The organisers of the 2012 Olympic Games need to use London's waterways if they are to meet their promise of staging the greenest games in history, says Amy Reed. In this week's Green Room, she sets out the arguments for why moving freight by water is the most environmentally friendly mode of transport.
Every four years, the world focuses its gaze on one city for two weeks, as it plays host to the planet's largest peace-time event - the Olympic Games.
Moving material by water will help London 2012 meet its green goals
Competitors at the first games, held in 776 BC, would not recognise the modern day equivalent. They would marvel at the Herculean effort needed to stage the global event, for which preparations begin seven years before.
In July 2005, the International Olympic Committee judged London to be the winners in the race to stage the 2012 Games.
One of the central planks of the London organising committee's bid was to stage the greenest Olympics ever held, and to leave a sporting legacy for future generations.
If they are to deliver that promise, the first discipline that has to be mastered is freight transportation, but it will not be easy.
The initial building phase of the 2012 London Games will require hauling to and from the Olympics site no less than one million cubic metres of spoil, along with between 3,000 and 6,000 tonnes of aggregate each day.
It's a fact: shipping emits less carbon than other transport modes
We'll also have to move steel and other cargoes, together with large, pre-formed structures to the site in East London.
Though these figures are nothing unusual - at least not for a project of this size - there are still some question marks about whether the largest possible volume of Olympics goods are going to be brought to the Games site on the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation available - the water.
It's a fact: shipping emits less carbon than other transport modes and this has been demonstrated by one study after another.
Sea and Water's report, The Case for Water, showed that increased water freight transportation can cut the amount of carbon put into the atmosphere by 80%.
Statistics from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show that for each tonne-km, inland shipping emits only 22 grams of carbon. Rail freight is ranked a close second-best, at 28 grams.
The most environmentally damaging form of freight transport, which also happens often to be the default way of hauling cargo, is by road. Lorries, on average, emit 59 grams of carbon per tonne-kilometre.
Just one kilometre of motorway consumes more than 100,000 tonnes of finite and precious aggregate
Emissions from transport also pollute the air. The Department of Health estimates that between 12,000 and 24,000 deaths each year in the UK result from poor air quality.
Increased water freight transportation should be part of the solution to this problem. By moving freight by water, the amount of nitrogen oxide sent into the atmosphere is reduced by 35%, compared with road deliveries.
Shipping is, undoubtedly, the most sustainable mode of transportation. Across the globe, coastal waters and inland waterways are natural, and so their long and short-term maintenance is practically effortless. Yet just one kilometre of motorway consumes more than 100,000 tonnes of finite and precious aggregate.
By reducing our reliance upon roads for long distance movement of freight, we also diminish demand to widen existing motorways and build new, lorry-inviting roads.
Since waterways are best suited to freight traffic, they will not be clogged up by the unregulated growth of passenger traffic.
The Environment Agency has shown that the widening of roads in congested areas often only leads to short-term environmental gains, which is quickly lost as road-usage quickly increases to match the extra road capacity provided.
Unlocking the floodgates
So what is the principal barrier to increased water freight transportation? Attitude. Too many businesses opine, often incorrectly, that water freight transportation is too slow to meet their needs.
Too many environmental organisations do not even mention freight transportation in their transport or carbon-cutting agendas, despite the fact that this modal shift to water is a clear-cut solution to a pressing environmental problem.
All of this is the result a problem of perception, or a lack of any perception at all, about shipping.
A number of supermarkets are using canals to transport goods
Last February, the food retail giant Sainsbury's conducted a trial on the Thames, carrying food cargoes as it did regularly back in 1869.
On almost every occasion during the trial, the goods were transported more quickly on water than on their regular, heavily congested road journey.
Very recently, Tesco became the first major UK retailer to transport freight by canal, when it began moving wine by barge from Liverpool to Manchester via the Manchester Ship Canal. This will take 50 lorries off the roads each week.
But waterways are also useful when there is not as much of a hurry. Waste firm Cory Environmental transports 700,000 tonnes of rubbish each year down the Thames to Essex, avoiding 100,000 lorry journeys annually.
As businesses and environmental activists begin to become aware of the case for water freight, national and local governments can also do more to stimulate increased use of waterways and coastal routes.
They can ensure that the planning system is reformed to enable access to waterside and freight handling facilities, and allow ports to expand. They can strive to create a level playing-field between road transport and other modes, and maintain the inland waterway network.
On this front, there is some good news. Recent infrastructure investments in London by national and local authorities have made it possible to transport 1.75 million tonnes of material to the Games site by water.
If we move this much freight on the water, we can bring about C02 savings of 4,000 tonnes during construction of the Olympics sites, and an additional 440 tonnes per year thereafter.
The building period at the Olympic Park has only just begun, and there is still time to change our attitudes toward water freight transportation, and prepare to host a green games.
It is certainly a weightier task than it was back in 776 BC. But this does not mean that we cannot learn from our Olympic past, by relying once again upon that timeless, most environmentally friendly, and most sustainable mode of transportation on Earth: our coastal shipping routes and inland waterways.
Amy Reed is communications manager for Sea and Water, a UK government-funded organisation to promote the role of freight transportation by water
The Green Room is a series of opinion pieces on environmental topics running weekly on the BBC News website
Do you agree with Amy Reed? Should more freight be moved by water? Is it too slow for the 21st Century? Will developing the necessary infrastructure do more harm than good?
