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Cargo keeps moving on resilient Thames

Cargo keeps moving on the Thames in severe weatherTrade on other waterways falls

Cargo movements on the River Thames held steady in the face of last year’s recession, while movement of goods on other waterways in the UK fell by as much as 40%.

The resilience of trade on the Thames has been underlined by the latest figures from the Department for Transport.  They show that 2.19 million tonnes of materials were shipped between terminals on the Thames in 2009 – almost five times more than the next busiest inland waterway, the River Medway.  The Thames was the only waterway to experience an increase in tonnage transported last year (up around 10,000 tonnes).

In addition to being the UK’s second largest port, the Thames is also used for moving bulk materials including sand, gravel and waste. The Port of London Authority works to promote the use of the river and offers advice and support to companies already using the river and those coming to it with new projects.

James Trimmer heads the PLA’s work to help companies move freight by water.  He said:

“These latest figures show that the Thames is firmly established as the UK’s principal marine highway.  The river handles 67 per cent of all goods transported on the UK’s inland waters.  You simply have to look at the work underway at Blackfriars Rail Bridge to see what’s possible on the river.  All of the major steelwork for the scheme has been taken to the site by river, without putting a single lorry on London’s roads.

“We expect to see a doubling of the tonnage of materials moved on the river in the years ahead as an increasing number of major construction programmes start using the Thames. These include the Crossrail tunnelling project, which will see five million tonnes of excavated soil moved on the river and the major construction works envisaged by Thames Water.” 

Network Rail’s Thameslink project programme director, Jim Crawford, said:

“The new station we’re building spans the Thames.  With our ‘site’ directly above the Thames, delivering and removing materials by barge made a lot of sense to us both practically and environmentally. It has proved to be a really efficient, cost effective option."

Notes to Editors

Inland waterway routes – internal traffic lifted (million tonnes)


2008 (mt)

2009 (mt)


River Thames 2.18 2.19 (+0.01)
River Medway 0.55 0.45 (-0.10)
River Humber 0.29 0.25 (-0.04)
River Ouse 0.29 0.16 (-0.13)
Aire & Calder 0.29 0.19 (-0.10)
Manchester Ship Canal 0.33 0.22 (-0.11)
River Mersey 0.33 0.20 (-0.13)
River Trent 0.18 0.10 (-0.08)
River Severn 0.23 0.16 (-0.07)

River Thames share of UK goods lifted (internal traffic) 2008 59%
  2009 67%