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Albert Canal sets course for a sustainable future with 4-layer container shipping

With the raising of all bridges to 9.10 m, the Albert Canal can accommodate container ships with four layers. This achievement marks a historic milestone for inland waterway transport in Flanders and a crucial advance in the modal shift. It paves the way for greener mobility with less CO2 emissions from freight transport.

The canal width at the bridges was also increased, which benefits safe and smooth transport. The Albert Canal thus becomes more than ever a waterway highway between sea ports and the hinterland. One more layer of containers can be transported, which brings an increase in efficiency that makes the competition with road transport greater. There is still plenty of room on the water, and all transport that goes via the waterway means fewer traffic jams on the highways.

Vital importance of the Albert Canal

With almost 40 million tons of goods transported per year – the equivalent of about two million trucks – the Albert Canal is economically the most important waterway in Flanders. It accounts for more than 50% of inland waterway transport in Flanders. The canal is a crucial hinterland connection for the Port of Antwerp-Bruges and is part of the European core network.

To meet the transport needs of the expected increase in goods in general and container transport in particular, the bottlenecks on the Albert Canal had to be addressed, namely the too low clearance height of a large part of the bridges and the limited width of the canal between Antwerp and Wijnegem. These bottlenecks hindered the economic growth of the Albert Canal and the strengthening of inland waterway transport as an indispensable logistical link in Flanders.

Path to optimal use

Since 2007, no fewer than 50 bridges have been raised to a clearance height of 9.10 meters above the canal level. Commissioned by De Vlaamse Waterweg nv, Sweco was involved in a number of sub-projects in the early years. For example, we developed a generic bridge for the Albert Canal in collaboration with Ney & Partners. In 2014, the THV Arcadis-Sweco joined the project to raise 31 bridges. Support from our integrated project team included conceptualisation, preliminary design, tendering and managing the overall programme. We also monitored both PPP DBFM projects during implementation.

Now that all bridges have been brought to a minimum clearance height of 9.10 meters, this offers opportunities for Short Sea Shipping, four-layer container transport, three-layer high cube container transport, as well as larger project cargo (large loads in one piece). On February 5, 2024, the first four-layer container ship sailed over the Albert Canal.