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Trends 22/10/2009

22 October 2009

Dramatic decline in intermodal transport in 2009

Stable situation in 2008, but dramatic decline in intermodal traffic in the first 6 months of 2009. UNECE report suggests that industry should turn challenges into opportunities.

The past rapid increase in intermodal transport in Europe has come to a sudden halt in 2008. Final data for 2008 show that UIRR companies recorded only a slight increase in traffic in the order of 2 per cent compared to 2007 amounting to 3.00 million consignments or 5.99 million TEU equivalents. This compares to increases of 9 per cent in 2007 and 15 per cent in 2006.

While the first 6 months of 2008 still showed healthy increases, the second half of 2008 recorded a dramatic decline in traffic as a result of the worsening economic crisis and, in particular, the reduction of transport demand in port hinterland traffic and by the automotive industry.

In 2008, UIRR companies transported 3.79 million TEU internationally compared to 2.20 million TEU in national traffic.  While international transport decreased slightly by 1 per cent, national transport continued to increase by 7 per cent.  The difference in performance between international and national traffic was particularly marked for accompanied transport where international transport increased by 1 per cent whereas national transport recorded an increase of 28 per cent. Altogether, accompanied transport increased by 10 per cent while unaccompanied traffic grew by only 1 per cent.

A UNECE report (ECE/TRANS/WP.24/2009/6) and data presented at the 52. session of the Working Party (12-13 October 2009) indicate that, in the first half of 2009, intermodal traffic in Europe has decreased in the order of 20 to 25% for unaccompanied and up to 15% for accompanied traffic. Intermodal transport operators have adjusted their transport offers and have streamlined internal procedures, but have so far maintained strategic investment plans and staff.

European Governments, with the exception of Switzerland, have not yet provided temporary short-term support measures (fiscal, financial, regulatory) to intermodal transport operators.

The UNECE report recommends that the industry should use the crisis to adjust to new trends and demands, streamline internal procedures, enhance cooperation and improve quality of services. Opportunities needed to be addressed in the fields of green logistics, improved terminal operations and new markets.

The present unprecedented financial and economic crisis is also an unprecedented challenge for the European transport industry and European Governments. Intermodal transport is one of the cornerstones of an efficient, safe and sustainable transport system in Europe.  This should not be jeopardized.  What has been built up over many years by the transport industry and European Governments should not be allowed to be destroyed within a few months, as it will be extremely difficult and costly to bring intermodal transport systems back on track.

Unless the present crisis continues to persist, the intermodal transport industry may be able to turn the present challenges into opportunities, become more efficient and expand into new markets. It could even develop into a seamless transport system that constitutes an integral part of regional and global logistics systems and responds fully to the demands of its customers and the policy concerns of European Governments. 

European Governments have the responsibility to support this development and the UNECE Working Party will assist in this endeavour.