Inland Intermodal Freight Transport Modelling

Inland Intermodal Freight Transport Modelling


J S Carreira, B F Santos, University of Coimbra, PT; S Limbourg, University of Li├Ęge, BE


The aim of this paper is to discuss the location of intermodal terminals in Belgium and the assignment of cargo from and to the ports of Belgium to the inland intermodal freight network, through the use of an optimisation model.


The demand for goods has grown in the past decades, in such a way that today freight transport has become essential for the support of modern economies. The search for a competitive freight transport system, able to cope with the growing freight flows, has lead in the last decades to large investments in intermodal transport options, mainly in Europe and North America. Intermodal freight transport is the movement of goods done with the same loading unit (or vehicle) by successive modes of transport, without handling the goods themselves when changing the modes.

This paper focus on inland intermodal freight transport, in particular, on the rail?truck transport of cargo containers in Belgium. The work aims to discuss the strategic decision of locating the rail-truck intermodal terminals in Belgium, in which freight can change between modes, while tacking into account the containerized cargo flows between the seaports of Belgium (Antwerp, Zeebruge, Ghent, and Ostend), the main generation centres in Belgium, and the generation centres at the border regions of neighbouring countries. The competitiveness of rail-truck networks in comparison of truck-only is discussed, in particular, for a relative small country as Belgium.

The paper will be divided in three main parts. In the first part we will introduce the concept of intermodal freight transport and discuss the challenges for promoting inland intermodal freight transport in European Union and, in particular, in Belgium. A brief overview of intermodal freight modelling studies presented in the literature is also provided.

In the second part of the paper we will present the optimization model in which this study relies on. The main decision variables in this model are the location of intermodal terminals and the allocation of cargo between each OD pair to either rail-truck intermodal transport or truck-only transport. The objective of this strategic decision model is to reduce transport costs.

The third part will describe the application to the Belgium case study. The problem consists on defining the best location for intermodal terminals in Belgium in order to minimise transport costs. The transport network is composed by the set of rail and roads links of the Belgium transport network, a set of freight generation centres (a centre per each NUTS 3), the seaports of Belgium, and a set of potential sites in which the logistic terminals can be located. Real intermodal freight flow data available for Belgium ports was used to run this case study. The transport costs by mode (road and rail) were calculated according to some models presented in the literature. For the intermodal transport, transshipment costs of handling the cargo at the terminals were added. Three cost analysis scenarios were tested: considering only the operational costs (the perspective of the shippers); considering both the operational and the external costs, such as accidents or air pollution (the perspective of society and of EU freight policies for internalising the externalities); and considering that cost of intermodal freight transport is supported in part by the national government (the current policy of the Belgium government that provide subsidies to support part of rail transport costs and/or transshipment costs).

Preliminary results show that by just considering operational costs truck-only transport is the option chosen to do the majority of the freight journeys. Even when external costs are added to the objective function, few intermodal terminals are added to the network. Intermodal freight transport starts to become competitive when the costs of rail transport and/or transshipment decrease, by being subsidised by the government. Like this, the intermodal freight transport can become very competitive, even for short distances inside Belgium. It is also shown that almost all the terminals located cover the demand flows from the border regions of the neighbouring countries of Belgium. This offers some insight that, despite of the small area of the country, due to its location, Belgium is a promising candidate to promoting intermodal transport in the European perspective.


Association for European Transport