variety of goods

A broad gamut of goods are eligible for transport by inland navigation. Time and time again, new applications are being developed. Below, we provide a summary of some goods transports over inland waterways.



bulkIn our days the transport of bulk goods is still the most common kind of goods in inland shipping. Transporting huge volumes over a long distance remains the core activity of inland navigation. For this, no other mode of transport is as good as inland navigation. Typical examples of bulk gods are construction materials such as sand and gravel, or grains and feed.

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containervervoerIn the wake of maritime navigation, container transport is conquering inland navigation as well. Specialised container barges are equipped for the transport of containers that, most of the time, are directly loaded in the seaports. The smallest barges would take 32 TEU’s, the largest ones can transport up to 500 containers. The greatest possible variety of freight is transported in containers.

Along the inland waterways in Flanders, a total of eleven container terminals have been built and numbers are still rising. Some of these terminals have truly become intermodal nodes, others have specialized in servicing inland navigation. Among these terminals, and indeed in the broader framework of European waterways (Rhine and Danube), line services for container barges on fixed hours have been developed.


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Indivisible and outsize pieces of equipment

ondeelbare stukkenWhen they are transported by road, indivisible and outsize pieces of equipment cause an enormous and disproportionate inconvenience. Extreme big cranes, outsize silo’s, giant kettles, transformers, distilling columns, barely find their place on our congested roads. These exceptional transports notoriously travel much slower than the general flow of traffic, they cause an inconvenience, they create additional dangers, and they require extra police supervision. In any case, a special license is required due to their exceptional dimension, size and volume. In less than four years, the number of licenses has increased very significantly, and so did the inconvenience.

By contrast, the waterway offers oceans of open space and is a real alternative. In the past years, many companies have enjoyed that experience themselves. Indivisible pieces of equipment are always a challenge, but there is a solution for every problem. Barges or pushed convoys can transport the greatest variety of outsize freight. At one time, even an airplane was transported over water. In addition, transport by inland barge offers the advantage that assembling can be completed at the construction site. Most of the time, when outsize cargo is transported by road, the equipment must be transported in smaller pieces.

Follow the example of major companies and discover the cost-saving aspects of transporting indivisible pieces of equipment via inland navigation. We at the Promotion Office for Inland Navigation in Flanders have several experts at your disposal, for giving answers to any questions you might have for your specific problem.

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Waste and refuse

afvalMore than 90 percent of all remaining domestic refuse in Flanders is produced in cities that are at less than ten kilometres from a waterway, as the crow flies. Some 75 percent of all remaining refuse is produced in cities at less than five kilometres from a navigable waterway. Also a full 85 percent of all non-specific industrial waste is produced at less than five kilometres from a navigable waterway.

Compared to other modes of transport, inland navigation can offer a technical and economic advantage in 60 percent of this flow of traffic. Enormous volumes are involved, which can easily be kept away from our roads if a right refuse transport policy could be implemented: in one single year, more than 2,5 million tonnes of domestic refuse and industrial waste has to be removed. The Flemish government is able to influence and to direct these flows of waste transport, through granting environmental permits, imposing environmental taxes, or supervising local authorities.

In other countries, it is already most common to transport waste containers to dump sites or incinerators. More and more, the latter are being built along inland waterways.

Do you want to know more about waste and refuse?

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Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP)

GranenEven in a recent past, every single skipper had his own idea of how to handle and to transport cargo. These times are gone. Nowadays, clients and public authorities alike impose quality standards. At every single moment, they want to trace the flow of goods and to be able to intervene should anything go wrong.

Quality assurance is the name of the game, for transport of food in the first place: after the recent food safety crises, public authorities and clients want to keep control over the complete chain, from production to consumption. Guaranteeing minimal quality standards applies for consecutive cargo in the same barge as well.

