Container Barge design to optimize hinterland transport in europe

Fluctuating water conditions have been hindering the economic viable transport of goods via inland waterways for a significant period of time now, particularly on the Danube. Additionally, there are currently hardly any container transports, regardless of the great potential in terms of costs and ecological aspects. In the HORIZON 2020 project "iw-net", we develop and evaluate new design options for barges for the economically viable transport of 45’ standard high-cube containers and thus contribute to an optimized hinterland transport in the Danube Region. Special attention was given to the potential performance of the new designs for navigation during low water periods on the Danube.

To design the new barges, a four-step approach was performed. First of all, a literature review was conducted, which aimed to collect all necessary data (e.g. data of locks, bridges and ports along the Rhine-Maine-Danube Corridor), followed by a scenario selection, which led to a definition of waterways and goods. The scenario we selected was based on the business case of our partner Nothegger. The Nothegger Transport Logistik GmbH from St. Ulrich am Pillersee has 13 international branches with a fleet of over 700 vehicles. Their Europe-wide logistics network covers multimodal transport worldwide. Subsequently, we analyzed existing barge types and developed six new barge designs, which were visualized using Naval Architecture CAD, and as a last step, the design options were evaluated concerning their sight lines and their stability, feasible construction materials as well as draught and air draught.

Considering the requirements of our business case for our partner Nothegger, we agreed to develop the new barge designs for the Danube River on the stretch between Enns in Austria and Giurgiu in Romania. Furthermore, the barges are developed for carrying particularly 45’ standard high cube containers. 45’ standard high cube containers are mainly used in intermodal hinterland transport in Europe as they have a unique characteristic: the size of the containers is adapted to the size of standard Euro pallets (dimensions: 120cmx80cm). With a container dimension of 13.716 m x 2.50 m x 2.896 m (external measurements) euro pallets fit better into the container and therefore, increasing their utilization. Container barges for intermodal hinterland transport were chosen, due to the necessity of promotion of intermodal transport, particularly on the Danube since there are hardly any container transports nowadays, regardless of the mentioned potential.

We started with existing barge design options for container transports operating on the Danube. Barge designs on the Danube, which are currently in use are the barges Europa 2b and Europa 3a, shown in Figure 1. The new six barges aimed to allow a safe and economically viable transport of 45’ high-cube containers on the Danube. The new designs for barges including the breadth, the length, the lightship displacement and the number of 45’ standard high cube containers, which can be carried, are illustrated in Figure 1. Two or three layers of containers can be carried by each barge, which is the maximum due to the limited bridge height on the Danube. A minimum of 24 45’ high-cube containers (i.e. Barge Europa 2b in two layers) and a maximum of 90 45’ high-cube containers (i.e. Barge iw-net – Container transverse v2 in three layers) can be carried by each barge. The main difference of the barges lays in their length and breadth, with each barge not exceeding the maximum size of barges that can operate on the Danube considering the lock sizes and the maximum fairway width. While the barge designs in general allow integration into usual pushed convoy formations with two barges side-by side, this is not the case for the broader IW-NET – Containers transverse barge type with a view to lock sizes available in particular on the upper Danube.

 Figure 1: Barge design options

Further analysis of the barge design options

The barge designs were further evaluated, resulting in several barge options being not feasible for transportation, due to their sight lines and stability. Moreover, several construction materials were compared and discussed.

The stability of barges with two layers of containers is basically given. However, the stability of three barge types is severely limited, when loaded with three container layers. “Barge iw-net – 3 units abreast” (Project ID 003), “Barge iw-net - 3 units abreast long” (Project ID 006) and “Barge iw-net - NEWS Evolution long” (Project ID 007) have the possibility to transport three layers of containers, but these have to be empty containers. Therefore, in most cases the barges with the Project ID 003, 006 and 007 cannot be used to transport loaded containers in three layers. However, the stability is always depending on the individual loading conditions of the barge and has only been assessed for pre-defined standard loading conditions. The stability of the barges was assessed against the requirements of Chapter 27 of ES-TRIN 2021 for non-secured containers. The design options and their stability in different loading conditions (CESNI 2021) are presented in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Results of the stability assessment

An elevating wheelhouse on the push-boat is necessary, if more than one container layer is transported considering the sight lines. Transportation with barges loaded with two container layers is feasible in most cases. As empty containers are too lightweight, transportation with barges stacked with three container layers is limited to loaded containers. With three layers of empty containers the barges do not immerse deep enough to allow an acceptable sight line. The assessment of sight lines was conducted against the requirements of Article 1.07 of CEVNI (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe 2021). The design options regarding the sight lines in different loading conditions are shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Results of sight lines assessment

We evaluated shipbuilding steel, aluminum, and composites such as carbon as possible construction materials for the barges. Composites are excluded from further evaluation as they are technically not feasible for the construction of cargo vessels in inland navigation. Shipbuilding steel succeeded as the most appropriate and affordable material. A major disadvantage of shipbuilding steel is its high weight; it is relatively heavy, which leads to unfavorable conditions for low water levels. The advantage of aluminum is its lightweight, leading to a lower draught. However, aluminum is less ductile and highly expensive in building and repair. A challenge for the shipbuilding sector and the financing of future new barges are the latest developments of the prices for steel and aluminum.

All six design options are feasible for the transportation of containers during fluctuating water conditions. The six barge designs differ in size (i.e. in length or breadth) and in the construction material used. Which barge design is best suited for the transport of 45’ standard high cube containers from Enns to Giurgiu can hardly be determined, as this decision depends on the specific transport situation and the requirements of the business case.



  • Presentation of approach for barge design evaluation
  • Evaluation of sight lines, stability and construction material
  • Summarized illustration of six new barge design options for container transport on the Danube