest of this comparison stems out of the simultaneous foundation of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and of the Compagnie Nationale du Rhone (CNR). Both were created in 1933, on 27th May as regards CNR, and on 16th June as regards TVA
Rhone and Tennessee
Traffic in the two rivers was rather similar in 1933, between 850 and 900 thousand tonnes, less than 50 million Tonne.kilometres.
By war's end, when the Tennesse Waterway opened, traffic was already more than 1.8 million tonnes, while the Rhône, hardly recovering from war damage and uncanalized, did not reach 400 thousand tonnes. The logarithmic scale enables to better perceive minor fluctuations.
In the US at the time, experts were only half convinced about river transport, and TVA expected that in 1960 traffic may reach 6.4 million tonnes and 2.2 billion tonnes.kilometres.
But in fact; although 1960 had been in the midst of an economic crisis, and TVA had to face, on the political side, the opposition of President Eisenhower, the forecast was surpassed by more than half (11.2 million tonnes and 3.4 billion tonnes.kilometres), and it became necessary to urgently built new, larger locks, moving from tows roughly the size of those within Paris (one large or two small barges) to tows the size of the Lower Rhine (6 large barges, 9 standard barges).
Why such a success? Essentially, because Tennessee is not isolated, it is a tributary of the Ohio and thence of the Mississippi. Thus, the activity of all the states bordering this network can irrigate each and every of its branches, here the Tennessee.
Nothing of the kind in France: Rhône is not linked to any other basin by a modern waterway, although its traffic grew up to 1.5 million tonnes in 1962. By comparison, Tennesse had already 11.9 million.
In 1974, Rhône topped the mark of 3.5 million tonnes, and Tennessee 24.6 million. The rate of growth on the Rhône during that period was not too different from that of Tennessee.
The long economic crisis which started then hindered traffic development, and in 1981, the year marking the opening of the Lower Rhône Waterway at full 5,000 t gauge, Tennessee stagnated at 23.6 million tonnes, while Rhône on its side was around 4 million.
Through ups and downs, Rhône maintained that level until now, and some observers laugh IWT to scorn, deducing from this stagnation that IWT is not adapted to the needs of a modern economy.
However, if they had taken into consideration the situation across the Atlantic, they would have come to a very different conclusion, since between 1981 and 1993 traffic on the Tennessee practicaly doubled, reaching 43.7 million tonnes. What a proof of their misjudgment!
Comparing the two curves bring also another lesson: between 1970 and 1982, traffic on the Tennesse had stagnated, and it was not until 1984 that it resumed a lightning growth.
What would have been the analysis of the "oracle" in 1983? Similarly to what is said about the Rhône in our decade, they would have foretold that traffic on Tennessee would never grow anymore, and that IWT was the wrong mode of transport! No comment...
IWT Fertilizing effect
More than one factor:
Cheap energy near the dams prompted industries to locate in the Valley.
TVA's area is a workforce reservoir, where manpower is available, qualified and relatively cheap.
And above all, the shippers and among them the exporters, became certain that Tennessee would be directly linked to Gulf of Mexico, without the detour by the Ohio and the Mississippi, thanks to the Ten-Tom Waterway which shortens the distance to the sea by 1000 km, and was inaugurated in 1985.
Thus, no more fear of low waters on the Mississippi, nor high waters on the Ohio. There is now always a solution to use barges at standard depth.
The end of Land-locking, started by canalizing the river itself, was thus completed thanks to this link canal.
Under the effect of these factors, private investment in the region resumed, and traffic grew spectacularly. And this, notwithstanding the deregulation of railways, which largely increased their competitive capacity, since now there is no more any control on rail real cost price, as was the case previously.
IWT thus showed a strong development, and in an environment nevertheless as developped as France.
IWT critics should draw the conclusions from the obvious:
IWT possesses a fertilizing effect. Another proof among a thousand, TVA's area, which was 60 % behind national average in 1933 as regards income per capita, moved to only 13 % behind in 1992, and is still narrowing the gap.