Inland navigation is a loyal and convinced partner in developing quality assurance. Together with producers, we have developed “Good Manufacturing Practices” (GMP) which are a standard for transportation and manipulation. This is already the case for transport of grains, seeds and feed. A similar system of quality assurance is being developed in close co-operation with the federation of sand- and gravel winning industries.

Do you want to know more about GMP?

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(Polluted) Soil

The transport of soil is quite important in our economy. It is a legal obligation to trace back all earthmoving of 250 m³ and more, according to chapter X of the Soil Remediation Decree (Vlarebo). This is done by the non-profit association Soil Bank, which was established by the Confederation of the Construction Industry and the Public Waste Agency of Flanders (OVAM). Skippers who transport polluted soil are liable under the Vlarebo regulation.

The Promotion Office for Inland Navigation in Flanders fully co-operates with this system of quality assurance for transport of polluted soil. The quality assurance system imposes minimal tasks, duties and requirements, which must be respected by the hauler. On a daily basis, very important volumes are involved, with up to 2.000 to 5.000 25-tonnes trucks.

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Intermodal transport

intermodaal vervoerNo one single mode of transport will ever solve the mobility crisis on its own. It is true that road haulage to and from the waterway will almost always remain necessary, for bringing the goods to the quay wall or for unloading at the ultimate distribution point. A combination of different modes of transport is also the obvious solution for crossing major geographical barriers such as the Alps.

For these reasons, inland navigation believes in co-operation with other modes of transport. Intermodality is the key to commonly tackle transport needs of our times. An outstanding example of this is container transport. The standardized boxes allow for having them easily moved on a truck, a railway wagon, or an inland barge. Some ways of intermodal co-operation are also made possible by combining the transport with shortsea shipping. Many inland container terminals operate facilities for intermodal transhipment of freight.

Inland navigation organises itself to increase its share in intermodal transport schemes. In traffic relations to and from the seaports, the combination between road haulage and inland navigation is, already these days, more important than combinations with railway transport. However, inland navigation still lags behind in the development of intra-continental transport, where the potential for growth is huge. Bottlenecks include unfamiliarity with this mode of transport, the less than optimal co-operation, and the lack of proper equipment. The European Commission is actively supporting intermodal co-operation, a.o. via the Marco Polo support programme.

For more information on this, click here (only in Dutch).

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Palletized transport

PalletvervoerIn several countries research is carried out on new roles of inland navigation in distributing so-called fast moving consumer goods, such as beer, soft drinks, toilet paper, dog- or cat feed. These goods are almost always transported and stored on pallets or directly at the supermarket. An inland barge can take 300 to 1200 of these pallets at a time, against some 20 to 30 in a road truck. By developing a network in between these warehouses, part of this enormous flow of traffic could be moved to inland navigation. It is obvious that pre- and post-transportation will always remain necessary.

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New flows of transport

Inland navigation is rapidly changing. Times are gone when inland barges only transported low-value bulk goods over a long distance. On this page, we sum up some new developments, which give an idea of what inland navigation may look like in the future. Some of these developments will mature, others will fail. But failing and standing up are the characteristics of every process of innovation and progress.

Self-propelled push-convoys

Development of self-propelled push-convoys is a technically and logistic new evolution, which is already operational with certain logistic service providers. The barges are coupled and uncoupled from a regular convoy, after which they can autonomously continue their journey on the smaller canals. Both in the Netherlands and in Flanders, the importance of small canals is ever more highlighted.

Crane ship

Sometimes the handling of freight flows is a handicap to convince private companies to make use of inland waterways. The lack of appropriate infrastructure at the appropriate location, has led to the idea of a 1350 tonnes crane ship. Research, investment and start-up of this project has been made possible by the Flemish government.


The Waterslag project is an innovative concept, developed by Waterwegen & Zeekanaal, a waterway management body. The idea is to optimize the use of small waterways by coupling a push barge or a Campinois vessel in order to ship bigger amounts of freight. An inventory list is being made of all waterways that are eligible for this scheme; marketing research has been done; and a test trip is being prepared.