The most common way to move goods in Europe is by truck. Trucks are easy to use, flexible, fast, reliable and transparent (with the driver providing status information). They do, however, create problems for society such as CO2 emissions, congestion and traffic accidents. Intermodal transport based on waterborne and rail transport can reduce such problems, but it requires greater planning and information exchange since a range of different actors are involved. A better means of generating, accessing and handling information is the key to achieving the amount of control and flexibility needed to compete with the door-to-door transport by truck.
The goal of the INFOLOG project was to improve the efficiency of intermodal transport based on waterborne and rail transport, through improved communication/information possibilities. The specific objective was to achieve interoperability between information systems by proposing and demonstrating standardised solutions to integrate Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) and other methods of information exchange along intermodal transport chains.
The main outcome was the Transport Chain Management System (TCMS), a prototype software tool for information and communication management that has been developed, tested and evaluated at two demonstration sites, one in Greece and other in Sweden. Its modular structure makes it generic enough to be used in applications ranging from simple transport supervision to automatic message handling in complex logistics solutions. It can be adapted stepwise to handle more difficult transport chains with an increasing number of functions, gradually integrating the complete workflow of transport chain management from stock control and transport service quotations, tracking and tracing, to invoicing. The TCMS is designed to assist the transport manager in handling the variety of players, restrictions and options characterising intermodal transport solutions.
An important component of the TCMS is the Transport Reference Information Model (TRIM), at present probably the most comprehensive, publicly available data model for intermodal transport. TRIM defines the data needed to describe any intermodal freight transport system and how the data are to be structured.
A TCMS installation is viewed as a key factor in making intermodal door-to-door transport chains as easy to use as truck transport. The TCMS provides the control and the flexibility needed to manage the information exchanged in an intermodal transport chain. Its flexibility permits easy adaptation to the situation of the organisations involved and their technical standards. The possibility of integrating different technologies and information systems and the high degree of automation of the TCMS should be attractive to the market.
The main benefits will accrue to the organisations implementing the TCMS, but other organisations in the intermodal transport chain can also benefit from the TCMS, thanks to the reduction in manual handling of information. Together with automated control at the warehouse of incoming and outgoing goods, the TCMS installation is estimated to produce efficiency gains in the order of 30%. In addition to better customer service, the improved speed and quality of the information and the use of a common database helps the forwarder to save about 35% of the present manpower, due to the automated inventory and the resulting facilitation of communication with the customer. Comparing monetary savings with the costs, an installation of the TCMS should achieve payback within two to three years.