Future climate change is expected to affect inland waterway transport in most main natural waterways in Europe. For the river Rhine it is expected that, in summer, more and longer periods with low water levels will occur. In periods of low water levels inland waterway vessels have to reduce their load factors and, as a result, transport prices per tonne will increase. One possible consequence of these higher transport prices is a deterioration of the competitive position of inland waterway transport compared with rail and road transport, and thus a change in modal split. We study this issue using a GIS-based software model called NODUS which provides a tool for the detailed analysis of freight transportation over extensive multimodal networks. We assess the effect of low water levels on the costs of transport operations for inland waterway transport in North West Europe under several climate scenarios. It turns out, that the effect on the modal split is limited. Under the most extreme climate scenario, inland waterway transport would lose about 5.4% of the quantity that is currently being transported annually in the part of the European inland waterway transport market considered. The very dry year of 2003 can be seen as an analogue for this scenario. © 2009 Elsevier Ltd.
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