Tribute to canal man Glenn Millar

Glenn Millar

Glenn Millar, economic development manager at the Canal and River Trust

Inland Waterways International as a body and its members as individuals were saddened to hear that Glenn Millar, friend and supporter of inland waterways, passed away in September 2013 after a long illness. Glenn was the economic development manager at the Canal and River Trust (formerly British Waterways), and enthusiastic leader of European cooperation projects on inland waterways. He kept working until 2012 and the successful conclusion of two recent EU-funded waterway projects ‘Waterways Forward’ (Interreg IVC) and ‘Waterways for Growth’ (Interreg IVB, in the North Sea Region).

Glenn, from Northern Ireland, was an ambassador for the waterways and was made Canelero de Honor by Spain in 2006, the same year he was chosen to present a model narrow boat to Mary McAleese, President of Ireland. His networks were prodigious and relationships lasted long beyond the project or committee where they were originally formed. People valued Glenn’s insight but also valued his company and friendship

The portrait reproduced here, by courtesy of the website, was named ‘Europe Comes Together’; that is a fitting tribute to Glenn’s vision and achievements.

A tribute has also been printed in the new (4th) edition of the European Waterways Map and Directory, published by Euromapping, which is dedicated to his memory.

Parks Canada’s heritage canals saga continues

The saga of the Canadian Heritage canals managed by Parks Canada grinds on. In the early New Year Parks Canada introduced a new fee schedule for using the locks on its three major historic canals; the Rideau, The Trent Severn Waterway and the Quebec Canals.

Not only was Parks Canada proposing a whole new way of charging for the service offered, but also increasing these fees substantially. So for a boater, the cost to use the locks and moor increased well beyond any form of a reasonable increase. This was fuelled by the earlier changes to the navigation season service offer (see earlier posts). That exercise left many boaters, business people, communities, tour and rental boat companies and users very angry. The Government did keep its promise not to reduce the length of the season (see overly optimistic announcement posted here October 23, 2012) however, the devil was in the details, and as it turned out they reduced very substantially the hours of service within the season, the amount or degree of service in the shoulder seasons and reduced operating staff substantially.

So, then in the New Year out came a new fee schedule and format, which caused a firestorm of reaction along the canal corridors. It was so intense that within a couple of days Parks Canada started to make changes most likely in response to the number and intensity of comments they were hearing from the public. Since that time and well before the final date for comments, they have made further changes to their proposals in trying to deal with the shortcomings of the original plan. However, even with these changes the fee rate is increasing substantially. Most users were willing to see rates increase, but something within reason and based on some type of a business case which has not been forthcoming after many requests.

What is sad is the impact it has had on Parks Canada’s credibility as an organization that knew how to operate canals and understood their importance from a cultural, natural or economic perspective. However, the accumulative impact of the changes for lockage fees plus the reduction of service level will without a doubt diminish the use and opportunities which in turn puts more pressure on the increased revenues versus costs ratio that the government seems to be demanding of Parks Canada. It misses the point and doesn’t take into account that these heritage waterways are economic drivers for their communities and they contribute substantially to the GDP of the country. As an example; the Parks Canada Economic Impact Study of the Rideau Canal 2010/2011 determined that the $10.5 million spent on the Rideau, generated $44.4 million to the GDP and supported 641 full time equivalent jobs, and this was only visits to lock stations. It didn’t include the people who visit resorts, restaurants, stores, marinas, museums, etc. that are prevalent up and down the corridor.

So, there are still many unanswered questions. What will the final fee schedule be for the coming navigation season? What will the fall out be on visitation and use of the canal at a time when the government is pushing for economic initiatives to keep the economy healthy? What will the cultural and natural heritage impacts be for these canals after major changes in how they are organized when the number of specialists in these fields has been greatly reduced and are not necessarily on site?  Will the water management function have the capability, knowledge and experience to meet the demand and intricacies of the operation and not seriously jeopardize public safety and is it sustainable? Will all of these changes work over the long haul or will public safety, the heritage values and canal use be in jeopardy? Sadly only time will tell and by then it may be too late!!

