The Rhine is one of the world’s most frequented inland waterways.
The following figures reflect the average number of vessels using the Rhine each day:
The volumes transported amount to about 200 million tonnes at the German-Dutch border. With respect to traffic on the Dutch section of the river, the volume of goods transported on the Rhine can be estimated at 310 million tonnes.
The fleet travelling on the Rhine waterway can be estimated at about 6,900 vessels, representing a transport capacity of 10 million tonnes, of which 1,200 are pushed barges, 4,400 motor cargo vessels and 1,300 tankers.
Descriptions of the Rhine waterway may be found at the following sites:
To respond to issues involving the Rhine as a waterway infrastructure, the Central Commission has established the Committee for infrastructure and environment (IEN) (until 2012: Permanent Technical Committee (TP)) and the specialised Working Group (IEN/G, until 2012: TP/G).
Activities of the Committee for infrastructure and environment (IEN):
Committee Chairman: Mr. Markus GREWE, Commissioner for Germany
Secretariat: Mr. KEMPMANN
Working groups: IEN/G
Länderübergreifendes Hochwasserportal: https://www.hochwasserzentralen.de/
Flandern, Waterinfo: https://www.waterinfo.be
Brüssel, Flowbru: https://www.flowbru.be
The profile of the waterway Rhine and in particular of the navigation channel is essentially determined by the relevant dimensions. The Secretariat of the CCNR has depicted the waterway profile in graphics that primarily serve to inform the interested public.
The binding maximum dimensions of vessels, pushed convoys and other vessel combinations are listed in Chapter 11 of the Police Regulations for the Navigation of the Rhine (RPNR).
The desired profile of the navigation channel (width, depth) cannot always be met. Information about deviating widths and depths on the Rhine in Germany can be found here.
The CCNR monitors the issue of available berthing areas for inland navigation vessels along the Rhine.
The Commission is authorised to set forth directives governing the desired number and quality of berthing areas in accordance with the development of shipping traffic.
A report is being prepared
The river bed is constantly being transformed by the effects of the current. This is a factor directly influencing the available water depth for vessel traffic in the navigation channel.
The normal minimal water level during the period between 1839 and 1848 was able to be established within the framework of the CCNR. During that period, the discussions concerning the determination of water depth were carried out for a number of years in order to define the conditions for determining the water level. This model was used as the basis for the concept of equivalent water level (IW gleichwertiger Wasserstand), which has been measured and defined in regular intervals (1908, 1923, 1932, 1946, 1952, 1962, 1972, 1982, 1992, 2002). The equivalent water level will be re-determined in 2012 within the framework of the CCNR in order to accommodate the changes in the Rhine river bed.
Determination of the equivalent water level takes place in three stages:
In 1849, the Central Commission organised an inspection voyage from Basel to the sea with the aim of determining the actual and the required water depth. This practice was institutionalised by the Mannheim Convention, which specifies in Article 31: "From time to time hydraulics engineers delegated by the Governments of all the riparian States shall conduct surveys to examine the state of the river, to observe the results of measures taken for its improvement and to note new obstacles which impede navigation. The Central Commission (art. 43) shall designate the time and the parts of the river where these surveys are to be made. The engineers shall report to it on the results". Currently, the national authorities for waterway management are responsible for performing this inspection, and they present their report to the Committee for infrastructure and environment.
Further information on equivalent water level can be obtained from Generaldirektion Wasserstraßen und Schifffahrt – Außenstelle West
The development and maintenance of the Rhine waterway fall under the competence of the riparian States. In certain cases these States have concluded specific international conventions or administrative agreements to this end.
The Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine plays the role of monitoring these measures within the international plan in order to supervise their coordination and to ensure their appropriateness to the needs of navigation.
Article 28 of the Revised Convention for Rhine Navigation stipulates that the contracting States will be active in maintaining the Rhine navigation channel and the towpaths. The States must, to the extent necessary, mark the channel by buoys. Each State bears the costs of maintaining the navigable channel along the section of the river concerning that State. Where the river serves as the border, each State shares half the costs.
