This research paper showcases the opportunities which will enable the integration of Inland Water Transport (or IWT). Inland navigation can play a crucial role in increasing the supply-demand chain performance. This integration revolves around the relationship between transport, geography and logistics.

Inland Waterways
Courtesy:- The Hindu

Water based transport is generally effective, efficient and also contributes to a lower environmental pollution for corresponding volumes of movement by road, rail or air. A major advantage is that the medium of transport, or infrastructure, – the waterway- is often naturally available. Which then has to be maintained and upgraded as time passes. IWT is very effective in transporting to locations which have a waterfront. This paper assesses the viability of the transport of both, passengers and cargo, by Inland Water Transportation in India.

What is Inland Waterway?

Inland waterway is a system of navigable inland bodies of water (river, lake, canal, watercourses, bays or inlets) within the territory of a state as contrasted with the open seas or marginal waters bordering another state subject to various sovereign rights of the bordering state.

Why develop Inland Waterways?

Development of IWT will help in the following ways:-

  • improving market conditions.
  • modernizing the fleet.
  • developing human resources.
  • enhancing infrastructure.
  • government of India does not impose any tax on transportation through water.

Requirements/Needs to make IWT useful

  • navigable facilities
  • transportation facilities
  • terminal facilities
  • last mile connectivity

Inland Waterways In India

In India, 14,500 km of river channels are navigable, of which 3,700 km are usable by mechanised boats. But actually, only 2000 km are used. Of the total canal length of 4,300 km in India, 900 km is navigable, but only 330 km is used. There are a total of 111 inland waterways in India, and below are some examples from the 111 waterways.

Important Waterways. Courtesy:- Wikipedia
1) National Waterway-1

Allahabad–Haldia stretch of the Ganges–Bhagirathi–Hooghly river of total length 1620 km was declared as National Waterway-1 (NW-1) in the year 1986.

2) National Waterway-2

Sadiya–Dhubri stretch of the Brahmaputra river of total length 891 km was declared as National Waterway-2 (NW-2) in the year 1988.

3) National Waterway-3

Kollam–Kottapuram stretch of West Coast Canal and Champakara and Udyogmandal canals of total length 205 km was declared as National Waterway-3 (NW-3) in the year 1993.

4) National Waterway-4

Kakinada–Pondicherry stretch of canals and Kaluvelly tank, Bhadrachalam–Rajahmundry stretch of River Godavari and Wazirabad–Vijayawada stretch of River Krishna of total length 1095 km was declared as National Waterway-4 (NW-4) in the year 2008.

5) National Waterway-5

Talcher–Dhamra stretch of rivers, Geonkhali–Charbatia stretch of East Coast Canal, Charbatia–Dhamra stretch of Matai river and Mahanadi delta rivers of total length 620 km was declared as National Waterway-5 (NW-5) in the year 2008.

6) National Waterway-6

Lakhipur-Bhanga stretch of 121 km of the Barak River is the 6th waterway. It was accepted as National Waterway in January 2013 by Union Cabinet. The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is the statutory authority in charge of the waterways in India. It does the function of building the necessary infrastructure in these waterways, surveying the economic feasibility of new projects and also administration and regulation. Cargo that is transported in an organised manner is confined to a few waterways in Goa, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala. Freight transport by waterways is highly underutilised in India compared to other large countries. The total cargo moved by inland waterways is just 0.15% of the total inland traffic in India, compared to the corresponding figures of 20% for Germany and 32% for Bangladesh. Inland Waterways Authority of India, aims to raise India’s 111 national waterway’s current cargo handling capacity from 72 MT in 2018–19 to 100 MT by 2021–22.

Integrating IWT with Other Transport Modes

Obtaining a seamless integration of IWT with other modes requires:-

  • adequate infrastructure
  • latest technology being used and being constantly upgraded
  • new regulations facilitating the interchange

Infrastructure of IWT for Multimodal Operations

IWT requires two basic elements of infrastructure: waterway and terminals. A third element, although super-structural rather than infrastructural, is the vessel. At times, however, it is recognized as part of the infrastructure.

  • Waterway requirements

Standard requirements for the carriage of containers focus on the width of locks and fairways, and on the vertical clearance under bridges.

