The European Green Deal calls for a substantial part of the 75% of inland freight carried today by road to shift to rail and inland waterways. This means in practice using intermodal transport, where the longest part of the journey is run on railways or on water, while only the first and last mile is carried on the road. This requires efficient transhipment facilities and technologies that make shifting loading units between the modes fast and cost-efficient.

In its ongoing effort to revamp EU existing framework of intermodal transport policy, the European Commission has published a report that compares the performance of different intermodal transhipment technologies in combination with various loading units. The study sheds light on which combinations are most used, how cost- and time efficient and available they are and what is their future potential. The study also analyses the available capacity and limitations of terminals on the TEN-T network.

The study concludes that in general, the standard vertical transhipment technologies (gantry crane/reach stacker) in combination with containers become competitive with road-only transport at distances of around 1000km. At the same time, when looking through the lens of environmental performance, already at 600km most intermodal transport chains would have lower external costs than road-only transport.

The container is the most economical loading unit and vertical craning is more efficient than horizontal transhipment, including for semi-trailers, while some innovative technologies that can simultaneously lift several loadings units can reduce handling times in terminals.

The majority (60-80%) of transhipment capacity in the EU is provided by vertical transhipment technologies, followed by RoRo ships (20-35%). Only around 2% of transhipment capacity is today in other technologies. Importantly, by 2030, the transhipment capacity in the EU will not be sufficient to meet the demand of planned network capacity expansion. Therefore, the availability of terminals across the Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) network requires further investments and careful planning, considering that compatible transhipment solutions need to be available in both ends of a rail/waterborne leg. Furthermore, on many parts of the TEN-T network, structural upgrades are necessary to allow transporting semitrailers on train. Most upgrades are necessary in Spain, France and Italy, which together amount to 75% of such sections.

The required investment for the removal of these network limitations (loading gauge for semi-trailers, terminals with specific technology) is assessed being about 7.7 billion euros according to the medium range scenario.

The study findings can be of useful guidance for Member States in their relentless efforts to completing the TEN-T core network by 2030, and respectively 2050 for the comprehensive network as well for CEF projects and other investors into terminals.

For the terminal and transport operators who consider investments or new operations, the Annex to the study includes useful fact sheets with details for each transhipment technology-loading unit combination.

Source: European Commission