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East European inland waterway transportation: general perspectives and problems

by Michele Tempera

Abstract

The European Commission programme, called TEN-T (Trans European Transport Network), is working as a groundwork for the enlarging and rationalizing of a trans-border transportation network. The lesser known, the less commonly utilized and the less developed of different transportation sectors is the river navigation. European inland waterways are seen as underdeveloped and their unexploited potential as means of transporting of goods is believed to be huge. Have the medium-long term effects of the planned infrastructural works, needed to carry on this project, been evaluated properly?
As for now the whole EU fluvial infrastructure is under a process of upgrading, despite a considerable distance separating the present situation from the one described in the European Commission’s program goals. Moreover, a deep gap exists between the different geographical areas of the EU with regard to the level of technological advancement of the navigation services, navigability of rivers and multimodal connection with the other kind of transport (railway, road etc..).
The considerable economical and political means put in place over a period of almost ten years (from 2006 to 2013) for the progress of European river transportation, underline the European Commission’s commitment in investing in a structural way on this transport sector. The reasons that inspire the European Commission’s strategy are many, but among them three are key. First is the absence of alternatives in the short run to the transportation on overcrowded roads, except for via railway and waterway. Second is the belief that the inland waterways are the most environmentally friendly of all possible means of transport and must therefore be exploited to reduce pollution and emissions.
Third is the supposed safety, punctuality and massive capacity of river transportation.
As far as concerns Central Eastern and Balkan Europe, the European Commission strategy is centred on the Danube river basin, which embrace fourteen states in the area. The inland waterway strategy is taken in high consideration by the programs and agencies promoted in the EU framework because of the relatively young age of the modern transport system in the regions involved. In the eyes of Brussels, the inland waterways can be supported to enhance the present phase of diversification of the transport sector, which can be better done given the immature stage of development in mass transportation.
Countries such as Bulgaria or Serbia, placed along the Danube river, can assign a significant portion of the amount of goods transported to the waterway system (in this particular case the Danube one). The intent of the Commission is to shift the attention of the policymakers and the operators from road transport to the other ones, including inland waterway. Notwithstanding that, at the moment the nations of Central Eastern and Balkan Europe are favouring streets and highways, but the rivers are now conquering a little more market share than the last ten years.

Original title: East European inland waterway transportation: general perspectives and problems

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