First Watertrucks to set sail on small waterways

Construction of vessels for innovative inland navigation starts

The road network throughout Europe is supersaturated. At the same time, transport facilities on small waterways are underutilised and shipped numbers continue to fall. With the Watertruck+ project, Flanders and Europe want to encourage freight to move from the road to the water by introducing a new concept consisting of innovative barges and push boats. Concordia Shipbuilding BV will soon be starting construction of the vessels. If all goes according to plan, the first barges will be launched in the spring of 2018.

Watertruck+ is an innovative CEF TEN-T project from the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA), which is being implemented by Waterwegen & Zeekanaal nv, De Vlaamse Waterweg nv and the Expertise Center for Smart Mobility at the Antwerp Management School, acting upon instructions from the Flemish Government. The aim of the project is to revive freight transport via small inland waterways. The concept is simple: small, innovative barges, either self-propelled or not, are loaded from the quays along small waterways. From there, they leave for the larger waterways where they continue to sail in convoy.

18 barges

As many as 17 candidates put forward an offer for the tender contract for the construction of the vessels. After much deliberation, the tender was eventually awarded to Concordia Shipbuilding, who will build the first 18 barges. The total cost for this order amounts to EUR 9,545,000. The exact order includes:

  • The construction of 10 self-propelled barges, CEMT class I, with a length of 38.50 metres, a breadth of 5.05 metres, and a draught of 2.80 metres. Of these, 6 units are to be equipped with a bow thruster and 4 units with a bow and a stern thruster.
  • The construction of 2 barges, CEMT class II “short”, with a length of 40.00 metres, a breadth of 6.60 metres, and a draught of 2.80 metres; these are not self-propelled.
  • The construction of 6 barges, CEMT class II “long”, with a length of 50.00 metres, a breadth of 6.60 metres, and a draught of 2.80 metres; three of these are to be equipped with a bow thruster.

New procedure for push boats

In terms of push boats, no suitable tenders were received. Watertruck+ bvba therefore decided to split up the procedure into, on the one hand, the design of the vessel on the one hand, and their construction on the other. For the first phase, namely the design, the contract was awarded to INEC. At the start of 2018, a request for quotation will be issued for the construction and outfitting of the vessels. It is expected that the push boats will be operational by the beginning of 2019.

Operation of vessels

The Watertruck fleet will be operated by the private operators Group De Cloedt (B) and André Celis (B) for transport in Flanders, the Netherlands and Northern France.

Dominique Van Hecke, president of Watertruck+ bvba:

"These 18 vessels will carry almost 300,000 tonnes annually for the duration of the pilot project. This is the equivalent of more than 15,000 trips by truck per year. The loads will consist of new flows and of cargo that is currently being transported by road.”

The trial runs with these vessels will be carried out between summer 2018 and March 2020.

Flemish Minister of Mobility, Ben Weyts, is enthousiastic: “Watertruck+ offers new perspectives for all Flemish companies located at or nearby a smaller waterway. The river at the back door of the company becomes, as such, an attractive alternative to the traffic jam at its front door.  Flanders invests in a focused manner to reinforce and to complete inland navigation to get the most out of our capillary waterway network.”

Possible extension to 31 vessels

In December, a third call will be launched on the Watertruck+ website, aiming to get even more cargo flows to make the modal shift to the waterways. Candidates can formulate their proposals, which makes it possible use the project’s potential to construct and use an additional 12 vessels during this phase. This way, a possible extension to 31 vessels can be achieved.

The delivery of the first vessels is planned for the spring of 2018. The entire fleet will then be in use by the end of 2018.


Watertruck+ is a TEN-T project, co-financed by the European Connecting Europe Facility Transport to the value of about EUR 23 million, including a maximum of half being subsidised by the Innovation and Networks Executive Agency (INEA) of the European Commission. Private operators account for at least 9.5 million, while the Flemish Government contributes 2 million towards project coordination.

 About Watertruck+

Watertruck+ is an innovative concept for the transport of goods on small waterways, which will supplement traditional inland navigation. Among other things, it aims to strengthen the position of inland shipping within the logistics landscape. For this purpose, standardised, modular vessels have been designed using an innovative new design so that they can be used both individually and in convoy. Special attention was paid to the interoperability and interchangeability of vessels on a European scale, low emission values and the inflow of onboard personnel who will be employed in a system of day shifts.

Contact: Luc Geerts, project team manager Watertruck+
T + 32 11 24 60 01 – M +32 475 75 82 27 – E


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