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Intermodal transport

Intermodal transport

Intermodal transport involves the transportation of goods using at least one mode of transportation. The basic principle of this type of translocation is the use of only one form of loading, such as a container or interchangeable body, for the entire duration of the transport. This obliges the need to draw up only one contract of carriage, with only one carrier responsible for transporting the goods. In intermodal transport, there is no reloading process when the type of carriage changes. We can divide intermodal transport according to several classifications such as range, the variant of the unit used for transport, the nature of the carrier, or the specification of the transport solutions used. With regard to range, we can distinguish between several types of transport - domestic, international, continental and intercontinental. Goods can be transported by trailers, containers, swap bodies, trucks and specialized tanks. Carriage of goods can be direct, in which case the operator is the carrier himself. In indirect transport, the main operator is the auxiliary carrier. Transport can be carried out on many transport planes, for example, rail-road, road-sea, and road-air transport. Intermodal transportation is attracting increasing interest. The growing interest is best illustrated by the fact that in Poland, 583,000 TEUs ( unit of measurement equivalent to capacity) were transported in 2010, with 2.6 million TEUs in 2020.

Benefits of using intermodal transport

The main advantage of using intermodal transport is the reduction in environmental pollution, as CO2 emissions are reduced. This is achieved by planning the shortest possible route. The use of different models for transporting goods in the supply chain, turn into a benefit, and this results in a balanced shipment of goods. Reduction in the generation of pollution can turn into a reduction in the cost of the entire transportation process, and this can consequently allow for an increase in the quality of services provided. The use of various modes of transport, not only allows the use of a full range of transport options, but causes the transport to be carried out quickly and on time. A very important issue is the existence of a fairly dense network of railroads. The multiplied frequency of loading in a dense transport network makes it possible to perfectly utilize the abundance of the transport branch. Proper planning of transport also contributes to reducing the risk of damage to goods in shipping.

Intermodal transport in Europe

In Europe, the most popular mode of transport is that by road. Road transport in the European Union accounts for 76%, with much of it carried out at distances of less than 300 km. The ratio is as high as 48.15%. Participation of rail transport in the total volume is 18%. Eurostat reports that the contribution of intermodal rail transport in various European countries is varied. Interestingly, in Greece this type of transport is the most popular, with a rate of 73%. The rest of the list is occupied by Spain, Ireland and Portugal. In Poland, intermodal transport by rail is not so popular, as it amounts to 10% of the total volume. The reality of intermodal transport has been changing over the past few years. In 2021, operators operating in the sphere of intermodal transport and who are members of the International Union of Combined Road-Rail Transport carried out work defined at 100.23 billion tonne-kilometer. This is an extraordinary result. The same operators transported 5.08 million units in 2021. In terms of TEUs, that's a value of 10.16 million, and it's also the world's best result. The volume of intermodal transport in Europe last year increased by 10.94% (converting in ton-miles). In terms of TEUs, it increased by 8.15%. The situation in the intermodal transport market is closely related to the pandemic. At that time, the expenditures incurred by consumers increased, and this translated into an enlarged demand for the shipment of products by intermodal methods. The large demand at the same time had to compete with disrupted supply flows, increased traffic at terminals and ports, and even stagnant factory operations.

Intermodal transport in Poland

In Poland, 39 terminals for intermodal transport were active in 2021. Four of them handled sea-rail and sea-road shipments. The rest were for transport by rail and road. Compared to 2020, the number increased by 5 units. Interestingly, only three provinces do not have a single terminal. They are Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Opolskie and Świętokrzyskie provinces. With regard to the infrastructure of marine terminals, it can be said that in 2021 the total length of the transshipment wharf was 5.5 kilometers. More than 85% of them operated in the lo-lo system. The total storage area for maritime intermodal transport was 183 hectares. Slightly more than 80% of this area was designated for containerized units. Parking and maneuvering space was 6.1 hectares.  The capacity of storage areas at marine terminals oscillated at 100,700 TEUs. The terminals in question had a total of 17 km of normal-gauge railroad tracks at their disposal. Almost 71% was used for direct loading and unloading. The average number of railcars that went into the size of a yard, which were handled at the terminal at the same time, was 71 units. In land terminal infrastructure, the situation in 2021 was as follows. The area for maneuvering and parking was 24.9 hectares, and the total storage area was 96.5 hectares. As for the storage capacity, it was 133,400 TEUs in 2021. Inland terminals for intermodal transport had 83.2 kilometers of track in the normal-gauge railroad, and the average length of a depot was 31 wagons. In 2021, the total handling capacity at maritime and land intermodal terminals settled at 8.1 million TEUs. For marine terminals, the TEU ratio was 4.9 million, and for land terminals it was 3.2 million. In 2021, a total of 82.1 tons of goods were handled at intermodal transport terminals. This is an increment of 5.3% year-on-year. In the cited year, 55% in intermodal transport, were cargoes described as unknown. A generous percentage was mixed goods, that is, a conglomerate of all sorts of goods that are relocated together. Empty packages accounted for just 8.5% of the total. Chemicals, plastics or nuclear fuels were 5.1%. Food products, beverages and tobacco advanced by as much as 6.7% to 4.8%. Intermodal trucking transported 26 million tons of cargo in 2021. The largest number of cargoes in Poland, in 2021, were transported from Lodz, Pomeranian and Silesian provinces. A decrease was found in the Podkarpackie, Podlaskie and Zachodniopomorskie provinces. All other provinces recorded an increase in terms of the number of cargoes transported compared to the period a year ago.


Intermodal transportation is generating increasing interest and attracting a growing number of participants who are included in the supply chain. Logistics companies have recognized the benefits of using this type of transportation in terms of potential growth, as well as gaining an advantage in the market. The pandemic has undoubtedly translated into the dynamism of expanding the intermodal transport market. Reduced movements were recorded in early 2020, although the pandemic situation highlighted the strengths of intermodal transport. The automation process is also already an important issue, with it depending on the evaluation of the potentiality of the TEU factor on an annual basis. This is where the need to hire personnel with appropriate skills in the sphere of information systems comes to mind.

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