LOK Report – Baden-Württemberg: Neckar offers great potential for freight transport and climate protection

By expanding the Neckar for ships with a length of 135m, an increased transport capacity of around 25 percent could be created. The lock extension could make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions.

The long-term further development of the functionality and performance of the Neckar as a transport route is the declared goal of the Verband Region Stuttgart. The potential of the Neckar for freight transport and the reduction of CO2 emissions was explained at the Transport Committee meeting on Wednesday.

The report on the Federal Waterway Neckar reinforces the concern to lengthen and renovate the 27 Neckar locks between Plochingen and Mannheim from the current 105m to 140m. As a result, modern 135m freighters could use the Neckar and at the same time transport a quarter to a third more freight. The expansion of the locks is essential in order to maintain and strengthen the extraordinarily high economic importance of the Neckar as a transport route. There is also potential for transport to be shifted to waterways. This would lead to significantly lower CO2 emissions and contribute to the country’s transport transition target. The expansion of the Neckar for ships with a length of 135m is currently being coordinated between the Federal Ministry for Digital Affairs and Transport and the Ministry of Transport of Baden-Württemberg. In May 2022, the Verband Region Stuttgart, together with the state capital, the district of Esslingen, the city of Plochingen and the IHK Region Stuttgart, campaigned for the extension and renovation of the Neckar locks at the responsible federal ministry.

Transport quantities and composition

According to figures from the Neckar Waterways and Shipping Administration, 5.1 million tons of goods were transported on the Neckar in 2021. By September 2022, it was 3.19 million tons despite low water phases. The majority of the goods transported were building materials and earth (41 percent), followed by salt (18 percent), metals/scrap and agricultural and animal feed (10 percent each). Container handling in the port of Stuttgart was around 18,000 TEU (Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit) in 2021.

Renovation and construction measures

In the last five years, around 60 million euros have been invested in various maintenance and operational security measures. The Neckar Waterways and Shipping Office earmarks 25 million euros for such measures every year. A container terminal has been under development in the port of Stuttgart since 1996. This was continuously expanded from initially 8,000 square meters to up to 62,000 square meters in the future. In anticipation of an extension of the Neckar locks to 135m, a number of measures have already been taken in the port of Plochingen.

Neckar as a source of energy

A hydroelectric power plant is in operation at every barrage of the Neckar. In the power plants along the Neckar, 54 sets of turbines generate around 530 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year. This can supply around 330,000 people with electricity and save around 490,000 tons of CO2. Parts of the electricity generated regulate the water level for Neckar shipping and are used to operate the locks and weirs. In recent decades, the potential for hydropower has increased. In the future, however, this will be used up to establish ecological continuity. Photovoltaics are conceivable on the port buildings in the future. In addition, several pilot projects for heat utilization via river water heat pumps are in the preliminary planning.

votes of the factions

Rainer Ganske (CDU/ÖDP) emphasized that commercial traffic has increased dramatically overall and will continue to do so: “Nevertheless, we lost disproportionately on the Neckar.” More goods can be transported with longer vehicles. He warned that the expansion could take decades. “The topic must be tackled holistically in the metropolitan region,” says Ganske.

For Heike Schiller (BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN), the use of the Neckar offers great opportunities: “CO2 emissions are reduced by a large amount on the water.” The topic must be given the importance it deserves. Schiller raised the question of the future viability of the ports if the expansion does not take place soon.

Wilfried Wallbrecht (Free Voters) saw the issue pragmatically: “Against the current background, we should keep open and strengthen several options for the infrastructure.” to stay.

Thomas Leipnitz (SPD) emphasized that the expansion must take place quickly: “The freight figures are impressive and can be expanded with longer ships.” This is the only way to get more transports from the road to the water. In addition, the advantage for the energy supply should not be neglected.

Holger Dorn (AfD/FR) saw the expansion as a gain, even if only part of the potential could be leveraged. He asked what that meant for the roads bordering the ports.

Gabriele Heise (FDP) asked for a comprehensive look at the Neckar: “It can’t just be about the lock expansion.” You have to consider other factors such as the required areas and river straightening as well as their time horizon.

According to Michael Knödler (DIE LINKE/PIRAT), traffic needs to be shifted from the streets to the water. However, rail is still significantly more climate-friendly.