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Intermodal transports

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Background & Policy context

Intermodal and combined transport is often used synonymously today. The concept of combined transport has been around much longer and referred to as transportation where railway and a truck are being combined.

Nowadays a combined transport often means that the goods either go by rail, inland waterways or sea and by road, or between two transport modes where trucks are not included. The EU’s so-called combi directive defines both in the same way and one of the EU Commission’s proposal to amend this directive is hat EU should be considered to replace the concept of combined transport with intermodal transport.


The objective of the project is to map the situation and potential problems in the field of intermodal transport in Sweden.


An intermodal transport precedes by a transportation decision, and this decision is often linked to a specific train path (tågläge in Swedish). If there is shortage of capacity on the track, the goods may have difficulties to be transported by train. This could potentially mean that some (rail) business / transports will not take place and the goods go by road instead. Capacity allocation is therefore linked to the transfer of freight from road to rail. One way to solve the capacity issue would be to not have operator-bound train paths, they could be transferable instead. Auction of train paths may also solve this problem.

The intermodal terminals are a key ingredient for the transport, as well as terminal technology in them. There are quite a few (around 27) intermodal terminals in Sweden and many of these have excess capacity, especially in the hinterland. Then there are some with good localization, often in urban areas, which work under capacity.

The problem with a multitude of terminals is that relations are becoming fewer and trains may not go fully loaded, which is sub-optimal. An effective concept that is gaining ground is the dry port concept. A dry port is an intermodal terminal located in the hinterland and is connected with the port(s) with a fixed rail connection (also called rail shuttle or hamnpendel in Swedish). T

The advantage of a dry port is that the port gets a high capacity connection to the hinterland, the port thus moves closer to the market and transport buyers get closer to the harbour. Several of the intermodal terminals in Sweden is very close to the dry port definition. The statistics of intermodal transport is inadequate. One problem is that the information for containers transported by rail or boat does not contain which of the containers that are later transported by truck, rail station or from the port of loading or unloading.

Another problem is that information on the quantities of freight and goods available in the official statistics only exists in relation to each traffic mode and not to the entire transport of the goods. This also means that goods can be counted multiple times if an intermodal chain exists. Given the problems described it looks like the intermodal transport increased slightly when compared to trucks until 2012. Then Sweden’s Official Statics changed estimation method for the truck statistics and thus makes it difficult to compare with older statistic. Intermodal hinterland transport is on a very low level, in 2012 the proportion was 2.4 per cent, while the share of international transport is much higher, in 2012 the proportion was 85 percent. Comparing the intermodal transport of freight transported with the total rail transport, the percentage is much higher. The level peaked in 2009 with 18 per cent for both international and inland transport, for 2014 it was 15 percent. (The proportion of international and inland transportation is very similar to rail transport both in terms of amount of goods carried and transport work.)



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