European inland ports are playing an important role in integrating the different modes of transport and serving as modern multimodal connecting points in the European inland transport network. Inland ports are more than just an entry and exit gate on the waterway. They are in fact taking up the function of a “transport market place”, an efficient interface where freight transport users can choose inland waterway, rail, road transport or short sea shipping in function of the product, the destination, the client, the cost (both internal and external).
Moreover, through a good industrial location policy in and around inland ports, businesses can be pulled towards these multimodal connecting points. This allows to bundle freight volumes which make the use of inland waterway, rail and intermodal transport solutions more attractive and to avoid unnecessary transport between isolated industrial sites.
Therefore we believe inland ports should be put in the forefront when developing a policy to enhance seamless transport. However, to use their potential fully, inland ports need to count on a stable and long term political vision. This is above all important for inland waterway transport, the “raison d’être” of inland ports. Policy makers have to define now which infrastructure they will develop and maintain and stick to their decisions. If the inland waterway transport network is consolidated it will give inland ports and potential investors a positive signal.
A last point to raise in this debate is the potential inland ports have in bringing freight in a sustainable way to or near the city centres. Traditionally, towns were developed at the riverside, just because water was the only way to supply the town. With rising transport volumes and a growing urbanisation, it is time to rediscover the waterfronts for urban logistics and involve inland ports in the urban mobility plans. Seamless urban transport should not only focus on the urban last mile, but also on efficient and sustainable ways of bringing the goods as near as possible to the city centre.