Potential of inland waterways to be put to more use

2 june 2016 | PortNews

Inland waterways are not just 100 thousand navigable rivers and lakes. They are also ports, shipyards, water utilities, hydroelectric power, fisheries, in other words they represent an entire sector of the economy in its own right, with its production facilities and technologies. The Deputy Head of the Analytical Center Svetlana Ganeeva told the Port News publication about the promise that development of inland navigation holds in Russia. It is a great shame that in recent years inland navigation has not been getting enough attention and has thus lost its relevance for the national economy, even though, potentially it could play a key role in the country’s transport infrastructure, the expert believes.

Svetlana Ganeeva
Svetlana Ganeeva
Deputy Director General

Inland waterways offer a relatively cheap, safe, and very energy efficient option for transporting large and heavy cargoes over long distances. Advantages over road and rail transport are quite obvious: 2 barges pulled by a tug can carry as much cargo as 130 railroad cars or 400 dump trucks. Some regions are experiencing a shortage of rail transport capacity and in others there is really no alternative to inland navigation. This latter group includes the regions beyond the Urals, Siberia, and areas above the Arctic Circle. Then, there is the issue of environmental friendliness. The environmental impact of inland navigation is only a fraction of that of road and rail transport: CO2 emissions are 12 times less per ton-kilometer and fuel consumption is 4 times less.

Having analyzed the situation, we have concluded that if inland navigation were to be used more extensively to move cargo across the country, transportation costs would fall, there would be less strain being put on motorways and railways, and environmentalists would also breathe a sigh of relief. But that is all theory. And what do we have in practice?

The potential of inland waterways is grossly underutilized. Plus, in reality there are problems with infrastructure, the quality of inland waterways is deteriorating, rivers and lakes are getting shallower, less navigable and thus their through-put capacity as transport routes is shrinking, profitability leaves much to be desired while potential investors are scared off by the high capital expenditure of inland navigation. All these difficulties did not just appear out of the blue. For a long time the sector was underfunded and unless the bottlenecks are dealt with in short order, the entire sector may fall into complete disarray in the very near future.

In the time that navigable inland waterways were pretty much neglected, let alone developed, their length fell from 67 thousand to 49 thousand kilometers (between 1989 and 2015). Today, less than 50% of the country’s inland waterways are reliably navigable, while sections with limited navigability make up a fourth of the inland waterways included in the so-called National Deep Water System. The cargo turnover has fallen by a factor of 3.3 since 1990 (without pipelines taken into account, it has fallen from over 6% to 3% of the total), with the rate of contraction being almost 3 times higher than for the entire transport sector of the country. It is estimated that inland navigation companies lost as much as RUB 8 billion in revenue.

But it is not just cargo carriers that are suffering. Inland waterways cruises have also been hit. The popular routes from St.Petersburg to Moscow as well as those to southern Russia have been closed. Old cruise ships cannot offer the required level of service and comfort. In the past 15 years passenger traffic on inland waterways has fallen by 14.4 million people, including a fall of 500 thousand since 2008 alone. It is estimated that the industry has lost about RUB 38 million in lost revenues since 2008. This figure includes not just the ticket prices but the other services normally sold to the average tourist such as excursions, souvenirs etc.

To get things moving and address the most acute problems faced by inland navigation, in late February the government passed a strategy for the development of inland navigation in Russia through 2030. The document names some development priorities for navigable rivers. On the whole, the goal is to balance cargo flows by redistributing some of them onto inland waterways and by creating conditions that would encourage cargo owners to use inland navigation to move their cargoes. And to that end, the entire sector has to be renovated, modernized and expanded.

An important role is to be played in these efforts by the construction of new infrastructure facilities such as the Nizhny Novgorod low headwater dam on the Volga and the Bagaevsky power dam on the Don. The Bagaevsky dam alone is going to reduce the strain on the Tsimyanskoye reservoir, supplying water to the Novocherkassk power plant, the main Don canal and the local irrigation systems.

For example, the Altai Territory plans to move deliveries from the Biysk quarry from road transport to inland navigation. The current expenses in 2015-2020 are expected to fall by RUB 293.4 million, and if the improvements to be made to the local waterways are to be taken into account, total savings may be as high as RUB 430.4 million. As the region’s roads are going to be used less intensively, they will require less maintenance and that will translate into additional savings. And there are dozens of examples like that all across Russia at the moment.

To expand the capacity of inland waterways, 27 thousand km of river-ways are to be dredged to allow larger vessels to pass through, while lighting and reflectors are to be installed on another 18 thousand kilometers of waterways. 13 thousand cargo and auxiliary ships are to be built (currently 30 thousand are available) as well as 55 modern comfortable cruise ships. Attention is also going to be paid to safety, new technologies for building and operating vessels, training of personnel and development of inland navigation science.

About RUB 740 billion is to be allocated from the federal budget to the implementation of the 2030 Strategy. This represents 33% of the total. Up to RUB 68 million or 3% will come from regional budgets while about a trillion and a half or 64% is expected to come from private investors.

The federal funds will go primarily on the renovation of inland waterways and navigable dams, and local money will be spent on keeping navigation open on socially important routes while private investments will go on the building of new cargo and passenger ships and on the expansion of business port and terminal infrastructure.

Source: Port News