David Ballinger

What future for Canal du Midi?

VNF’s summary report on its activities in 2012 devotes one of its 10 chapters to the tree-replanting programme and corporate patronage approach to funding the €200 million restoration of the Canal du Midi’s characteristic landscape.

VNF's new logo

VNF has a logo which keeps the old, enriching it with evocative graphics by Philippe Apeloig

VNF reports (in its New Year press release) that it felled 1668 plane-trees condemned by canker stain in 2012, and replanted 68: the uninformed reader immediately sees a ‘deficit’ of 1600 trees. This sad statistic, however inevitable in view of the experimental nature of the first replanting operations, is like a wake-up call. The tree-felling and replanting debate – and the questions surrounding the should not become an excuse for inaction in other areas.
This is one of many concerns expressed by the Toulouse Waterway Information Network, a grouping of waterway interests in SW France. The network (Réseau Fluvial Toulousain) is challenging local and regional politicians to come up with a robust and workable plan to develop the waterway economy. It is convinced that France in general – and in this case SW France – possesses unique skills, resources and capability to make the canal economy more vibrant, and create more jobs, generate more income.
They say this is what the World Canals Conference* should be all about, and call for a debate to be held in the context of this international conference, a debate which should leave no stone unturned in the search for viable management models and economic development for our canals and rivers.
A properly-planned future for the Canal des Deux Mers should be an issue in the 2014 municipal elections, and the réseau hopes that candidates will state their positions in their manifestos.
* Salons Vanel, Toulouse, 16-19 septembre 2013 – see the WCC web site

Oise to be upgraded to Class Vb

Vive VNF under its new statute as a public administration! Following the successful public consultation process, the State body is expected to start works on enlarging the Creil-Compiègne section of the river Oise to European Class Vb capacity. The works are needed to harmonise navigable dimensions throughout the Seine-Scheldt waterway. The public consultation was completed successfully in 2012, and aspects of the project were then debated at three “post-consultation” workshops in December. The first covered all hydraulic aspects, the flood risk and highest navigable water level, the second was devoted to the various uses of the inland waterway, while the third discussed all environmental aspects.

Canada’s canals escape cuts

Good news for Canada’s Historic Canals! The length of the navigation season and the hours of operation of Parks Canada’s historic canals will see little changes in the 2013 season. The length of season will remain the same, with some operational adjustments in the shoulder season. This is very good news for the communities, businesses, and users of the waterways under Parks Canada’s jurisdiction. The announcement by the Minister of the Environment is reproduced below.
Our congratulations to the Minister and Parks Canada is recognizing the importance of these historic waterways. Hopefully this will also be recognized as they follow through on their reorganziation models, ensuring the natural and cultural heritage is protected and the importance of the water management and telling the story are also noted and taken into account.
Dave Ballinger, 23 October 2012

Minister Kent announces 2013 navigation season for historic canals and Trent-Severn Waterway
OTTAWA, Ontario, October 18, 2012 -The Honourable Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of the Environment and Minister responsible for Parks Canada, today announced the 2013 navigation season for historic canals and Trent-Severn Waterway.
“National Historic canals are a defining feature of Canada, and provide communities and regions with beauty, recreation and a unique sense of history,” said Minister Kent.  “I am pleased to announce that the 2013 navigation season will continue from Victoria Day to Thanksgiving, as in previous years.”
“Parks Canada will continue providing ‘upon arrival’ services throughout the peak summer period, and offer a modified service seven days a week through scheduled lockages in the spring and fall period. For the canals 2013 navigation season, Parks Canada will align its hours of operation and personal service offer to better reflect patterns of use, offering between 7 and 9 hours of service per day.
“With this decision, the canals and the surrounding communities will continue flourishing as a vibrant centre of our regions,” added Minister Kent. “The government appreciated the constructive feedback we received from the public, and was pleased to work with the local Members of Parliament, Mayors, business leaders, and stakeholders, to determine a workable schedule going forward that is affordable while minimizing the impact on the local economies and visitors.
“Parks Canada will continue its stewardship of cultural and environmental resources providing meaningful experiences that promote understanding and appreciation of Canada, and supporting local communities through tourism – as it has done for the last 100 years.”

