Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

The use of waterways for freight

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This program was broadcast recently on BBC Radio 4. The issues they deal with are almost identical to the problems we face here trying to keep the Fraser as a major freight carrier. We don’t have the problem of locks, or vessel beam and length. But the issue of depth and the lack of dredging is just the same, as is the attitude of the developers and the new residents who have now got the water views and don’t want nasty trucks in their neighborhood.

What is missing in the discussion on greenhouse gas emissions is the actual efficiency of a diesel engine in a boat versus that of a heavy truck. There is actually no more energy efficient method of moving freight, since a boat floats and just needs steering weigh to navigate. So there is none of the energy lost in braking, or tire resistance, or even basic inertia. And many things do not need to be moved quickly, since they are of low value and do not represent a lot of capital tied up in inventory. So sand and gravel, domestic refuse – and in this region – lumber, woodchips and paper – are all very economically moved by barge. The costs start to rise when you add in intermediate handling – which is why the reservation of waterside sites for freight is so important. But who is going to carry that cost? In Britain, BW was starved of resources to meet its basic remit, so it had to develop what land it had just to keep going. Land banking is not something you can expect a commercial operator to do, although many developers in this region simply hold land in the hopes that one day the planning rules will change and they can cash in. Land is a safe store of value, and can have very low holding costs. Governments at all levels have a role, but they need to get their priorities straight. Sadly, most politicians are small business people who seem to lack the right sort of knowledge.

Written by Stephen Rees

May 20, 2007 at 1:04 pm

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