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Trends 03/04/2009

3 April 2009

Dramatic decline in intermodal traffic in the second half of 2008

Dramatic decline in intermodal traffic in the second half of 2008

The continued increase in intermodal road-rail transport in Europe had come to a sudden halt in 2008.  
UIRR companies reported a decrease in transport in the order of 1 per cent (compared to 2007) amounting to 2.94 million consignments or 5.88 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 European automotive industry.

In 2008, UIRR companies transported 3.79 million TEU internationally compared to 2.09 million TEU in national traffic.  While international transport decreased slightly by 2 per cent, national transport continued to increase by 2 per cent.  The difference in performance between international and national traffic was particularly marked for accompanied transport where international transport increased by 3 per cent whereas national transport recorded an increase of 30 per cent. Altogether, accompanied transport increased by 12 per cent while unaccompanied traffic, that makes up more than 90 per cent of  total intermodal  road-rail  transport, decreased by around 2 per cent.

Traffic volumes on the main intermodal transport corridors across the Alps also reflect the worsening economic climate in Europe. In 2008, non-accompanied intermodal transport across Switzerland declined by 1.4 per cent (in terms of tonnes). While in the first half of 2008, traffic still grew by 0.1 per cent (via the Gothard) and by 9.5 per cent (via the Lötschberg), the second semester showed a decline in the order of 8.6 per cent for the Gothard and 1.2 per cent for the Lötschberg. In November and December 2008 the decline in total non-accompanied intermodal transport across Switzerland had been in the order of 13 per cent.

Continued downswing in early 2009

Preliminary figures for the first two months in 2009 show further dramatic decreases of European intermodal transport in the order of 25 per cent and more. Predictions about traffic performance in 2009 are at present not possible given the present financial and economic uncertainties and the unpredictability of the length and impact of the current economic crisis on the commodity producing industry in Europe.

Market reactions

Intermodal transport operators have already adjusted their transport offers, introduced better coordinated transport procedures and reduced over-capacity and costs on certain routes.  However, reductions in train frequency below one daily journey in each direction per working day may induce the risk of loosing the market altogether.

Nevertheless, intermodal transport operators that had purchased whole block trains from railway undertakings and had taken the risk of marketing these capacities might be compelled to discontinue the operation of these block trains if market demand continues to decline further. In particular, small intermodal transport operators may be hit first as they had fewer possibilities to temporarily cross-subsidize transport offers.

More detailed information is available in the report of the March 2009 session of the UNECE Working Party on Intermodal Transport and Logistics (WP.24) (http://www.unece.org/trans/wp24/wp24-reports/documents/ECE-TRANS-WP24-123e.pdf).