German canal improvements boost Euro shipping

Motor ship buildup at the Sülfeld Suedschleuse on Germany's Mittellandkanal (Photo: Tom Todd) Motor ship buildup at the Sülfeld Suedschleuse on Germany's Mittellandkanal (Photo: Tom Todd)

One of Europe’s most significant waterway projects has been completed in Germany and will, officials say, improve shipping to and from major ports and points inland, writes Tom Todd.

Work on renovating the 80 km long Eastern Sector (Osthaltung) of Germany’s longest man-made waterway - the 325kms Mittelland Canal – started in 1993. It is the only waterway project in the 17 German Unity transport projects begun after re-unification in 1990.

The Mittelland Osthaltung renovation has covered work on the stretch between the Sülfeld Lock near Wolfsburg, home of Volkswagen, and the locks at Magdeburg on the Elbe.

The stretch links the Elbe and Berlin further east with the Dortmund-Ems Canal in the industrial Ruhr to the west. Motor ships of up to 2,000 tons as well as 185m long barge convoys carrying up to 3,500 tons and drawing 2.8m can now reach Magdeburg along the canal. This in turn gives Greater Magdeburg and Berlin a high-performance, safe and environmentally friendly waterway link and improved canal access to North Sea and Rhine ports and Western industrial hubs.

The Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) in Bonn told Maritime Journal the work had cost the German Government about €800 million. It also said the renovated stretch was now able to handle the predicted future 33.2 million tons of cargo a year on the route. One barge convoy alone, officials said, replaces an 8.5kms motorway truck convoy. Increased bridge heights in particular also mean that two-stack container ships can now use the Mittelland Canal.

The WSV said that during the 25 year renovation 36 road bridges, five railway bridges, 30 culverts, nine berths, one harbour, four turning circles, one security gate and a railway underpass had been built.

Recent work has included the building of a second lock at Zerben just east of Magdeburg on the Elbe-Haven Canal to Berlin. Costing €62 million, it opened in March. A new south lock was also completed at Sülfeld in 2008.

GermanTransport Ministry State Secretary Enak Ferlemann said the Osthaltung inauguration “significantly increases the performance and the future efficiency of inland shipping”. He stressed that not only central Germany benefitted but the entire German and European waterway network since German waterways linked the waterways of neighbouring countries in both east and west.

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