CORDIS - EU research results

Specific Support Action for pan-European stakeholders and users sustaining integrated pilot technologies for increasing the efficiency of intermodal transport

Final Report Summary - INTERMODE-TRANS (Specific Support Action for pan-European stakeholders and users sustaining integrated pilot technologies for increasing the efficiency of intermodal transport)

The Specific Support Action (SSA) INTERMODE-TRANS targeted ongoing research and development (R&D) with regard to transport technologies that can achieve a sustainable modal shift from road to railways and waterborne routes including inland navigation and short sea shipping, promoting the development of trans-shipment technologies, tools and equipments based on the real need of the end-users. This was done through an interaction among transport operators, engineering companies and manufacturers of trans-shipment technologies. The research and dissemination gave specific attention to target small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and participation of new Member States through several workshops used to gather information.

The importance of transport technologies and trans-shipment tools and equipments which are not yet optimised for goods handling and moving will become even more critical with the enlargement of the European Union to Eastern Europe that will shift transport demand to / from the accession countries. It is critical to raise awareness and come to an efficient solution as soon as possible so as to decrease potential points of friction and costs.

Therefore, one of the key aims of INTERMODE-TRANS was to provide a platform among manufacturers, engineering and transport operators. The dynamic platform is expected to generate RTD guidelines for innovative technologies for intermodality.

Within the dynamic platform, a second objective was to prepare the ground for future research and technological development (RTD) activities within and beyond the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) by networking and creating constituencies of technologies' suppliers and stakeholders in order to investigate future research challenges and associated implementation models. The project is expected contribute to the implementation of activities of the work programme for sustainable surface transport.

The objectives of INTERMODE-TRANS addressed the following problems:
- development of efficient and standardised intermodal technologies and transshipment solutions;
- role and benefits for SMEs in general and with special consideration of Candidate Countries and new Member States;
- incompatibility between the different available technologies and tools;
- incapacity of the different terminal technologies to cope with the increased demand of transport.

Intermodal transport in Europe is on its way to a second revolution. Through cooperation, new thinking and long term strategy it can finally challenge road transports. To make this come true will require extensive investments in both technology and information systems. The main factors in favour of intermodality, apart from the prospects of less congestion and beneficial effects on energy use and environmental impact, are the trans-national refurbishment of the rail systems, the development of information systems and the quality and market orientation of the supply (or demand) chain. The major trend in intermodal transports is the same as in the logistics business in general, integration and consolidation of the companies from several to a few. This means that all of the large logistics companies are intermodal in their composition and able to conduct intermodal transports from door-to-door within the company. To be able to accomplish this, companies have invested in information systems and new terminal solutions to improve their ability to compete on a deregulated market.

One of the keystones of the EU is the free movement of goods and people inside the union. Therefore, it's obvious why the interest for logistics is big, because movement of neither goods nor people will take place without logistics. In time, the demand for logistics service constantly increased and there is no indication of any change in that. The movement has caused congestion in the road systems in some parts of the union. The magnitude of congestion depends on point of time in a day, week or year but when at peak load (rush hour) the high-ways demonstrate a stand-still or at best a viscous flow of vehicle, which is detrimental for economy and the environment. To relieve the pressure on the road system, foremost in central Europe, the EU and also national governments act to facilitate the use of non-road transports like rail and inland waterways. The drawbacks in these modes of transports are similar to each other. They are slower than road transport in shorter distance (inland waterways is always slower) and are inflexible in comparison to road transports. The railway system in Europe was developed and produced mainly before the EU was created. Therefore, it still has a clear and obvious national distinctive character, this means that there are different types of standards that regulate things like engine type (frequency, voltage, diesel etc.), allowed load weight and dimension (width of tracks, tunnel dimensions etc).Today, there exist several different types of standardised containers, wagons and trailers. In some cases, they are compatible with each other but far from always. This is a problem for intermodality. The need for a new standardised container that is independent of a certain type of wagon, trailer or similar equipment is apparent.

There are several obstacles to intermodal transport, which make it unattractive (more complicated, more expensive, time-consuming) compared to an equivalent journey by road. Some are of a regulatory nature and will have to be dealt with by the public authorities, including the European Commission. Examples are the administrative procedures, which need harmonisation between modes and countries, competition rules which will assist the European single market, and infrastructure issues, such as that the railway systems are still being developed and used from a rather strict national view-point.

Trans-shipment of cargo may be inefficient and costly, arrival and departure times may need to be coordinated, operators do in several cases not accept the responsibility for complete door-to-door delivery. These are obstacles that can be eliminated or reduced by the operators themselves, but with support from research and development. The initiative to develop a standardised single load unit that is adequate for all types of transports may help to simplify and speed up also handling of goods in terminals, e.g. by facilitating automated handling and trans-shipment.

One explanation of the lack of success of intermodal transport may be that its advantages of, such as less energy use, less pollution, fewer traffic accidents and less congestion, are of a societal nature, while the disadvantages, such as higher cost, more cargo damage, longer delivery times, complex coordination.

It has often been emphasised that there is a need for an integrated information system, which increases the possibility to coordinate and control the flow of cargo, containers and vehicles. It should, of course, be noted that information systems alone do not mitigate the obstacles to intermodality. Infrastructures, trans-shipment technology, pricing and economic realities and incitements, market considerations, customer awareness etc. are of course also essential elements. However, ICT systems after all have a crucial role in intermodal transport because of the greater need for coordination. Information support is important to organise and manage intermodal transport services from door-to-door. It will provide the desired transparency of available services for the shipper, who often is not aware of the opportunities of intermodal solutions.

For any door-to-door transport chain, the performance of intermodal transport will always be compared with road transport in terms of cost, reliability and quality of service. The main challenge here is to demonstrate superior added value to the supply or demand chains. The task force identified a number of criteria for benchmarking the performance of intermodal transport, as follows:
- prices (cost per kilometre, cost per tonne);
- time (speed) and timing (reliability);
- regularity of services (frequency);
- safety records (damages and losses);
- quality management (user-friendliness, documentation accuracy);
- efficiency (e.g. personnel employed versus number of movements, empty kilometres run).
These are essential factors, for example as elements in a checklist for cost-benefit assessments.

INTERMODE-TRANS composed a survey questionnaire, to help with identifying trends and obstacles in intermodal transport. The results were discussed in workshops and conferences, gathering information by stakeholders and interested parties.