On Wednesday, the new Willems quay in Balen along the Dessel-Kwaadmechelen channel has been officially inaugurated. “The installation of such quays has to promote inland shipping and inspire other companies,” said Flemish Minister of Mobility Lydia Peeters (Open Vld) at the inauguration. Inland shipping has the capacity to remove another 160 000 trucks from the roads.
The Flemish government pushes companies to transport their goods over the water. It’s practical, cheaper, and above all, far more sustainable, the minister says. The new quay is 186 meters long, has a 1 350 m2 surface, and 3,50 meters draft. It can receive, load, and unload vessels of up to 2 000 tons.
According to a study, inland shipping still has the capacity to transport an additional three million tons of goods. That is the equivalent of 160 000 truck rides. The only obstacle is that many companies still need to be convinced of the so-called ‘modal shift’.
In the coming three years, Flanders will invest 13 million euros annually – 39 million euros in total – in the installation of quays. Apart from that budget, the minister reserves 16 million euros for dredging operations on small waterways to make them more accessible.
Willems, in Balen, is part of Smulders and has more than 60 years of experience in the engineering, production, delivery, and assembly of steel constructions.
Its location next to the channel is ideal for the transportation of extreme loads for e.g. bridges, substations, and the offshore industry. This way, Willems has direct access to the Port of Antwerp, and the whole world can be supplied from there.
Willems already transports more than 7 000 tons over the water and intends to intensify sustainable transport via the water. “Every loaded vessel keeps 13 heavy trucks from the road,” Peeters says. Willems’ example could be inspiring for other companies.
The Flemish government stimulates companies to opt for – or consider – inland shipping. Since February 1988, companies can have a loading and unloading installation built along the waterway via a public-private partnership with the waterway manager, in which De Vlaamse Waterweg (Flemish Waterway) finances up to 80% of the infrastructure.
Network of waterways
The investment is offset by the company’s commitment to transport a specified amount of goods via the waterway for ten years.
Flanders is one of the regions in Europe with an extended network of waterways. The many small Flemish rivers, navigable for small vessels, guarantee the finely-woven structure of the Flemish inland waterways.
Therefore, inland shipping is essential in achieving Flanders’s modal shift. That is why the Flemish Waterway invests in the infrastructure of all waterways. “More inland shipping positively affects mobility and climate,” concludes Minister Peeters.