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UNECE calls for increased use of the environment-friendly inland waterways

Published: 11 October 2012

Only 7% of goods are transported on inland waterways in the European Union whereas road accounts for 78% and rail 15%. Yet, Europe’s navigable inland waterways span over more than 29,000 km with more than 400 important ports and terminals. 22,000 km of these waterways are considered inland waterways of international importance and 14,700 km can be used for containerized transport, which is the fastest growing market segment in inland navigation. 

Inland waterways are an environmentally friendly, reliable, safe and cost-efficient mode of transport. They can also carry large volumes of bulky and containerized cargo at very low noise levels, day and night, 7 days a week. Moreover, transport capacity on the region’s two main waterways, the Rhine and the Danube, could be increased by 50% and more than 80%, respectively, without major investments, according to estimates from the transport industry.

Thus, considerable efforts are still required by Governments and the transport industry to increase goods traffic on European inland waterways and to relieve the often congested European road and rail networks. Some of the biggest hurdles are insufficient inland water networks and locks as well as inadequate maintenance of infrastructure and fleet. Other issues, such as uncertain hydrological conditions, a fragmented industry and the shortage of skilled personnel further aggravate the situation.  These were some of the conclusions of the annual session of the UNECE Working Party on Inland Water Transport that met from 10-12 October 2012 in Geneva.

At the meeting, UNECE launched its latest Inventory of Main Standards and Parameters of the pan-European Inland Waterway Network (E Waterways). This latest inventory (“Blue Book”) updates data of an earlier pan-European survey on the status of inland navigation of 2006.

The E Waterway network covers all European navigable rivers, canals and ports and makes up a coordinated plan for the coordinated development and construction of inland waterways, similar to the well-known E Road network.

Like the E Road network, the E Waterway network is based on a multilateral treaty, the European Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance (AGN) that has been negotiated by UNECE in 1996 and is administered and monitored by the UNECE Transport Division. 17 UNECE member States have so far ratified the AGN Agreement (Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Moldova, Romania, Russian Federation, Slovakia, Switzerland, Ukraine).

The “Blue Book” is available at:

The Map of European Inland Waterways is available at:

For further information, please contact:

United Nations Economic Commission for Europe

Information Unit

Palais des Nations, 

CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland

Tel.: +41 (0) 22 917 44 44

Fax: +41 (0) 22 917 05 05