Canal & River Trust launched

The British Government placed 2000 miles of canals and rivers in trust for the nation, as the new charity, the Canal & River Trust, was launched on July 12. The trust takes over responsibility for the canals of England and Wales from British Waterways, 50 years after the British Waterways Board was founded in 1962.

C&RT and BW logos

Canal & River Trust logo compared to the British Waterways logo used since 1981

The change in governance had been planned for several years, as reported in IWI’s publications. The logo neatly adapts the traditional BW humped-back bridge, which had been the public corporation’s logo since 1981. The swan represents the environmental quality and values of the waterways more dynamically and actively than the reeds.

The focus in launching the charity is on the 10 million ‘users and lovers of the canals’ who will have an opportunity to play a greater role in securing their future, through the Trust. The Trust’s first patron is HRH The Prince of Wales, who recorded a welcome speech on June 12. Poet Ian McMillan also wrote an evocative poem for the occasion, ‘Canal Life‘, suggesting that canals hang in that place between memories and water.

Half the population of the UK lives within five miles of a Canal & River Trust waterway. The system has 1569 locks.

The sober statement on the British Waterways web page says that the corporation ceased to exist in England and Wales on July 2. In Scotland British Waterways continues to exist as a legal entity caring for the canals under the trading name ‘Scottish Canals‘.

The Trust has also taken over BW’s information portal

We wish the Canal & River Trust every success!

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a UNESCO World Heritage site, at a son et lumière celebration on July 12. The event celebrated creation of the CRT and the 3rd anniversary of listing of the site (shared by Rachel Allen)


End of road for Seine-Nord?

The Seine-Nord canal project is now very close to being abandoned by the French Government, along with the Lyon-Turin rail link and base tunnel and about 15 other sections of the high-speed rail network, promoted in 2010 under the ‘Grenelle’ package of measures for the environment (reported by Les Echos)

An ‘excuse’ for abandoning the canal project, which is the subject of transnational agreements with Belgium and the Netherlands, is the increase in estimated cost of the 106km long canal, with 7 locks, from €4.5 billion to €5 or 6 billion. The statement by Secretary of State for the Budget Jérôme Cahuzac also calls into question the economic viability of the project.

The article in Les Echos underlines the difference in treatment between railway and waterway projects mentioned in the July 6 post on this subject.

a) The high-speed railway lines where works have already started are saved from the chop; the preparatory works already carried out on Seine-Nord appear to count less; they include the lowering of a section of the A29 motorway to allow for the future aqueduct.

b) The economic return on the canal is doubted, but no mention is made of the rate of return on the railway projects; assumptions are made, fuelled by environmentalist policies, on the network benefits of adding new sections to the rail network, while the network effect of linking the Seine basin to the Rhine is ignored or at least underestimated in a purely financial analysis. (It takes time to set up new logistics practices and transport chains.)

The competitive dialogue between VNF, project authority, and the two candidates, Bouygues and Vinci, is to be completed by October, but it seems that the construction giants have themselves been playing into the hands of the new Government, by preparing for abandonment of the project. They have been ‘going through the motions’, while possibly even agreeing that the project was a non-starter and increasing the cost estimates. The limits of the PPP exercise have been starkly revealed.

Evidence of this possible ‘death foretold’ is the attitude of the two companies, whose leaders hardly reacted to the news, as if they had themselves been promoting what Les Echos describes as an inevitable ‘return to reality’.

