Intermodal freight involves the movement of loads using a combination of transport modes – shipping, inland waterways, rail, road and air. This ideally involves the use of standardised shipping containers - of which there are approximately 17 million worldwide. The negative environmental impacts is increasingly a problem of road freight particularly in long-distance and international operations. The increased volumes of freight crossing the oceans has led to more widespread use containers. This combination of factors has evolved into a new model of freight distribution – where the aim is to limit use of road transport to the last, short link, with the long-distance shipment being carried by more environmentally friendly modes. The advantage of intermodal freight is that aeroplanes, ships, railways and canals can take the lion’s share of long-distance freight flows, whilst keeping the flexibility of road transport for local and regional distribution.
Road Network Operators can benefit from modal shift if this leads to a reduction in heavy freight movements and overloaded vehicles. This is because of reductions in slower moving vehicles contributing to congestion and reduced damage to road infrastructure. Complete removal of long distance road freight is not plausible – nevertheless the European Union in its White Paper on Transport (2011) has set a target of 50% of all road freight to be shifted to more sustainable modes.
ITS plays an important part in helping enabling this to happen. ITS is at the heart of developments in intermodal freight - whether through improved efficiency and throughput of cargo terminals, better tracking of different loads internationally throughout the intermodal transport chain or simply by improving the speed and ease of border crossings.