A very well presented argument for moving freight to the Olympics by barge and some good examples of what is moving by barge today. However you have overlooked the 300,000 tonnes per annum of aggregate moving by barges from Isle of Grain on the river Medway to Grays, Essex and Northfleet, Kent by Alan C. Bennett & Sons Ltd on behalf of Aggregate Industries (UK) Ltd. This regular barging route represents 30,000 road movements and some 2 million vehicle miles which was overlooked in your examples.
David Allen, Strood, Rochester, Kent
Just to put the record straight a little. It's surprising that Amy has not done much homework, but her heart is in the right place. The facts are that as we speak, a new Lock is being built at the south end of Prescott Channel on the site of the original lock built by a Major Prescott (no relation). This new Lock and water control structure will allow barges to transport up to a million tonnes of building construction materials from the river Thames into the heart of the Olympics site at Stratford , and post Olympics will provide full impoundment of Waterworks River North of the Lock. The impoundment will provide a leisure and ammenity legacy stretching far beyond the shelf life of the Olympics. In terms of removing heavy lorries from the roads and reducing Co2 emissions the facility will clearly contribute towards the targets set by the Olmypic Delivery Authority for moving construction materials by sustainable means (rail and water.) Major Prescott would indeed be proud.
Philip Wright, London
I have no very much knowledge on this issue. However,when I read this atricle I realised that it is great idea. Future transportation should be more harmonic and sustainable to save our environment and make us more relaxed and calmer.
Parbate, Kaohsiung/ Taiwan
It's nice to see that someone working for a "government-funded organisation to promote the role of freight transportation by water" is doing so well at what she is paid for, but could it be that that funding is misplaced? Some statistics are bandied about here that I can't help but be sceptical about, especially that of the 'greenness' of water transport. Just have a look at the recent (19 October 2007) BBC article that a few other commenters have mentioned in passing.
Note that study discussed in that story was prepared by "one of the maritime industry's key bodies". Personally, I'm much more willing to believe an industry which criticises itself (!), than someone who I know is being paid to promote a certain agenda. Me, I'm a big fan of trains, (and have no financial interest in saying so).
Eric Lambart, Portland, Oregon, USA
If you think about it in simplistic terms; One, maybe two engines and not neccessarily as large as Truck engines shifting several hundred tons in ONE journey on relatively congestion free transport routes, makes it a very obvious alternative to using Trucks ! - simple
Simon G Angel, Banbury UK
Inland water transport just is not feasible in the UK on the canals. Period (excluding MSC, and a few in the North East). 25 ton per boat is not enonomic - add the cost of the journey (say 5 days London to Birmingham), plus the necessary staff (say minimum 2 per boat to cover Health and Saftey - and at least one will have to be a first aider), that's 20 man days of pay for 1 load. Sorry, but with a minimum working wage, no one is going to pay that sort of cash. Then add on substantial lock waiting times in the summer months when all the pleasure boats are out, and the costs spiral. All these reasons are the same reasons that made BWB give up commercial carrying back in 1963! - and now there are even more pleasure boats on the system. Not forgetting that although we have had a run of warm(ish) winters, there is still a strong (maybe stronger with climate change) possibility of a bad winter - with the canals frozen for up to 3 months - it's happened before, could happen !
again - would the employers pay all those workers for sitting in a frozen in boat for three months? I doubt it. The aggregate movement works because a huge amount of the journey is on a single level.
Many of the commentators need a refresher course in math. It is clearly possible for the total CO2 emissions of shipping to be greater than aircraft, and still less per km/ton as stated. Shipping clearly already ships much more tonnage of goods than aircraft, so we would expect it to have a higher total CO2 count
J.G., Albuquerque, USA
I'm afraid Amy Reed is a little late. As Alan Griffiths alludes to above, the potential of the waterways in the area to carry freight to the Olympics site was recognised several years ago, and was the subject of an extensive inter-agency discussion. This resulted in joint funding of the new Prescott Lock, now under construction, which will allow 350-tonne barges to reach the site from the Thames. Much construction materiel is already slated to be delivered that way, and waste taken away, not only for the Olympics but also for the ongoing redevelopment in Stratford.
Adrian Stott, Hertford
lets scrap the games and spend it on somthing more benificial to the country
David Harpin, st albans /uk
Does Amy Read suggest that each kilometer(1000 metres) consumes 100,000 tonnes of aggregate?
1 metre equates to 100 tonnes??
Ian Dunningham, Yate
If Sainsburys moving goods by water trial was as successful as this piece says, why are they not actually going to continue to do it? Tesco seem to have found an area where it works and the waste and construction industries also seem to have moved a long way to using water.
Water is definately an option for the right goods, however how ""green" is it when you move only one container by diesel fired barge? My guess is not much different to a lorry. The canal network needs to have major investment to allow multi container vessels to use the system. I don't think that this will happen in the short term.
I think most of the comments here on both sides are part right and part wrong. Waterways can make a big difference overall; there's certainly capacity for a modest amount of freight across the entire network, and a huge amount on a few significant parts (Thames, Machester Ship Canal). All of this is beneficial and to be encouraged until we are near capacity across the whole system. There is a lot of scope for upgrades in carefully targeted areas without wholsesale heritage destruction. It's all about vision.
Chris Colborne, Wallingford, Oxon, UK
Speed is relative. Fast transport in constant traffic is going to be far slower than slow transport in an uncongested access. Water ways also generally allow for larger vehicles, than most road ways do and because boats sink slightly when loaded they also tend to me more stable than a heavily loaded truck. At the same time people have got used to the quietness of some water ways, so the noise pollution needs to be kept to a minimum.
we cant even ship normal goods by rail. not a single girder will be shipped by canal. like all projects like this in the uk construction will over run, the builders will hold the organisers to ransom, back handers will flow, the government will buckle and it will be finshed. just. at a MASSIVELY inflated cost. no time to mess around with canals or trains.
