Intermodal freight transport has become a policy priority at national and European levels in order to cope with problems of rising traffic congestion, environmental damage and associated economic losses. However, to improve the basis for defining policy measures, statistics are needed on the volume and structure of transport flows. Some data exist, but often only on a mode-by-mode basis. Moreover, the development of the European internal market has led to a decrease in data collection by customs authorities, and increasing competition and deregulation are making operators more reluctant to disclose information. Therefore, there is a need to identify effective methods for assembling sufficient data for policy purposes.
The aim of the INFREDAT project was to develop a consistent methodology for collecting intermodal freight transport data at a European level.
The project has provided an overview of data needs and data availability, defined an appropriate data collection methodology, and tested the methodology on some case studies of transport chains.
The data collection methodology describes how to define a complete database structure, and how to develop a model for the estimation of missing data. It also specifies the data requirements - the data records should include all relevant variables to follow consignments along the transport chain from the place of production to the place of consumption. The suggested record structure was tested on freight flows from Poland to the Netherlands. This pilot study showed that by combining data sources it is possible to analyse market shares, container flows and transhipments on different routes along a corridor.
The basic level of data collection was proposed to involve collation of published statistics, supplemented by periodic interviews and counts (which were evaluated to be less cost-effective). INFREDAT concluded that advanced information technologies such as tracking and tracing and Electronic Data Interchange could be used in the future to enhance the available data and/or to replace other more expensive collection methods. However, this is not practical at present.
There are a number of problems with direct data collection from operators. The most critical is the issue of data confidentiality. Also there are incompatibilities between information systems and data formats used by different companies, and market actors use a variety of concepts and definitions (rail wagons, lorries, loading units etc.) to count their traffic. INFREDAT concluded that the data collection process needs to be done by a neutral organisation, providing guarantees of confidentiality for specific variables, and offering mutual benefits in terms of data access. Much of the required data already exists, but simply is not available to external bodies for confidentiality reasons.
The main user group for intermodal freight data was identified as the national and European planning/policy levels. Many operators and shippers reported that they generally have the data they need for business purposes. INFREDAT concluded that the responsibility for the co-ordination of data collection and processing lies in the public sector, with the data quality and content focused on policy needs. Of course, the collection of freight data is just a part of the wider requirement for transport statistics. Therefore, the INFREDAT results will feed into the overall effort to develop a European Transport policy Information System (ETIS).
One of the major growth areas for long-distance freight transport is across the borders with Central and Eastern Europe. At present, customs data provide a good source of statistical information. However, this source could disappear as a result of EU enlargement, therefore special attention will have to be given by ETIS to the specific conditions of these transport markets and their statistical systems.