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Multimodal future

Multimodal mobility is a megatrend. Combining various means of transport promotes efficiency, secures planning and protects the environment. This train leads to the future. To miss it is to be left behind.

British futurist Rohit Talwar describes a vision of future transportation in our major cities that is every bit as dynamic as it is well-coordinated. “In this scenario, traffic and pedestrian streams have become a great deal more regular, and transport’s impact on the environment has been reduced significantly. A single control centre at the core of major cities manages and links services automatically in line with needs – it connects buses, subways and long-­distance trains and controls both road and rail traffic signals. Real-time analyses enable a more comprehensive use of roads and rail lines. Automatic boats shuttle back and forth on the rivers.”
In the cities of the future, what applies to passenger transport will apply to freight transport even more, especially since freight transport forms the backbone of a modern industrial and service economy, is a critical factor for companies and sites engaged in global competition, and provides a yardstick for prosperity and employment by means of its efficiency and performance. This is particularly true for Germany as a leading business powerhouse and logistics hub in the heart of Europe.


However, the present looks much less spectacular. Today, large portions of the trans-European road network are overloaded. You could say one is likelier to be “just in traffic” than “just in time”.
Multimodal systems will show the way out of this predicament, says Talwar. “Rail freight transport companies have to update their portfolios of transport services to offer smarter, more flexible and more highly automated services to meet the requirements of the future,” says the researcher, who advises companies and governments on confronting global megatrends. The fact that digitalisation has developed at breakneck speed is yielding great potential for streamlining the transhipment of goods, he believes. “Artificial intelligence has made most customer experiences today smart and predictable. Rail freight transport service providers have to offer services that keep up with this trend.”
However, they also have a special responsibility to bear. Emitting up to 80% less CO₂ than goods hauled by road, rail transport is shaping up to be the lynchpin of a comprehensive logistics strategy for the economy, people and environment on the way to a multimodal future. “As central players in the area of transport, rail companies have the chance to decouple their services from coal as a fuel and make giant strides in efficiency.” Talwar believes that companies like this have a double responsibility when it comes to climate change: “International rail transport companies could sustain heavy losses themselves if they fail to avert the effects of climate change on infrastructure.” The future market for rail transport could also face mounting competition from private companies and from start-ups, which would do even more to kick-start research and innovation.
Multimodal transport models bring both opportunities and challenges. But whatever the motive for their development, they are certain to keep propelling us as we race along the path to a multimodal future. Industry, the environment, companies and customers alike stand to benefit.

Rail freight transport companies have to update their service portfolios to meet the requirements of the future.

Future researcher and founder of
Fast Future Research

DB Cargo shows how to develop forward-looking freight transport.
In 2018, the company plans to funnel targeted investments into multimodal approaches, an efficient network of routes and digitalisation; the aim is for transport and route capacities, time­tables and regulations to be booked online and for train paths to be allocated digitally. Going forward, automation should improve the capacity utilisation of routes and boost performance. Operational processes will be slimmed down, and transport more reliable. “Automatic coupling, automatic shunting and smart freight wagons linked to the internet will make rail freight transport considerably more attractive,” predicts Berthold Huber, DB’s Member of the Management Board for Transport.
At the same time, German logistics companies can use the government’s Rail Freight Master Plan and the associated support from Berlin to expand key routes and nodes, such as passing loops for longer trains, or to build them from the ground up. “Right now the length of trains is capped at 700 metres,” says Raimund Stüer, Member of the Management Board for Sales at DB Cargo. “If we can run 740-metre trains, which poses no technical problem, it will be a quantum leap in efficiency for us amounting to well over 5% of the cost structure. Naturally, that would also give network utilisation a considerable lift.”
All these measures are not only about gains in efficiency; environmental sustainability is another critical aspect. DB Cargo’s path to the multimodal future will involve such key points as reducing non-electrified sections of routes, stepping up the utilisation of hybrid locomotives, implementing logistics chains with electric vehicles to serve commercial centres and pursuing a green logistics strategy for trade and industry.
Apart from the Rail Freight Master Plan, rising demand in operational business and momentum for growth coming from the Zukunft Bahn programme are strengthening the economic tailwinds at DB Cargo. Against this backdrop, the Group recently launched its Freight Transport Campaign. Back in 2017 as part of the campaign, DB Cargo purchased the first five of a planned 60 new Vectron multi-system locomotives worth roughly a quarter of a billion euros. According to Raimund Stüer, this investment shows that multimodal traffic is a crucial element needed for a viable approach to freight transport. “We see demand taking off, and we want to develop substantially in this area and build expertise – specifically in the transhipment of goods, and in consolidating information between road logistics, inland navigation, seaports and rail logistics.”
In line with this intention, Intermodal Logistics at DB Cargo, which is one of these development measures, has been active since 1 January. “We established this unit within DB Cargo Logistics Sales, where modern logistics solutions are developed for various industry groups.” Five employees are developing approaches and services here that focus on intermodality. At the same time, this unit is a central pool of expertise aimed at building knowledge, standardising it and rendering it accessible to everyone. Investing in German freight transport requires responsibility. Multimodality is a key component in the process.