SOme years ago whilst I was waiting to move 50 yards through one lock to another on a canl I counted the Lorries passing in the same time on the motorway alongside. 60 lorries carrying 24 tons in the time one boat load capacity 30 tons moved 50 yards. In most cases canals in the UK just cannot complete with roads.
Barry P, Havant England
British Waterways are currently building what they call a'Water Control System' otherwise known as a variable barrage across the tidal river Lea at Prescott Channel in Bow in east London. They maintain that it will allow 7,000 tons per day of freight into and out of the Olympic Park construction site. However this plan is serously flawed. Del Brenner of the Regents Network of canal users has written an excellent critique of this plan titled 'ARE THE WATERWAYS OF THE LOWER LEA VALLEY IN GOOD HANDS?
It is accessible via the Games Monitor website. Martin Slavin
Martin Slavin, London
To all those who say that the UK waterways are too narrow, maybe some are, but some definitely are not. Even the narrow waterways might be useful with careful thought. It seems that every time this topic comes up people always seem to find reasons why it could not work without even thinking it through.
Thomas Telford, Suffolk
At last, somebody with a little bit of common sense. The Germans and Dutch have continually used their waterways. So, why haven't we? It's because our motivation seems to be short term gain and an endemic attitude of greed.
J. PENDLETON, Lytham, Lancashire, England
Sorry to pour cold water on the enthusiasm for using the canals but as an engineer I think there are some problems which make this impractical. Here's just one:
Most canals in the UK are narrow canals which means that barges have a maximum length of 72 feet, a maximim width of about 6 feet and a maximum height above the water line of around 5 feet in the centre, less at the edges.
This is limited by size of locks and bridges of which there are hundreds, if not thousands on the canal system.
The most efficient way of moving freight when the factory/warehouse is not right on the canal is by container. A standard shipping container used on roads, railways and ships is not going to fit within these dimensions and it's not going to be economic replace all of the bridges and locks with wider ones.
You could get special containers that fit on canal barges but the economics don't look good for this either.
In some cases, where you have a wide, deep river or canal moving freight by water is a good idea but it's fairly limited in scope.
To my mind rail is a better bet in most cases - it just requires some of the investment that currently goes into roads to be used for rail improvement and for the appropriate incentives/penalties to be aplied to get freight off the roads.
Graham Avery, Royston, Herts
I note that some replies here refer to last Friday's article "Ships' CO2 'twice that of planes'". This appears to be an invalid comparison, as the shipping article is about bulk international shipping, whereas this is about inland freight movement on a much smaller scale.
Dominic Winsor, Southampton, UK
I suspect there is a comparison problem here. The total use of fuel for shipping is greater than for aviation. I do not know if the fact that aviation fuel is more highly refined is included in this. But the movement of freight is vastly greater on water. Thus the "fuel (or carbon emissions) per ton/Km" is lower for water-borne transport. Usually the water route is longer than the road, rail or air route ("round the horn"), but the advantage still lies with the water route, at least for long distances. Rail is excellent, and may be more economical for typical inland transits, again dependent on the directness of the route.
The usual problem is that the infrastructure will not readily support the use of another mode of transport. This is not insuperable, but may require a change of a number of procedures, from packaging and processing batch sizes to location of warehousing. Biggest of all may be a change in attitude!
David, Raleigh, N.C. USA
Great to know government are looking into the possibility of using water transport and are wording their tender documents to encourage bidders to include this where possible.
However the road and rail lobbies are already actively trying to beat the idea.
The existing canal network, with a few exceptions, is probably too small, too old and currently too overcrowded with leisure traffic to be a viable modern commercial alternative.
What is needed is a programme of investment to build a new system. The money seems to be there for improvements to rail and road, why is it not for waterways? Because since the end of WW2 the inland waterway system has been ignored as a serious transport alternative. Now the time has come to recognise their value, include them as a Dept of Transport responsibility and put the money into them alongside the road and rail needs.
John Frew, Kirkcudbright, Scotland
While I broadly agree about shipping, how can one kilometre of motorway possibly consume "100,000 tonnes of ... aggregate"?
Dave Cole, London, UK
Compacted aggregate has a density of about 2 tons per cubic metre. So 100,000 tons is equal to 50000 cubic metres.
Most motorways are about 35m across - so that's 35000 square metres of area per kilometre of motorway.
50000 cubic metres of aggregate, spread across 35000 square metres of motorway gives a depth of around 1.4m.
This seems quick thick for a road, but presumably motorways need solid foundations, so it is believable. Even more so if bridges, junctions, cuttings, tunnels, etc. are factored into the average.
So, one way or another, let's get freight off the roads; everyone knows they are really for vintage sports cars!
Philip Moore, London, UK
The simplest solution would be to cancel the "London Olympics" altogether, which, for the record, will not be held in London, but in Essex, as Stratford is historically part of Essex (read volume six of the Victoria County History of Essex). To be rid of an unneccessary burden on Council Tax would be very welcome. Council Tax is for paying for local services, not for unfeasable commercial ventures.
