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Danube newly discovered as Transport Route

After the removal of the last wartime remnants at Novi Sad, navigation experts expect a dramatic increase in transport opportunities on the Danube extending far beyond the Danube Basin

In the wake of the EU eastward enlargement and the increasing overseas trade directed towards Central and Eastern Europe, goods transport via the Danube Corridor will increase by one third until 2015.

Not surprisingly, the largest growth rate is expected in the carriage of goods by road. In search of ecologically and socially acceptable ways to cope with this challenge, some politicians and experts strongly suggest to promote the shipping of goods on the Danube River.

Increasingly so, as the Danube near Novi Sad – due to the crisis in Yugoslavia impassable to ships for quite some time – was just recently fully reopened to navigation in spring.

The EU Commission, taking steps in anticipation, already in January suggested an ambitious action programme aimed at promoting inland navigation on the Danube and other rivers.

The NAIADES Action Programme shall create favourable background conditions for shipping services to foster employment, modernise the European inland navigation fleet and waterway infrastructure, and cultivate a positive image to raise acceptance of inland navigation among the transport industry.

"The EU cannot afford to leave this potential unexploited," says Matthias Ruete, Director General for Energy and Transport at the European Commission. The fact that the EU has largely renounced earlier plans to promote the shipping of goods by rail adds further weight to his statement.

Austrian State Secretary for Transport Helmut Kukacka supports the same view for the Alpine Republic: “As a transit country, Austria is backing the EU Commission’s approach and has made inland navigation a key issue in its transport policy.” Austria’s National Action Plan Danube Navigation (NAP) clearly marks a step in this direction. NAP is Austria’s transport policy tool for implementing the EU NAIADES Action Programme.

But Austria is different. While other EU countries (such as Germany) have taken consistent steps in the past to site many of their industrial facilities alongside waterways, Austria – with the exception of Linz and (recently also) Enns/Ennsdorf – has done practically nothing in this respect.

Germany is therefore in a much better position than Austria to integrate its waterways into the logistics chain. Otto Schwetz, Chief Executive of TINA Vienna and also Manager of Corridor VII (Danube), says: "What we need in this country is zoning concepts which promote the siting of industrial facilities alongside the Danube so that businesses can make better use of the river as an eco-friendly transport route."

Schwetz estimates that the expansion of the Danube, i.e. the elimination of major bottlenecks between the Black Sea and Regensburg, will cost some e 1.2 billion. This is a lot of money, and Schwetz has given much thought to how this money can be raised. One option would be to set up a Europe-wide fund. But there is no doubt that the riparian states, too, must make a contribution.

Schwetz understands that this will be especially hard for the riparian states in Eastern Europe. He therefore suggests that the money for this "inland navigation fund" should not only come from the public sector but also be raised from the private industry, such as industrial and transport companies. "They all draw a benefit from a high-capacity transport route like the Danube and can expect a good return on investment," says Schwetz.

TINA Vienna experts can imagine a financing scheme in which several major banks, such as the European Investment Bank or Raiffeisen, assist with the start-up financing in the fund’s initial phase. The required budget of € 1.2 billion will first be spent on repairing locks and eliminating bottleneck reaches, such as the stretch from east of Vienna down to the Slovakian border or the section along the Romanian-Bulgarian border.

Schwetz believes it is of crucial importance to encourage other Danube riparian states to follow in Austria’s footsteps and develop and implement national action plans for the Danube River. Some countries already show a great deal of commitment. Says Schwetz: "Serbia and Bulgaria are very active in developing conclusive concepts for fostering the shipping of goods on the Danube."

This year, one of the tasks of the TINA Chief Executive will be to promote the River Information System (RIS) among other Danube riparian states. The Donau River Information System (DoRIS), as it is called in Austria, will be entering its execution phase already in 2006.

Despite increasing objections from environmental groups (such as WWF) against the extension of Danube navigation, Schwetz identifies ample opportunities for the river also beyond the Danube-Black Sea navigation route. He propagates a more global way of thinking and says it is important to ponder ways to connect the Danube to the Dnieper and Volga rivers in the Ukraine and Russia.

Russia intends to open the Volga to navigation also by ships sailing under a foreign flag from 2007, and this will open up excellent opportunities in particular for Danube navigation. Otto Schwetz concludes that concepts exploring how the flow of goods along the Danube can best be managed via the Black Sea must be the order of the day.
(Source: aqua press Int. 4/2006, Josef Müller)

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