Memorandum by Wood, Hall and Heward Ltd
THE FUTURE OF THE UK SHIPPING INDUSTRY
INLAND WATERWAYS TRANSPORT
Transportation is a fundamental requirement
of any economically active community. As its economy grows and
develops so its demand for transportation increases.
Over the years transportation systems have evolved
and developed with emerging transport technologies, in many cases
at the cost and ultimate demise of the preceding system.
In the UK there has been little effort to co-ordinate
the transport infrastructure, each transport mode having to compete
with the others. This has undoubtedly led to the greater use of
road transport and resulted in a change of attitude towards land
We are now beginning to see the side effects
of this policy such as:
economic growth fuels a constant
demand for more roads;
increasing traffic levels and ever
increasing road congestion;
financial loss due to time wasted;
economic loss as areas are seen as
unattractive because of poor road infrastructure;
health problems with increased pollution
and traffic accidents;
environmental concerns associated
with pollution and road construction;
resource concerns as fossil fuel
reserves are consumed.
The need to strike a better balance between
the various modes of transport is becoming ever more urgent. There
are many issues to be addressed when considering an integrated
transport system which makes it a complex topic to deal with.
There are perhaps four broad areas for consideration:
2. Existing transport infrastructure and
3. Land usethe way we live and work
The aim of this paper, however, is to concentrate
on the existing rivers and inland waterways infrastructure and
evaluate what part they can play in an integrated transport system.
2. THE INLAND
There has been much fine rhetoric over the years
about making more use of our existing inland waterways and rivers
on the basis that they are an under-utilised resource. Unfortunately
this has rarely been followed up with any concerted effort or
action, much of the work being left to dedicated enthusiasts working
with very limited resources.
This decline has been further compounded by
a lack of any coherent and co-ordinated transport strategy with
successive transport infrastructures becoming the dominant player
in a rapidly changing economic and commercial environment.
Public perception now regards the older rail
and waterways infrastructures as inferior to road transport and
indeed much modern development has turned its back on railway
lines and canals further hastening their demise.
As with all things in life there is always a
trade-off to be made in the choices we make. However the inland
waterways and rivers in the UK do present a number of opportunities
that could be readily and economically exploited if there is the
"political will" to overcome previous obstacles.
Some of the key attractions include:
an existing transport infrastructure
that in many cases requires only minimal investment to return
it to full operational status;
a network that connects many major
towns and cities in the UK (currently being exploited by the Fibreway
National Network project);
the opportunity to link rail and
inland waterways offering a real alternative to road transport;
a very visible and positive environmental
contribution by utilising rivers and canals;
many projects that would generate
PR opportunities and media coverage helping to change people's
perception of canal and river transport;
a system that can provide temporary
storage for goods in transit, an option often exercised on the
3. THE INLAND
When the canals were originally built they provided
the most economical way of transporting goods over long distances.
This was superseded with the advent of the railways which are
still probably the most efficient in terms of cost per ton/mile
with their capacity to move thousands of tons at high speeds across
the UK and Europe.
However the considerable original investment
in the canals has been sustained through the British Waterways
Board and the various activities of the Waterways Recovery Groups
and other membership organisations. Whilst the canals are unlikely
to play a role in long haul traffic there are short haul opportunities
to which they are particularly suited especially as goods and
people often use several different transport modes in their overall
In order to gain maximum benefit from the existing
inland waterways infrastructure a mechanism must be found to generate
some "quick wins" thus encouraging and stimulating
further investment into the inland waterways system. This can
only be achieved through partnership and real commitment from
all the interested parties.
Government and Local Authorities
need to find ways of "oiling" the wheels, perhaps through
simpler, more streamlined grant facilities and access.
Waterways Authorities need to find
ways of offering incentives, such as a "holiday" period
for tolls in order to help establish a new route.
Commercial operators need to have
confidence that their efforts will be rewarded and that prospective
customers do not find it easier to opt for a road transport solution.
Suitable opportunities can be identified and
if "Championed" and widely publicised it would be possible
to turn public opinion in favour of greater use of our canals
This in turn is likely to stimulate more interest
from the commercial world and thus encourage more investment in
Perhaps these potential opportunities are best
exemplified by a number of mini case studies which the author
has specific knowledge and experience.
4. CASE STUDIES
The following mini case studies are presented
as examples of potential opportunities to exploit the existing
waterways infrastructure. This is not an exhaustive list and there
are likely to be many other such opportunities in different regions
of the UK.
4.1 Paddington Basin Development
In August 1996 a 13 acre site in Paddington
was acquired by Chelsfield plc for re-development. This site includes
a short stretch of canal, the Paddington Basin, which is connected
to the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal at Little Venice.
The development site has only limited road access
via Praed Street, North Wharf Road and Harbet Road. There is also
only limited space on the site itself. This is already a busy
part of London due to Paddington station and the surrounding residential
and commercial areas. Access is restricted due to the Westway
(A40M) and bridges over the railway lines.
The canal provides an alternative transport
route right into the development site. Approximately three miles
west along the Paddington Arm are convenient transhipment points
with both road and rail transport access. This presents the opportunity
to extend the development site by utilising the canal, also as
an alternative transport route to take materials in and out of
the site and provide floating storage.
