For whom is CT profitable?
The means of mass transportation (rail, inland waterway) is advantageous in comparison to long-distance truck transport because of the economic and ecological benefits that arise starting from a specific distance and a specific freight quantity. Thus, transportation not only becomes cheaper but also protects the environment and promotes shipping companies with their environment strategy.
The break-even point that shows Combined Transport as being more economic than the road freight transport cannot be defined with accuracy. The rule of thumb states: starting from 500 km distances, economic and ecologic advantages over truck transportation become evident.
However, in practice there are many examples of cases in which Combined Transport could be implemented at distances below 300 km. A general statement in regard to the profitability of CT cannot be made that easily. Every individual case must rather be evaluated and checked concerning intermodal solutions.
The following graphic by the EIA (Intermodal Transport in Europe 2005) exemplifies the different cost types involving the transportation of a 40-feet-container from Rotterdam to Frankfurt am Main. Despite the financial structure of the truck (right) consisting in large part of mere transportation costs, and the carrier rail (middle) and inland waterway vessel (left) indicating other costs in significant larger proportions, the total saving per container over road transport becomes obvious.
Conclusion: the intermodal transport chain depends on several factors. Quantity and distance only constitute two of those parameters. The efficiency must be examined in the individual case.
Source: Vrenken, H.; Macharis, C.; Wolter, P.: Intermodal Transport in Europe, Belgium, 2005