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tugboat and barge on the water

Our Region’s Future River Freight System

Future River Freight Safety

Historical records show the safety record of the inland waterway system is very good when compared to other freight transport modes. It will be challenging to improve on such a strong safety record. The future of freight river safety will depend on continued worker safety training, technological innovation and maintaining aging and deteriorating infrastructure and equipment.

Future River Freight Infrastructure Condition

Diligent preservation and maintenance of the nation’s inland waterway locks and dams ensures its state of good repair. This extends the infrastructure’s useful life and preserves freight service levels. In addition, owners of the region’s numerous private barge terminals will continue to invest in maintaining and replacing outdated material handling machinery, tugs and other equipment. Advances in technology offer greater returns on those investments.

Future River Freight Mobility and Reliability

Mobility and reliability directly relate to how well freight is expected to move in the future. The system’s reliability depends on many factors that are beyond the control of operators. These include public lock maintenance and severe weather events, which can adversely affect a river’s water level or flood terminal facilities.


The future of river freight mobility and reliability in the OKI region depends on its efficient connection to and availability of other modes. This is especially important as the industry actively tries to diversify the cargo mix transported on waterways. To capitalize on new cargo types, such as containerized cargo, terminals will need access points for products other than bulk goods.

Future River Freight Environmental Sustainability

River cargo movement is much less environmentally harmful when compared to moving goods by other modes. The industry continues to focus on reducing the adverse effects of emissions, spills, discharges, and waste to protect the environment. For example, operators are keeping better track of fuel consumption to set fuel consumption targets for their industry.


Future efforts are expected to focus on decreasing mobile source emissions, noise pollution and the use of non-renewable fuels to improve the environmental footprint of freight movement in the region.

Future River Freight Economic Competitiveness

River cargo is critical to the region’s economy. Shipping large quantities of heavy bulk commodities by any other mode would be less efficient and more costly for consumers. Having river transport, in addition to road, rail and pipeline, provides options for all freight to move in the most efficient manner — a huge economic advantage for the OKI region. Future use of the waterways will continue to provide efficient and reliable freight movement.

The Value of Future River Freight Technologies

As we look to challenges for the future of river freight, there are a growing number of technological advances that will greatly helpmeet regional goals. A brief overview of those maritime-oriented technologies showing the greatest potential to river freight safety, infrastructure maintenance, mobility and reliability, environmental sustainability and economic competitiveness is discussed in this freight plan. As shown in the table, almost every new technology has value in addressing multiple goals simultaneously.

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