An historic legacy
There is an historic legacy in the UK and elsewhere of investment in existing transport modes drying up once a new one comes along. The rapid decline of the canals in the UK in the 19th century reflected the movement of financial investment to the growing railway system. During the 20th century, the UK rail network contracted progressively with the development of road transport.
The same trends occurred everywhere in Europe but some other countries took a more strategic approach than the UK. As long ago as 1876, a national waterway strategy was developed in France, providing for standard vessels of 350 tonnes cargo capacity. From 1899, Germany adopted a standard vessel size of 1000 tonnes capacity. Most UK inland waterway traffic at this time was being moved in vessels carrying less than 150 tonnes and, in contrast with the rest of Europe, Britain’s freight waterways have continued to suffer from a lack of strategic planning and investment and remained at a capacity below accepted European standards for modern barges and river-sea ships.
[Photo: Sand Barge on the River Severn – by John Pomfret]