IWT traffic develops on every waterway linking two complementary areas, within a wide gauge network. Rhône does not meet yet this condition, because on one side it ends on the sea in a Port which has no river tradition, and on the other side the Saône is not fully improved. It is still a waterway cut off from the world.
A deadlocked waterway can become a strategically situated area if a link canal opens it towards an another basin rich in traffic. Traffic develops then, and logistical parks can develop in what was until then a "basin bottom".
Rhone-Rhine link logic
Searching for "l'Identité de la France", France's Identity, he wondered "has geography invented France?", and to answer mettait en garde: "do not exagerate the role of the French Isthmus", the North Sea-Mediterranean Axis, in France's formation.
He called for testimony the River itself, remembering its difficult navigability and its position as a border for many centuries, Lyon being for many centuries nearly an Italian city in its analysis.
He dreamed of the Rhone-Rhine waterway, thinking also of a Seine-Rhone link. His only doubt was that the industrial sector was not as developped in the Rhone Region as in the German Ruhr, which he termed the key of the Rhine traffic development.
As could be expected, his vision brings to the fore the influence of waterways in the economic history of countries, a role he envisaged to be continued far into the twenty first century. He does not allocate it an absolute geographical determinism, but sees in it a major element inside a body of influences.
Tennessee's example demonstrates also the same lesson, on another continent.
Implacable regression, or ...falsehood?
"Implacable decline of market shares" is an expression that comes usually under the pen of insincere critics, stating that IWT market share deeply eroded in the European Community, forgetting only that the number of countries went up from 6 (all of them with some IWT) to 12 or more (out of which only 6 have a real IWT). They compare things that cannot be compared, which logic and mathematics forbids.
Others (a Vice president of the French Transport Council) maintain against the evidence that IWT is absent from the carriage of manufactured products, forgetting that the main part of them is carried via containers if they cross the seas, and that in Rotterdam more than one container out of three comes or goes by IWT. That is a "closely guarded piece of news", to use his expression.
He stated also that proponents of IWT used tricks to push their point. Such an accusation, astonishing enough knowing his function, fall back on him, because he used some tricks himself.
He stated for instance "In Lyons Port, only one firm out of ten uses IWT". I hope he did not dare to count on the same footing all users of port land, such as supermarkets and transit agents, who do not pertain to Port activity. That would be a treachery. But he may have deduced his sentence from the fact that 10 % of global Port traffic is by IWT. In this case, he would have forgotten that a port, interface by nature, can hardly make more than 50 % of its traffic by water, the other half being by another mode. His wrong wording would equate to say that in a port with two firms receiving sand by water and sending it by truck, one firm out of two do not use IWT!
Furthermore, a part of the Port is an oil depot, and pipelines substituted themselves to IWT for this type of commodity.
One could say that exists two part in the Port, one River Port (38%), the other Oil Terminal (62%). Thus an accurate analysis of the Port Traffic should dissociate these two before any percentage calculation. Then IWT represents 1 tonne out of 4 in the River Port, and 1 tonne out of 100 in the oil terminal.
Further, 2 entreprises in the port out of 3 (riversided or not) use IWT. They give it 70% of their incoming traffic (5 tonnes out of 7), which is not bad for a port located on an isolated branch of the network, not linked to Lorraine nor Belgium, and 1 tonne out of 100 of their outgoing traffic, which is normal in a Distribution Base. We are thus far from "1 entreprise out of 10", a wording quite akin to treachery.
IWT: 3/4 of Sea Traffic
It would seem that nobody has yet compared World IWT Traffic with World Seaborne Trade, a well known series (Fearnley & Egers). Nobody can dream of rebuking Sea Transport as Minor and Outmoded. Yet, it amounted only to 3 977 million tonnes in 1990, when IWT was close to 3 000 million, if countries for which data is intermittent or not published by UN are included (Chine alone was 561 Mt in 1990). Yet, critics want to deny IWT the right to be a mode transport of its own, when it is still growing.
Once more, these critics are wrong. Alas, "calumniate, calumniate, some of it will remain", so these slanders must be strongly repelled. And IWT enthousiasts cannot stay quiet in front of such interested falsehoods!