Container barge transport: combining forces

Publication date: 
19 Apr 2018

Today, Thursday 19 April, all stakeholders involved in the port of Antwerp signed a roadmap of structural measures to make container barge transport more efficient and further develop it. Concrete initiatives have been defined for this purpose and drawn up in an implementation plan. With this agreement the parties have not only confirmed their previous commitments but have also worked out structural and above all feasible solutions to permit sustainable growth of container barge transport and of the port of Antwerp itself.

Solid preparation

In the spring of 2017 the rapidly growing freight volumes and the ever larger sizes of seagoing ships calling at the port led to peak load on the terminals, with longer waiting times for container barges as a result. Time to do something about it. With the support of the shipping terminals concerned, together with the barge operators, shipping companies, shippers, forwarders, NxtPort, CEPA, the Flemish Government, Flemish Waterways, Alfaport-Voka (Chamber of Commerce) and Antwerp Port Authority, a declaration of intent was signed on 6 July that year to promote container barge transport in the port. To get from this declaration of intent to a concrete plan of action supported by all the parties, workgroups devoted to particular subjects were started up in September. Altogether some 40 workshops were held.

"The financial and operational investments to which all parties committed themselves reflect the importance that the stakeholders attach to efficient transport of goods by barge to and from the hinterland. This mode of transport is a crucial player in the economical, sustainable and mobility-friendly model that the port of Antwerp aims for. I would like to thank all parties involved for their unremitting efforts, their expertise and their final result. This is an excellent, future-oriented plan that will benefit the entire port and the barge community,

declared Port Authority CEO Jacques Vandermeiren.


Practical implementation

The agreements concentrate on three main areas: planning & collaboration, consolidation and digitisation.

The combination of all these measures should give new impetus to container barge transport in the port of Antwerp and permit the desired gains in efficiency for all partners in the chain.

  • Planning & collaboration

The collaboration between the parties will be intensified by having a more structured, transparent planning process. This will permit greater reliability for barge handling.


  1. Commitment by the terminals to provide minimum handling capacity for container barges. Stricter planning (i.e. scheduling) agreements throughout the chain, supported by BTS (Barge Traffic System).
  2. Centralised barge scheduling. The three large terminals (PSA, MPET and DP World) are carrying out a large-scale trial to deal with barge scheduling on a port-wide basis, which will simplify and streamline the entire scheduling process for all parties. This new, unique initiative will first be tested in a pilot project (from September onwards), and if the results are positive it will be continued thereafter.
  3. Collaboration between the barge operators to streamline their scheduling (from June onwards).
  • Consolidation of freight volumes

Consolidation of freight volumes will make it possible to have larger call sizes for the barges being handled on the shipping terminals. This is important in order to make the growth of the port more sustainable. Here too, there will be a trial period as of October. During this trial the minimum call size has been set at 30 containers per call. To help the barge industry make the transition to larger calls, the Flemish government and Antwerp Port Authority have introduced a temporary package of operational and financial subsidies which will gradually taper off.

  •  Digitisation

Digitisation and centralisation of data will permit more proactive planning and follow-up. NxtPort is taking the initiative in this area and will develop and introduce various new digital applications. The focus here will be on sharing information sooner so that all parties can make gains in efficiency.

In addition to the above measures, various other peripheral factors for more efficient operation will be examined in the short and medium term. One example could be measures to deal with dock labour shortages. CEPA will make additional efforts to among other things reduce training times for dock workers. Another focus is to have dedicated barge capacity on the shipping terminals. Antwerp Gateway is to start a new construction project in the summer of 2018.

In the meantime all parties have committed themselves to make their own organisations / companies ready in good time to make the planned changes. This will require personnel training, upgrades to IT systems and extensive internal communication between the organisations / companies concerned.

Inform and commit

Three regional info sessions will be organised in the near future to make stakeholders in the hinterland clearly aware of the measures and the coming changes.