The CT market

Combined Transport can be divided into two important areas of the market. On the one hand, CT plays an important role in seaport hinterland-traffic. This kind of traffic is oriented towards the most important seaports and focuses mainly on the north-south-axis of Europe. It services the seaport hinterland in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, and the Mediterranean ports. The seaports of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea are of great importance in the hinterland traffic on the north-south-axis and operate south-east Europe and southern Europe. Hinterland traffic takes an important part in the regional distribution in waterside flows of goods. With regard to overseas traffic the Combined Transport (CT) is considered the dominant mode of transportation concerning container traffic with general cargo. Those quantities constitute approx. 2/3 of the CT market.

The second important market is aimed at the continental traffic. The freight is transshipped within one continent and not overseas. In Europe the goods are transported in direction north-south and east-west. The main leg is primarily handled by rail, but in general different modes of transportation are combined. A small part is processed by inland waterway.

Seaport Hinterland Traffic

A special characteristic of the two market segments is their independence from each other. This fact can be traced back to the different ways of functioning of the continental CT and the seaport hinterland traffic. An important criterion is the charge carriers, i.e. the carriers that transport freight. In maritime traffic, which is characterized mainly by intercontinental transport, around 96 % of the container charge is processed with the standardized ISO-containers.[1]


The container plays a crucial role also in relation to the total turnover of freight. That is, the container handling in the most important German seaports Bremen/Bremerhaven (75%) and Hamburg (65%) constitutes a majoritarian proportion of the total turnover.[2]

The container is a product of the United States of America and is correspondingly not designed for the European logistics system, which is based on standardized euro-palettes. The European palettes measure 0,8 m x 1,20 m in the base area, as a result, transportation vehicles must offer an inside width of 2,44 m – 2,45 m. The ISO-container with an inside width of 2,35 m is too small by a few centimeters and therefore not apt for optimal loading with European palettes. However, European loading units use the same components within the transport and transshipment system. By this means friction losses can be decreased.

(Source: own)

While the intercontinental trade with subsequent hinterland traffic in CT is processed mainly with ISO-containers, in the continental CT within Europe many different techniques with pallet-wide loading units have taken root.

Continental Traffic

One of the main characteristics of the continental traffic is the unaccompanied combined transport (UCT). For reaching a competitive market position in comparison with the road haulage, more flexibility apart from the rail was necessary. Trucks, rail wagons, and loading units were built in a way that transshipment between both charge carriers was possible in order to offer a service also to clients without direct rail connection. Based on that feature the designation swap body arose. Compared to the ISO-containers, the swap body shows some differences that mainly concern craneability, size and storage. The most significant distinction consists in the optimal alignment with the Euro-palettes. By being able to transport palettes side by side, the competitiveness over pure road traffic could be increased. Concerning the continental traffic, the swap body has become the most important loading unit and constitutes 2/3 of the intermodal traffic volume.[3] Many transport chains in CT handle the swap bodies through a gateway system. In the international traffic many trains connect two major terminals. The forwarding takes place not by road, but by so-called “antenna trains”.Kettendarstellung(Source: own)

For a more detailed market differentiation in continental traffic, a transport possibility for semi-trailer was developed, parallel to the swap body. On the European market, pocket wagons that can hold the axle unit of the semi-trailer are used. A problem can be underpasses and tunnels that have to be sufficiently high to allow transportation. Semi-trailers must be built with increased stability since they are loaded onto pocket wagons by crane.

Transport of a craneable semi-trailer on a pocket wagon (source:

The majority of the European swap bodies and semi-trailers to date are still not stackable. Consequently, a transport in cell-guide container ships is not possible. On European sea courses in direction Scandinavia or Great Britain roll-on/roll-off traffic is often employed. The vessel practically works as a parking space for complete truck trains, semi-trailers with motor tractor and single swap bodies on chassis. This type of Combined Transport forms part of the so-called accompanied transport.

Further, the “Rolling Road” (RoLa) belongs to the accompanied CT road / rail. In this context, a train serves as a passable loading road where a truck drives onto and is secured on it. A standard RoLa-train handles 20 to 27 road trains or semi-trailers and can be loaded within 30 minutes. Normal RoLa services include a couchette car for the drivers’ rest periods. Parallel to the transport of semi-trailers, tunnels pose a problem in RoLa transport, too. Apart from this problem, there are commercial obstacles that prevent an adequate RoLa service on the market. The inconvenient relation between payload and total weight compared to a block train with containers results in increased financial expenditure in RoLa transportation. The capacity of up to 27 semi-trailers corresponds to approximately 50 containers of the 20-foot category. An unaccompanied train in contrast can forward up to 70 units that size. A RoLa-train can only carry 2/3 in relation to a train shipping container loading units. As a result, RoLa is barely competitive in terms of price. However, especially in transalpine traffic some successful RoLa transports are found. It needs to be mentioned that the success strongly depends on financial aids and political objectives of state actors. A motive for the intentional shift to RoLa can be the relief of traffic bottlenecks, as is the case in the alpine region.