John Wallis, Dagenham, Essex
@Lee, Southampton: the BBC article "Ships' CO2 'twice that of planes'" misrepresented (hyped-up) the report from Intertanko "Tanker Shipping: energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly" which states:
"One litre of fuel on a modern VLCC (Very Large Crude Carrier) moves one tonne of cargo more than 2,800 kilometres; this is more than twice as far as 20 years ago. The average carbon footprint (in terms of CO2 per tonne-kilometre) of each of the world's oil tankers is less than one tenth of that of a heavy truck and less than one hundredth of that of an aircraft".
i.e. tankers are 10 times more efficient than trucks and 100 times more than planes (assuming the Intertanko report can be believed).
The crucial thing is the difference between "absolute" and "relative". Shipping, in absolute terms emits more CO2, but that is because it ships VASTLY more tonnage of the worlds cargo than aircraft (90%). In relative terms (per tonne shipped) it emits far less.
This was clear scare-mongering, poorly researched (!) article from the BBC! Shame on you.
David K, Chingford
This all looks very good, but in many cases the logistics don't add up. The journey times are too slow in many cases, as some goods require refrigeration or have a short life span etc.
It also has to be remembered that the much maligned but necessary lorries cannot cherry pick the 'nice' journeys - they have to pick up the 'grotty bits', to which water transport cannot deliver, without building channels which are impossibly expensive create and maintain.
Also many water journeys cannot do 'straight lines' and so whilst there may be less emissions per mile, the miles travelled are far greater.
Citylocal Fife, Dunfermline, Fife
In response to Andrew Armitage, Leeds - don't you understand the difference between Co2 emitted per weight of goods carried and total co2? Shipping in total emits more because it carries far more than aircraft. It can still be better for the environment, if more cargo can be carried for the same carbon emission. I say go for it, anything which helps the problem can only be a good thing. Of course making shipping more efficient would increase the advantage and should be done.
Tim, Cambridge, UK
Its a great idea but I agree with Graham Vine with his point about the supply of water. Speaking of the canals, In summer months when the water level is low the barges may have problems bottoming out. If we have problems flooding like we have this year the water level could be so high that the barges might not get under some of the lower briges. Whilst these are extreme conditions, they still need to be concidered.
Paul Briers, Northwich, England
Is water transport too slow for the 21st century? Well it was too slow for the 18th century, figure it out.
Does Amy account for the "fact" that at least 80% of the stuff transported by water will be stolen by all the crustys that live on most of Englands waterways?
Richard, Bath, UK
We literally missed the boat at the turn of the Millennium! We should have used all that money to revive our canal systems rather than build a stupid Dome! Canals are a huge infrastructure investment - the Victorians got that much right!
James Alexander, Glasgow
Glad to see there is so much (positive) comment on this subject. Indeed too much to respond to in one short message. So just three comments of my own: (1)Sea & Water receives only some of its income from Government - it expresses independent views, drawn from all sides of the shipping/waterway industry, including the demand side. (2) 95% of world trade is by sea and canal. Those many billion ton miles per year would make travel by road, rail and air impossible if the shipping mode was forgotten because of carbon dioxide emissions. Engine manufacturers are working very hard to continue to raise standards. (3) Whilst it may be too late to remove yuppy flats from former trading wharves, it is not too late to stop further encroachment. Such is the story from the Thames with Safeguarding of Wharves. What we need is the will (shown recently by Sainsubry and Tesco amongst others), to actively look at changing modes of transport, rather than just paying lip service to the greener me!
thod but turning it down as being "too hard". It is not as difficult as you may think!
David, Rochester, Kent
Well said !
The commercial waterways are defined in the 1968 Transport Act and they include rivers which flow past such regional centres at Nottingham Worcester, Leeds and Rotherham.
The use of the term "Canal" may confuse people because unless you are talking about the Manchester Ship Canal the most potential for waterborne freight carriage is on rivers such as the Thames, Severn, Trent and Navigations such as the Aire and Calder and Sheffield and South Yorkshire.
While other contributors make reference to emissions from ships this article is focusing on inland freight traffic generally by barge which as Amy states is very environmentally friendly.
The main problem which is highlighted is a lack of waterside freight handling facilities. It is not a tough job to take 200 tonnes of cargo to the regional centres highlighted above but as a result of poor planning by local authorities it is often difficult to off load.
Inland waterway freight carriage will only be able to play its role within a integrated transport network when the government, navigation authorities and the planners ensure that the inland infrastructure is provided and that the waterway track is fit for purpose. Once this happens as has been demonstrated by Tesco and Sainsburys the market will follow.
Tim , Stafford
While there are issues over our long distance waterways the network of rivers, creeks and wide canals in the London area are ideal for continued commercial use.
Or at least they would be if it wasn't for the continuing conversion of warfage to residential or office use.
To all those quoting the previous story about "Shipping emits twice as much CO2 as aviation": that was, as is all too common, an extremely poorly-reported story. That was simply reporting TOTAL CO2 emissions from ships, vs. total emissions from planes. Since a much greater tonnage of goods is moved by ship than plane across the globe, of course CO2 emissions from shipping are greater. But on a per mile per tonne basis, shipping is massively more efficient in terms of CO2 emissions.
Alex W, Oxford, UK
All canals need water, which requires rainfall.
Canals in the south of England didn't have enough water in the 1850s to support the meagre volumes of good to be transported at the time. And they certainly don't have it now.
In the 19th centure, many canals were un-navigable due to lack of water in the summer months. This is a pipe dream dreamed up by people who don't have a clue.
Furthermore when Tesco started using the Manchester Ship Canal, each time a boat passes, swing bridges have to be raised, which leads to poluting gridlock for an hour afterwards. So much for 'saving' carbon.
Very few subjects in life are simple, and Amy's argument is far from conclusive. According to a BBC Online story earlier this month, Intertanko, the trade body for tanker ship operators estimates that worldwide shipping now emits twice as much CO2 as aviation!
