Sustainable logistics with synchromodal transport

insights  November 9, 2017

Of the lorries, freight trains, cargo ships and freight planes transporting goods daily in Europe, on average, more than half of the capacity remains unused. Transport means and infrastructures therefore do not appear to be used optimally. As a response to this, synchromodal transport has arisen. Synchromodal transport is a form of co-modal transport where the shipper uses the available transport modes in parallel or leaves it up to a service provider to decide on the transport modes used. This service provider chooses, within agreed limits, which transport mode will be used for which route. The goods reach their destination at the agreed time and it no longer matters which method is used to get them there. This ensures that goods flows are bundled in the most efficient way and better use is made of available capacity, resulting in more sustainable logistics.


More than half of the capacity remains unused

Multimodal, intermodal, co-modal and synchromodal transport

Synchromodal transport is related to a number of other transport concepts, such as multimodal, intermodal and co-modal transport[1]. All concepts all have the same basis: more than one transport modality is always used to transport goods, so all concepts use multimodality.

Multimodal transport
For multimodal transport, different charging units can be used and also exchanged, for example, if the modality is changed during transport.

Intermodal transport
In the case of intermodal transport, the goods are transported into a standardized loading unit from origin to destination, with main transport by rail or water, and use of a truck during pre and post transport. The most important thing in intermodal transport is that the loading unit is not exchanged, so goods remain throughout the whole transport in a container or change bin.

Co-modal transport
Co-modal transport describes the optimal use of the various transport modes. The difference with multimodal transport is to optimize sustainability of the entire chain by making smart use of the available modalities to realize the benefits of some modalities. Thus, all modes of transport that are in a chain next to each other are options that can be chosen for a transport. In this case, the carrier has the choice between multiple modalities.

Synchromodal transport
Synchromodal transport is often seen as a development or combination of the two concepts of intermodal and co-modal transport. Compared to co-modal transport, synchromodal transport is aimed at the entire network and not just on one chain. Also the moment of switching between modalities is different between the two. In the case of co-modal transport, a modality is predetermined, while in a synchromodal network the modality can be changed at any time. This allows for flexibility. A difference with intermodal transport is that, during synchronous transport, the planning and choice of modalities and routes are individually determined by transport assignment. There is also a dynamic network in synchromodal transport: Only the starting location, end location and end time are fixed in advance.


Two conditions must be met to enable synchronous transport[2]. The first condition is bundling of goods flows from different shippers and the second condition is that there must be a full and transparent ICT platform for directing transport services. In this way real-time updates of transport and capacity situations can be processed.

By 2030 the European Commission wants at least 30% of all cargo transported over distances of 300km or more to go by train or boat. Last year, the European statistics stood at 4% for inland waterways and 11% for rail[3].


[1] Buck Consultants International (2011), Synchromodaal transport: efficient en duurzaam via netwerkregie.
[2] Economische (2017), transport boeken met één druk op de knop.
[3] Conundra (2016), Multimodal transport at lower costs. Are you ready?
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