The European waterway network comprises some 51,700 kilometres of canals, rivers and lakes of which approximately 20,000 kilometres is concentrated primarily in the Netherlands, France, Germany, Belgium and Austria. This intricate and extensive waterway network enables the inland shipping sector to reach many destinations in Europe, for example from Rotterdam to the Black Sea, from Amsterdam to Basel and from Delfzijl to Antwerp. Inland vessels can deliver freight anywhere in Europe, even into the remote hinterlands. Practically all large, important industrial areas in western Europe are accessible to inland shipping vessels. But also many areas located on the smaller waterways are easily accessible to small cargo ships.
The total waterway network in the Netherlands covers some 5,046 km, of which 4,800 km is suitable for the shipment of goods. Together, the main transport axes and main waterways total some 1,400 km in length. The remaining waterways provide a total length of approximately 3,400 km. Waterways have long been in existence and are not only used for navigational purposes, but also for the drainage of water. They form a complete water system.
Due to its location at the mouth
of several important European rivers such as the Rhine, the Maas and the
Schelde, the Netherlands is the gateway to the European hinterland. In addition
to these rivers, the numerous canals and lakes that connect the major cities
provide the Netherlands with an
excellent interconnected network for the waterborne transport of goods.
The Netherlands and water are thus inextricably linked. On the one hand, water forms a danger, whereby we - out of necessity - have become experts in water management. This is how we keep our feet dry. On the other hand, water provides great potential for waterborne transport. Water has been used in the Netherlands as a method of long-distance transport since early history. Today, inland shipping still continues to play a major role in transport.
In Europe, inland shipping is divided into so-called CEMT classes. This classification is determined by the Conférence Européenne des Ministres de Transport (the European Conference of Ministers of Transport), hence the term CEMT class.
The maximum sizes of the vessels are established per class. This information is particularly useful to have on board, because it helps the ship’s owner to determine which canal is too narrow or where the locks are too short for his vessel.
Below a overview of the classifications (click for a larger view)
In addition to rivers and canals, structural works, comprising not only bridges and locks, but also dams, dykes and ship lifts (in Belgium and France), form part of the waterway infrastructure.
The basic function of a bridge is to form a connection in places where traffic crosses over the water. The other structural works have a water protection or waterway management function. The difference in water levels between the rivers and canals necessitates the need for locks. A chamber lock is the most common type of lock. It is a construction that allows vessels to transfer from one water level to another through respectively raising or lowering the vessel. A chamber lock comprises a chamber with gates at both ends. The chamber is the space between the two sets of lock gates.
The various structural works affect the utilisation of the waterway infrastructure by inland shipping navigation, and to a large extent they determine the maximum size of the ships on the waterway routes. Furthermore, the dimensions and maintenance of the waterways determine the scale of inland shipping. Vertical bridge clearance is an important aspect of waterway infrastructure for inland shipping. But also the dimensions of the lock chamber determine the CEMT class of a waterway and thus which vessels can navigate these waters.