“Every year 200,000 additional truck loads (equating to a 150 Million miles), are driven unnecessarily to move goods across land in the UK.” – Source: imeche.org
The advantages of rail freight for many flows are well established, and include reductions of 60-70% in carbon dioxide emissions, reductions in congestion, as well as better safety and security. Yet, this doesn’t just apply to bulk flows of materials, and there is still enormous potential for increased use of rail in the transportation of general goods, even in less than trainload quantities.
In 2015, domestic UK intermodal traffic by rail was around 1.67 billion net tonne kilometres. Across Europe, with the longer distances involved, there is even more potential for growing intermodal freight.
High-speed routes such as HS2 in the United Kingdom, or the TGV network in France, will allow for increased freight traffic on ‘classic’ routes at much higher speeds than has been usual for freight and over longer distances.
But while large users, can support regular full trainloads and their associated road movements on long term contracts, it is difficult for shippers with smaller, less regular requirements to use rail. This is because customers lack facilities for handling containers, partly because of excessive cost in hiring road haulage to and from rail depots on an occasional basis, but largely because of the difficulty of finding capacity on a casual or last-minute basis for the various stages of the journey.
There is effectively no joined-up ‘spot’ market for intermodal freight, which is typically seen as complex and inflexible. So, there is a clear case for further developing intelligent freight matching solutions, to link rail freight capacity, shipper needs, road carriers to and from railheads, and perhaps railhead transfer capacity as well.
This is not technically difficult, if the will is there…
The key is for systems that allow train operators to offer, and shippers to find, spare capacity. And for shippers to be able to book the appropriate road legs as part of the same process so that the total journey cost and/or time can be optimised.
This seems an obvious extension of the sorts of intelligent, automated freight matching systems being pioneered by TGMatrix, and could make road/rail intermodal freight a reality far sooner than you may think…
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