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Optimising inland container shipping chain

11 May 2021
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Container handling is the key driver of growth in the port today. And inland shipping plays an indispensable role in the transport of containers to the hinterland.

At present, 38% of the containers that move between Maasvlakte and the hinterland are transported by inland vessels. The Port Authority aims to increase this share to 45% by 2030. To facilitate this growth, we strive to create a fully optimised inland container shipping chain.

Developments in the container chain

Over the past few years, a number of global developments have had a major impact on the container chain. In Rotterdam, this has resulted in stronger peaks in throughput volumes in the port and the associated landward and seaward handling requirements. Coordination between parties in the chain regarding the planning and execution of container transport in the sea port has become more complex.

Scaling up in marine shipping

We can observe further scaling up in marine shipping: both the sea-going vessels themselves and the number of containers that need to be loaded/unloaded per port call (call size) are growing in volume, as are the peaks in the call sizes. The largest sea-going vessels that currently call on Rotterdam have a capacity in excess of 23,000 TEU.

Formation of alliances

Greater consolidation and collaboration between the major container shipping lines are resulting in the increased bundling of volumes on board large vessels. These shipping alliances are including Rotterdam on their itineraries, taking advantage of the port’s range of deep-sea terminals.

Growing volumes

Container volumes in the port of Rotterdam have seen a strong increase since 2010. Likewise, inland container shipping to and from Rotterdam has grown to 3 million TEU in 2018. Pressure on the port’s quays is expected to rise further as a result of growing deep sea, feeder and barge volumes.

New terminal capacity

The deep-sea terminals of Rotterdam World Gateway and APM Terminals Maasvlakte II started operations at Maasvlakte 2 in 2015. These facilities can accommodate the expected growth in container volumes entering and leaving the port. With no fewer than five deep-sea terminals at Maasvlakte, the planning of inland container shipping in Rotterdam has become more complex than ever.

Free time, demurrage & detention

Agreements regarding free time, demurrage & detention have a strong impact on the container process. The regulations for retrieving or dropping off containers are becoming stricter, leading to a reduction in the time available for inland container shipping.

Initiatives in the inland container shipping sector

The Port of Rotterdam Authority is facilitating structural sector-wide negotiations between all players in the container chain: shippers, shipping companies, freight forwarders, barge operators, inland terminals, deep-sea terminals and empty depots.* To accommodate developments in the container chain and provide an effective response to the consequences of these trends, all parties in the chain are working together on a more transparent and efficient structure for the inland container shipping chain. A variety of initiatives have been taken in this context.

*APMT, BDB, BDI/DSVK, CBRB, Deltalinqs, EBU, ECT, evofenedex, FENEX/TLN, Royal BLN-Schuttevaer, LINc, Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Portbase, Port of Rotterdam Authority, RWG, SPEDLOGSWISS, SSC, SVS, VRC, VRTO


The chain parties have developed a guideline with recommendations for shippers and freight forwarders when it comes to influencing the development of a more transparent and efficient structure for the inland container shipping chain.

Eye for the Chain infographic


Nextlogic provides an integrated planning for the settlement of inland container shipping flows in the port of Rotterdam. This leads to the optimal utilisation of assets at the deep-sea terminals, empty depots and barge operators and increases the efficiency and reliability of the inland shipping products for shippers and freight forwarders.


Portbase uses the Port Community System to provide a platform for all parties to exchange information relating to the logistics chain via Rotterdam – simply and efficiently. The parties can use Portbase’s services and share information with each other to gain real-time insight into a container’s current status within the chain.


Collaboration between sector players has resulted in the bundling of container volumes in the hinterland and in the port. New agreements with deep-sea terminals regarding call times (fixed windows) and call sizes can further improve the reliability of the container shipping product. Terminals are offering fixed windows, on certain conditions, to support bundling initiatives by means of guaranteed handling times.

In the hinterland

The Port of Rotterdam Authority supports initiatives that allow barge operators to work together and bundle container shipments destined for the port’s hinterland. The barge operators rely on hubs to bundle the containers and have committed to maintaining fixed connections with one or more deep-sea terminals via scheduled services. Examples include the North West Central Corridor, the West Brabant Corridor, the Ruhr Express and the Limburg Express

Bundling in the port

Containers are bundled at Maasvlakte, Waal-Eemhaven and Alblasserdam and directly transported by inland vessel from and to the deep-sea terminals according to a fixed schedule.

Overflow hubs

Parties in the port are exploring the possible use of overflow hubs to utilise capacity more efficiently, absorb peaks more effectively, spread volumes and respond to changes in the chain without time restrictions. These overflow hubs can be both virtual and physical. In addition, researchers are looking into the possible use of push-barges.


The port of Rotterdam continues to pay attention to its extensive network of intermodal transport connections (rail, inland shipping, road and pipelines) with the hinterland. The capacity of this network is structurally expanded through programmes like the widening of the A15 motorway, the Breeddiep waterway, Botlekbrug, the Theemsweg route and the Port Railway Line.

The Port of Rotterdam Authority is actively involved in the Cargo Transport Corridors Programme, in which the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management, Topsector Logistiek and the Provinces of Gelderland, Limburg, Noord-Brabant and Zuid-Holland are working together to improve the ‘Topcorridors’ transport infrastructure.

Measuring performance in the chain

The development of a KPI Dashboard enables the uniform definition and monitoring of results throughout the chain for all interested parties. We have developed a dedicated Barge Performance Monitor for inland vessels carrying containers to and from the port of Rotterdam.

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