British Waterways Board — An Integrated Transport System

Publication Date01 Nov 1981
SubjectEconomics,Information & knowledge management,Management science & operations
British Waterways Board
An Integrated Transport
The British Waterways Board are a public corporation,
set up by the 1962 Transport Act, to administer some
2,000 miles of Britain's inland waterways. Conse-
quently, the Board have a wide range of interests, rang-
ing from freight transport and warehousing to water
supply and leisure activities. A Division of the Board,
the Freight Services Division, is responsible for the
promotion and development of traffic and facilities on
the Board's commercial waterways (i.e. those desig-
nated as "Commercial" under the 1968 Transport Act)
and the management of the Board's warehouses and
depots, docks and freight carrying fleets.
Some 340 miles of waterway are designated as
"Commercials". With the exception of the two Scottish
Canals (the Caledonian and Crinan) these lead into the
four major estuaries in England, i.e. the Thames,
Severn, Mersey and Humber. Maximum cargo carrying
capacities of barges range from about 70 tonnes to 1,000
tonnes. Much of the tonnage on these waterways is
moved by private carriers (the Board's two fleets carry
about 5 per cent of the total tonnage) and the Board earn
revenue from tolls paid by the carriers.
Inland waterway transport is most suited for the car-
riage of goods in bulk and traffics such as coal, oil,
grain, effluent, aggregates and chemicals are important.
Certain waterways, such as the Gloucester and Sharp-
ness Canal, Weaver Navigation, River Trent and the
Caledonian Canal are navigable by sea-going vessels
and these handle direct import/export trade as well. This
is of increasing importance as in recent years the pattern
of the UK's overseas trade has changed, with a move-
ment away from deep-sea trades to short sea links with
EEC and other mainland European nations. Specially
designed coasters with inland waterway capabilities
have been developed to operate on both mainland Euro-
pean (such as the River Rhine to Basle in Switzerland)
and UK waterways. In the future, it is hoped that barge
carrying vessel services can also be further expanded to
make greater use of the inland waterway system.
About 5.5 million tonnes of goods are moved annually
on the Board's waterways at present. In this century,
inland waterways have suffered from under-investment,
in comparison with other transport modes, but work is
currently proceeding on a major improvement scheme
on the South Yorkshire Canal (formerly the Sheffield
and South Yorkshire Navigation), which will enable
barges of up to 700 tonnes capacity to reach Mex-
borough and 400 tonnes to reach Rotherham from the
Humber estuary. This will bring the Navigation's carry-
ing capacity into line with the neighbouring Aire & Cal-
der Navigation, which, due to a continuous programme
of improvements has been able to increase the amount
of traffic carried in recent years.
In the London Area, the Board own depots at Brent-
ford, on the Grand Union Canal, about one mile from
its junction with the River Thames and near to the M4
motorway and at Enfield on the Lee Navigation. The
depots are both road and water served and provide
covered warehousing, open storage, groupage, container
stuffing and palletisation facilities. Water access permits
the transhipping of goods to and from barges to along-
side ships in the Port of London, thus avoiding road
journeys through Central London for import/export
products. Through transport and charges can be
arranged to any destination. The Board also own an
enclosed dock, Limehouse Basin on the River Thames
in East London, which is now the nearest enclosed dock
to the centre of the city and could serve as a useful tran-
shipment point for goods destined for the central areas
of London.
About 5.5 million tonnes of goods
are moved annually on British
Waterways Board's canals
In the South West, the Board's dock at Sharpness,
near the head of the Bristol Channel between Avon-
mouth and Gloucester is conveniently placed for hand-
ling trade to and from the Midlands, the London area,
South Wales and the South West, via the M5 and M4
motorways and is also rail linked. The port can accept
ships of up to
tonnes dwt and specialised storage
is provided for timber, scrap-metal and grain, as well as
ample space for transit storage. A wide range of com-
modities are handled, notably bulk cargoes, such as
grain, animal feedstuffs, timber, scrap-metal and fertil-
iser and semi-finished goods, such as steel products.
The port has heavy-lift capabilities (32 tonne Scotch
derricks) and a regular trade to West Africa. Sharpness
has shown a sevenfold tonnage increase over the past 12
years and now handles over 700,000 tonnes per annum.
Sharpness Docks form the physical link between the
Severn estuary and the Gloucester and Sharpness
Canal, which permits access to the Port of Gloucester,
some 16 miles from Sharpness. This waterway is navig-
able by coasters and barges of up to 750 tonnes,
although specialist tankers of 1,000 tonnes capacity
operate to the oil terminal at Quedgeley, 4 miles below
Gloucester. Gloucester itself is the nearest port to the
West Midlands and has an important agricultural hinter-
land. Cargoes handled at both the Board's and private
wharves include grain, timber and iron and steel pro-
ducts and long-term storage and warehousing is avail-
able at the Board's depot.

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