Global Intermodal
Asia-Europe rail freight booms - but problems hinder growth
10 October 2016

Three years ago, there were 72 freight train journeys between Asia and Europe and by the end of this year the total is expected to reach 1,200.

The value of cargo carried on these services was US$1.1 billion in 2013, but this year could reach US$19 billion.

However, while the numbers are impressive, there are problems that hinder growth:- 

        There are only four rail companies offering services,

         limited routing options and also

          only a few border terminals capable of handling re-loading between different rail gauges.

There also are different operational rules and legal obstacles in the various countries and a traffic imbalance in favour of west-bound freight.

Additional comment:

The air cargo industry should see the proliferation of rail services between China and Europe as added competition.

Speaking on the side lines of the Fiata World Congress in Dublin, Ivan Petrov, chief executive of forwarder TransXpress and Fiata senior vice president, said that the number of rail services between Asia and Europe had grown rapidly over recent years.

He said rail services offered lower prices than airfreight and faster transit times, of around two weeks, than the five week ocean journey.

He said the rail services provided more service options for forwarders and therefore air cargo should see them as extra competition.

Global Intermodal Freight

Intermodal freight transport 
involves the transportation of freight in an intermodal container or vehicle, using multiple modes of transportation (rail, ship, and truck), without any handling of the freight itself when changing modes. The method reduces cargo handling, and so improves security, reduces damage and loss, and allows freight to be transported faster. Reduced costs over road trucking is the key benefit for inter-continental use. This may be offset by reduced timings for road transport over shorter distances.
Intermodal transportation goes back to the 18th century and predates the railways. Some of the earliest containers were those used for shipping coal on the Bridgewater Canal England in the 1780s. Coal containers (called "loose boxes" or "tubs") were soon deployed on the early canals and railways and were used for road/rail transfers (road at the time meaning horse drawn vehicles).

Wooden coal containers used on railways go back to the 1830s on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway. In 1841 Isambard Kingdom Brunel introduced iron containers to move coal from the vale of Neath Swansea Docks . By the outbreak of the First World War the Great Eastern Railway was using wooden containers to trans-ship passenger luggage between trains and sailings via the port of Harwich

The early 1900s saw the first adoption of covered containers, primarily for the movement of furniture and intermodal freight between road and rail. A lack of standards limited the value of this service and this in turn drove standardisation. In the U.S. such containers, known as "lift vans", were in use from as early as 1911.

Containers, also known as intermodal containers or ISO containers because the dimensions have been defined by ISO, are the main type of equipment used in intermodal transport, particularly when one of the modes of transportation is by ship. Containers are 8-foot (2.4 m) wide by 8-foot-6-inch (2.59 m) or 9-foot-6-inch (2.90 m) high. Since introduction, there have been moves to adopt other heights, such as 10-foot-6-inch (3.20 m). The most common lengths are 20 feet (6.1 m), 40 feet (12 m), 45 feet (14 m), 48 feet (15 m) and 53 feet (16 m), although other lengths exist. The three common sizes are:

         one TEU - 20 feet (6.1 m) x 8-foot (2.4 m) x 8-foot-6-inch (2.59 m)

         two TEU - 40 feet (12 m) x 8-foot (2.4 m) x 8-foot-6-inch (2.59 m)

         highcube - 40 feet (12 m) x 8-foot (2.4 m) x 9-foot-6-inch (2.90 m).