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Sustainable Wineries Expand Use of Waterway Transportati...

Sustainable Wineries Expand Use of Waterway Transportation in Rhône Valley, France

A regular fluvial transportation line for palletized wines has just opened between the Rhône Valley and Paris, France. A development agency wants to incite carriers to transport a part of their freight on this water route. Last January 11th, we clinked our glasses at the arrival of the barge “Alizarine” at the Villette Basin in

Barge on the Rhône, Paris, France

A regular fluvial transportation line for palletized wines has just opened between the Rhône Valley and Paris, France. A development agency wants to incite carriers to transport a part of their freight on this water route.

Last January 11th, we clinked our glasses at the arrival of the barge “Alizarine” at the Villette Basin in Paris to celebrate the first transport of palletized wines from the Rhône Valley by waterway. In the holds of the self-propelled boat, organic wines and farm produce products from Ardeche are found. These are stocked in an isolated, climatized compartment that guarantees a controlled temperature and humidity for the entire 23-day journey. At the origin of this project are Cécile Sauthier and Raphaël Sauzéat. In 2012, the two created a waterway freight transport line to Saint-Sernin (in Ardèche).

The boatman, who has a degree from the Superior Institute of Interior Navigation (Isni), wished to open a regular transit line between the Rhône Valley and Paris, and eventually Brussels. The hope was to offer a sustainable alternative to road transport, “with a small carbon impact.” He hopes to eventually propose a monthly round trip between Sète and Paris as well.

Côtes du Rhône AOC Organic Wines, France

Delivery of Organic Wine

Their barge obtained the support of the Ardèche and Drôme departments, the Rhône-Alpes and Ile-de- France regions, and the Navigable Waterways of France (VNF). The barge can transport 60,000 bottles, which is the equivalent of 5 containers. It can also stop along the route and on connecting canals near the vineyards of Bourgogne and Champagne. The route principally marketed to sellers of organic and natural wines. This includes groups of producers and co-ops, logisticians, wine, champagne, beer, and spirits traders, and even producers of honey and candied chestnuts. As a bonus, the service offers in-town delivery via electric cars and scooters. The renaissance of wine transport on the Rhône and Saône rivers illustrates the staying power of fluvial delivery.

“Notwithstanding a small decrease in 2014, fluvial transport is relatively stable with regards to the economic situation and in comparison with other modes of transport,” observes Marc Papinutti, Executive Director of the VNF. All in all, 56.7 million tons were transported last year on the national waterway network, equaling 7.7 billion ton-kilometers. Despite a decrease of 2% in 2014, river transport has progressed more than 6% in the last ten years.

Barge on the Saône River, Tournus, France

Three industries have distinguished themselves: the metal industry, with an increase of 10.1%, agricultural products (+ 9.4%), and containers, heavy packages, and cars (+5.1%). On the other hand, two sectors posted a net decrease: coal (-35.5%), following the closing of the last coal-fired power plants, and construction materials (-10.8%), which took a hit following the nation’s construction industry crisis.

Grains on the Brain

Making up close to a third of the ton-kilometers transported, the grains industry is the largest user of waterway transport in France. These agricultural products favor river transport for their large quantities of exports. The recovery experienced by the metal industry in 2013, in particular in the Seine basin, has also been confirmed. Their activity has doubled over the past 5 years. The transport of containers has practically returned to its 2012 record. The sector has particularly taken off in the Rhône basin, where it has seen an increase of 22%.

Barge on Saône River, Auxonne, France

On the other hand, this basin has been lastingly affected by the negative performance of construction materials, the principal contributor to river traffic on the Rhône and the Saône rivers. In 2013, this decrease was partially compensated for by refined oil products, transported towards Feyzin and Chalon-sur-Saône and by the transport of biofuel towards Salaise-sur-Sanne’s chemical plant. However, river traffic in this basin still remains small compared with road transport. According to the Engineering and Futures Mission of the Rhône-Alpes (Mipra), only 2% of merchandise transported in the Rhône Valley moved from road to river transport in 2013.

Accelerating the Transfer of Freight to the Waterways

To incite a shift towards waterway freight transport, the coordinating prefect of the Rhône-Mediterranean basin worked with the seaports of Marseille and Sète, the National Company of the Rhône (CNR), Navigable Waterways of France (VNF), and river ports in the Rhône-Saône basin to create the development agency Medlink Ports. Its missions are to promote river transport of merchandise and to develop the multi-modal options offered by hub-ports. The new agency proposes free support to shippers in order to help them plan the logistics of transport by waterway. The goal is also to pool together expertise and sustainable practices in order to improve the network’s information technology, reliability, and security, particularly when it comes to transporting dangerous merchandise and handling machinery.

Sète Harbour, Sète, France

Target sectors for the future include: biomass and heavy packages in 2015, and wood, recycling, and garbage in 2016. The hope is to eventually manage the transportation of logs and beech and oak trees, which today go towards Anvers and Rotterdam. Increasing by 8-9% a year, fluvial traffic of containers brings in significant profits for ports.

Has your community experimented with reinvigorating river transport? If so, what was the result? What is the dominant method of freight transport in your community? Share your stories and thoughts in the comments area below. 

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.

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Katelyn Hewett recently graduated from St. Olaf College in Minnesota with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. During her time at St. Olaf, she enjoyed playing the French Horn in the St. Olaf Band, working as a teaching assistant for first-year...

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