The Action is based on an innovative freight transport concept for inland shipping, articulated around transport units (barges and pushers) that can be coupled and decoupled in a fast and flexible way. A former Interreg project has demonstrated the operational and economic viability of the Watertruck concept in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. The modal shift potential in the regions of West-Vlaanderen and Kempen (Flanders) amounted to three million tonnes, while the modal shift potential in Northern Brabant (the Netherlands) was 0.4 million tonnes. Consequently, there is a considerable interest not only to continue with the Watertruck project but also to upscale it to a larger trans-national level through this Action.
The Action’s overall objective is to enhance the interconnectivity and interoperability between the TEN-T core network and smaller inland waterways. It will stimulate interregional inland waterway transport by lowering costs and contribute to the reduction of congestion, greenhouse gases and noxious emissions. The Action, a study including real-life pilot deployments, is implemented along the core network with connections with smaller waterways of the comprehensive network in Belgium, the Netherlands and France. Two specific objectives will be met by carrying out nine defined activities within the Action.
The first specific objective is to understand all necessary technical, economic and customer-related requirements for the Watertruck+ concept to be rolled-out and adopted at large scale by a sustainable market across Europe. This objective will be met through a study (activities 1 and 7) that will develop a Master Plan including a financial tool box and a financing strategy for the future large-scale roll-out of 500 barges and pushers across Europe.
The second specific objective is to operate and monitor the use of Watertruck+ pushers and barges so as to interact with the study. This objective will be met by conducting a real-life trial (activities 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6) with 31 barges and pushers to be built (12 unpropelled barges, 16 self-propelled barges and 3 push boats). Meaningful operational data will be collected and analysed to feed the study. Three levels of innovation will be tested:
- Bundling and unbundling flows of goods and decoupling of loading and unloading from the navigation itself, therefore enhancing the service ratio on the smaller waterways;
- The design of the hull and the use of alternative materials (i.e. aluminium, composite) to construct and operate the barges in the most efficient way so that the cost per unit and life-cycle costs are limited to the extent possible. Furthermore, the relationship between hull design and the type of installed engines will be optimised in an integrated design process;
- The choice of the fuel type, which is aimed at decreasing noxious emissions of the barges. The potential of various alternative fuel types will be investigated, such as LNG, hydrogen, hybrid (diesel – electrical), etc. The type of propulsion, whereby alternatives to the diesel engines currently used in inland navigation are considered, will be determined during the project. It entails an efforts obligation to reduce CO2 emissions by at least 25 % and the type of fuel and propulsion system to be used will at least comply with the EURO 6 norm of road transport. The project results will be disseminated widely at local, national and European levels of decision and policy makers (activity 8) and will provide a roadmap for Member States, supporting decision-making on national and transnational roll outs of Watertruck+ barges and pushers. To ensure the Action is delivered on time and within budget, Project Coordination has been separated out as a distinct activity (activity 9).