River traffic to open between Flanders and France


A new link between the Seine and the Scheldt will improve the flow of cargo traffic between France and Belgium

Widening the Grensleie

River transport between Flanders and France will be opened up under an agreement signed on Monday by minister-president Geert Bourgeois and his counterparts in France and Wallonia. The agreement focuses on the Grensleie, the stretch of the Leie river that forms the border between Belgium and France.

Running between the towns of Deûlémont in France and Menen in Flanders, this stretch of the Leie could form an important link between the Seine in France and the Scheldt in Flanders, which in turn connects to the North Sea ports. However, it is both too narrow and too shallow in places to allow the passage of bigger cargo vessels.

“In concrete terms, the aim is to make this link suitable for ships loaded up to 4,500 tonnes and barge convoys with triple-stacked freight containers,” Bourgeois explained. “In this way, an effective, multimodal transport connection will be created between two of Europe’s key industrial and demographic regions.”

EU backing

The project is part of a much broader plan to develop river transport between the North Sea and the Mediterranean, which has considerable European Union backing. The Flemish government has budgeted €341 million between 2014 and 2020 for expenditures related to studies and works to open up the Seine-Scheldt connection, which includes €141 million in EU subsidies.

In addition to developing the Leie, works in Flanders include improvements to the Upper Scheldt, the Roeselare-Leie and Bossuyt-Kortrijk canals, the ring canal around Ghent, the Dender and the Hinterland connection to Zeebrugge. A channel running to Charleroi will also be modernised.

Meanwhile in France, a 106km canal is being dug between the River Oise in Compiègne and the Dunkirk-Valenciennes canal near Cambrai.

Photo courtesy Toerisme Leiestreek