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What is Combined Transport?

By C. Daw
Updated May 23, 2024
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Combined transport is a form of multimodal transport, also called intermodal freight transport, which refers to the movement of cargo using two or more successive modes of transport across long distances, often traversing countries or even continents. The cargo is placed inside a vehicle, or a loading unit, and it stays there untouched throughout the duration of the transport, as it is the vehicle itself that is loaded and transferred to different conveyances. Combined transport is a kind of multimodal transport where only a small portion of the trip is on roadways, and the major part is carried out through sea travel or via railways and inland waterways. Often, the road travel portion corresponds to the initial and final legs of the journey, and these are typically very short compared to the rest of the trip.

A special kind of combined transport is accompanied combined transport. In this type of transport, someone accompanies the cargo, usually the driver of the vehicle where the cargo is kept. This person travels with the cargo throughout the journey. They stay and sleep on a train coach during railway legs of the trip, and on a cabin or the ship’s sleeping quarters during the sea travel portion. During times of road travel, the person usually stays inside the vehicle. This form of transport is a common practice in many parts of Europe.

The rail transport portion of a combined transport journey is done either through a car shuttle train or a rolling highway. Car shuttle trains run through rail tunnels, and they convey both accompanied combined transport vehicles and vehicles that carry human passengers only. A rolling highway, in contrast, only carries accompanied transport vehicles. In Europe, a rolling highway is also referred to as “RoLa,” from the German Rollende Landstrasse, which means “rolling country road.”

The water transport portion in combined transport is typically done on ferries big enough to carry large trucks. A popular ferry for combined transport is the “ro-ro” ferry, referring to a roll-on/roll-off ferry that can easily accommodate numerous large vehicles and trailers. This makes it easy to load and unload when waterways must be traveled across.

Combined transport is an economical and secure way to transport cargo over large distances. There is hardly any cargo damage or loss because the cargo is never taken out or handled through the entire journey. However, a disadvantage of this multimodal transport is the time and schedule limitations. The shipper is dependent on existing timetables of railway and ferry operators. Aside from this, the multiple times of loading and unloading may cause delays. Combined transport is therefore not very fast, but it is safe and economical.

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