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Innovative rail intermodal services

European Union
Complete with results
Project Acronym
STRIA Roadmaps
Network and traffic management systems (NTM)
Transport mode
Multimodal icon
Transport sectors
Freight transport


Background & Policy context

Since the early 1970's the market share of rail freight operations has more than halved, reflecting the shift to road-based services. In parallel, intermodal transport has not achieved a significant breakthrough in Europe, remaining limited to long haul, high-capacity applications. The current deficiencies of rail and intermodal transport in terms of efficiency, flexibility and competitiveness hamper the desired market shifts in the short to medium haul sector. Further knowledge of market conditions that currently favour road-based freight transport is required, in order to devise measures with the potential to revitalise intermodal transport.


IRIS aimed to design and demonstrate viable intermodal transport services for the short and medium distance sector, based on the implementation of three major seaport/hinterland connections.

The main objectives of IRIS have been:

  • to demonstrate the commercial, operational and technical feasibility of enhanced intermodal freight transport, building on existing transport and business structures;
  • to derive from the demonstration sites some practical and transferable features for enhancing intermodal freight transport;
  • to set up three different regional demonstrators focusing on specific aspects of anticipated improvements in intermodal services, namely
  • the Belgian-German-Dutch (BEDENL) demonstrator targeting the organisational and operational feasibility of intermodal transport chains by combining innovative rail services from the Belgian and German hinterland to the port of Zeebrugge with new co-operation models between private and public operators,
  • the Italian (IT) demonstrator introducing advanced telematic solutions for electronic exchange of data between a seaport terminal (Genova) and hinterland intermodal terminals in Padova and Bologna,
  • the UK demonstrator linking two economic centres (i.e. Birmingham and London) to the seaport of Southampton by using a novel self-propelled train for standard container transport.


Parent Programmes
Institution Type
Public institution
Institution Name
European Commission; Directorate-General for Energy and Transport (DG TREN; formerly DG VII)
Type of funding
Public (EU)


IRIS has:

  • proved the feasibility of cross-border intermodal services with the BEDENL demonstrator between German cities and the Belgian seaport of Zeebrugge by integrating national rail companies and private enterprises, complementing high volume haulage on trunk lines;
  • demonstrated the benefits of telematics solutions with the Italian demonstrator by making pre- and end-haulage to and from seaport terminals more reliable and competitive, thereby improving market conditions for SME's in particular, which profit most from the enhanced information and data exchange;
  • confirmed the benefits of a new approach at the UK demonstration site, based on the TruckTrain technology to attract small and medium volume rail freight transport by lowering operational costs, combined with a better environmental performance of the new system compared to conventional rail haulage;
  • identified different national, technical and operational standards in rail transport as a persistent obstacle to cost-effective, attractive and competitive intermodal services, because start-up costs for new innovative concepts remain high;
  • found two success factors - based on the experience from the UK and BEDENL demonstration sites - for flexible short to medium distance intermodal transport, i.e.
    • the integration of regional forwarders ensuring door-to-door container services, and
    • the utilisation of existing technology - rather than investments in new sophisticated systems - to limit start-up costs for new service schemes.
  • confirmed that the liberalisation of the rail market in several countries, leading to easier access for private feeders, forwarders, integrators and service providers, is a key step to improve the overall efficiency and competitiveness of the railway system.

Policy implications

Cross-border issues still form the dominating barriers to rail and intermodal transport, contributing to high costs and time losses. Therefore technical, operational and commercial barriers need to be tackled in order to lower costs, improve flexibility and reliability. These actions are seen as pre-conditions to the market success of intermodal services in the short to medium haul sector. The promotion of advanced information and communications technology will further help to take market share from truck services. Similar, new rail systems such as the TruckTrain technology will help to gain access to short distance transport currently fully covered by road vehicles.


Lead Organisation
EU Contribution
Partner Organisations
EU Contribution


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