What is meant by Combined Transport?

The term Combined Transport or Intermodal freight transport refers to a transport chain integrating different modes of carriers. Most of the passage is effected by rail, sea or domestic shipping thus keeping the forward and on-carriage on the road as short as possible. The transported goods are handled in standardised transport units (such as containers, swap-bodies, semi-trailers).

The terms combined, multimodal,  broken or intermodal transport are often used as synonyms referring in most cases to the meaning of multimodal transport.

When talking of combined transport distinction is to be made between accompanied and unaccompanied transport.

Accompanied combined transport (also called “piggyback” transport) refers to the part of the carriage which covers the transportation of semi-trailers by means of ships ( ro-ro method) or trains (rolling stock).
In railway or railroad traffic special low-bed or flat-bed wagons are used and drivers travel in couchette cars.

Unaccompanied combined traffic only deal with the handling of loading units without accompanying motor vehicles. These are containers, swap-bodies as well as semi-trailers.The transhipment is effected in terminals which are generally located in hubs, sea or domestic ports.
This part of unaccompanied goods accounts for the bigger part of the combined traffic.

A classical transport chain of the combined traffic is composed as follows:

  • Transport of the goods by HGVs/trucks to the terminal (“forward carriage”)
  • Transshipment in the source terminal
  • Transport by rail, sea or domestic shipping to the terminal of destination (“main carriage”)
  • Transshipment in the terminal of destination
  • Transport via truck/HGV to consignor (“on-carriage”)

Fields of application:

Combined transport is applied in order to optimize the use of the strengths of different kinds of carriers. Transport by rail, sea or domestic shipping for example is only profitable on long distances and when a strong performance of movement of goods is given. These modes of transport are very suitable for the combination of  road transport which offers flexibility in time and place and covers the distribution in small-sized areas (forward and on-carriage on the road).

Combined transport enjoys political promotion due to the chances offered by shifting the movement of goods from the road onto more environmentally friendly carriers such as trains or ships. It also helps to ease the situation on traffic routes (especially roads). Next to political and administrative reliefs (increase of maximum weight of HGVs of 44tons, exemptions from driving bans on  Sundays or holidays, motor vehicle tax privileges for vehicles used exclusively for forward and on-carriage) there are subsidies supporting the setting up of freight traffic centres (hubs) granted by the federal government and the EU (TEN subsidies)