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Combined transport (CT) or intermodal freight traffic is a freight transport system that intelligently combines rail transport and road transportation, as well as international shipping.
For long distances, railway transport is unparalleled: By gathering a large number of goods in one freight train, it provides considerable economic and ecologic advantages. Only to ensure that the goods arrive at their final destination, lorries are used for the shortest possible distance, on the figurative “last mile”, to reach the customers only accessible via road journeys.
In combined transport, goods are transported in standardised load units (containers, swap bodies, and trailers). In combination with efficient technology at the terminals, and the increasing digitalisation of processes, this creates a high-performance logistics chain which offers a real alternative to non-stop road transport.
Nowadays, combined transport already amounts for 10% of all transport services in Austria. It is an important contribution to sustainable traffic. With the right additional measures, combined transport can, however, offer even more potential for the environment and the economy.
More information concerning this matter can be found under “An efficient solution for the future”.
Trains can transport large quantities of goods fast and efficiently over long distances. An intermodal train can replace more than 50 lorry-transports. That yields clear advantages in efficiency and price while simultaneously reducing congestion and roads in general.
To cope with the immense volumes that arrive for the Austrian economy at major seaports, combined transport is already being used in 90% of all cases today.
Trains run according to schedules. Thanks to this, logistic processes are easily planned in intermodal transport and the resource efficiency is perfectly coordinated with regards to all parties. Plus: Trains often function as “storages on rail”, therein creating additional transport safety and supply security.
Railway as a means of transport is verifiably one of the safest means of transport. With the main run on the rails, combined transport therefore also improves the accident statistics. The number of people injured or killed in rail freight transport, relating to transport capacity, is significantly lower than the one of road transport, according to a study carried out by the German Federal Environment Agency. Additionally, the subsequent costs are around the factor 10 below those of road transport.
To ensure the highest operational safety is one of the most important concerns of all service providers of combined transport. Furthermore, extensive measures also protect each freight transport against theft, damage, and cyber criminality.
Railway causes a fraction of CO2 emissions in comparison to road transport. Since the share of rail freight transport is significant, this effect is also valid for combined transport. For the most part, trains in Austria are furthermore operated electrically, often with the use of renewable energy sources.
Combined transport reduces the demand for fossil fuels, reduces noise and traffic jams, therein promoting traffic safety.
More information concerning this matter can be found under “Environmentally friendly transport of goods”.
In the rolling highway (RoLa) CT, entire lorries cover parts of their distance via railway on special low-floor waggons. During the journey the drivers accompany the rail transport in a couchette car and can therefore credit the travel as a rest period. In Austria, RoLa-transport is handled by CombiNet-member Rail Cargo Operator: www.rola.at
In unaccompanied combined transport (UCT) only standardised loading units (container, swap bodies, crane liftable semitrailers) without motor vehicles are transported via rail on the main run. The handling is usually done vertically (via cranes or reach stackers) at a terminal. Lorries are only used for the shortest possible distances.
Austria is equipped with a close-knit network of intermodal terminals to ensure smooth coordination of freight transport. Fourteen terminals for unaccompanied traffic are spread all over the country, as well as three additional terminals for the rolling highway. Hence, the distances from one lorry to the next rail terminal are always short.
The terminals do much more than to ensure containers being taken on road or off road. Essential services can be demanded at all locations in an uncomplicated manner:
Transporting goods on a united European market via railway does not only reduce road congestion but environmental impact as well. The flexibility of combined transport will even increase further due to expansion in the coming years.
Austrian rail infrastructure currently comprises a rail network of about 5.350 kilometres. In comparison: The motorway network comprises 2.240 kilometres and the entire Austrian road network covers 127.500 kilometres. The combination of the considerable rail network and the well-developed network of terminals provide the ideal conditions for combined transport.
The continuous expansion of the transport network presents good future prospects for combined transport: on the southern rail route the two large-scale projects Semmering- and the Koralm-tunnel, and the Brenner base tunnel .
Today, the Semmering still constitutes a major obstacle: Neither unaccompanied combined transport with trailers nor rolling highway transport is possible on the historic route due to the narrow tunnels not allowing transport of common standardised units. The ongoing tunnel projects will allow to better take advantage of possible train weights and train length in the future. This is beneficial for both efficient infrastructure usage and economic efficiency of trains.
Intermodal transport is an international business. To transport goods via rail on a shared market reduces roads as well as the environment. Its flexibility will further increase due to the expansion of the network in the coming years. However, this is an international task carried out in the scope of the European freight corridors. They do not only provide the foundation for internationally coordinated development of infrastructure, but also function as a vital instrument for non-stop route design and therefor use of infrastructure.
Owing to the connection of the railway network to all major seaports, freight transports from overseas can also be brought on rail in Europe. The market share of combined transport to and from seaports is already at 90% in Austria.
Freight transport within combined traffic is easily plannable and can be calculate precisely. To ensure this as well as a reliable, punctual operation a lot of disciplines have to come together across the entire logistics chain.
The ports and terminals ensure a well-functioning connection among the various means of transport. As links they play an important part in flow of information and goods.
In the end, logistic service providers, railway undertakings and intermodal operators create high-quality, sustainable transport products for their customers using logistical know-how as well as their knowledge of the advantages of the railway system.