The story goes on to say that: "Its estimate suggests that the world's shipping uses between 350 and 410 million tonnes of fuel each year, which equates to up to 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions."
So yes, let's look at moving freight by water (incidentally what about people? Why isn't this mentioned?), but it must be done against clear scientific evidence, not just woolly green aspirations.
Graeme Bell, Dinan, France
I agree with this. We need to look at the past to guide the future. For millennia water was the primary transport mode. It should be used wherever possible. It does not consume valuable resources, does not spew out pollution if wind is used as a motive force wherever possible, and the inland waterways can be used for recreation. If the JIT principle is used then water is not a slower mode of transport. If we are serious in cutting pollutants then this is a proven method.
Richard - East London, Ilford / England
I agree with Amy Reed. Canals are NOT slow, the M25, M1 and other motorways ARE slow. Moving at 4mph is much quicker than moving at 0mph!
Less trucks on the roads leaves more space for other vehicles, so the traffic will generally move faster.
Combine this with High Cccupancy vehicle requirements, car-sharing initiatives etc, and the South East may start moving again!
Sue, Dunstable, Beds
I live close to the Olympic site and had been aware that the Lee was to be used for some of the transportation needs of the building project, indeed I cycle past a site where new locks are being built on the river to help make this possible.
Water is eminently suitable for large bulky loads where there are few time constraints, and much of the infrastucture is already in place, a lot of industry is still located close to the rivers and canals that were so crucial to Industrial expansin in the 18th and 19th centuries.
For frieght with a greater need to arrive quickly, then the railway network is usually a more energy eficient way to transport it than lorries.
Chris Luxford, London
Yes! Much more research and investment should be made to harness the properties of water for transportation of heavy goods.
The opportunity should also be taken to provide a new network of walking, cycling and horse riding routes that would be of particular benifit to our currently too obese society.
Robert Briggs, Somersham
For all the lorry journeys saved we have to recognise the impact on the drivers and maintenace personnel etc. However, a new industry can be formed to service, manage, police and promote the waterways as the current level of investment in building, maintaining and managing the canals and river infrastructure will not be sufficient for wholesale commercial exploitation and environmental protection. The government should make it part of the environmental duty of all transport "O licences" to justify where non-perishable goods are NOT transported by rail or water. Simple cost issues are not a justification in themselves, as we all pay the environmental price for failure to conserve even if we are not end users of the products. Regionalised transport policies based on waterside distributon hubs (rather than the flats we see now losing value across the UK) [barge to distribution depot, onward delivery to sies without waterside access by shortest available route] would create job,!
reduce goods miles by road and add back into the English rural and urban environment the benefits of active waterways. This is not a case of can we afford to do this, but of a REQUIREMENT to invest in the future of us all, - NOW.
Martin Dalton, Leeds
I don't want my nice quiet waterways clogged by all your nasty goods traffic. You should maintain the waterways of course, at government expense, but only for use of myself and my friends. Mind you; in this instance it is for the Olympics, so none of the expenditure or activity will impinge on my quiet backwater North of the Manchester ship canal.
Norman McGadie, Glasgow Scotland
I agree that generally more freight should be moved by water. However, regarding freight for the 2012 Olympics construction works, I live in a flat overlooking the site, and know of only 1 working canal in the immediate vicinity. All too often it is devoid of any water at all and will make negotiating it by barge almost impossible. In addition the densely packed nature of housing and light industry in the area mean there is simply no space to maneouvre large quantities of materials, leaving no other viable option but to either ship it in a) by train (a low-carbon emitting mode of transport, and new Eurostar and Crossrail links will mean infrastructure is or will soon be in place) or b) by lorry (which I would rather avoid or we run the risk of clogging the already over-burdened infrastructure even more!)
Lukas, Stratford, London
The Olympics would be perfect for championing freight movement by water and getting other businesses thinking about it. What's perfect is, there's almost no need to build infrastructure as most UK towns were built close to the water. We could also adapt the canal systems to supply water to drought areas.
Couldn't waterways be even greener by making use of sail? Perhaps some sort of hybrid boats using electricity from solar panels and or windmill generators on the boat as well as sail?
In fact, with modern gearing, wouldn't it be possible for the wind to turn a windmill that could directly (through the gearing) drive a propellor?
Peter Judge, W. Yorks, UK
So "moving freight by water is the most environmentally friendly mode of transport", and at the same time, "Ships pump out twice as much carbon dioxide as planes, according to new figures from the maritime industry body Intertanko". My conclusion? Don't believe anything! Ever!
Andrew Armitage, Leeds
Ironically, the BBC carried a story earlier this month that shipping actually emits twice as much CO2 as aviation.
I worked out sometime last year that the UK trawler fleet of 6,341 boats emits the same CO2 in a year as 3.5 million cars.
But while aircraft and car manufacturers are investing heavily in improving performance in their engines, ships are not doing the same, and with a shelf-life much longer many ships are still using old engines that are very inefficient.
I'm not saying it should be discounted as a method of transport, but let's not forget that it too is a major polluter (before you start talking about spills, dumping chemicals into the water, transporting foreign species, etc), which the government doesn't target like it does motorists!
it doesn't really matter too much, as i believe that the irrepairable damage has been done & that it has exceeded it's possible repair limit.?(all by the human effect). only if the internal combustion engine is completely removed from service as of YESTERDAY & we stop altogether using fossil fuels no matter what the outcome. as we prove time & time again we will over come it..? there is always a way around the issue at hand. we all need to start planting indigenous trees too!