It remains to see what pressure the European Commission and the Belgian and Dutch partners in the Seine-Scheldt project can bring to bear on the French Government, to restart the project on a sounder basis. The EU’s funding share for the Lyon-Turin base tunnel would alone pay for the new canal! Even at €6 billion, the cost of the canal is only a fraction of the €260 billion cost of all the the planned high-speed rail lines.

More EU funds for new canal?

The Seine-Nord Europe Canal project is still alive!

The proposed Seine-Nord Europe Canal will create a high-capacity freight corridor from Le Havre to northern France, the Benelux countries and the Rhine, for a cost estimated at €4.3 billion, of which €2.1 billion to be funded by a private partner. The selection process with the two declared candidates for building and operating the canal – Bouygues Travaux Publics and Vinci Concessions – is expected to be completed by the end of 2012.

Of course there are reasons for concern. The economic outlook is bleak, as France prepares for her austerity diet, and there is no shortage of bad omens. Everybody I’ve spoken to since the change in government has expressed fears for the 106km-long new canal, despite its trans-European character. A transport ministry memo tabled the option of cancelling the project. But the Seine-Scheldt link is still Project 30 in Europe’s transport infrastructure programme!

President Hollande-Transport Minister Cuvillier

President François Hollande and Minister for Transport and Maritime Affairs Frédéric Cuvillier - ©

Transport Minister Frédéric Cuvillier, interviewed on June 23, was critical of the project’s funding model, which appears to have overestimated the ability of the future private-sector partner to put up one fifth of the investment cost in return for the operating revenue (tolls) over a 40-year concession. Both the previous government and VNF were discreet on this subject in the run-up to the elections, but the reality today is that the funding package is short of target by around €2 to 2.5 billion.

The minister underlined that major infrastructure projects, such as the Lyon-Turin rail link or the Seine-Nord Canal, “can only go ahead if the European funding is guaranteed at a reasonable level.” To date, the anticipated EU funding of the investment has been fixed at about €330 million, or less than 8% of the total investment. In view of the growth package negotiated by European leaders, part of which involves spending unallocated funds on infrastructure projects, it is felt that a strong case can be made for stepping up the EU’s share to 20% or even more. Getting the project under way despite such unfavourable circumstances would send a very strong message about Europe and the capacity of member states to plan for the long term.

Rumours of abandonment of the project, which VNF has been working on intensely since it was founded in 1991, were fuelled by political as well as economic arguments. The greens have always been luke-warm about new waterway links. They accept the argument that waterborne transport is the most energy-efficient and least pollutant mode, but they are convinced that rail provides an equivalent service, and that railway investments should take priority.

Already in a report produced in 1997 for the mayors of Lyon and Marseille, I predicted that the increase in passenger movements by rail would threaten the capacity of rail to handle freight economically. Today the case is proven, as the railway lobby in France is pushing for the construction of no less than 1000km of new railway lines, to give rail solutions a chance of competing with the alternatives. But this competitiveness could only be obtained by direct or indirect subsidies which are contrary to EU policies and decisions. By contrast, the waterway lobby has been pressing the case for infrastructure improvements with a more balanced approach, recognising the value of road and rail in combined transport solutions.

Since the June 23 interview there has been a clash between the Transport Minister and a predecessor in the previous government Jean-Louis Borloo, incidentally instigator of the Grenelle round table on the environment.

Setting aside the party politics and the inevitable rhetoric on both sides, the fact is that a new funding package is now to be assembled, and submitted to the European Commission at the end of the year. The increased EU funding would be matched by an additional effort by the regions benefiting from the new infrastructure.

Artist's impression of the 1300-m long aqueduct carrying the future canal across the Somme valley (© VNF-MSNE)

François Hollande favours inland waterways

French president François Hollande supports inland water transport as a carrier of freight to and from the country’s struggling seaports. While still a candidate in the second round of the presidential election, he signed on May 2nd a letter to two waterway organisations indicating a firm intention to revive the Environmental Policy initiated and then abandoned by the previous government, to transfer more freight from road to rail and water. IWI‘s February Newsletter featured the letter from Jacques Romain, president of the Entente des Canaux du Centre France, to all 10 candidates for the presidential office. A similar initiative was taken by the French barge-owners through their representative body, the Chambre Nationale de la Batellerie Artisanale.

