German waterways get giant funding boost

German Mittelland Canal renovations. Berlin has pledged cash for more work like this. (Photo: Tom Todd) German Mittelland Canal renovations. Berlin has pledged cash for more work like this. (Photo: Tom Todd)

The German Government has earmarked €800 million for work on the country’s vital inland waterway system as users warn of lock breakdowns and aging infrastructures on the internationally important network, reports Tom Todd.

Announcing its 2019 budget, Berlin said the money would be spent on expanding and renovating Germany’s extensive canal and waterway network.

The BDB, the national association which groups German inland waterway operators, welcomed the pledge. It added that the  investment was “urgently needed because waterway infrastructures are too old and visibly deteriorating”.

It said experts had estimated that about 100 ship locks on Germany’s most important waterways would need to be replaced with new structures inside the next twenty years.

Just how urgent the need is has been demonstrated by the opening of new or upgraded German ship locks in recent years to counter deterioration or accidents. Cases in point include repairs and planned upgrades on the strategic Kiel Canal and recently completed renovation of parts of the important Mittelland Canal.

Berlin has actually proposed a total allocation of €815 million for the waterways in next year’s budget because of what it described as Germany’s currently good economic situation.

Some €6 million is also being made available to modernise inland shipping and a further €9 million will go towards establishing shore-power facilities for ships operating to and from inland ports. That’s in addition to the same sum being made available this year.   Successive German governments have promoted inland waterway shipping because of its environmental advantages over road cargo traffic. “On shore power plugs are the simplest and most efficient way of reducing ship emissions” said the BDB

The German waterway network is now one of the most important ship transit systems in Europe linking many countries to main seaports via the Rhine, Danube, Elbe or via connected man-made canals.

There are some 7,300 kms of navigable waterways - canals, rivers, and lakes in Germany under the control of a national waterways and shipping administration (WSV).  Some 4,500 kms – or nearly two thirds of that - are rated as of major significance for shipping to and from major seaports.

About a third of the waterways are free-flowing or regulated stretches, while 42% are lock regulated and about a quarter are man-made canal waterways.

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