Combined Transport: Development, Challenges, Digitization

Combined Transport: Development, Challenges, Digitization

17. March 2021
Combined Transport

Sea freight, air freight and road transport are typical modes of transport in logistics and each mode of  transport has its advantages and disadvantages. To take advantage of more than one mode of transport, it makes sense to combine them. This brings us to the topic of “combined transport”. In addition to the advantages however, there are also a number of challenges involved in the use of combined transport. Furthermore, interesting digital innovations are currently being developed to improve the efficiency of processes. There is more on this to follow. 

What exactly is meant by combined transport?

As the name suggests, combined transport (CT for short) refers to the combination of several modes of transport. For example the combination of rail transport or (inland) shipping with trucks is particularly typical. The major part of the route is covered by rail or ship and only the pre-carriage and onward carriage is by road. 

In combined transport, a distinction can be made between accompanied and unaccompanied combined transport. In accompanied combined transport, the complete truck is transported by ship or rail. The driver accompanies the vehicle and continues the journey afterwards. With unaccompanied combined transport on the other hand, only the container is transported by rail or ship and then reloaded onto the truck. By the way, the term “combined transport” is also often equated with the term “intermodal transport”.  

Development of combined transport 

In general, combined transport is considered to have a high growth potential. However, after years of increasing numbers, the number of shipments transported by CT stagnated in 2019, with a slight increase of 0.2 percent according to ab report by the industry association UIRR. Reasons included the Great Belt bridge accident, natural disasters, the strike in France and insufficiently coordinated work on infrastructure the association noted. The slowdown in the European economy and a low oil price which strengthened road transport also led to a reduction. Companies surveyed by BSL Transportation even expect a decline in 2021. This trend will not reverse again until between 2022 and 2024 they noted. 

The advantages 

A major advantage of combined transport is that the benefits of different modes of transport can be combined.  This plays a particularly significant role in terms of lower CO2 consumption. It also relieves road congestion and reduces traffic jams. The share of combined transport is therefore to be increased significantly by 2030. 

The main use of ship or rail is also considered to be very safe. Another advantage is the exemption from driving bans on Sundays and public holidays for combined transport, as well as the special regulation that a total weight of 44 tons is permitted for transport. 

The challenges

A major challenge in combined transport is the increased organizational effort. Since several parties are involved in the transport process, the entire procedure requires better organization. The transfer of containers to another means of transport also involves additional effort and costs. 

Another challenge is the limited terminal capacity. Increased combined transport also requires adequate space and easily accessible terminals. Additionally, individual transports must be synchronized in such a way that the containers can be reloaded and transported onwards on time.

Digitization and innovations

The digitization of logistics processes is picking up speed in combined transport. In order to make container handling in CT terminals more flexible, the project “Autonomous Innovation in Terminal Operations” (ANITA) was launched in July last year. The central project objective is a fully automated truck from MAN which will move automatically in the container depot of DB Intermodal Services and the DUSS terminal at the Ulm Dornstadt site. Algorithms will also be used to enable localization and obstacle detection. First of all, the behavior of people and machines on the terminal site will be analyzed and then transferred to digital processes and rules. 

In order to make combined transport even more plannable and reliable, there is also an increasing emphasis on the urgency for more transparency and better information and communication solutions. Digital supply chain management platforms such as help to minimize organizational effort through more efficient communication and clear management of delivery processes. Communication by phone and email is thus replaced by simple collaboration tools such as a chat function. Orders and delivery processes are clearly displayed and documented with current status insight.

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