Strategy for intermodal logistics

Development and implementation of a European strategy for intermodal logistics, enlarging combined traffic etc.

A European strategy for intermodal logistics with the aim of shifting as much traffic as possible from road to rail or waterway must certainly be one of the European Commission's core projects for the next few years. Today's environmental and climatic challenges can only be tackled if the growth in freight transport is largely confined to the railways and the share of the freight market accruing to rail starts to grow again.

Important preconditions, such as the fair distribution of the environmental and health costs arising from road transport and investment in the development of Trans-European Networks, which should be reprioritised to make the TEN projects instruments of European unification, have been defined above.

In a parallel effort, the complex processes of intermodal logistics – which, unlike uni- modal road transport, always involve at least one and usually two trans-shipment operations â€“ must be sufficiently improved to make them an attractive proposition for shippers operating on most of Europe's axial routes. Otherwise hardly any freight transport will be shifted off the roads.

If the railways' share of freight business cannot be perceptibly increased, the coming years will see a discussion on whether there is any economic justification for investing billions in the development of rail transport. For this reason alone, a European strategy for intermodal logistics is one of the conditions for the sustainable success of a policy designed to shift freight operations from road to rail and waterway.

The policy of altering the modal balance of freight traffic is not based on a pipe dream but illustrated in the case of Switzerland. Here the population voted in a referendum that all transit traffic be shifted from road to rail. The latest figures show that two thirds of transalpine traffic in Switzerland is now carried by rail, compared with only a quarter in Austria.

Three-pronged political strategy will lead to a further considerable shift from road to rail:


  • an embargo on the construction of new motorways;
  • the introduction of a mileage-based toll on heavy goods (LSVA), which costs four times as much as in Germany and twice as much as in Austria and applies to all HGVs on all roads in Switzerland;
  • the construction of new transalpine rail links with the 35-kilometre Lötschberg Tunnel, due to open in 2007, and the 57-kilometre Gotthard Base Tunnel as the key element, originally scheduled for 2012 and now expected to open in 2016 .


This will not only have implications in Switzerland but will also affect the access routes in France, Germany and Italy.

Besides the development of the rail and terminal infrastructure, the key to the success of an intermodal logistics strategy is more competition within Europe's rail system, standardisation of loading units and a high level of quality assurance.

More competition will lead to an expansion of the market in rail freight transport by lowering costs and by making more customised services available. New rail-freight companies have also breathed fresh life into cross-border freight transport by offering one-stop logistics services through subsidiaries in other countries.

The lack of standard loading units is sometimes a barrier to trans-shipment from freight vehicles to freight trains. For this reason, the Commission is proposing the introduction of standard European intermodal loading units (EILUs). In addition, semi-trailers must be constructed in such a way that they can be lifted by cranes, so that no problems arise in terminals when they have to be transferred from lorries to freight wagons and vice versa. Within the framework of the European intermodal logistics strategy, programmes such as Marco Polo II must be implemented and even extended where appropriate in order to shift more traffic to the railways.