Letter from François Hollande to ECCF and CNBAThe letter, of which an English translation has been produced by DBA–The Barge Association (click on thumbnail, left), sets out the candidate’s objectives for transport and inland waterways, and underlines the importance of investment in infrastructure to ensure competitivity of intermodal solutions to and from the main seaports: Marseille, Le Havre and Dunkirk. The ports (and industry) are handicapped by the unsatisfactory waterway links to the hinterland, as a result of which, for example,  85% of freight movements to and from the port of Marseille are by road.
Water transport still only accounts for 2.2% of inland freight movements in France, compared with 12% in Germany, 16% in Belgium and 33% in the Netherlands. The policy statement refers to both the Seine-Nord Europe Canal and the Saône-Moselle.Saône-Rhine waterways, ‘to be the subject of careful study’, and to the principle of a pollution tax contributing to the funding of new investments. He stigmatises the previous government’s failure to implement the ‘Grenelle Round Table’ measures, aimed at increasing the share of rail and water to 25% of total freight movements.

The Entente (with its member DBA–The Barge Association) and the CNBA are to be congratulated for their initiative. Although the response is that of a candidate seeking votes, with all the caveats that implies, it is evidence of a position that is totally supportive of inland waterways. There will doubtless be occasions to remind President Hollande and his government of the candidate’s policy statement.

Header images from CNBA’s new web site

Images from CNBA's web site


Canals cross EU eastern borders

In just a few years, three bottlenecks on the eastern borders of the European Union will have been removed, thanks in part to the persistent efforts of many organisations working together, campaigning and lobbying for canals, waterways and inland navigation.

First to be completed was the restoration of the Augustowski Canal in Poland and its continuation in Belarus’ through to the Neman river, opened in 2009. The second, long-awaited, development is the construction of a permanent lock in Brest-Litovsk at the western end of the Dnieper-Bug Canal (see map in header).

Mukhovets River in Brest © Google Earth

The lock will replace the weir bypass on the left bank (bottom of this view, © Google Earth) with its two earth dams

This lock should replace in 2012 the temporary earth dam structure which for many years blocked through navigation to Poland’s Bug River. Finally, the canalised river Bega will be opened from the Tisa in Serbia through to Timosoara in Romania; again work is in progress on restoration of the first lock in Romania.

Our exhibition From Limerick to Kiev: Waterways for Tomorrow’s Europe contributed to promotion of these projects by showing in 2003/2004* how an integrated European waterway network is a concern for tourism and long-distance recreational boating, just as it is a concern for industrial and economic development through inland water transport. The exhibition map and panels were also shown at the boat lift at Strépy-Thieu in Belgium in 2004, and at a session of the Working Party on Inland Waterways at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe in Geneva.

Boatowners have for long been planning long-distance cruises throughout the continent, as shown by this planning map for the cruise of a lifetime from Paris to Moscow, Perm and Arkhangelsk.

A complementary issue is that of regulations for crossing that eastern border (or ‘internal border’ in the case of Serbia-Romania); discussions are in progress and outline agreements have been reached, one having been signed recently in Warsaw by Poland and Belarus’, but in practice there are still substantial administrative hurdles to overcome. Such cruises have now become feasible, at least in terms of reglementation, since the Russian Federation passed a law on May 25th allowing foreign recreational boats to use its inland waterways.

Waterway route to the Urals and the White Sea

The route planned by Richard Parsons with Xanthos

* first in Grenoble, for the 10th anniversary of foundation of Euromapping, then in October 2004 at the European Parliament building in Brussels; the partners for that operation were IWI, the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme, the European Boating Association, DBA The Barge Association and ICOMIA