Logistics & Supply Chain

Combined Transport on the Rise despite Criticism

Results of the 10th BME logistics survey 2014

30.04.2015 -

Despite the damage inflicted upon Deutsche Bahn's image by the recent train drivers' strike, combined transport (CT) is becoming increasingly popular in the economy. Shipping and forwarding agents consider intermodal transport to be a cheap and environmentally friendly alternative to lorries, the major benefits being reliability and planning efficiency. Critics, on the other hand, complain about high prices and poor service, and claim that CT is too slow compared with transport by lorries alone.

These are the key results of the 10th logistics survey carried out by the Association of Materials Management, Purchasing and Logistics (BME), Frankfurt. In September, 202 buyers of logistics services and freight forwarders from industry and commerce were asked to assess the opportunities and risks of CT. The results of the survey were presented at the 49th BME Symposium Purchasing and Logistics in Berlin. Around 2,000 symposium participants discussed purchasing strategies and supply-chain management solutions to optimize their business processes.

Why CT?

Almost 60% of shipping agents and 85% of forwarding agents would like to expand their CT operations. Whereas just 36% of those surveyed in 2011 believed that intermodal CT would play an increasingly important role, this had grown to 58% in 2014. The reasons for this are increasing road congestion, an impending shortage of drivers and the poor environmental performance of lorries. Furthermore, rail has proved itself to be a competitive alternative in seaport-hinterland transport, with most ports now heavily reliant on this.

A third of respondents also consider the so-called 44-ton regulation to be a decisive factor. This allowed each vehicle to carry four metric tons more than usual during pre- and post-railroad haulage. Shipping agents also consider CT to be a cheap (78% of respondents) and environmentally friendly (64%) alternative to lorries.

However, survey participants who are already making intensive use of CT were also critical of it. Half of respondents still feel unsatisfied with the short-notice information about the status of trains and shipments (currently 49% compared with 52% in 2011). This is seen as a clear disadvantage compared with road transport, which offers reliable tracking and tracing across the entire region. Despite this, in 2014 the number of complaints regarding punctuality had been halved from 43% in 2011. Although they complain about CT's lack of flexibility, 70% of shipping agents use it. Three years ago this figure was already at 67%. Not much has changed in comparison to lorries here.

Why Not CT?

Not all companies use CT. They consistently point out that CT could be quicker. However, the latest survey has identified an improvement in this respect: In its latest survey, the BME identified that 44% complained about CT being too slow compared with 54% three years ago. Nevertheless, this consistently high number makes it clear that CT has still not managed to shed its image as a slow and sedate mode of transport, despite it not having to contend with traffic congestion and Sunday driving bans.

Almost 10% more than three years ago - 35% - state that they do not use CT because the prices are too high. This is the result of rail tariffs being raised almost every year while lorry prices generally remain constant. Of all respondents, 38% criticized the poor rail service compared with just 30% in 2011. Of these, 33% say the reason is that the nearest CT terminal is too far away. By way of comparison, this was just 24% in 2011. Given that neither of these can be objectively verified, since the number of both trains and terminals has significantly increased in recent years, it only serves to underline the poor reputation of the railway.

Of shipping agents in the survey, 29% confirmed that their potential transport distances are too short. By way of comparison, this was 38% three years ago. This is backed up by statistics, as the average transport distance is constantly on the rise. This in turn will benefit CT in particular. All of these figures illustrate that there is still a substantial need for rail transport.

Time For Policy Change

Another survey revealed that shipping agents (85%) and service providers (96%) agree that there should be ongoing political efforts to shift freight traffic toward rail/CT. This should be seen as a desire from those involved to receive more political support rather than renewed regulation of the transport market, which in the past did more to damage the railways than make use of them.

Around 63% of respondents stated "if the gross train weight of 44 t for CT were to rise, this would become an even more attractive option." This appears to be very important for some sectors; however, the permissible weights across all forms of transport are actually experiencing a slight decrease.

"In the medium-term, only trailers and swap bodies that can also be used in CT should be permitted in road transport," according to 53% of respondents. Many seem to favor this method, despite the fact that systems from the likes of Cargobeamer or Nikrasa already can lift onto the rails trailers that can't be lifted by cranes. However, lifting with cranes also means a loss of tonnage and is therefore criticized by service providers. There must be political intervention here to offset the loss of tonnage with new permissible weights.

Shipping Agents' Influence

More than half of shipping agents specify the mode of transport to be used by the service provider. More than a third leave it up to the service providers to decide, with only 12% demanding that CT be used. Of all respondents, 70% claim that they possess the necessary expertise for tenders that do not specify a means of transport. Just under 8% obtain external help, and 15% wish to expand their own knowledge of this through training and the recruitment of competent employees.

Increased Transport Prices Expected

Last but not least, BME examined the development of transport prices. If the estimations of respondents are correct, in 2015 the German economy will have to deal with higher carriage costs. More than half consider rising freight prices to be a real possibility, and this applies to CT as well. Of forwarding agents, 54% envisage a price increase, whereas this figure is 34% for buyers of logistics services. Nearly half of haulage companies and 41% of shipping agents predict higher prices for freight traffic by lorry. Nearly 30% of service providers and 42% of shipping agents believe that maritime transport will become more expensive. Only inland shipping seems to find itself in calm waters, with less than a quarter of respondents expecting higher prices.

A Bright Future

The current BME study shows that CT still has a great deal of potential and therefore a bright future. Shipping agents and service providers certainly recognize the negative aspects of this, however, almost all of them have a positive attitude toward CT. According to many survey participants, there would soon be a significant increase in the amount of long-haul transport by rail if the corresponding policies were adjusted in its favor. BME was surprised by the number of participants expecting higher prices across the board in 2015. It is clear that numerous market players envisage a favorable economic trend, with scarcer transport capacities leading to increased prices.


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