Rolling Road in transalpine traffic (source:

Actors in CT

For a CT market to function, many actors are involved and are responsible for a smooth transport process. The Service of the intermodal traffic consists independently of the type of transport elements, such as pre-haulage, transshipment, main run and end-haulage. The actors in the CT attend to individual parts of the process, p. e. the transshipment through terminal operators or the forwarding of a complete door-to-door transport.

Consignors: A consignor is the owner of the freight being transshipped. Normally, it is the same person who commissions the regular shipping company or a ship owner for the carrying out of the transport.

Shipping companies: The organized shipping companies engage themselves with the organization and the implementation of transports. They use their own or external ships and offer different services. Firstly, the door-to-door transport (carrier’s haulage), where the shipping company organizes not only the main run on the waterway, but also the pre- and end-haulage to and from the transshipment node. This is contrasted with the merchant’s haulage, where the pre- and end-haulage is handled by the loader or the forwarder only.

Port operators: Port operators can be globally-operating companies that run ports and container terminals in different countries, or they can be SME, that are owners of only one sea or inland port. Port operators are the gateway to hinterland traffic. Here, the freight to transport is transshipped and distributed onto the individual means of transport. The port operators can also be operators who organize the main run in rail transport, inland waterway or short-sea-traffic through subsidiaries.

Terminal operators: terminals can be run either by railway companies or their subsidiaries or by private firms. At transshipment points to high sea and inland waterway vessel usually port companies or their subsidiaries function as terminal operators. Generally, terminal operators among transshipment also offer further services, such as customs clearance or storage of goods.

Shipping agencies: Shipping agencies are service providers in charge of freight sending. They offer transportation services by rail, truck, airplane and sea- or inland waterway vessel. A shipping agent also involves services from other providers, such as shipping lines in waterside traffic. A modern shipping agency alongside the transport also deals with transshipment, storage and additional logistics services.

Freight carrier: In contrast to the shipping agent, who generally only organizes transports and refers to a freight carrier for the carrying out, a freight carrier is the company that provides the actual means of transport, independently of which type is being used. According to the means of transport used, the freight carrier is referred to by different designations. In sea cargo it is “shipper“, in airfreight it is “carrier“. In road transportation the freight carrier normally functions as subcontractor of the shipping agencies.

Multimodal freight carriers (combi-operators): The access for clients to multimodal traffic is generally provided by combi-operators that offer transport services to the most important trading centers in Europe. The main business areas that combi-operators work in are maritime hinterland traffic and continental unaccompanied transport. The main means of transport is the railway. The task of a combi-operator consists in finding the best connection for the client’s loading units, and if necessary, in bundling individual kinds of transport in order to obtain more convenient conditions with the railway companies. The business models of the individual operators are very different and cover the field of door-to-door transport (takeover and organization of the pre-, main-, and end-haulage) up to the operating of single steps, like the main haulage.

Other important actors in the Combined Transport are State Institutions, associations and interest groups. From a State perspective, the influence mainly consists in a strategic alignment for the development of a high-performing, future-oriented and sustainable traffic infrastructure where intermodal traffic plays an important role concerning positive ecological and social effects. At a regional level this means support with the settling of a CT adequate infrastructure, infrastructure manager and port companies. Further, national and European agencies affect directly or indirectly (through funding measures) the structure of the CT.

The numerous associations, societies and interest group constitute a forum to ensure the business interests of the CT sector. They serve as experts and direct contact persons and often appear as consultants in representation of government bodies. Concurrently they act as catalysts for stimulating necessary initiatives of promoting the CT.

[1] Seidelmann, Christoph; 40 Jahre Kombinierter Verkehr Straße-Schiene in Europa. Vom Huckepackverkehr zum Intermodalen Transportsystem; Frankfurt am Main; 2010; S.17.
[2]Statistisches Bundesamt; Verkehr – Verkehr im Überblick 2010, Fachserie8 Reihe 2 Kap. 1.3.1 und 1.4, Wiesbaden, April 2011; abgerufen am 18. Feb. 2014.
[3] Seidelmann, Christoph; 40 Jahre Kombinierter Verkehr Straße-Schiene in Europa. Vom Huckepackverkehr zum Intermodalen Transportsystem; Frankfurt am Main; 2010; S.21.

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