  1. Width

The sufficient width of locks or between bridge piers provides extra beam for the vessel, making it more stable, thus providing operational flexibility for positioning containers of various weight.

In Europe, the inter-European Gauge provides for locks at least 12 m wide, which is just enough for four lines of containers. However, they would enable a heeling of 7.5 degrees with three layers. Furthermore, due to the double hull, it is easy to ballast and in this way compensate for some of the heeling. Finally, four lines make it more likely, even with random positioning, to have a balanced cargo.

  1. Vertical clearance

The other important factor for any network is the available height, limited by the vertical clearance under bridges. This is of paramount importance in view of the competition with other modes because an increase in the number of layers on the vessel increases its capacity and reduces the cost to be charged for each container.

This is often the case along the lower valley of large rivers, such as the Yangtze, Pearl, Ganges, Ayeyarwady and Mekong rivers. In such cases, bridges are very long, and there is not much difficulty in providing ample space below the spans of the bridges, as the ensuing slope is not too steep. Good clearance on smaller rivers is generally easy to obtain, but there are cases where improper planning or weak guidelines have been a hindrance. According to stability calculations and statistical analysis of actual movements, a clearance of 9.15 m appears sufficient to enable passage of four layers of containers.

  1. Depth

The issue of depth is usually less critical, because containers are of low density and seldom sink the vessel deep enough in the water for it to be fully loaded without ballast. This is not a generalization, however, because there are 20-foot containers weighing 24 tonnes that would overload a barge, but as a statistical average one TEU weighs a little less than 10 tonnes in European IWT.

An example of container traffic on a river with insufficient depth can be found on the Elbe in Germany. Container service is operated on this river because on the one hand containers usually require lower draught than general cargo, and on the other, low bridges on the canal portion of the route make it impossible to carry more than two layers of containers. In waterways with fluctuating levels, the solution for the container barge operator is simply to load less. Where depth is permanently less than 1.5 m, another solution could be to use a special lightweight barge, which would permit one layer more than normal designs. Usually, this would require the use of special propulsive units, such as water jets or pump jet, but it would make available a capacity of up to 80 TEUs with 1.2 m of draught.

  • Terminals

The requirements to establish a river container terminal are rather basic and easily obtainable. Good quay aprons, space to stack containers, a crane or a gantry are the basics.

  1. Bimodal terminals

A bimodal terminal links river operations to a hinterland served exclusively by road. With a greater number of terminals, it is nearly automatic that the goal of using road transport on the shortest distance possible is achieved, thus permitting multimodal transport to be called also intermodal and even combined transport, and be in line with efforts for sustainable development.

  1. Trimodal terminals

As a general rule, IWT terminals are trimodal, having rail, water and road access. Road traffic is usually quite significant out of these trimodal terminals, and it is therefore of paramount importance that road access be well planned and away from dense areas. At the same time, however, it should help the economy of the region it serves, and thus not be too far away from its customers.

  1. Dry ports

Some inland ports that do not yet have a river container terminal have been selected by multimodal operators as the sites for their rail terminals, because of sufficient land and the bi-modal infrastructure available. In order to achieve this, IWT bodies should always propose to responsible authorities that any ICD (inland container depot) to be set up inland should at minimum be located by the side of a river, and if possible within an existing river port. These ICDs, often dubbed “dry ports”, would be potential real inland ports with little extra investment.

Environmental Impact

  1. Water is a scarce resource in the country. The use of water for facilitating transport may be sometimes difficult to justify. Related to this is the increased drawing of water for drinking, irrigation, construction and other activity, which reduces the overall flow of water in downstream regions. This makes transport operations difficult. Dams provide another level differential barrier to smooth transport. Given all these constraints, inland water transport is not at all the automatic first choice for movement of goods – a position that it enjoyed for many centuries in the past.
  1. However, where it is physically possible and commercially viable as part of a supply chain for a shipper, it is usually the most appealing environmentally. The basic reason for this is low fuel usage and therefore low pollution from emissions, and ability to carry in bulk, thereby reducing handling related pollution and congestion


For the country, use of multimodal transport including IWT may generate economic benefits, such as energy savings, less air pollution and less road congestion. The logic provided in the case study may be used to make cost estimations for various transport routes and to publicize these to shippers and freight forwarders.

Authored By:- Cdt. Shubham Shivne, TMI

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