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Intermodal transport: intermodality of goods transport

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Intermodal transport: intermodality of goods transport


To create a background guaranteeing optimum integration of the various transport modes in such a way as to offer continuous door-to-door services meeting customer needs and enabling the transport system to be used efficiently and profitably while promoting competition between the operators.

2) ACT

Commission communication of 29 May 1997 on intermodality and the intermodal carriage of goods within the European Union: a systems logic for the carriage of goods; strategies and activities intended to promote efficiency, services and sustainable development [COM(97) 243 final - Not published in the Official Journal].


The carriage of goods is tending towards the following: greater traffic intensity and a growing imbalance in the use of the various transport modes, road transport taking an increasing share of the market, while the railways' share is decreasing.

Intermodality, which has been defined by the Commission as "a characteristic of a transport system whereby at least two different modes are used in an integrated manner in order to complete a door-to-door transport sequence". The resultant global approach enables the available transport capacity to be used more rationally.

Intermodality is not intended to impose a particular mode option, but enables better use to be made of the railways, inland waterways and transport by sea, which individually cannot provide a door-to-door service. Intermodality has been added to the other transport policies conducted by the European Union, more particularly with a view to:

  • liberalising the transport market;
  • developing the trans-European networks (TEN);
  • promoting fair, efficient pricing;
  • bringing the information society to the transport industry.

As things now stand the use of intermodal goods transport faces a certain number of hurdles. A change of mode during a journey is more a change in system than a simple transhipment operation. The resultant friction costs have an impact on the competitiveness of intermodal transport. These friction costs result in:

  • higher prices;
  • longer journeys, more delays or less-reliable deadlines;
  • lower availability of quality services;
  • restrictions on the type of goods;
  • a greater risk of cargo damage;
  • more complex administrative procedures.

The inability to interconnect results in friction costs at the following levels:

  • infrastructure and transport equipment:

- the lack of consistent networks and interconnections (missing infrastructure sections, for example), forces transfer costs onto the operators;

- each mode within the current system is financed and managed separately. The responsibility for strengthening the links between those modes is thus difficult to establish;

- the inability to operate between modes, such as differing railway signalling systems, causes problems;

- the differing sizes of load-carrying unit between one mode and another are not harmonised;

  • operations and infrastructure use, and in particular that of terminals:

- certain services such as vehicle identification or productive information systems are unavailable in intermodal situations;

- the various transport modes give unequal performance and service quality;

- commercial information and practices are not always coordinated among the various modes;

- terminals cannot always adapt to train and ship timetables that are operated round the clock, while the working hours of drivers and crews are not always suited to intermodal operations;

- the timetables for the various modes are not harmonised;

  • services and regulations aimed at the modes:

- the absence of harmonised electronic communication systems among the various operators within the intermodal sequence prevents adequate scheduling;

- where cargoes are damaged the responsibility is difficult to establish since the various transport modes involved are governed by different international conventions;

- administrative bottlenecks impair the competitiveness of intermodal transport.

Transport modes must be integrated at these different levels.

Faced with this situation the Commission advocates a certain number of approaches towards promoting intermodal transport in Europe.

The aim of integrated infrastructures and means of transport is to have a network of infrastructures and transfer points that is consistent at European level in order to ensure that the various modes can interoperate and interconnect. In order to do this the Commission:

  • wishes to boost the intermodal configuration of the TEN;
  • supports the provision of logistical services that have added-value potential at the transfer points;
  • is guiding the process of harmonising the load-carrying units (dimensions and weights).

The measures put forward in order to improve operation or interoperability or interconnectability are as follows:

  • analysing the market in order to integrate transport and logistics more closely;
  • extending the PACT programme (new proposal, see Marco Polo programme);
  • creating trans-European rail-freight freeways offering open access, and incorporating these into an intermodal environment;
  • drawing up common pricing principles and establishing charges for the various modes of transport;
  • amending Regulation (EEC) No 1107/70 (new proposal COM (2000) 0007 final) on aid granted to combined transport, taking account of the need to improve the competitiveness of this sector;
  • defining the approaches towards granting state aid to intermodal transport;
  • applying the rules of competition to intermodal freight carriage;
  • coordinating the intermodal timetables by creating an electronic clearing house.

In order to achieve intermodality it is necessary to have services and regulations that are common to all modes. In order to achieve that, the Commission is encouraging the following:

  • providing the background for the development of intermodal real-time electronic data processing systems;
  • using communication structures such as satellites or the GSM network in order to monitor and locate loads within the various transport modes;
  • laying down appropriate standardisation criteria for the paperless transport procedures and documents, and more particularly customs procedures;
  • promoting a voluntary intermodal responsibility system.

A certain number of activities are also to be promoted with regard to:

  • research and innovation via the INTERACT research network and the framework programmes;
  • assessment and calibration of performance levels by preparing methodologies and setting up a European intermodal reference centre for goods transport;
  • cooperation among the Member States;
  • preparing concepts for intermodal statistics.

Finally, the Commission underscores the necessary coordination between intermodality and the activities carried out within the information society, regional development, inclusion of the SMBs and of the environment.


Amended proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on intermodal loading units [COM(2004) 361 - not published in the Official Journal]

Regulation (EC) No 1382/2003 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 July 2003 on the granting of Community financial assistance to improve the environmental performance of the freight transport system (Marco Polo Programme) [Official Journal L 196 of 02.08.2003]

Council Regulation (EC) No 2196/98 of 1 October 1998 concerning the granting of Community financial assistance for actions of an innovative nature to promote combined transport [Official Journal L 277 of 14.10.1998]

Council Directive 92/106/EEC of 7 December 1992 on the establishment of common rules for certain types of combined transport of goods between Member States [Official Journal L 368 of 17.12.1992]

Last updated: 23.02.2005