Optimising of container barge handling

On 19 April 2018 the Antwerp port community signed the action plan container barge handling and went up a gear to ensure a sustainable growth of the port. The agreements revolve around three big pillars: planning and co-operation, bundling and digitisation.
The interaction of all these measures must result in an optimisation of container barge handling and an efficiency increase for all chain partners.

Central barge planning

The central barge planning and monitoring project starts on 1 October 2018.

What does it imply?

One central department, Antwerp Terminal Services, draws up the planning of the loading and discharge operations of lighters for the PSA, DP World and MPET container terminals in the port and follows it up meticulously. This is done using the specific planning software Quintic and the registration software BTS (Barge Traffic System)


How does this contribute to bundling inland container shipping volumes?

Central barge planning and monitoring will simplify and optimise the planning cycle, resulting in a planned vessel schedule per lighter without conflicts. Antwerp Terminal Services is also closely involved in the coordination between the central planning department and the consolidation hubs.

The project will be introduced in stages, with the aim of having 24/7 scheduling and monitoring of container barge operations in 2019. If the final evaluation is positive then this unique initiative will be further developed. 


Bundling volumes at consolidation hubs

On 5 November 2018 a pilot regarding the bundling of small container barge volumes has been launched. Due to the extremely low water level on the Rhine, the initial minimal call size was reduced to 20 container moves (loading and unloading) per maritime terminal. As from 3 December, the applicable minimal call size is of 30 moves. 

Bundling ensures a simpler planning process and efficiency increase

  • The container barges in the Port of Antwerp go to 8 terminals on average every time.
  • Analysis has shown that almost 60% of the calls of container barges at the maritime terminals are barges with a small call size (less than 30 moves).
  • These barges only transport 20% of the total volume of inland container shipping in the port.

Bundling small volumes to larger call sizes ensures a less complex planning process and a more efficient use of the resources by terminal and barge operators.

This will be linked with a structurally more efficient handling process at the maritime terminals and a better transfer of containers in the Port of Antwerp.

How does it work? 

  • Barges that are able to discharge/load the minimum call size or more (total sum of discharge and loading per call) can go directly to the maritime container terminals in the port. This concerns the PSA terminals (K913 and K869), DP World (K1700) and MPET (K1742). 
  • Barge operators who with less than the minimum call size (sum of discharge and loading per call) want to call at the maritime terminals, must consolidate their volumes so that they reach the minimum call size. This is possible by working with other operators or exchanging containers at consolidation hubs in the hinterland and the port. 

Collecting and bundling volumes in consolidation hubs

To support inland shipping in the conversion to bigger calls, barge operators are able to use consolidation hubs at the different shipping corridors and in the Port of Antwerp. 

  • The transit cost on the hub is restricted to 5€ per container in the hinterland for the barge operator during the trial period and 10€ per container in the port. The hubs invoice this amount directly to the user.
  • The hubs ensure the prompt delivery from the consolidated load to the maritime terminals, at a fixed transport tariff per hub. For the transport they use their own barge services or they work with other barge operators based on a neutral time-and-material basis.
  • The hubs' aim is for the barge operators to load and discharge the same number of containers on average (on a monthly basis) so that the cost for the barge operators remains minimal. 

Where are the hubs located?     

 The map below shows where the consolidation hubs are located:

In the port area

In the hinterland



The bundling of container barge volumes pilot has been launched on 5 November and will last until the end of June 2019.

A work group and steering committee consisting of representatives of the maritime terminals, shipping companies (ASL), barge operators (ICBO), forwarders (VEA) freight forwarders (OTM), Voka-Alfaport, NxtPort, CEPA, Antwerp Port Authority, De Vlaamse Waterweg and the Flemish Government will meticulously follow up the pilot project. Taking into account the achieved results the work group can adjust the concept and change the user tariff on the consolidation hubs after the trial period. In case of a positive evaluation, the project will be continued.

From the intermediate evaluation with the steering group and discussions with various parties in the chain, the question of a consolidation hub on the Left bank for the operation of the terminals on the Deurganck dock has clearly emerged. On 12 February 2019, a new market survey specifically for a Left bank hub was launched. This survey runs until 3 March 2019. Additional measures will also be worked out with the steering committee, which should substantially improve handling. The commitment and cooperation of all parties involved is crucial in this respect.

Adjustment of port dues for container barges

Another initiative in the action plan for container barges is the extension of the timeframe related to the reduced basic rate from 36 to 48 hours.

This extension comes in response to demand from the container barge sector as barges have to wait longer in the container terminals before they can be handled, due to delays at container terminals. 

The new regime was introduced by the Port Authority on 11 September 2018. 


View all pillars of the action plan container barge handling


Marjan Beelen

Consultant Intermodality & Hinterland

Antwerp Port Authority
Port House
Zaha Hadidplein 1
2030 Antwerp

Dominique Vercauteren

Consultant Intermodality & Hinterland

Antwerp Port Authority
Port House
Zaha Hadidplein 1
2030 Antwerp