France Waterways

By | February 1, 2022

The rivers, although some of them have an irregular regime, represented until the century. XIX an important part in the transport of raw materials. From the time of Henry IV they began to be integrated with canals; and on the eve of the Revolution, France already possessed the Channel of the South, the Channel of Picardy and the very extensive network of Flemish canals. In 1800 there were just under 1000 km. of channels; to which the Restoration and the July Monarchy added almost another 3000 km. Already in 1847 1,800,000 tons. km. goods of all kinds were transported by water. The appearance of the railways at first caused a decrease in river traffic, which in 1870 dropped to 1,400,000 tons. km.; but the circulation later developed on all communication routes, and a billion spent between 1870 and 1900 brought the length of the navigable network (rivers and canals) from 11,260 to 12,150 km. Traffic by water was quadrupled. Since this traffic is almost entirely concentrated in the part of the territory included north of a line joining Le Havre to Lyon and especially in the NE region, during the war it was especially damaged by the invasion (1036 km. Of streets destroyed). But the reconstruction work is now almost completed, and, with the return of Alsace-Lorraine to France, the development of French waterways has reached 17,400 kilometers, of which 5248 for the canals.

According to, the canals belong to three distinct groups: 1. Maritime canals, which have the function of facilitating access to ports located on estuaries: the Tancarville Channel belongs to this group, which allows barges and ships of medium tonnage to reach Rouen directly; the Caen Canal; the Lower Loire Canal, which makes Saint-Nazaire the outpost of Nantes; 2. lateral channels, which constitute real artificial rivers, parallel to the watercourses that cannot be used: lateral channels to the Garonne, the Loire, the Meuse, the Haute Seine, the Somma; 3. connecting canals, which, through a slight rise, connect, by means of locks, navigable waterways or nearby canals: few in the West, in the South.

The table below shows each region’s share in the total tonnage of waterways (rivers and canals) for the year 1925:

The Northern region and that of Paris occupy the first place in the general inland navigation movement, because they have a large number of navigable rivers and canals. Paris is the busiest river port in all of France, with a movement of 13,400,000 tons. in 1926. It comes immediately after Strasbourg, placed at the end of navigation on the Rhine, with 3,578,593 tons, which can increase its tonnage with the construction of a lateral canal to the Rhine and with the transformation of the Marne and Rhone canals. The great industrial development of the Creusot largely explains the 3 million tons. of the waterways of the center.

The network of waterways will be further developed, as new routes are already under construction: the North Canal, the canal from Montbéliard to the Haute-Saône, the great canal of Alsace, the canal from Marseille to the Rhone (recently inaugurated the Rove tunnel, 7 km long.). Furthermore, the construction of a connecting canal between the Dordogne and the Berry canals is planned.

France Waterways