On 9 April 2019 representatives of Rijkswaterstaat (Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management), Province North-Holland and NOVIMAR discussed the scenario of a vessel train making a passage on the Maxima Channel from the Dutch town Veghel to the river Maas. In this scenario the vessel train passes several bridges and the Empel lock. The meeting focussed on procedures for passing the lock and bridges, waterway management, navigating the vessel train and the near future possibilities of an inland locking assistance system.
A vessel train passing the Maxima channel must pass several bridges and the Empel lock. To navigate and control the vessel train, NOVIMAR develops the VT command and control system. By using this system, the crew on the lead vessel can sail the vessel train from Veghel to the river Maas in the Automatic Guidance or Assisted Guidance mode.
The bridges and the Empel lock are unmanned and remotely controlled from a centre in Tilburg. Operators use standard procedures, taking into account the amount of land traffic, schedules for public transport systems, and the need for emergency services for rapid bridge crossing. In addition at locks the “first come – first served” principal is mostly leading.
To ensure a smooth passage for the vessel train the lead vessel must communicate with the staff operating the bridges and the lock. It was learned that a vessel train sailing plan could support such a passage as both Rijkswaterstaat and Provence Noord Holland are in the process of developing concepts of corridor management including trajectory planning http://blauwegolfverbindend.nl/.
Trajectory planning is based on the principal of bundling several ships into a convoy. For each trajectory a timetable will be available, showing various planned departure times from a starting point. The schedule then ensures a smooth passage through the bridges along this trajectory. Research is done to further develop trajectory planning to include lock passages. Since the vessel train is already a convoy this development would very much support VT operations.
To communicate the status and composition of the vessel train, NOVIMAR suggested to make use of the Automatic Information System (AIS) en the Maritime Mobile Service Identity Number (MMSI). A newly designed AIS application specific message could hold information about the convoy state (e.g. follower vessel coupled to lead vessel) and MMSI numbers of participating follower vessels.
Lock passage of a low manned follower vessel could in near future benefit from an inland locking assistance system developed in the German project Scippper. The aim of this project is the development of an innovative assistance system, which will ultimately allow automatization of entering and leaving a lock. The system will make used of the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) for position, heading and velocities and Light Detection and Ranging (Lidar) for distance measuring and the orientation relative to lock walls.
During the meeting much knowledge was exchanged and it was suggested to give a follow up. Furthermore Rijkswaterstaat and Province North-Holland offered their support for real time tests with the vessel train.