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Waterways Instead of Highways
March 1, 2013   
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Researchers in the northwestern city of Szczecin are working to help turn the Oder river in western Poland into a safe and environmentally friendly waterway for shipping goods. After the project is completed, it will significantly improve the safety of freight transportation on the river and help move more cargo from roads and freeways to inland waterways. As a result, there will be fewer heavy trucks on Polish roads, the researchers say.

The researchers, hailing from the local Maritime University, aim to develop a River Information System (RIS) for the Oder in a project that has been awarded zl.1.64 million in funding from the National Center for Research and Development.

Before the Oder river can be converted into a major route for freight transportation, European Union regulations require that Poland build appropriate information infrastructure to ensure that vessel traffic on the river is safe—and profitable—at any time of day and night.

The researchers have already developed and tested a pilot version of the system, which they say has proved to be highly efficient in real-life conditions. The pilot system was made up of “demonstrators” and a mobile module, according to Prof. AndrzejStateczny, from the university’s Faculty of Geoinformatics, who heads the research team.

“The RIS center on the river bank resembles a police command center and the crisis management system is, in turn, like that of the Fire Brigade or a military operations center,” says Stateczny.

The RIS center staff observe the river and compile and update electronic charts for navigation. The staff are tasked with providing system users, such as ship owners, boat masters and suppliers of goods, with all the information to ensure safe navigation.

In many respects, rivers are far more difficult to navigate than the open sea—due to, for example, bridge clearance and water depth. Floods or high water levels can make it impossible for a vessel to clear a bridge, whereas during the dry season, rivers can be too shallow for a ship to travel.

Information services provided as part of the River Information System in Poland will have four key components: an electronic chart and information imaging system for inland navigation; electronic reporting for vessels; messages sent to boat masters; and a vessel traffic management system. Once all the components are in operation, navigation on the Oder River will become much safer than it is today, the researchers say.

The project being conducted at the Maritime University is the first of its kind in Poland. The researchers in Szczecin have developed the technology for the RIS, drawn up test charts, and built a demonstrator for the technology.

All information entered into the system should be made available free of charge to inland waterway users, as is customary across Europe. The users, in turn, need to have appropriate equipment to be able to receive the information.

The Polish River Information System will be modern and integrated with its counterparts in other EU member states, says Stateczny.

Each vessel will be able to provide the RIS center with information on its current position and the cargo on board. The data will be automatically forwarded to other system users, so that, for example, boat masters on a meandering river will know that there is another ship ahead. In this way the system will prevent collisions and a host of other problems related to inland navigation. Importantly, it will also enable navigation around the clock.

The technology developed by the Polish researchers ensures that all information received by users will be formatted according to EU regulations. The Polish technology includes prototype electronic charts for use in inland navigation and demonstrators for each component of the system. System users are able to easily translate messages into different official languages of the EU, because the system employs standardized data and the Extensible Markup Language (XML), which is a universal language for data recording to streamline document exchange.

The Electronic Chart Display and Information System (ECDIS) will provide users with additional geographical data. Electronic reporting allows for data exchange and prevents duplicated information from being sent repeatedly to different users and organizations. The vessel traffic management system is based on an array of sensors located on river banks, including radar and closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras. RIS messages can also be transmitted via the increasingly popular automatic vessel identification system.

Information services, including electronic charts, will make the Oder River navigable at night, which at present is not possible. According to Stateczny, the system will advise users about all objects on the waterway.

A well-developed river information system will allow for more intensive traffic as well as easier and safer navigation, as a result of which more cargo will be taken off roads and freeways and put on waterways instead. Goods can be shipped on barges which carry many containers at a time. This is what happens in the Netherlands where the vast majority of freight transportation takes place on water.

The demonstrator of the system’s mobile module was launched on the Maritime University’s floating hydrography and measurement laboratory. The lab, called Hydrograf XXI, is fitted with an environmentally-friendly electrical propulsion system. The RIS center on the river bank established a connection with the laboratory over a data transmission and processing system. Thanks to the Hydrograf XXI, the researchers were able to test the electronic charts in real-life conditions. While the lab had been built before the RIS project got under way, the entire navigation equipment, complete with a multibeamechosounder, was purchased as part of the project.

In the course of the tests, the Polish researchers found answers to a number of questions they had about the system and solved all the problems that prevented it from complying with EU regulations. Under these regulations, river information systems must be used on inland waterways with international traffic and connected with waterways in other countries.

Work to launch the RIS in Poland, including the development of electronic charts for the Oder river, has been financed using a grant available as part of the Trans-European Transport Networks in Europe (TEN-T) program.

The Polish RIS will operate out of the Inland Navigation Administration offices in Szczecin. The harmonized River Information System in Poland is due to be launched on 97.3 kilometers of inland waterways along the Oder River.

The use of harmonized River Information Systems across Europe will significantly improve the safety of freight transportation on inland waterways, minimizing the risk of injuries, fatalities and other incidents. At the same time, it will maximize the capacity of waterways and shorten travel time, allowing for lower transportation costs. The system will provide an efficient and economical link between different modes of transportation, resulting in less pollution and fewer toxic spills caused by accidents.

Karolina Olszewska
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