Malc Dixon, osbournby lincs uk
The extensive canal network in UK has the huge disadvantage of being built to a very narrow gauge and is unusable by container sized loads or barge traffic originating in Europe. To upgrade it would require a total rebuild. Thus road transport would seem likely to remain the only workable option for most inland distribution for the forseeable future. inland europe barge traffic. Most inland delivery journeys in UK are short
Michael Shuttleworth, Hathersage, United Kingdom
It's about time companies started investing in appropriate means of delivery. Obviously water transport is only suitable for regular and non urgent journeys, but they (and rail) are clearly of benefit.
Claiming that all "inland waterways are natural" isn't entirely true. The Manchester Ship Canal, and most other UK canals have definately had a little bit of "help" from engineers.
David Bull, Redhill, Surrey
Now I am fully in support of shipping goods on our waterways but it's amazing how facts are manipulated to give the required answer the support it needs. Only last week on the this very site that the worlds shipping was more polluting than all the worlds aircraft. Now were lead to believe that shipping goods on the water is squeaky clean. You can't have it both ways!
Clive Jenner, London UK
I whole-heartedly agree with Amy's vision of increased use of waterways for freight transport. Too many of us - including the Government - have slipped into the simplistic view of roads, roads, roads. Water-borne transport for regional freight is long overdue a revival. What I'd also like to see is airship transport of freight, both regional and national.
I think water freight is a very worthwhile way forward to reduce our carbon emmitions and at the same time relieve the congestion on the roads and motorways.
Bring it on.
The inland waterway infrastructure is already there if in some palces in poor repair.
Well done! Someone talking a lot of sense at last. I just hope that local bureaucrats and the 'elf and Safety' killjoys become a bit more imaginative with this idea of water transportation.
Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the proposals that Amy has put forward, we must learn from our mistakes with road transportation. Expansion of this mode of transportation must be more carefully planned than roads. If it is done correctly, it has the capability to not only create a greener environment, but also to reduce the amount of business time lost every year to workers being stuck in traffic. It is this benefit that I think will be most keenly felt in the economy. It will also increase workers' leisure time, as they will spend less time commuting to and from work, something that we can all get behind!
Stuart P, Aberdeen, UK
As this country has never had a canal system worthy of the name it seems a bit pointless building one now. Better to expand the rail network to do the job, perhaps a freight only railway spine from, say, Manchester and York to the Channel Tunnel.
Eggedd, New Bradwell, UK
Any is correct in what she is saying in principal. However, so far as the 2012 Olympic Games are concerned, she is preaching to the converted - the Olympics will be restoring 3000km of waterways and most of it in the early stages, so that they can do precisely as she is postulating. Don't criticise the Olympics, Amy, use the Games as an example
Kevin Briggs, Banbury
We should be using waterways far more, for commercial and leisure purposes. Here we have an almost empty conduit for heavy loads, and where timed delivery is not critical (just plan further ahead) then why not use them? They require less maintainance than roads, are cleaner, less noisy and far nicer to look at than acres of tarmac!
A regeneration program, utlising the volunteers of various canal/river preservation socities, would re-open the rest of the network to traffic, stimulating the local economies of many areas. It's a win-win situation.
Edward Byard, Oxford, UK
The only question is why it has taken everyone so long to wake up to the fact that the canal and rail networks are far more suitable for moving much of the freight that currently clog our roads. Yes lets invest in our canal heritage and make our past part of and environmentally sound future. Perhaps its time for some new railway lines dedicated to carrying frieght, rather than expanding the M25.
Richard Burstow, Rochford, United Kingdom
Water transport is not necessarily too slow. With good management and refurbishment of old facilities there is not really a problem for many items.
Much of the freight on our roads does not need to be moved as quickly as it is, that need is often just a false perception.
Ben Dallimore, Isle of Luing, Argyll
While I broadly agree about shipping, how can one kilometre of motorway possibly consume "100,000 tonnes of ... aggregate"?
Dave Cole, London, UK
100% with you even use of narrrow canals should be economic - particularly transportation of waste. However the leisure and property development lobbbies will (and do) obstruct use for freight. EG I understand scheme to open up Lancaster canal into Kendal does not include freight facilities on the Kendal basin. I would visuallise unmanned barges with automated (or centrally controlled) locks - to my knowledge no work being done on this. The much acclaimed connnection of the Lanacaster canal to the main syatem has a capacity of only a few boats a day - a real con if ever there was one. Sorry about spelling
Tony Coles, grange-over-sands England
Having been someone that has worked on the river Thames for 15 years now i am in full support of the waterways and river use required for the Olympic spectical in 2012. But why stop there? There are hundreds and hundreds of canal milage all over great Britain that could be used for transporting everyday to day goods, cutting down those big dirty lorries that clog up our roads. And of course there is the river Thames itself. This is a huge under used motorway going through the very heart of London. Its great that Sainsbury's carried out tests to see if it was quicker to transport goods by road than river, but being someone in the know, they have nt progressed and turned these tests into something that makes a differance to Londons roads yet.
I cannot speak for places around the country i know nothing about, but the way London is expanding, the surrounding canals and rivers should all be used far far more, not only for the enviroment, but before we allcome to a grinding halt.....
Trevor Window, Crouch end / London
I couldn't agree more. The waterways system is the biggest greenest underused transport resource we have in this country and should be mobilised as the best way to get freight traffic off our roads. Coastal shipping should also be extended with containers being moved straight from ships to coasters instead of from ships to lorries. We may get closer to reaching our emissions targets then. Don't add extra lanes to motorways - use the money to restore the waterways. This is not romantic twaddle. It is practical, achievable and desirable. At least the supermarkets are doing something right. Has anyone told them about their plastic bags? Waterways tend to get clogged up with them.
