We are reproducing here the text of the letter from presidential candidate François Hollande to Jacques Romain, President, Entente des Canaux du Centre France (see article posted on our blog). The same letter was sent to Michel Dourlent, president of the Chambre Nationale de la Batellerie Artisanale.

Paris, 2 May 2012

Dear Mr. President,

In your letter, you draw my attention to waterway transport that your association promotes. I thank you for that.

Inland waterway and sea routes have an important role to play in the medium and long distance transport of goods. Indeed, it seems to me essential to achieve a more balanced distribution between the different modes of freight transport. As you know, freight transport is a fundamental societal issue for our country, but it is also an economic and ecological issue. I am fully aware of the need to put public transport policies at the heart of sustainable development issues. Although rail is a major component of the necessary rebalancing of the modal split, waterway and sea transport has many advantages, notably in terms of environment and safety. I am aware of the fact, on the one hand, that a small barge can replace between twelve and fourteen trucks, and on the other hand, that France has the longest public waterway network in Europe – more than 18,000 kilometres of waterways, of which 8,500 are navigable.

It is true that, between setbacks and abandonments, the Grenelle Environment Round Table ended up as a missed opportunity. The announced modal transport shift – to a 25% market share for non-road freight – did not happen: road transport is now 83.4% of the transport of goods, rail 9.4%, pipelines 5%, and waterways only 2.2%. However, other European countries succeed; for example Germany (12%), Belgium (16%) or the Netherlands (33%).

In reality, the outgoing candidate promised, during his five-year term, the launch of a large number of new infrastructure projects which, I am obliged to note, remain, to date, without financing. I also observe that without having dedicated the necessary investment to their modernization, the existing networks are not now in a state to absorb the growth in traffic. The quality of service has deteriorated significantly and the situation is, in certain places, critical. Renovation and modernization of the existing networks, and particularly the waterway network, will therefore be a priority. It will then be necessary, in the light of budgetary constraints, to set priorities among new infrastructure projects – programming investments according to socio-economic criteria and environmental objectives. Within this framework, the Seine-Nord Europe and Rhine-Rhone link projects will be the subject of careful study.

Regarding the future of French ports, their competitiveness has continued to deteriorate over the past twenty years. Traffic decreased in the seven major seaports by nearly 10% between 2007 and 2011. In July, a report by the Senate concluded that the reform initiated by the Government in 2010 was insufficient to stop the decline of the major French seaports and has not produced the expected results. Port reform, which focused on the last segment[1], has failed to increase public investment in our major ports sufficiently to adapt to global demand. In addition, it is essential to reinforce rail and waterway routes to these ports – 50% of the freight movements to and from the Benelux ports are now handled by water and rail while the port of Marseille relies on road haulage for 85%. What we must aim for is to combine the different modes of transport with the least possible interruption in the flow of goods by trans-loading. In this context, it seems that the efforts to establish the ‘motorways of the sea’ should be intensified.

I wish to encourage the best use of the different modes of transport considering the existing infrastructure and constraints and benefits of each. At the exits of major seaports, we must ensure an increase in rail and waterway share of traffic. In our cities, we will work to improve urban logistics. On major transport corridors, we will strengthen combined transport where maritime shipping companies and the road haulage industry are the main customers. Far from seeing these modes as conflicting, let us endeavour to take advantage of the relative strengths of each.

But these policies cannot be implemented without adequate funding. I will therefore apply the ‘polluter-pays’ principle to promote movement to transport modes offering better fuel efficiency and lower environmental impacts.

Yours sincerely,

François Hollande

(generously translated by Jim Hanlon, member of DBA – The Barge Association, edited and annotated by Jacques Romain and David Edwards-May)

[1] Translator’s note: In modern logistics, combined transport breaks down into five segments: (1) maritime transit of trucks, roll-on-roll-off (Ro-Ro); (2) trans-European transit of trucks and trailers by piggybacking (or combined rail-road transport), (3) inland movement of maritime containers by road, rail or waterway; (4) groupage using mobile caissons, containers and trailers; (5) grouping of non-containerised goods in forms such as coils or mini-trucks that facilitate their transfer from ship to rail for onward distribution. At present this segment, which is not transport as such, is still largely accounted for by palletised cargoes (from ‘Les stratégies intermodales des transporteurs et chargeur’, Eurostaf, 2008).