In the last decades, logistics and supply chain management have enabled extensive commodity flows all over the world and doing so, facilitated globalisation and the related enhancement of prosperity of many people and nations. The key to this has been the invention of containerised transport systems to ease and speed up transhipments and to generate economies of scale that eventually take cost out of supply chains. Despite (and partly because of) its success, supply chain management however faces challenges that threaten the status quo. Phenomena like the increased congestion of roads, the progressing climate change as well as ever demanding customers indicate that the current form of managing supply chains involves change in order to sustain the concept’s success in the future.
When it comes to transportation, the majority of current continental cargo is moved by unimodal road freight. Road freight possesses various features that make it attractive to shippers, especially its flexibility and accessibility. However, it also comes with characteristics that negatively impact economy and society, namely congestion, cost and emissions. To meet current and future challenges in supply chain management, a mode of transport becomes necessary that maintains the accessibility of road transport, and at the same time, reduces the negative aspects of unimodal road freight.
Intermodal transport provides these attributes as it uses various modes of transport in a chain and thus combines their individual strengths. From a conceptual perspective, this is the ideal replacement of unimodal transport that can furthermore serve as the basis for more advanced transport concepts like synchro modal transport. In reality however, intermodal transport has a rather small market share which is due to technical differences, individual political intentions and discrepancies in the (intermodal) transport industry. For intermodal transport to grow its market share and to become a viable and large scale option in global supply chain management, it requires a mix of shippers that rethink their supply chain strategies, transport providers that start proper collaboration and politicians that facilitate adequate legal framework conditions and provide a comprehensive vision.