Moving Freight by Water: Sustainable Infrastructure and Innovative Vessels

Although it is a means of transport that can reduce transport CO2 and air polluting emissions and significantly contribute to reducing congestion on European roads waterborne transport around European coasts and on its inland waterways remains under-utilised and is not fully integrated in the multimodal European Transport system. Both technical and administrative requirements hinder the take up of Intra-European waterborne transport. Improvements are needed concerning: efficient and seamless integration between transport modes and last mile connection, inland waterway bottlenecks, capacity of small ports, loading times, efficiency of transferring cargo between modes, cost effectiveness of partial cargo loads, environmental impacts and the feasibility of mixed passenger/freight services. There is a need to stimulate the modernization of intra-European waterborne transport as well as waterborne transport with neighbouring countries, particularly in the case of the outermost regions by fostering automation and digitisation so as to enable their more efficient and reliable participation in the whole supply chain, to reduce environmental impacts such as noise and to respond to changing freight flows and supporting full implementation of synchromodality within inland waterways.


Proposals should focus on either area a) inland waterways or area b) maritime transport. To address this challenge, proposals should address the first bullet (for Maritime transport), or the fourth bullet (for Inland Waterway Transport), and at least four others of the following aspects. Proposals should clearly indicate which area they are addressing:

  • With a focus on the TEN-T network, develop to at least TRL5 one or more innovative inland waterway or short sea transport solutions incorporating innovative vessels which can operate more effectively within intermodal logistic chains with limited and affordable improvements to existing infrastructure. For example, solutions may combine freight with passenger services or ship to ship transfers so as to improve the cost effective feeding of freight from large to small inland ports. The role of smaller coastal ports, inland waterways and their urban waterfront, including those located in the outermost regions, should not be neglected as a means to exploit their high potential to contribute to innovative mobility solutions and last mile freight delivery.
  • Solutions should address the entire business model including connectivity IT infrastructure and integration with other transport modes.
  • Automated and connected inland waterway and/or port infrastructure should be addressed to enable more efficient operations. As appropriate, smart systems and automation should consider the automation of bridges, locks and dams, cargo handling and units, docking systems and shore side power. Digitisation, for example, EGNOS/Galileo services should facilitate efficient cross-border traffic and cargo information and ensure multi-modal interconnectivity and integration. The High Precision and Authenticated Positioning services of Galileo should be taken into account in optimizing the port operations.
  • Proposals addressing inland waterways, should address solutions for infrastructure maintenance and operation that increase the network resilience as well as long-term reliable navigability forecast, and should ensure compatibility with existing and emerging harmonised cross border and intermodal traffic management systems.
  • Environmental performance must be significantly improved compared to the current state of the art with regard to local air quality, noise, energy efficiency and risk of pollution. An environmental impact assessment and safety assessment of the developed solution in comparison to alternative forms of transport should be undertaken.
  • Concepts should be proven, a cost-benefit analysis undertaken and experimental validation and demonstration should be undertaken where feasible.
  • Dissemination, engagement and cooperation with logistics, shippers and intermodal transport operators are encouraged.
  • Business cases should be developed for key routes including comparison with existing transport solutions.
  • Recommendations should be made for optimising the conditions for intermodal solutions incorporating waterborne freight transport, including over shorter distances.
  • Outcomes should be developed to a level which would be potentially suitable for deployment possibly with the support of CEF TEN-T, EIB loan, ESIF or other programme.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU between EUR 5 and 10 million would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

Expected Impact

Decongest road and/or city infrastructure. Reduce the CO2 and air pollutant emissions of intra-European freight transport. Enhance the performance of the CEF TEN-T network. Substantially increase the amount of freight fed from intercontinental European ports using waterborne transport. Modernise, increase the reliability and competitiveness of Intra European Waterborne transport. Proposal should demonstrate that the deployment of solutions can increase the quantity of freight moved by Inland Waterways or Short Sea Shipping by at least 10% by 2030 compared to 2010 baseline data.

Cross-cutting Priorities

  • Blue Growth
  • Socio-economic science and humanities
Application date
Social sciences : Economy, Geography
Other : Physics, mathematics and engineering