Letter: Call of sea transport

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The Independent Online
Sir: The recent discussion about traffic has been concerned, for the most part, with the need to reduce congestion and pollution caused by road users. Improvements in internal combustion engines can reduce pollution and will also reduce energy consumption. Nevertheless they will depend for the foreseeable future on fossil fuels.

Transport by water is more efficient than all alternatives except pipeline in terms of energy consumed per tonne-kilometre: compared with pipeline, water transport consumes about 2.5 times as much energy, rail 4 times, road 17 times and air 94 times.

In the 18th century nearly all freight was carried by water. Coastal shipping connected all major cities and estuaries; rivers and canals connected ports, inland towns, natural resources such as coal, china clay and ores, and newly developing industrial areas.

Nineteenth century railways and 20th century road transport have eliminated nearly all of this traffic. Most surviving canals have had no development for over 150 years and are now used mainly for leisure. The cost of improving and maintaining them for commercial traffic would be very high. Nevertheless the most useful waterway survives; it is our sea, which is within 90km or so of all parts of the UK and connects with the rest of the world.

A policy for integrated transport should include a study of development of coastal freight traffic into estuaries and provision of land links with estuarial ports; these links are likely to be by railway. In the meantime, new structures that might inhibit such developments, such as low bridges across waterways and over-development of port areas, should be prevented.

DONALD McDOWELL

Chairman

Permanent International

Association of Navigation Congresses

British National Committee

London SW1

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