Article 29 provides for the States to exchange information within the framework of the CCNR on hydraulic projects, the execution of which might have a direct or indirect influence on navigation. These provisions specify that the States must execute such schemes in the manner most acceptable to all parties and consult within the Central Commission on matters which might arise from the execution of such works.
Article 30 of the Mannheim Convention specifies for the Governments to take all necessary steps to ensure that navigation on the Rhine is not obstructed by any structures such as bridges or factories.
Article 31 stipulates that the national Governments will regularly examine the river to observe the results of measures taken for its improvement and to note any obstructions. A report is to be made to the Central Commission.
Specific agreements and regulations apply to canalisation works along the Upper Rhine.
Within the Central Commission, the Committee for infrastructure and environment (IEN) is responsible for matters related to the waterway infrastructure, in which it is assisted by its specialised Working Group (IEN/G). These bodies examine the communications by the delegations which are related to the measures taken to improve navigation conditions on the Rhine, and they are responsible for examining construction works which might have an effect on inland navigation in accordance with the procedures for laying down the conditions and requirements for structures along the Rhine within the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine.
The Central Commission has agreed on minimum requirements and recommendations for the technical design of structures along the Rhine, which serve to evaluate construction measures and as criteria for decisions on approving structures along the Rhine.
The Central Commission, which guarantees freedom of navigation on the Rhine, ensures optimum availability of the Rhine as a waterway in keeping with the principle of freedom of navigation.
A certain number of interruptions are inevitable. These are subject to close monitoring at the level of the CCNR.
Exceptional interruptions occur at certain locks during the holiday season (Upper Rhine and Lek).
The CCNR is informed of such interruptions and monitors jointly with the competent national authorities the measures taken in order to limit the interruptions as far as possible.
The Commission also carries out a statistical evaluation of such interruptions. This results in an annual average of about a hundred hours, which shows that the Rhine offers exceptionally reliable conditions.
The Committee for infrastructure and environment is responsible for transparent procedures to notify the shipping industry of any interruptions in navigation.
The Rhine has a large number of port infrastructures.
The Mannheim Convention includes various provisions applying to Rhine ports.
Articles 8 to 10 concern free ports, which are storage areas not subject to custom duties. These provisions have lost their applicability within the current context of free movement of goods.
(The Final Protocol of the Revised Convention for Rhine Navigation of 1868 specified the free ports existing at the time (Strasbourg, Kehl, Maxau, Leopoldshafen, Mannheim, Neuburg, Spire, Ludwigshafen, Mainz, Biebrich, Oberlahnstein, Coblenz, Cologne, Neuss, Düsseldorf, Uerdingen, Duisburg, Ruhrort, Wesel, Emmerich, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Dordrecht)).
Article 11 stipulates that each of the riparian States will designate for one territory the ports and unloading places where boatmasters have the right to discharge or to load a cargo. The boatmasters may not load or unload at other places without special permission or only under exceptional circumstances.
These provisions are basically intended for customs purposes. Yet they result in an obligation for the States to ensure that Rhine navigation takes place in a manner adapted to the loading and unloading places.
This obligation also results from Article 27 paragraph 1 of the Revised Convention for Rhine Navigation: "The Governments of the riparian States will ensure that in the free ports, as in all other ports of the Rhine, all necessary measures are taken to facilitate loading, unloading and warehousing of merchandise and that the premises and equipment allocated to them are maintained in good order."
The regulations at individual ports depend on national law. The conditions for accessing existing public infrastructures at ports must not discriminate according to nationality. The principle of freedom of navigation does not constitute an obstacle to charging port dues in exchange for the services rendered. Article 27 paragraphs 2 and 3 (concerning ports) of the Revised Convention for Rhine Navigation specifies: "To meet the necessary costs of maintenance and supervision, an appropriate fee may be levied. Should the revenue from this fee exceed the amount of expenditure in question, the rate of said fee shall be reduced. However, this fee may be collected only when use has been made of the premises and equipment mentioned above".
The European Federation of Inland Ports (EFIP) is an organisation recognised by the Central Commission.