Bill, Camden, London
I most certainly agree with transporting frieght by water. After all, it's what the canals were originally designed for, and it'll hopefully slow down the 'need' for extra lanes to be built on to the motorwary network.
hazel love, Brighton
All very interesting, until the bit about Amy Reed working for a Government Funded Organisation, so I have serious doubts as to the validity of the figures. All to often we see, these days, statistics which ultimately prove to be suspect when the spin imposed by Government is eventually removed. If Waterways transport is such a good idea then why have the canals been left to rot for so long.
Keith Cooper, Rotherham
Throughout the olympic area, people will have to be moved by water too, as Stratford Station, despite recent upgrade, cannot even cope with a rush hour mob, let alone an olympic mob!
It's so obvious - why has it taken people so long to catch on!!!! I spent some time in the Rhine valley in Germany in the summer and was so impressed by the amount of freight containers that travel up and down the valley both by rail and by water. Massive amounts of freight gliding quietly and (relatively) cleanly up the river. It made me so ashamed to be British and part of such an ignorant dirty country.
Liz Hennessy, Isle of Wight
loads of stuff could go by canal, and should. For instance between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It would probably take a day longer to get there - but just send it a day earlier.
I have always advocated movung goods by canal but to be a real success they would have to be able to be used at night as well as day, our ancesters had all the environmentaly friendly infrastructure in place they got it right and we destryed most of it even the trams all low carbon producing transport and now it is going to cost to reinstate it but it will be worth it in the long term
David wilson, Edinburgh
Why dont we invest a small proportion of the billions spent on the roads on re-designing and the improvement in the canal structure of this country. What does it matter if it takes a week to get from Birmingham to london, ever heard of refrigeration. I am sure that canal boats can be adapted by modern technology to carry containers.
Just picture it, in fifty years of sustained investment, you could have a canal network with automated lock and water pumping systems, powered by wind technology, that would be the best in the world, and reduce the amount of road freight. Tell the Government to Start now . put some of this green tax that you are creating into a truly huge project.
David Wood, Bodmin
Why stick with freight in cities such as Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool etc... surely there is the scope to develop passenger transport.
In terms of moving freight, Business needs to consider what can be moved slowly and what needs to be moved quickly. Non perishable goods could easily be moved efficiently along the inland waterways of the country.
And for more perishable or in demand goods the use of rail freight and local haulage depots would help
chris , Annesley, UK
The problem with water is 'the final mile'. Many goods have to be transported to and from the water using other modes of transport. Transfer involves people which costs money.
Better planning can alleviate this factor; insist that distribution depots etc be built near to rail/water. Long shelf-life goods can then use more environmentally friendly transport. After all, if your shelf life for a can of beans is over a year, what does an extra day on the way matter?
If necessary build some more (short) canals. These could be designed as part of a linear park giving benefits for recreation and wildlife.
I live in Leicester which proclaims itself the environmental capital of the Britain. We have canals built from the time of industrial revolution but they have fallen into disuse for transportation of freight in recent years. The canal was used to carry timber. The timber yard has been replaced by housing which stretches along the length of the canal which is seen more for its use as a recreational facility. Leicester could have done more for an environmentally use of their canals. I fear the opportunity has been lost. It may not be lost for London and something may yet be salvaged.
khandu patel, leicester
Amy Reed seems to know lots of general background but little specific to the Olympic Park and the River Lea delta.
Look north from a District Line train between Bromley-by-Bow and West Ham. Those cranes just across the Channelsea River are building a new lock on the Prescott Channel. It is for Olympic construction traffic and the ODA is paying for it.
Alan Griffiths, Forest Gate, LONDON
I sent a letter to Mrs Thatcher back in the 80's suggesting that the Manchester ship Canal be upgraded and lengthened so that there would be a canal running from Liverpool through to kinston Upon Hull. The new waterway would speed up transport of goods from the east to west coast (and vice versa) and also provide employment in a (then) depressed area. The response - "someone would look into it" I see the amount of freight that moves around eaurope by barge and wonder why the UK has all but given up on this form of transport.
Graham Collins, Alkmaar/The Netherlands
Will this mean we have to recovert the yuppy flats that have been built in London, and that are being built in Chatham back to wharfs.
Gerard Abrahams, Chatham KENT UK
Water has always been the best way to move goods, unfortuneately everyone wants everything yesterday. Waterways can carry larger loads than lorries at a slower pace and usually with less risk of damage. Medicines and similar products may still need to be moved by road for the sake of speed. But most food stuffs should come from nearer the point where they are eaten reducing road transport even more.
Barry Metcalfe, Leighton Buzzard England
The world is overheating and dying because too much emphasis is being placed upon "modern & fast" instead of relaxed yet sustainable. This lifestyle is having huge and negative effects on culture. We all seemingly look towards the USA as the world leader in everything, when sadly the truth seems to be it is the greatest influence on world destruction, the only way to change this is to show that other alternatives work, so I aplaud this initative.
Tony Morgan, Alfreton. UK
We live on an island, you are never more than 80 miles from the sea, most sea side towns have a commercial harbour.Why not distribute all our freight this way?Commercially, the government and major import port monopolies, like Southampton and Felixstow are allowed to ship goods onwards, from John o Groats to Landsend by road.What a waste of energy and road capacity.
neil richardson, yarm
This is nonsense. Any realistic analysis will clearly show that waterways are never going to form any significant part of the British transport infrastructure.
