Waterway Shipping - Environmentally Responsible

448 Miles of River Highway in the Middle of the U.S.

Waterway Transportation Is Energy Efficient

The measure of energy efficiency in transportation is the amount of energy used for the service provided, and can be expressed as the number of BTUs required to move one ton of cargo one mile (a ton-mile).  In studies comparing rail, truck and water, shallow-draft water transportation has been proven to be the most energy efficient method of freight transportation for moving bulk raw materials.

An analysis of rail and waterway fuel efficiency shows the average BTUs expended per ton-mile totals 433 for water transport and 696 for rail transport.  It is much more efficient to move cargo through water than over land.

Waterway Transportation Is Extremely Safe

Transporting cargo safely is an important measure of environmental responsibility, and water transport has very few accidents, fatalities or injuries.

Shallow-draft water transportation has definite advantages over competitive modes:  it generally involves less urban exposure than either truck or rail; operates on a system that has few crossing junctures; and is relatively remote from population centers, all factors that reduce both the number and impact of waterway incidents.

For the amount of tonnage carried, barge spills occur quite infrequently.  Barges, because of their much larger capacity, require far fewer units than either rail or truck to move an equivalent amount of cargo, and so the chance of a spill is less likely.  Also, design features of barges such as double hulls and navigational aids help reduce accident frequency

For any hazardous liquid material shipped by water, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains a comprehensive list of safeguards and controls that govern the design and construction of vessels and equipment and personnel manning qualifications.

Construction of tank barges must be approved by the Coast Guard, and once in service, they are inspected annually.  Coast Guard statistics show that water transportation not only is subject to a high degree of regulation, but also operates under a stringent regulatory program.

Causes Little Congestion

The steady increase in highway traffic in the U.S. has far outstripped any increase in infrastructure capacity, resulting in delays, safety problems, and congestion, costing the nation up to $100 billion annually.

The results of this congestion are reflected in more accidents, increased energy consumption, environmental damage, increased commuting times, and greater social tension.  Water transport - in contrast - does not have congestion problems, and seldom causes them for others.  The fact is, that far from being congested, the country’s water transport system is under utilized.

Produces Little Air/Noise Pollution

Some of the most pervasive and intrusive sources of noise and air pollution are transportation systems.  Noise levels have been rising.  Air pollution caused by transportation includes pollutants directly emitted by engines as well as secondary pollutants formed by chemical reactions.

Even though air pollution resulting from water transport operations is negligible, the waterway industry has been, and is, installing vapor control systems to capture any emissions.  Cumulatively, the barge industry has a relatively minor effect on air quality, consumes much less energy (and as a result, produces less air pollution) per ton-mile of freight carried than either rail or truck.  For the most part, waterway operations are conducted away from population centers, which reduce the impact of its exhaust emissions.

Towboats operate well away from shore, with the sound of their engines muffled below the water line, and any noise levels are hardly audible beyond the immediate area of the tow.

Has Minimal Land Use/Social Impact

For the most part, inland river transport has little impact on densely populated areas.  These shallow-draft vessels operate in mid-river, well away from shore and because of the large tonnage moved at one time, tow passages are infrequent.  This low-profile type of operation is one of the transportation industry’s best kept secrets.

Since most of the right-of-way for water transport is provided by nature, inland navigation is less likely than other transport forms to compete with non-transportation uses for land area, an important consideration in urban locations.  Apart from a few connections and waterside terminals, waterways preempt very little land.

Produces Multiple Benefits

Besides navigation, transporting cargo by barge has a number of other benefits and many beneficiaries.

When a new navigation project is completed, more than water transportation benefits.  The other major beneficiaries of developed waterway systems include recreation, flood control, public water supply, wildlife habitat, irrigation, and industrial use.  And oftentimes, the benefits of these other purposes are as important as the waterway itself - which is an economic spur to the particular region where it is located.  Navigation not only creates opportunities for new industries, but may also change trade patterns that can have a major economic impact on local and regional development.
In addition to navigation, commercial waterway activity has been a good environmental neighbor.  In the process of building waterway projects, provisions are made to preserve, enhance, or create wetland and aquatic habitats.  National wildlife refuges and designated areas along the rivers are home to many species of fish and wildlife, and are used by both migratory and resident bird populations.


There is a growing national commitment to restoring and preserving our environment, a goal that has become a priority for the inland navigation industry.

The companies that make up the barge and towing industry have a reputation for a strong environmental stewardship and are dedicated to improving the compatibility of their operations with the environment in an effort to reduce environmental incidents to an absolute minimum.  Pollution control, protection and enhancement of the environment, and maintenance of the ecological balance have long been major concerns of the waterway industry.