To fully take advantage of the upsides of the railway, operators take care of the grouping of all transport volumes on one transport route in the form of an entire train. Operators look for volumes of various carriers and organise the railway transport in cooperation with all partners. Operators take on the risk concerning the trains’ capacity and fulfil a vital commercial task.
Simultaneously, operators run the daily operation and ensure that customer bookings are dealt with on time as well as guarantee the quality of trains.
In many ways, the terminal functions as a link between the transport modes of road and rail. One being the physical transition of units between the modes of transport, another the function as a hub for information relevant to the transport, and finally the function as a provider of essential services such as storage of loaded or empty containers, their cleaning, their reparation, or their loading.
Railway undertakings oversee the actual railway transport. They provide locomotive and train drivers as well as container waggons in many cases. They also organise infrastructure routes and traction energy (in most cases electrical current) with the infrastructure operators, as well as frequently organising loading slots for trains at ports or terminals.
The punctual and reliable collection and delivery of units at the shipping consignors is often underestimated but immensely important for a functioning transport chain. To ensure this, is the role of trucking enterprises. Furthermore, these enterprises have an important role in the information chain and often offer additional logistical services.
On one hand, the (railway) infrastructure operator is responsible for supplying efficient and safe infrastructure and maintenance. Investing in new projects, the upgrading and remodelling of existing infrastructure as well as maintenance are all part of that.
On the other hand, the infrastructure operators ensure a smooth and safe rail traffic. This includes the drafting and implementing of schedules, the management of the infrastructure as well as the monitoring of safety requirements for users and vehicles.
In combined transport, goods in standardised units are being transported from door to door. The standardisation ensures the compatibility with the transportation systems on rail and road.
Since the 50s of the 20th century, the use of ISO-containers has caused a worldwide revolution for global trade. Without these containers, globalisation would be unimaginable. Containers measuring a length of 20ft and 40ft are most common. Apart from standard-containers, called box-containers, several special models for specific types of goods, such as reefer containers, tank containers and containers for oversized cargo, are also in use.
In continental traffic within Europe, ISO-containers are not as efficiently deployable as in maritime transport due to the interior width being 2,35 metres and the container therefore not being able to be loaded with common euro pallets. Instead, pallet-width swap bodies are used. These swap bodies measure a length between 7,45 and 13,60 metres and are in use in a variety of models.
In line with the trend towards transport chains being as simple as possible, cranable semi-trailers have become widely used within the last few years, especially by large fleet operators. These distinguish themselves by increased flexibility of use but pose new challenges for terminals due to their large space requirement.
The handling of units at the terminal is an essential step for combined traffic. Here, modern technologies that continuously simplify the process are employed to hoist standardised units from one means of transport to another.
The transhipment – the changing of modes of transportation – is most commonly done by two different technologies that each have their respective, specific advantages.
In the transhipment via reach stacker, the unit is handled with a special loading vehicle that can move freely at the terminal. The advantage of this technology lies in a more flexible infrastructure design and therefore in its even more flexible use, better scalability, and proportionally low investment costs.
In the transhipment via rail mounted gantry cranes, rail bound cranes moved along tracks and transhipment areas are most commonly used. The advantages of this technology lie in an improved use of space and the subsequently improved utilisation of storage, as well as in a faster transhipment and lower operating costs.
Apart from standard solutions, alternative solutions and systems are developed time and again. These either concern transhipment of means of transport not necessarily designed for rail transport (e.g. so-called non-cranable trailers), or the need to avoid or to simplify expensive transhipment facilities.
Automation of implemented systems is an important aspect for future increase in efficiency of combined transport. While the automation is further advanced in the field of large seaports due to the large transport volume, the task of automation is far more difficult at inland terminals. The reason being the substantially larger variety of units (in a seaport there are “only” containers) but also the partially more complex processes. Nonetheless, automation is an important issue, especially to support equipment operators and to enhance efficiency of processes.
Nonetheless, automation is an important issue, especially to support equipment operators and to enhance efficiency of processes.
Logistics 4.0 have clear advantages for combined transport. IT-systems with a strong interface are the backdrop for a perfectly organised freight transport across all modes of transport, on each step of the way.
Logistics are unthinkable without information technology. A system such as combined transport, with a variety of partners involved, especially demands efficient IT-solutions (inhouse-systems) from every link to ensure the quality of all processes. On the other hand, communication among partners is essential as well. Links between partners in the system, as well as links to outside bodies, including official communication, play a central role.
In this area in particular, the need for improvement for combined transport is severe. Despite the existence of good solutions and examples of successful projects, it is in particular the lack of consistency of systems – especially on an international scale – that is problematic. Since there are no consistent systems, combined transport cannot fully exploit its potential for its customers.
The Combinet Network aims to contribute to the improvement in this area – through best-practice-examples of its members as well as specific proposals for solutions and improvements.
TRUDI is an IT system that digitalises the last mile in combined transport, consisting of a web- and a smartphone-app. It provides intuitive handling and guarantees comprehensive functionality. Therefore, TRUDI, as well as well-thought-out interfaces connect all players – from terminal to forwarding agent to freighter and trucker – on the last mile. Essential functions of the system are order management, including a digital order placement process for the drivers, slot booking at the terminal, and a reliable transmission of all necessary transport data via a secure connection. The basic features of TRUDI are even free of charge.
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