Two phrases in this piece drew my particular attention:
"finite and precious aggragate ...." spare us, it's dirt.
"a UK government-funded organisation to promote..." as ever, the taxpayer is stumping up for this gesture politics.
Tim Veritas, Bristol
I have been a boater upon inland waterways for a lifetime (currently some 74 years) but Amy Reed's conclusion that inland waterways provide the answer to the Green Transport problem is shockingly naive.
She has forgotten altogether, it seems, that water cannot go up and down hills as roads and, to a limited extent, railways are able to do, so there has to be considerable energy and resource input into making means of overcoming slopes, either by obliterating them with monster cuttings and/or installing lifting mechanisms (locks, inclined planes, boat lifts, etc).
This still overlooks the worst problem facing the UK's inland waterways, the dire shortage of water resources as development proceeds apace to the point where the UK cannot meet all its water requirements. Backpumping water is held up as a solution but that, also, calls for immense input of energy to lift water from the bottom to the top of locks for re-cycling.
All that before we have even begun to consider the impact of the Uk's heritage of narrow canals which defy all attempts to increase their carrying capacity to the extent that the Rhine, Danube and other European waterways can achieve.
I am afraid that youthful idealism, whilst delightful to read, is so often shipwrecked upon the hard rocks of reality. How I would love Amy to be right !
Graham Vine, BORDON, England
I think that with increasing road traffic spiraling out of control and ever increasing road charges, we will have no alternative but to return to the inland waterways to play a serious part in freight transportation.
But long term would this put a heavy burden on the local environment with polution (accidental or deliberate).
Alan Nelder, Caerphilly
Of course it is a good idea. It will take countless lorries off our choked roads. Slow - in real terms maybe, but as long as you have a number of working boats the delivery can be much more timely and efficient than relying on lorries to deliver. The east end of London has numerous waterways that could be used in the construction phase and transporting visitors. Excellent idea.
Kathryn Dodington, Brookwood, Woking, Surrey
In this riverine country huge volumes of cargo are shifted by river. But 'just in time' deliveries are unheard of, and the pin point schedules that will apply to the project management of such a huge venture as the Olympics are not of paramount consideration in Bangladesh. Amy Reed is correct to point out the need for an early discussion of transportation methods. Providing that waterways can prove to be a reliable and predicatable mode of transport then this could be another legacy of the Olympics, with significant environmental benefits. And canals look nicer than motorways, encourage wildlife and are quieter!
Richard Miles, Dhaka Bangladesh
Well done Amy. It is about time that the Government & transport industries woke up to the fact that our coastal shipping routes and inland waterways are vastly underused.
The canal network is ideally suited to freight transportation.
I am now 60 years old & was raised in the village of Send in Surrey & grew up fishing, swimming & boating on the River Wey and Wey Navigation. It used to be a common sight to see horse drawn canal boats going to & from Guildford. We also had a smithy in the village and another common sight was to see the farrier shoeing the horses.
What is the carbon footprint of a horse drawn canal barge?
Robert J. Ford
Robert Ford, Guildford Surrey
Until recently I lived on the waterways of the UK on a narrow boat for 6 years. I travelled from Cambridge to York trhis summer by waterways and certainly do agree that the more the waterways are used both commercially and for leisure the better.
Kathy Hayes, Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada
I wholeheartedly agree with Amy that water transportation should be used more. Not only would it be efficient, but there's often a charming quality to the appearance of small ports and cargo vessels of the type you see around Europe. With the efficient container systems in use that permit easy transfer from boat to train to truck, I don't see why it can't be done.
Jeremy Mason, Houston, Texas, USA
Instead of just talking about cutting emissions, officials are actually doing something concrete. I hope to see more business going to the waterways.
Using the canals is a great idea. Moreover, every new supermarket should be built close to a railway station at which new sidings could be opened and all the produce delivered by rail. Legislation should be introduced to make supermarkets relocate to areas adjacent to the rail network. This would take millions of lorries off the road. The whole pattern of shopping would change.
Dave Griffin, Devon
A well argued case - let's hope it falls on the eyes and ears of the right people.
Clearly there are many situations where water-borne freight would be impractical bearing in mind some of our narrow canals, lack of dredging and maintenance of 200-year old structures and a blinkered cut in funding by Defra to the bodies charged with controlling and investing in the waterways future.
However, by learning lessons from other European countries and looking with new eyes at the economic and environmental possibilities and benefits of our substantial canal and river network, just maybe our political and commercial masters can do something that will one day be looked back at with wonder.
John Slee, Devizes, Wiltshire, UK
What total drivel. Once the effects of locks, which use, several tonnes of water for each tonne of boat lifted, are taken into acount canals cause way more damage than trucks. ( Unless you happen to to find a water source at the top of the hill very big, energy hungry, pumps are required).
... and just suppose you can get one heavy freight barge per minute up a canal. You have just ruined a leisure resource and only moved a tenth as much freight as a single carridgeway A road.
Mark K, London, UK
I think this is a brilliant idea, this has to be the answer to getting freight off the roads. As if the obvious environmental benefits aren't enough, surely it will result in less products being ruined through breakages etc. Good for profitability, and less wastage of resources.
Mark, Leeds, UK
the use of water transport would be helped by combining the postulated single contour canal round Britain which would not only make a freight transport highway but distribute water from the wet NE to the dry SW. The cost offset of combining the two projects might well help make the project feasable.
Adrian Turner, Aberystwyth