Advantages of multimodal transport

How and why do we establish and implement a multimodal transport plan?

When multimodal transport goes hand-in-hand with environmental friendliness

Facilitating transactions worldwide while limiting your greenhouse gas emissions; this is made possible through multimodal transport.

Combining at least two modes of transport (rail, road, inland waterways or ocean transport, etc.), from the initial loading of the production units up to delivery, enables goods to be transported over long distances and to increase local site deliveries to the end customer.

In response to the environmental and economic challenges, this mode of transport contributes to improving your supply chain with respect to your CSR strategy.

What is multimodal transport?


Multimodal transport consists firstly in combining different modes of transport. This may take various forms, which may or may not entail cross-docking.


Carriage with or without cross-docking


Let us take the example of transferring between rail and road transport. It is, of course, possible to choose a conventional railroad car and truck. An associated cross-docking platform would then be required, for loading the goods into the railroad car. Cross-docking is to be expected.


Regardless, since the invention of transport containers in the 1960s, once the goods have been loaded inside them, it has always been possible to transfer the same container from boat to train, from train to truck or from truck to boat, etc. without needing to unload its contents.


A container (maritime shipping) or a swap-body (land transport) would be installed onto a road chassis, then lifted by crane and placed onto a railroad car. It is then later transferred onto another road chassis for delivery by truck. In this scenario, there is no cross-docking.


A third option has also been gaining in popularity in recent years: that of the rolling highway, which consists in carrying a semi-trailer on a railroad car. Also known as piggybacking, this remains a less-common practice.

A unique rail freight services offer

A key transport mode in Europe


In Europe, goods are transported by railroad approximately 18% of the time. Meanwhile, in France, this mode of transport is only opted for in 9% of cases, with road transportation being much more common.

This is explained in particular by the prioritization of passenger rail over cargo rail, across a network where (almost) all routes pass through the capital, Paris.


In France, there has been a tangible desire to revitalize and bring this type of transport to the fore. The Government intends to catch up and bring the proportion of goods transported by rail up to 18% by 2030, thus creating a buoyant market in France and elsewhere.

It should also be noted that since the Covid-19 crisis, many shipping companies have redirected their strategies, and are demonstrating a large interest in greener solutions. Among these, multimodal transportation is emerging as the leader in terms of volume.


More responsible and more economical: does the multimodal strategy tick all of the boxes?


Multimodal transport seems to be becoming the solution of choice, meeting both environmental and logistical requirements. We can have it all, at an advantageous cost.


When multimodal transport goes hand-in-hand with environmental friendliness


As stakeholders in the logistics industry, more and more industry actors want to make their transport plans more responsible, to meet the challenges of ecological change and the expectations of their customers in this area.


Multimodal transport is an efficient alternative to all-road transport, with the aim of reducing its infamous carbon footprint. By encouraging the use of transport modes that are more responsible, this contributes to the reduction of CO2 emissions by the logistics sector.


The Groupement National des Transports Combinés (GNTC) - French national combined transport group - thus estimates that in France, it will reduce the number of trucks on the roads by one million, which also equates to a reduction of one million tons of CO2 being produced.

The use of multimodal transport allows for a 70-80% reduction in Greenhouse Gas emissions compared to an equivalent road transport operation.

In addition to this, there is advantageous European legislation. With road transport alone, the maximum cargo weight is limited to 40 tons. With the rail/road combination, this figure increases to 42 or even 44 tons, which means that transport capacity can be increased. This solution is not only reducing carbon emissions , as it indirectly limits the number of vehicles required, but is also more economical!



Increase transport capacity and optimize costs in a European market with few resources


The road transport market is experiencing a certain level of challenge in Europe. It is facing a shortage of truck drivers: the number of retiring drivers is outstripping the number of new hires.


How can multimodal transport help and provide a solution? The answer is very simple: by transporting 40 swap-bodies on a single train, logistics professionals will only require one driver during the trip, compared to 40 truck drivers. The latter can then concentrate their work within their local area, handling the first and last mile steps, for which they remain essential, while increasing their productivity.


The recruitment challenges, incidentally, go hand-in-hand with the increased requirements of shipping company customers. It is a "lean" market, in which service provision quality has become a substantial challenge: we must be able to provide excellent quality while meeting very short deadlines. The result: some transport companies are occasionally forced to refuse requests, as they are not able to honor them and process the volumes on time.

Today, transport companies are increasingly inclined to promote the transport company's volume processing capability that it has committed to, rather than very short lead times.


In this context, solutions that combine rail and roads offer additional capacity. GEODIS, for example, decided to operate its own trains to offer a reliable service to its customers in terms of volumes and operational control. This allowed for the creation of new lines linking multiple regions or neighboring countries, such as a Paris-Milan line, a Dourges-Avignon line and a Metz-Hendaye line ("piggybacking" - daily transport). Routes such as the Lodz (Poland)-Piacenza (Italy) line are traveled regularly each week. On average, the company operates 100 trains per week, which makes it the leader for combined transport in both France and Europe.

At the start of 2022, there were 3 round-trip missions (returns) per week. One year later, by February of this year, there will be 5. The Lodz-Piacenza line carries 2 roundtrips per week.


The perfect combination: how can the full benefits be drawn from each mode of transport?


Although multimodal transport is more sustainable and economical, it still needs to be efficiently implemented. Many factors must be taken into account to accomplish this.


The first, of course, is the total distance to be traveled, in addition to the proximity of terminals. The calculations and studies provide a viable economic ratio. Rail transport is to be prioritized for long distances of more than 500 kilometers. The closer the loading and unloading locations are to the terminals (within a maximum radius of 150 to 200 km), the more suitable and economical the multimodal option will be.


Containers stored in the Pekaes terminal in Lodz - Poland

Next are the more technical and operational specifications of the goods in and goods out facilities, namely the warehouses, the type of goods, their dimensions and any restrictions associated with their handling.


Finally, we have recurrence and volume of a load: are these large enough to warrant the creation of a dedicated railroad? What are the lead times expected by the customers? Do they agree to add a day of transit time - a commonplace option for increasing flexibility and productivity for a multimodal mode? Are they ahead with the objectives or specific requirements, in terms of the environment or CSR, for example? Your logistics service provider can conduct a study on all of these questions and provide you with support.


At GEODIS, our Design Office (which comprises Transport and Logistics engineers) is ready to advise you regarding your requirements and to offer you a custom solution.


Once the optimal multimodal solution has been established, you will be able to benefit from a true triple win: a reduction of your carbon footprint, the guarantee of additional transport capacity (and therefore potential economic benefits) and operational control. Are you now ready to discuss your multimodal transport plan?


Marc Vollet Chief Operations Officer at GEODIS

Marc Vollet

Director of Operational Excellence

Marc Vollet is Director of Operational Excellence for the Road Transport business line of GEODIS. He is in charge of all operations, with the main objective of greening transport plans through multimodal and determining an energy roadmap. Marc Vollet is in charge of the engineering division in charge of creating logistics and transport offers, and supervises the development of digital solutions such as Track & Trace, LLP and Flow Management.