80 %
less CO₂ emitted by
rail transport

The Digitalisation of Intermodal Supply Chains: KV 4.0 project makes transport even more efficient.
Information on the status of transports is crucial for all of the stakeholders in combined transport. In order to ensure resource planning and make dispatching decisions, they need to know where products are located and when they are expected to arrive. However, although estimated times of arrival are already a standard feature of road transport, they are not yet generally available for rail traffic. Actual values are known, but ETAs generally are not, which is partly attributable to gaps in the information base.

Our target is to bring about an end-to-end improvement in the transparency of intermodal transport throughout the entire supply chain. 

Head of the KV 4.0
project at DB Cargo

This is because the large number of parties involved in combined transport, the physical interfaces (terminals) and the cross-border requirements maket very challenging to ensure information is available throughout the entire chain. While sufficient information is available on each individual section of transport, there is still no central data platform. That is about to change. In September, Kombiverkehr, DB Cargo, Lokomotion, SBB Cargo Deutschland, KTL Kombi-Terminal Ludwigshafen, Hupac Transport, HOYER, Paneuropa Transport, Hupac Intermodal, Bertschi and Hupac SpA began working in partnership on the Digitalisation of Intermodal Supply Chains: KV 4.0 project. The objective is to remodel the entire intermodal transport chain and its underlying logistics processes to ensure it becomes more transparent and clearer across stakeholders and countries.
“Our target is to bring about an end-to-end improvement in the transparency of intermodal transport throughout the entire supply chain,” says Christoph Renschler, Head of the KV 4.0 project at DB Cargo. “To accomplish it, a project consortium consisting of operators, freight forwarders, terminal operators and rail companies will develop an integrated logistics platform for exchanging and consolidating information on the status of transports. This will make it possible to verify at any time and at any step of the way where transports are currently located and where they will head next.”
The benefits for customers are immense. “End-to-end visibility of transport improves the quality of intermodal services. Seamless status information, for instance, can be the basis for robust ETA forecasts, which can target the necessary changes in resource planning when incidents occur, and can be used to provide customers with relevant information,” says Sylke Hussmann, Head of Carrier Sales at Intermodal Sales, who serves on KV 4.0’s steering committee.
With the assistance of a new common data hub that is to be developed and with standardised interfaces, all participants are expected to gain direct access to their respective transport-relevant parameters of combined traffic. This will include order and timetable data, but also any available forecasts on arrival and information regarding transport. For instance, going forward, automatic communication between trucks and terminals during first-mile road shipment will optimise processes at terminals. If trucks are forecast to arrive late, operators can use the appropriate flow of information to reallocate the vacant space on the train to ensure its capacity is used more efficiently. According to Christoph Renschler, the project represents a double challenge. Aside from the technical, data-related challenge, the success of the project hinges on the willingness of all parties to collaborate on, promote and maintain a consortium comprised of direct competitors as well as partners. “The trick will be ensuring every stage of the process is as transparent as possible while preserving each company’s internal interests.” Back to the multimodal mobility of the future: today, it is still impossible to predict which modes of transport will ultimately reap the most benefits. The critical factor will be how quickly the individual providers of transport services move to meet the necessary requirements for this mobility and are able to participate in it. This is precisely the great opportunity that lies in store for DB Cargo, as a leading provider of multimodal rail freight transport services.

This project has received funding from the German Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) as part of the Modernity Fund research initiative (mFUND).