Friday, April 8, 2011

Long Awaited Canal To Open Paris Freight To The Sea

Sarkozy Finally Gives the Go Ahead to Seine-Nord Waterway
Shipping News Feature

FRANCE – Battle lines are being drawn up by those in the rail freight sector after this week’s announcement that the much mooted plan for a canal linking Paris to the North Sea ports via the Belgian system of waterways is to proceed. With an estimated cost of €4.5 billion the canal is being touted as a major carbon saver aiming to take half a million trucks off the roads of France, in truth the 4,000 tonne barges are likely to affect the track borne logistics of the country to a far greater degree.

Originally proposed in the 1990’s, construction of the canal was due to commence last year with completion by 2016 after suffering the usual wrangles such grandiose schemes seem to inevitably engender (think Channel Tunnel), realistically traffic should start to use the system around 2020 if no more obstacles are met. Politically the plans are important to several vested interests, not least President Sarkozy who is keen to woo voters in the North East of the country where he faces stiff opposition from left and right alike.

The canal will stretch just over 100 kilometres joining the rivers of Seine and Scheldt and increasing the sizes of lighters using the current available waterways by more than six fold making the use of freight by water a more realistic economic proposition. The canal will open Paris traffic to all the major ports in the region including Dunkerque, Antwerp and Rotterdam and acting as an avenue into the Rhine system and beyond.

The project will require the construction of seven locks and two major aqueducts and will be funded using cash from the EU, French local and state government funds and private capital with bids now being taken for sections of the works. The proposed route passes through areas revered for memories of the First World War, particularly the two Battles of Cambrai. By 1918 there had been more than a million casualties in the area and this has led to assurances that no war graves will be disturbed by the development.