The attractions of this project are:
the existing infrastructure is in
it is a short haul journey of about
it would relieve road congestion
around Paddington station considerably;
it would reduce pollution created
by construction traffic.
4.2 Old Oak Lane Railway Sidings
About three miles to the west of Paddington
in London is an existing railway sidings site which has the Paddington
Arm of the Grant Union Canal passing along its southern edge.
A minimum amount of investment would be required
to create a suitable transhipment wharf at this site opening up
the possibility of a rail to canal link in the West of London.
Potential traffic would be aggregates coming
into London for concrete making as most of the UK's aggregates
are carried by rail initially before delivery to their final destination.
The removal of excavated material and rubbish.
There are already existing land fill sites, accessible by rail,
for both ordinary waste and contaminated waste.
Strategically for London this would be an ideal
waste transfer site with the ability to remove a significant amount
of road traffic from the London area.
The attractions of this project are:
minimal investment to create a wharf;
easy access by canal into London;
direct link to existing railway infrastructure;
opens up potential for real alternative
to road transport;
could supply the Paddington Basin
4.3 Boyer Sand and Gravel
William Boyer and Sons Ltd of West Drayton,
Middlesex, have an aggregate extraction site just north of Uxbridge
on the Grant Union Canal. The destination for the extracted material
is approximately 2.5 miles further north along the canal at their
processing plant at Widewater, Harefield.
Here again the basic infrastructure is in operational
condition although some investment is likely on the two locks
at Denham and Widewater.
The alternative is road transport and due to
earlier objections to the canal transport proposal it currently
looks as if this aggregate will be moved by road, parts of which
will be along small country lanes.
The attractions of this project are:
start and finish destinations are
it is a short haul journey, about
2.5 miles and two locks;
every barge load would be at least
the equivalent of three 20 ton lorry loads;
W Boyer & Sons Ltd are keen to
utilise the canal if at all possible;
the existing infrastructure requires
minimal investment to maintain a short stretch of canal at full
4.4 British Steel
It was recently announced in the newspaper that
British Steel intends to use rail freight transport to service
a new distribution hub being established in the Midlands. The
suggestion being that the final delivery to the customer would
be by road transport.
Birmingham and the Midlands are the heart of
the inland waterways network and whilst there may be many obstacles
it is indicative of current attitudes that no mention was made
of canal transport being a possible delivery route.
4.5 Bristol Waterbus project
This project involves setting up a regular timetabled
waterbus service linking Bristol City centre with Temple Meads
mainline railway station and surrounding residential areas, all
connected by the City Docks waterway.
The existing waterways infrastructure is in
very good condition and requires minimal investment to improve
the quality of the access points"bus stops".
Many large corporate organisations are now waterside,
including Lloyds Bank, as a result of inward investment through
the Bristol Development Corporation programme.
The journey time from Temple Meads to the city
centre by waterbus is approximately 12 minutes, faster than the
bus at rush hour.
Possible alternatives are some form of light
transit railway or tram. By comparison this would require considerable
investment and also utilise existing roads into Bristol which
are already severely congested by current traffic levels.
The waterbus project is attractive because:
it uses existing under-utilised infrastructure;
it will relieve road congestion and
it will serve the business office
community which generates much of the commuter traffic;
it could be extended to include "Park
4.6 Thames River Bus
The Thames River Bus service was originally
set up to provide an additional passenger transport route into
the Docklands development area. This took advantage of the river
Thames providing an efficient and convenient eastwest route
through central London.
It did however fail to capitalise on its particular
1. It needed to integrate quickly and easily
with existing road and rail transport routes such as Charring
Cross mainline station.
2. It should have exploited the boat as a
mode of transport which potentially can offer value added services
that road and rail services have difficulty in providing.
3. It should be priced at a level that the
customer perceives as reasonable and ideally linked to the travel
The lower reaches of the Thames present some
operational problems such as strong tidal currents and large height
differences between high and low water, the River Bus service
clearly demonstrated that these were not significant barriers
to providing a service. Essentially the river Thames is a very
under-utilised transport infrastructure for eastwest journeys
across London that could easily be linked with existing road and
As the Millennium approaches pressure is mounting
on Governments around the world to resolve the problem of increasing
road congestion and its associated pollution.
Clearly better utilisation of existing resources
will help redress the balance. The UK is in the fortunate position
of having several existing transport infrastructures to exploit
and is also at the leading edge of emerging telecommunications
Whilst initially the inland waterways may only
have a small part to play they will provide a powerful statement
showing real commitment to a totally integrated transport system.
The benefits are:
Makes good use of existing infrastructure
Requires only minimal investment
to upgrade to full operational status.
Potential projects exist for both
commercial freight and passenger traffic offering a real alternative
to road transport.
These "Quick Wins" could
be used to change public perception.
Greater publicity is likely to generate
more interest and encourage more investment.
Shows real and visible commitment
to a totally integrated system.
Makes a positive contribution towards
The catalysts will be:
Changing attitudes towards greater
use of water transport.
Developing infrastructure to widen
Policies to encourage the greater
use of inland waterways.
At the end of the day it is down to each
and every one of us to make it work.
2 December 1998