Barges and logistics on the river Rhine

The River Rhine is a cornerstone of Europe’s inland waterway transport, supporting an extensive network of trade across the continent.

Container transport, a key segment of this network, links significant ports and industrial centers from Basel to the North Sea. In 2022, the global economy faced unparalleled challenges that deeply affected this sector. highlighted in the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR) Annual Report 2023.

The escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine introduced significant complexities, disrupting key trade pathways and driving up the prices of commodities. Simultaneously, the European energy crisis further intensified challenges within the IWT sector. The negative growth rates in transport volumes across nearly all cargo types, with the exception of coal, exemplified the broad-reaching effects of these economic strains.

Environmental factors also posed severe challenges for Rhine transport, especially notable during the low water levels in July and August. According to the CCNR report, the years 2018 and 2022 saw the most days of low water since 2015, severely hampering the efficiency and capacity of transportation. This combination of economic and environmental difficulties led to a marked decline in Rhine cargo transport, with volumes falling by -6.8% from the previous year, highlighting the sector’s sensitivity to external disturbances.

This is also true for container movement. In 2022, container transport on the Rhine, crucial for European commerce, encountered significant obstacles, leading to an 11.1% decrease in volumes from the previous year.

These impacts varied across different segments of the Rhine. Notably, the Traditional Rhine and the Lower Rhine regions in the Netherlands saw substantial declines in container transport, recording reductions of 14.5% and 11.0% respectively. These statistics highlight the direct effects of the year’s adversities on container transportation and emphasize the significant repercussions for the Rhine’s integral role in European logistics and trade networks.

Reefer logistics plays a crucial role in the global cold chain, using reefer containers to transport perishable goods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, frozen meat, fish, and sensitive food items like chocolate, wine, and pharmaceuticals. These goods are exported and imported year-round via the Rhine.

Monitoring reefers, also on a river barge, is essential for maintaining the quality and safety of these perishables while in transit. It also helps minimize wastage and spoilage, which can be financially burdensome for companies. Reefer monitoring typically involves checking the temperature and humidity inside the containers, as well as CO2 levels and other gases. It’s also necessary to ensure the reefer unit is functioning, the power supply is continuous, and the settings are correct. Traditionally, such checks require manual intervention every six hours, a task made challenging by the movement of the ship, the narrow spaces between containers, limited visibility, and the height at which controllers are mounted.

To address these challenges, remote, automated reefer monitoring has become the norm in container terminals and depots. Increasingly, logistics companies and vessel captains are adopting mobile solutions that allow them to manage and monitor reefers directly from the bridge during a voyage. This automated approach not only spares the crew from manual checks but also alerts them to any issues with a reefer unit. At the journey’s end, it generates an automated trip report that includes comprehensive data on temperature, humidity, and other relevant metrics, ensuring transparency and accountability at the point of delivery.

If you are interested to learn what does it mean for reefer logistics along the river Rhine and how to overcome existing challenges, continue reading here: Reefer 5G Monitoring on the River Rhine