Definitions and differences between combined and intermodal transport

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Intermodal transport is a type of goods transfer made by different modes of transport using the same “container” whether it is a container, swap body or semi-trailer, without a break in load.

Intermodal transport complements the concept of multimodal transport, in which freight is transported by at least two different modes of transport, and in turn links to the definition of combined transport.

The meaning of combined transport: transfer of goods by rail or ship for long distances. Goods are entrusted to the road carrier only for the first few operations, those referred to as “first and last mile” operations.

Definition of combined transport

Combined transport is therefore a subset of intermodal transport, and to be understood as such, freight must therefore be transported by rail, waterway or sea, limiting the use of road haulage means as much as possible.

In Italy, combined transport regulations refer to the Ministerial Decree of Feb. 15, 2001, which implements EU Directive No. 92/106/EEC of December 7, 1992.

“Combined” transport is defined in the decree when the length of the journey by rail, waterway or pare is more than 100 km and the beginning and ending part of the road journey, does not exceed 150 km as the crow flies from the rail terminal or seaport of embarkation or disembarkation.

In our country, due to the geographical conformation of the territory, when we talk about combined transport, we refer to the combination of road and rail transport.

The advantages of combined transport

Combined transport has advantages that affect several aspects of transportation, as first efficiency, in fact, the use of intermodal transport units (ITUs) avoids cargo breakage and the difficulties of transferring from one carrier to another. In this way, the road fleet is not engaged on long trips but only on shorter and more frequent ones.

Another advantage is economy of scale; in fact, freight trains in Europe are 550 to 750 meters long and can carry up to 84 TEUs (containers about 6 meters long), saving on the cost of transporting a single cargo unit.

In addition, logistics planning for combined transport service is based on the negotiation of rail rates agreed upon between principal and supplier for a specific period of time, thus avoiding sudden cost spikes.

The use of dedicated intermodal transport units provides greater security by minimizing the risk of theft or damage to goods, as the cargo is kept intact throughout the journey.

Finally, another important benefit is sustainability, as combined transport with rail carrier, allows to reduce the emissions that trucking vehicles would emit over long distances.

The limits of intermodal combined transport

Intermodal-combined transport also has limitations, the first being related to the relevance of volumes and distance, as this type of transport is suitable for large volumes over medium to long distances, while for short distances or transport of a few units, road mode is preferred.

Combined transport requires organizational and logistical skills so as to coordinate each operation, but it may happen that the client prefers maximum flexibility in transport, opting for road transport.

In addition, the effectiveness of combined intermodal solutions also requires the presence of intermodal terminals and interports and availability of rail services as departure and destination points for the customer, and this is not always possible or convenient, depending on the geographic area.

Finally, in terms of timing, the road transport mode, in some cases, over medium distances, offer shorter transit times. The difference can be reduced in the case of daily or multi-day rail connections that can offer load service every 8,12 and 24 hours. to the all-road alternative.

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