According to the studies and forecasts of the Member States, of the Commission for the Hydrology of the Rhine basin (CHR “Rheinblick 2050”) and of the International Commission for the Protection of the Rhine (ICPR) “Strategy for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Rhine International Hydrographic Region”), climate change will affect the Rhine’s water regime from 2050 onwards.
No significant climate change impact on the navigation of the Rhine is anticipated before 2050. A moderate increase in winter precipitation is forecast. Higher winter precipitation, which owing to higher temperatures will increasingly be as rain rather than snow, may give rise to a moderate increase in average and low water flows and, downstream from Kaub, in flood water flows. Summer forecasts show no clear precipitation trend. The summer flow will remain more or less unchanged compared with the current situation.
Subsequent changes in the water regime are anticipated from 2050 onward:
During the hydrological winter (November to April):
During the hydrological summer (May to October):
Inland navigation, perhaps more than other modes of transport, is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as flooding, but especially to low water. (Concerning the vulnerability of inland navigation to low water, see also the concept paper “Act now!”).
Inland navigation is however an essential mode of transport for industries that are dependent on the transport of dry or liquid bulk goods and on container transport, as well as for agriculture. Some of these goods cannot be switched to other modes of transport because of the quantities involved. Inland navigation therefore plays a crucial role in the European Commission’s mobility and transport strategy, and in the implementation of the “green pact” for zero emission transport. Inland navigation must contribute not only to mitigating climate change by reducing emissions but also must adapt to the effects of climate change.
The CCNR’s thinking on climate change and its impact on the navigation of the Rhine was developed between 2008 and 2011 and is enshrined in three reports. They were last evaluated by the Infrastructure and Environment Committee (IEN), which noted that the 2007 conclusions remain valid, and that fresh scientific knowledge on the Rhine’s water regime would only be available following the publication and regionalisation of the sixth IPCC report, anticipated in 2024.
In June 2009, the CCNR organised an international congress in Bonn on the subject “Navigation of the Rhine and climate change – challenge and opportunity”. The Congress documents can be downloaded on this page.
In 2011, the CCNR concluded, based on the scientific conclusions presented by the ICPR and CHR, that there would be no significant changes to the water regime (until 2050) compared with today. As of 2050, the effects of climate change on the functioning of infrastructure cannot be ruled out. There is therefore no immediate urgency to take infrastructure measures. All the aforementioned reports and scientific input from the CHR and ICPR are based on the fourth report of the IPCC, the conclusions of which were published in 2007.
The regionalised findings of the IPCC’s 5th report (published in 2014) showed no major differences as compared with the regionalised findings of the IPCC’s 4th report. The IPCC’s 6th report should be published in 2022. The regionalised data updated for the Rhine will probably be available 2 years later, in 2024.
The CCNR is currently preparing an update of its report on climate change and its consequences for the navigation of the Rhine. The analyses conducted by the Member States, the ICPR and the CRPM in 2019 demonstrate that between the regionalised findings of the IPCC’s fourth and fifth reports, there was no significant change in the water regime of the Rhine basin. Consequently, in 2019, the CCNR decided to postpone the updating of the report until the publication of the IPCC’s sixth report and noted that the 2011 conclusions remained valid. The CCNR is however continuing to monitor all climate change-related activities very closely.
In parallel with its climate change adaptation activities, the CCNR is continuing both its climate change mitigation and low water activities, and their impact on the navigation of the Rhine. Concerning this latter point, the CCNR, together with other international organisations, held a workshop in Bonn on 19 November 2019.
The Secretariat summarised the outcome of the workshop on low-water and its consequences for the navigation of the Rhine in the CCNR concept paper entitled “Act now!”. It also contains proposals for better adapting inland navigation and its infrastructure to extreme low water levels. (The concept paper is available on the workshop web page).
To mitigate climate change, the CCNR is working on the development of a roadmap aiming to reduce inland waterway transport emissions, as provided for in the Mannheim Declaration. The roadmap is to be considered as the CCNR’s principal public policy instrument aiming to mitigate climate change and facilitate the energy transition to reduce emissions arising from the navigation of the Rhine and European inland waterways; as such, it comprises: